Wednesday, 5 August 2009

We Go Abroad! (Well, England)

The track we followed to Harbottle leads up through Calroust to join 'The Street' - an old Roman way through the Cheviots. It starts of gently, following the burn, and climbs steadily up.

There has been a lot of recent investment in this estate: new fences and tracks and a fishing lake (as well as the ubiquitous pheasants).

Doogs thought he might get an easy time of it with no packs (we'd arranged to stay overnight with Jan Hall at Well House Farm near Harbottle) but tough, I rode him and led Yeoman instead.

At the top of the track, before you go on to open moor, stands a once-derelict house, now being renovated as a shooting bothy. The views back down the Calroust Valley are breathtaking - had we really climbed so high? But lots more to come!

From the bothy comes a stiffish climb past a large cairn up to join The Street, shorly before it intersects with the Pennine Way. For almost the first time since I left I saw a walker - no wait, it's a runner! (Running the Pennine Way? What fresh human madness is this? - DOOGS)

Not just one, either, but another, and another and they drew nearer (by now coming from all directions - we could see that they were soldiers in full combat gear. For one horrible moment we thought we'd strayed onto the MOD Otterburn Range, famous for its live ammunition (eek) - but no, this was an exercise.

The soldiers kept appearing from all airts and pairts: Shonagh's poor young Dougall thought that the War of the Worlds was upon us. As an ex-stalking pony, he knows what guns are for!

Third world war notwithstanding, it is stunningly spacious up there - despite the odd heavy shower, the views were breathtaking in every direction. The track on the whole is easy underfoot, though very rutted in places, and navigation is easy. Well, we just followed the sound of the bombs...

They brought us out in the Coquet valley, right at the boundary of the Otterburn firing range. The bombs had now been joined by machine gun fire and helicopters, although the ponies by now were much more interested in lunch. I got a faint nervous feeling of what it must be like to live in occupied territory with enemy soldiers (even though the ones we met were mighty cheerful, if rather tired and soggy) and gallantly held gates open for us.

We joined the quiet road down the Coquet Valley (lots of flood damage here too) until we came to a ford which we crossed and followed a steep bridleway above the site of a medieval village - exactly where you would expect a medieval village to be, in the meander of a river - very beautiful. Will post a picture when technology allows! This track brought us out near Alwinton, then it was another bridleway to Harbottle, past a church and some old limekilns along a river valley - and crossing the border!! We'd promised ourselves a pint in the pub at Alwinton, but very sadly, it was closed.

A wonderful welcome from Jan at the supremely comfortable Well House farm: she laughed when we told her of our military manouevres, recounting one day when she had gone out to feed the calves and met two (lost) tanks grinding up the farm road...that doesn't personally inspire me with confidence, don't know about you. (Thanks Jan and Jimmy for all your hospitality!)

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