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The Simonside Hills I suppose what I enjoy most about this isolated range of small hills is that they are just that, isolated. The hills are bounded by the River Coquet to the north, which a bit further east flows under the A1, where it is invisible to the hurtling traffic, but it stands out as a silver ribbon from the top of The Beacon, Old Stell Crag, Simonside and Tosson Hill, which tops out at 440 metres. The latter has its own Trig Point surrounded by a stony shelter, which sheltered me briefly from the rain before I cracked on to walk through the Harwood Forest, which covers a considerable chunk of land in this part of the Northumberland National Park. Having spent a number of years planning for and planting broadleaf woodlands in southern England, Harwood is on a different scale altogether to what I have been used to, but the same rules apply, plant and then establish the trees and you get woodlands or in this case productive forests on a grand scale. You get a sense of history from here, the land is ancient, the conifer plantations relatively new; this was once an open landscape and the information panels tell stories of lookouts (Beacon Point), from a time when the land was closely guarded against the activities of the Border Reivers, a history worth exploring if you ever get the time. I recommend The Steel Bonnets, by George Macdonald Fraser, if you want to know more of the turbulent past, when the Border between England and Scotland was fought over until James the VI of Scotland also became James I of England in 1603. There were echoes of war on the Simonside Hills as I passed through; the army ranges at Otterburn were in full voice, the burping of heavy machine guns and the booming of artillery bounced around and accompanied me in the hills for most of the day. If you park at the foot of the Simonside Ridge, take some time to go a short distance to the north east; here the rocks carry the characteristic ‘cup and ring’ marks and there is evidence of hill forts and settlements from prehistoric times; the site is worth a look. Although I met a few walkers on the Simonside Ridge, beyond that point, I didn’t see a soul for the next nine miles. I spoke to a farmer towards the end of the walk who was repairing a fence. He had postponed silage making, not surprising considering the deluge we were under, but it was a good day to be fencing; he said he would never want to live and work anywhere else; I tended to agree with him. Patrick Norris Footsteps – walking the beauty of Northumberland http://www.footsteps-in-northumberland.co.uk http://www.northumbria-byways.com/northumberland_rothbury.htm


The Simonside Hills from Cragside.


Walking in the Simonside hills of Northumberland