Hethpool, Great Hetha and Elsdonburn

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Start: Hethpool Distance: 4.0 miles (6.4 km) Climbing: 248 metres
Grid Ref: NT893280 Time: 2 hours Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Kirknewton
Start: Hethpool Distance: 4.0 miles (6.4 km)
Grid Ref: NT893280 Time: 2 hours
Climbing: 248 metres Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

Summary: Starting from the car park at Hethpool the four mile circular in beautiful rural Northumberland includes a climb to an iron age hill fort on Great Hetha. The walk takes between 2 to three hours and offers plenty of good spots for a picnic. There are many alternative choices if time permits. Ideal for foul weather or a short evening walk. Easy gradients except the short pull up Great Hetha.

(Walk report and pictures courtesy of Colin Corlett)

The Walk: This route offers good options when time is limited or the weather is not looking good. You have the choice of staying on roads and tracks or taking one or more of the diversions which will allow you to gain height quite quickly with some great views as a reward. The College Valley is the most northerly of the 5 valleys cutting into the heart of the Cheviot massif and it’s current owners restrict vehicular access to the main section with the result that it is remarkably quiet and seldom visited. To get to Hethpool you head north from the market town of Wooler along the Coldstream road. You then take a left turn towards Kirk Yetholm and after a couple of miles a small bridge takes you over the College burn and into Kirknewton. There is a rather well hidden left turn here, sign posted for Hethpool, and this will take you into the Valley.

Elsdonburn and RingchestersElsdonburn and Ringchesters
Hillfort Trail to Great HethaHillfort Trail to Great Hetha

Drive through Hethpool and just outside the village you will come to a small car park with an information board and a notice forbidding further access without a permit which can be obtained from Sale and Partners in Wooler. The field across from the car park has an ancient stone circle. To quote from the local archaeological resources:- “The stones from a ruined circle to the south with a group of stones forming smaller clusters to the north. At least seven stones are lying in a fallen position. The stones to the north may once have formed a second circle. The site is overlain by ridge and furrow, probably of medieval date. This is the only known example of large stone circle from Northumberland” It is dated at between 4000 and 2200 BC. In other words at least 4,000 years old.

Walk along the road away from Hethpool. Look to your left across to the opposite side of the river. You might just be able to make out the old ruins of farm. The walls have been reduced to just some 4 feet in height and the roof is long gone. This is the Harrowbog farm and it dates back to a time when there were many small farms and people working the land. The advent of quad bikes and hard economic times has now reduced the numbers to just one full time farmer in the Valley. Cross over a cattle grid and as you pass a small plantation on your right look out for the sign post which will direct you up onto Great Hetha. This is really a small hill but one with great views. There are also the remains of an iron age hill fort on the top. All that is left is a ring of small stones marking the base of the wall. From here you have a good view towards forts at Ringchesters, Harelaw and Yeavering.

Great Hetha Summit CairnGreat Hetha Summit Cairn
View to Yeavering and the Millfield plainView to Yeavering and the Millfield plain

Once on the top you are now following the Hillfort Trail. The path heads south away from Hethpool. It is not very clear though. The important point is that as you lose altitude you will eventually start to look down on the small farm house at Trowupburn. You need to walk towards the small quarry beside a small copse of trees. You will now have come to the blacktop of a small farm road. This section of road is maintained by the local council and as such is open to the public. However there are hardly any visitors to this quiet valley which is known as Elsdonburn. You now need to turn right and start to follow the road down the valley. If instead you carried on up the hill opposite the copse of trees then this would take you onto the Western Hills and the Border Line with Scotland. The road makes easy walking and you can concentrate on looking at the hills around you. The hills here are gentler than those around the Cheviot and the valley does not flood to the same dramatic extent as the main College Valley.

Copse of trees below Great HethaCopse of trees below Great Hetha
The Wych ElmThe Wych Elm

Look out for where the conifer plantations have been cut down and about half way down there is an old Wych Elm on your right ( close to one of the cattle grids). You will eventually come to a point where a small farm road joins from the left. This road takes you to Elsdonburn farm and then onto the iron age fort at Ring Chesters. You need to keep to the right though and from this point on you are following St Cuthberts Way. The Hills on your left are easily accessible and if you have time it is worth the short detour to see the valley beyond and then the views as you follow the path down to Hethpool. It is also worth mentioning that the hills on the left have cultivation terraces left from late medieval times. Just before you join the road into the Valley there is another option to turn right, cross the small stream and climb onto Little Hetha. We prefer to carry on walking between the avenue of trees and towards Hethpool. On your left soon will be the driveway entrance for Hethpool house. Stop to look at the Red Post Box. It actually faces the wrong way towards the house and away from where the Post Man would collect the mail. Just after WW1 the house and valley were bought by Sir Arthur Munro Sutherland. He completely rebuilt the house. He was also the last private owner of Dunstanburgh Castle before donating it to what eventually became the National Trust. His other notable donation was the Mansion house which is now owned by Newcastle City Council. Sir Arthur is buried in Jesmond Old Cemetery. Hethpool House now offers Bed and Breakfast and is popular with walkers along St Cuthberts Way. The row of houses on your right is known as the Art and Crafts cottages which also date to the ownership of Sir Arthur. Shortly after this you arrive back at the car park. Alternative bad weather route. Instead of climbing Great Hetha continue along the road until you come to a forestry track on your right. It will be signposted for Trowupburn and from there you can pick up the route as above.

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