Cheviot Hills

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Despite iconic routes such as The Pennine Way, St. Cuthbert’s Way and Dere Street running along their ridges if one meets two people when out on these hills then it’s been a highly populated day. On entering the Kale Valley in the Scottish Borders one can traverse on foot over the steep Border Ridge to the Coquet Valley in Northumberland with efficiency, yet there is no direct route via tarmac, one must make a diverted trip by car in the region of 20 miles. The MOD Otterburn Firing ranges can be surreal on days when heavy artillery fire can be heard, yet paradoxically the presence of military live firing keeps visitors at bay in this sparsely populated area, the splendid isolation these hills offer is unique.

Terrain rich in peat, heather, sphagnum moss and anaerobic bog accompanied by the Cheviot bred sheep grazing the grasses of the hill farmers, and wild goats descended from the Neolithic era. At the hope bottoms pheasants and red legged partridges are reared, and as one climbs over 400 meters’ grouse have settled in amongst the old heather. The curlew the symbol of Northumberland National Park and Europe’s largest wading bird epitomises the habitat these hills offer. An abundance of predators are hosted such as Goshawks, Peregrines, Kestrels and Barn Owls, and It is also arguably one of the most well foxed areas in Britain. The natural capital of the Cheviot hills does have a potential enemy as the plantation of forestry blocks of non-native trees such as Sitka Spruce takes hold. Government incentives such as tax breaks, combined with large landowners such as the Duke of Roxburghe selling off hill farms threatens the sustainability of the species that inhabit the rolling terrain of this wild open and remote landscape.

The Cheviot Hills real identity though is derived from a thousand years ago when the ridge began to form the Anglo Scottish border. Peaks are named after vernacular conflicts involving the Border Reivers, such as Russell’s Cairn where a March Warden was killed. The famous skirmish between the Scots and the English in 1575 at Redesdale. Old Roman forts are frequent on the hill tops overlooking the iconic Roman Road and metal shields have been found near Yetholm at the end of the Pennine Way as foreign empires sought to rule the fault line. As one takes advantage of the right to roam freely travelling on the old drove roads such as Clennell Street, which were built for trade, the possibility of a successful Scottish Referendum for the SNP can’t be ignored. Currently a typical farmers wire fence determines the physical Border. An area with a past embedded in territorial and economic conflict from foreign empires to the local livestock raider is now again representing a district of geopolitics as rhetoric is exchanged in Holyrood and Westminster.

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