Thursday, 6 September 2012

Wedders Leap to Windy Ghyll

This walk starts at Wedders Leap car park situated next to Barrowburn, it’s a circular route taking you onto the Border Ridge between Scotland and England, leading onto Windy Ghyll then back to Wedders Leap.  The whole route is approximately 10 miles.

                                                               Wedders Leap 
From 1181 to 1536 the monks of Newminster Abbey owned the lands known as Kidland which lie to the north of Coquet as far as the border.  As you take the road passed Alwinton and follow it on you eventually come to a car park at Wedders Leap next to Barrowburn.  Wedders Leap derives its name from the latter days of the Border Reviers when thieving and pillaging was the normal pastime for any self respecting rogue.  On one particular night a thieving scoundrel stole a wedder (castrated ram) from the flock grazing on Shillhope Law.  He put the wedder around his neck and carried it off.  However it didn’t take the owner and his men long to realise what was happening and proceeded to give chase.  The scoundrel got this far when he had no option but to leap the deep river with the wedder still across his shoulders.  He made it as far as the opposite bank then fell backwards into a watery grave pulled down by the bulk of the wedder.  The pool at this point is about fourteen feet deep.

There are two paths at Barrowburn which will take you north to the Border Ridge.  The one I took follows the hillside past Kyloe Shin  which has fantastic views of the valley.


As you progress along the hillside you enter a large forest area and the path skirts a small house at Fairhaugh by Usway Burn.


The path continues up through the forest at a steep incline and eventually makes its way through another small valet to a point where several paths coincide.


At this point pick the path which takes you upto Little Ward Law at approx 495 m (above sea level).  The view back through the valley is quite spectacular.

                                                   The view from Little Ward Law

The path descends from Little ward law down to a small gully known as Scotchman’s Ford then up to Windy Ghyll on the Border Ridge at 619 m.

                                            View towards Scotland from Windy Ghyll


The panoramic view from Windy Ghyll has  to be seen to be believed with hills rolling into the distance.  However care must be taken with the peat bogs which could suck you down to a grisley end.  On the summit there is a large cairn which marks the spot of the slaying of Lord Francis Russell at a meeting of the Wardens of the Marches in 1585.  The Wardens from both sides of the border would meet with their retinues and set up a form of court in this lawless area.  Generally neighbours would complain of cattle rustling, feeding rights and numerous other ills.  At this particular time the English warden was Sir John Foster who came to meet his Scottish counterpart Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehurst.  After general business started there was a scuffle amongst men of both side and a shot rang out.  Sir Francis Russell, son inlaw to Sir John lay slain.  It took the efforts of both Sir John and Sir Thomas to stop a battle and bloodbath occurring.  A couple of days later Sir John wrote a letter outlining what happened and referred to the incident being an accident.  However two days later he wrote another letter, countersigned by 32 Northumbrian lords, stating the Scots rode to the meeting in battle formation with he intent of making a feud and resulting in the death of an English nobleman.  Queen Elizabeth 1st  preferred the second letter as it suited her purposes that the catholic sympathising Sir Thomas killed an English nobleman.  This now became an international incident and helped Queen Elizabeth discourage James IV from falling in league with factions which would led to Scotland being  a backdoor for French Catholism.  The next time you pass Windy Ghyll take a moment to savour not just the scenery but the historical and medieval politics that centred on this bleak spot, where a scuffle became a religious international incident. 

           View from Windy Ghyll with The Cairn marking the death of Sir Francis Russell

Continue west along the border ridge for about a mile and the path will turn south by Plea Knowe and this path is known as The Street which an old drover road running from the border ridge to Barrowburn.  Some of the scenery along the Street includes the Black Braes, Swineside Law, down to The Slime and Hindside Knowe. 

The path eventually meets the roadside and it is a short walk to Barrowburn and a welcoming Tea Shop.  After setting off, suitable refreshed, it is another short walk back to Wedders Leap and an opportunity to take off your boots and collapse on the grass.  If you like sheep, cows, the occasional bull and thousands of midges then this is the walk for you.  If you do make Windy Ghyll take a moment to close your eyes and remember Sir Francis Russell, Sir John Foster, Sir Thomas Kerr and the historical importance of these wild and desolate hills of the Cheviots.