The Valley of the Breamish is arguably the most beautiful in Northumberland. Its riverbanks, beneath steep slopes that give it, in places, an almost gorge-like appearance, are ideal for a spring picnic.
Though habitation is now mainly confined to the hamlets of Ingram and Linhope, the area once supported a large, thriving population, the relics of which are scattered across almost every piece of high ground.
The hillsides above the Breamish hold the highest concentration of Bronze and
Iron Age settlements and hill forts in the county.
The words tell the story. The river’s name is of Celtic origin, while that of Ingram is derived from the Anglo-Saxon, ‘angr’ meaning ‘ grassland’. Hadrian’s Wall lies many miles to the south, and though the Romans did venture beyond it, they left little mark on the lives of the native Britons here.
Pieces of the past
From Ingram village, a broad track runs gently uphill to the south for a little over a mile. Just short of the high point, a detour to the west brings you to the top of Wether Hill, which is surrounded by the grassy outline of the first settlement.
Occupation of this hilltop may even pre-date this Iron Age structure, for in 1997, archaeologists found pottery fragments from the Neolithic period. One of the mounds within the circle is thought to cover a burial site.
Continue for half a mile to the south-west to reach the higher summit of Cochrane Pike, on which sits a second settlement, and a cluster of hut circles. The views from both of these hills toward the high peaks of the Cheviots are particularly fine.
Tracing the outlines
Move west and swing round to the north, descending to a narrow saddle at the head of Middledean Burn.
From here, a path slants up over a small rocky outcrop above which are the prominent concentric walls of a smaller enclosure. Highly visible from Wether Hill, this is marked on the map as a fort, though the ground to the west is higher, making it less defensible than a conventional hilltop fort.
Continue in a northerly direction for a mile, past mounds indicating the whereabouts of other settlements, to arrive at Brough Law, the largest fort in the area.
The walls of Brough Law have crumbled and are now tip-toed over by sheep, but they must once have dominated the valley from every viewpoint.
Indeed, being bare of grass, they can be seen from even distant high points. On three sides, the slopes fall steeply, giving the position a sense of impregnability and complete command over the whole valley. Its occupation probably continued through Roman and Anglo-Saxon times – a knife dating from the latter period was found here.
These hills are now bare and silent, but during the Bronze and Iron Ages, they were very likely tree-covered, with roadways and footpaths linking the many settlements and dwellings that housed a significant population.
Close your eyes and you can imagine the sounds of agriculture, commerce, children at play and the everyday lives of people in those times penetrating the forest.
The main gate of Brough Law opens to the east, and looks toward Ingram, a little over a mile away. A footpath leads down to the valley floor, past many more mounds and furrows, and on to the surfaced road that leads back into Ingram.
HOW TO GET THERE
Follow the A697 north from Newcastle. A mile north of Powburn (8 miles south of Wooler), turn left on to a minor road and follow this to Ingram. The car park is on the left just after the bridge over the river, or turn left into the village and pass the church to the second car park.
FIND OUT MORE
The Plough Inn
Enjoy good, home-cooked food before an open fire.
Family run, 18th-century famhouse hotel – small, but with plenty of character.
Linhope Spout waterfall
This dramatic waterfall is 18m (60ft) high, and has a deep plunge pool. It lies a 1½-mile easy walk from Hartside, and is 2½ miles west of Ingram.