Northumberland National Park has about 50 Iron Age hillforts, and this walk visits some of the best preserved in the remote College Valley, which cuts through the Cheviot Hills. The highlight is the mighty hillfort of Great Hetha, and its little sister Little Hetha, both built around 2,300 years ago.
From Hethpool, turn right down the road. You will spot Hethpool House in the trees. Built in 1687,
it was remodelled in 1919 and now offers bed and breakfast. Follow the road as it turns left. After crossing Elsdon Burn, take the road left over a cattle grid and follow the green and white Hillfort Trail marked path leading up the hillside on your right. These signs will be your guides throughout the day so keep an eye out for them. The path forks off left after 100 yards, following the route of an ancient drainage ditch. To your right you can see cultivation terraces, which may have been used as long ago as the Iron Age; their fine preservation suggests they were used well into medieval times. Just off the path to your right are remains of a Bronze Age burial mound and two standing stones. You’ll spot Cheviot sheep here, with their curved noses. If you’re lucky, you might also see feral goats.
Cross the stile at the top corner of the conifer plantation and follow the track right as it dips then climbs – you can see the next signpost ahead. The path then turns left along the top of the ridge, to East Laddies Knowe, the first hillfort.
Follow the signposted path to the wood, then cross a stile at Black Bog. This really is a bog, so make sure you stick to the path. Up on your right you’ll spot some rocks, the site of an old quarry, which make a good viewpoint over Scotland’s Tweed basin.
Go through the gate at the corner of the plantation and after 20 yards turn right. Cross a stile and aim for the signpost.
This is a good spot to see Roe deer, so keep your eyes peeled.
You are now at Ring Chesters, one of Northumberland’s most stunning hillforts. Continue a short way along the ridge, then take the path which drops down left to the road. Cross the track below Elsdonburn Farm, turn left and cross the burn. Turn left down the tarmac road towards Hethpool (you have now joined the St Cuthbert’s Way long-distance footpath) until you see a sign right saying Permissive Path Great Hetha ¾. Follow the path over a stile and cross a small bridge over a stream.
A short way up the path to Great Hetha, a brief detour left to Little Hetha, on a spur surrounded by steep slopes on three sides, is well worthwhile. Return to the main path, crossing a stile and heading diagonally right up the hill to the fingerpost. Keep ascending gradually, ignoring paths leading steeply up. You’ll finally spot a cairn, which marks the top of Great Hetha the highlight of this walk. The ramparts are remarkably well preserved, so it’s easy to imagine the size of the massive defensive walls, and you get superb views up the College Valley.
From the summit of Great Hetha take the grassy track back to Hethpool, following signposts to the village. At the wood the path turns right along the edge of the wood. At the road, turn left to the car park.
Rolling Cheviot Hills and conifer forests.
Getting TO The Cheviots
By car: From Wooler take the A697, then turn left on to the B3651 for Kirknewton. At Kirknewton turn left for Hethpool.
By public transport: Buses run to Wooler, from where you can get a taxi.
You’ll need to take a picnic, so stock up on goodies at:
The Good Life
52 High Street,
Wooler NE71 6BG
% 01668 281700
Hethpool House B&B
% 01668 216232
Rooms from £25 pp.
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL16. Grid ref: 895 297
Wooler Tourist Information
Padgepool Place, Wooler
% 01668 282123