Alnham & the Salter’s Road

Last weekend we journeyed up to Northumberland for the Montane Cheviot Goat Ultra (Sam was running, not me!). Just after we arrived Sam got a text to say the race had been postponed due to a request from the local authority, but as we’d already travelled up and paid for our accommodation, we decided to stay up there and enjoy a weekend away in one of our favourite places. The cottage we’d booked was ideally located in the Cheviot Hills, and seeing lots of recommendations in the guest book, we decided to do a walk from the door of the cottage up the Salter’s Road towards the Shepherd’s Cairn.

While we’d seen recommendations for the walk to the Shepherd’s Cairn in the guest book, the route we followed was this 6 mile circular on the Northumberland National Park website. The Shepherd’s Cairn is a monument erected in memory of two shepherds who died in the winter of 1962 in bad weather, while less than a mile from shelter. It’s a sobering reminder of how wild the weather can get on the hills in winter.

Setting off from our cottage we adapted the route slightly to avoid walking down the road at the start, then set off up the hill. The climb out of Alnham was a bit of a slog, without being horrendously steep, but I certainly stopped feeling the cold! On your way up though you are rewarded with beautiful views of the Northumberland countryside so make sure to take lots of rest breaks to ‘enjoy the view’.

The final stretch of the hill was completed at a power walk as there were plenty of cows hanging around watching our progress. I didn’t hang about to say hello! From here the going was up and down but there weren’t anymore prolonged climbs. I can’t promise that you won’t come across plenty of bogs though…

Early on in the walk you pick up the Salter’s Road. This footpath follows the medieval track used to transport salt from the coast up into Scotland for market: it would also have been used by drovers and cattle thieves transporting livestock across the border. If you keep following it, you will eventually reach Clennell Street, another historic trading road.

By the time you reach the turn off to visit the Shepherd’s Cairn, you are on Access Land, which has a dog restriction in place. Therefore we had to sadly miss the cairn and continue down the Salter’s Road until we reached another public right of way track to join up with the original route. While it seemed a shame to miss the main point of interest on the walk, we did get a lovely view over the Cheviots which we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The blue sky even came out for us!

Shortly after re-joining the route, you leave the well defined track and start a lengthy trudge across a pathless, boggy hillside. I completely lost track of how long it took us to traverse this section but I can only say ‘too long’ – we were both very crabby by the end! I’d definitely say to only try this in clear weather and with good navigational skills – without our OS maps app it would’ve taken us much longer to get across. Look out for the small waterfall by Pigdon’s Leap, the most interesting feature on this part of the walk.

As we reached the last quarter of the walk we started to really see the impact that Storm Arwen has had on the National Park. We passed multiple small plantations of Scots Pine trees and almost every last tree was either uprooted or snapped in half. In places, barriers of tree roots and fences suspended in mid air made footpaths totally impassable. We did two detours to avoid plantations as both were just totally inaccessible and it would’ve been unsafe to even attempt to enter.

We did have a third detour which was required due to a fence being built across the footpath – although this is relatively easily circumvented by heading uphill for a few hundred metres to use the gate.

The effects of Storm Arwen

Dog friendly rating – 2/5. Apart from a short section along an enclosed lane near the start, the dogs needed to be on their leads all the way around due to ground nesting birds, and, as mentioned earlier, a dog restriction means you will need to slightly amend the route. There were no stiles without gates next to them (woohoo) although one of our detours around a plantation did mean we had to climb over a fence and lift the dogs over too. There were a few stretches along streams, but the walk is so exposed that if we’d tackled it in summer I’d definitely have taken extra water for the dogs. There is a short section along a quiet road but this is a very small stretch on the entire walk.

Where we stayed

We booked Havannah Cottage via cottages.com in preparation for the Cheviot Goat as it’s not too far from the start and finish at Ingram. Luckily, the cottage is fantastically situated for getting out in the Cheviots, with the Shepherd’s Cairn walk accessible from our doorstep and other walks like the Breamish Valley and Humbleton Hillfort in easy reach. I was blown away by how spacious the inside of the cottage was (bigger than the photos suggested) and it was beautifully decorated with everything we needed for our stay. You could tell the owners have gone to a lot of effort to make this a real home away from home and we were definitely very grateful! We especially loved the log burner and curling up on the sofa to thaw out after a brisk walk before we arrived. Sadly we had to cut our stay short by one night due to the heavy snow forecast – but I’d love to return one day for a longer stay. Don’t forget you can use Tesco vouchers to get money off with cottages.com.

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. Havannah Cottage welcomes up to 4(!) dogs free of charge. There is an enormous enclosed garden outside which Coal loved zooming around (although sadly it wasn’t ‘Merry proof’, but most places without a six foot fence aren’t). Inside there is plenty of space for even the clumsiest dogs, and best of all, there is a ‘dog room’/boot room where you can towel your dogs down after a muddy walk. There are even some dog towels provided, along with poo bags and some treats, which was extremely handy because I’d forgotten to pack ours!

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