One of the things on this year’s to-do list was walk the rang of hills known as Simonside. We last did this in July 2009, when the wind and rain was pelting us from all directions and we managed just over a quarter of the distance. On Sunday, the wind was calmer, the weather bright but slightly overcast and the temperature a blissful 17ºC, so I deemed it to be The Day that we would climb (some of) Simonside’s peaks.
This is a demanding walk and it isn’t even technically that steep as hills go (certainly not a patch on the Cheviots or the other hills and mountains that the British Isles has to offer), but the views from the top make the aching limbs and pounding heart worth it, because when you reach the first peak, then the second, nothing could be greater in the world.
Simonside is a ridge of hills, and there are different ways to approach the peaks. We set off up the steep and fairly rocky side, which is the way we know best; from there, we ascend until we reach a peak and then descend a little, before ascending a peak double the height again. This continues
until you’re absolutely knackered until you’ve reached the top. We didn’t make it all the way to the top, not because of the height, but because of the distance (it’s a long walk as well as a steep one), and knowing that our knees would have to make it down again – over very rocky and unstable terrain. Hill-sheep we are not! This is a fairly low part of the path, which starts out stepped and then deteriorates the further up you go.
This is the view from not-very-far up the hill and it is already stunning. Those hills you can see in the distance are the Cheviots; Northumberland’s version of mountains, though they escape that formal moniker by a small way. To me, they’re mountains and they’re beautiful. I hope to one day climb each summit. Simonside is a good place to start, I think!
Near the beginning of the walk, we encountered some of the hill’s inhabitants, who eyed us warily.
Most of the heather had gone over due to the exceptionally warm and dry weather we have been having. But here and there amongst the browning flowers, there would be bright splashes of pink and fuschia.
The last time we visited, I took my exceptionally-heavy and very temperamental 35mm film camera out with me. I took almost all of the photos on film, taking a photo almost identical to this. It became one of my favourite photos ever.
Simonside is supposed to derive its name from the Norse and Teutonic sagas, from Sigemund of Beowulf fame, which is perhaps why I like it so much. I spent a good deal of time studying Early and Middle English literature and these early tales held me captivated. The whole area around Simonside is ancient, as ancient as it gets, with markings made by pre-historic peoples, some of the earliest in fact. I think of their huts, the indentations from which can still be seen in the hills, and I wonder how bleak it must have been with no light and little warmth.
This is what the path was like for the most part: broken stones and heather. It certainly made for a challenging ascent (and descent for that matter!)
Can you see the view getting better and better?
We reached the top of the first ridge and felt elated. This was as far as we got last time, and we did it much faster this time. Last time, we perched on these very rocks and ate a picnic in the windiest conditions; almost losing our coffee and sandwiches as we did so. This time it wasn’t quite as windy, but it still blew the cobwebs away.
The hills are full of wildlife, too. On our walk we saw many, many red grouse (click the link and listen to the sound they make – it made us laugh every time!), butterflies, fox moth caterpillars and lots of very fit sheep! Isn’t he a handsome (if highly comical) fellow?
We finally reached the summit of the middle peak at around lunchtime and decided that we would have a rest, soak in the view and then turn back. What a view, eh? The whole of Northumberland was laid out for us, in the distance to one side the coast; in the other, the Cheviots and Scotland.
I love this rugged landscape. Each time I visit, I forget how wonderful it is. I will make sure that I visit as often as I can.
At the second peak, there are four pine trees. They aren’t very old or tall, but they are there and because there aren’t any other trees, they stand out like ghostly evergreen sentinels, watching over everything.
I think this is a fox moth caterpillar. There were lots of them and they seemed to really like the heather.
This is one of the rocks at the second summit. The rocks here are ancient – some of the oldest in the UK – and are full of life. At the main summit there are also caves and I spent some of the walk wondering what the landscape must have looked like then, when those caves were used, and who used them.
The last photo I took, almost back at the car park. Joyous that I had managed the walk and relieved that I was back at the car and could sit down, as the descent turned my legs to jelly! What a day.
*The title is a much-beloved quote from Isaac Newton.