A sketchmap of the route will appear here

Byrness to Border Gate Back to Pennine Way index Kirk Yetholm to Morebattle

The Walk

The second half of the Cheviots ridge is not quite such a serious undertaking as the first half, but it still requires effort and tenacity. The quoted distance of 11½ miles is a bare minimum. If you take in the spur out to The Cheviot and back you add another three miles, and taking the option of the high level route over Black Hag and White Law rather than the Halterburn valley adds a further half mile and some unwelcome extra ascent. Add to this the fact that you first have to retrace your steps to the Border Gate from wherever you spent the night, which is likely to add another couple of miles and up to a thousand feet of ascent. You've certainly got your work cut out. Until you reach the Halterburn valley the walk consists of a slog over a rough, bleak, remote and windswept moorland ridge, and it's not a place to be in bad weather. Once again you should be aware of the escape routes from the ridge, though for most of this section the quickest way back to civilization is either down to the valley of Bowmont Water or along the PW itself.

The second of the two bothies or emergency shelters can be found about a mile beyond Auchope Cairn, though it's only six miles from the end and in my opinion is awkwardly placed. It's up to you whether you visit the Cheviot or not, and whether you choose the high level or low level route from Black Hag onwards. When I did the walk in 1990 the low level route was the official route and the high level route was an option, though now the situation is reversed. I'd still recommend the low level route, primarily because the high level route is just too much effort at the end of such a tough two days. The Cheviot spur is supposed to be walked if you wish to call yourself a true Pennine Wayfarer, but almost every fellow hiker I've spoken to, and nearly every guidebook writer, has considered their options at Cairn Hill and thought, "sod that!". And I'm equally guilty. The Cheviot is for masochists and purists only.

The Pennine Way keeps a nasty surprise for the very last mile, for to reach Kirk Yetholm from the Halterburn Valley you have to cross a ridge. Which involves an ascent of course. It's only 150ft but after the last two days of slog it's the ultimate cruelty. But Kirk Yetholm, when you reach it, is charming. A quiet, unassuming village, it seems quite unaware of its celebrity status as the destination of Britain's toughest long distance trail. The official end point is the Border Hotel, at the northeast end of the village green. Bona fide Pennine Wayfarers who have done the whole route in one outing used to qualify for a free drink at the hotel bar, courtesy of Wainwright, but I don't know whether this arrangement still holds.

Kirk Yetholm has three buses a day to Kelso, via neighbouring Town Yetholm (which is half a mile beyond Kirk Yetholm and has a couple of inns and a number of B&Bs). From Kelso you can reach either Edinburgh or Berwick on Tweed for the main east coast railway line.

Walk Statistics:
Length: 11.2 miles / 18.0 km
Total ascent: 1741 ft / 531 m
Total descent: 3136 ft / 956 m
Estimated time: 4 hrs 07 mins

Map: OS 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure 16 (The Cheviots)

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Photographic note: The images on this gallery are both poor and sparse. I hope to replace them with another set at some future date.

Border Gate

Make your way back to the Border Gate, where Clennel Street crosses the Pennine Way, from wherever you spent the night.

Recommence your journey along the Cheviot ridge. From the Border Gate onwards the path keeps to the English side of the fence. It's lonely and drab up here. The path falls slightly towards a shallow and rather sloppy col, the ridge here being known as Butt Roads for some reason. The col is a kilometre northeast of the border gate. From here there's a steady and relentless climb ahead, during which the ridge climbs some 700ft in a distance of two and a half miles. The ridge, fence and path turn half left at this point to run north northeast.

Score Head

There's not much to say about the ascent. At first it's gradual, passing the locality of King's Seat and then reaching the elbow of Score Head, 1910 ft, at which the ridge turns back to the northeast and begins to steepen. There's now a steep pull of 500ft up to Cairn Hill

Cairn Hill

The Cairn Hill elbow

At the top of the slope is the west top of Cairn Hill, standing 2419 ft above sea level; the highest elevation since Cross Fell. Cairn Hill marks a significant point in today's journey, for here the England - Scotland border, and the main route of the Pennine Way, turns northwest to leave the Cheviot ridge proper and run along a lateral ridge to The Schil. At this point you're only eight and a half miles from Kirk Yetholm but the official route of the Pennine Way proscribes a continuation along the main ridge as far as The Cheviot, and then back again to this point. From here the Pennine Way goes northwest along the English side of the fence to the next summit, Auchope Cairn.

The Cheviot

As I said in the introduction, whether you visit the Cheviot or not is up to you, but I'm aware of very few walkers who have actually bothered to do so. The ridge from the Cairn Hill elbow to The Cheviot is bleak and sloppy and there's no guiding fence, and though I've not explored the Cheviot spur myself I wouldn't be surprised if, thanks to the relative lack of pedestrian traffic, the path itself might be relatively sketchy. The route first goes to the main summit of Cairn Hill, about half a mile to the east, and named Scotsman's Cairn on the map. Swing half left now, keeping to the centre of the broad ridge, and tackle the mile-long slog across peat hags to the trig point on the summit of The Cheviot.

By all accounts The Cheviot is a bit of a let down; a great sprawling mass of peat and tussock grass without much of a view. Only purists and peak baggers will wish to come here. For the record it's 2676 ft above sea level and, except for Cross Fell and its satellites, is the highest point of the Pennine Way.

Retrace your steps to the west top of Cairn Hill and then strike out north-westwards along the fence to Auchope Cairn, about half a mile away.

Auchope Cairn

It's a fairly level walk from Cairn Hill to Auchope cairn. Up to this point your best escape route from the ridge, in case of bad weather or mishap, has been back to the border gate and then down to Cocklawfoot. From here on your best bet is along the PW itself, though you still have The Schil to tackle and in dire emergency you could tackle the pathless slopes to the southwest to get to the Cocklawfoot road.

Approaching Auchope cairn;  Auchope Cairn;  view forwards to The Schil

Auchope Cairn is 2382 ft above sea level and boasts a pretty decent view. You can see across much of Peebles-shire from here, and the Eildon Hills should be in view. The little rocky cleft of Hen Hole is down to your right and I know that the odd hiker likes to use it as a spot for an overnight bivouac. However, the second of the two emergency shelter huts or bothies is just a mile ahead, and unless the weather is fine and settled and you fancy a night under the stars, the bothy is probably a better bet. If you've slogged it this far from Byrness in one day you're probably fit to drop by now. The route continues west northwest down the far slopes of Auchope cairn, still on the English side of the border fence, to reach the shelter hut not far from a broad col. From here the path swings northwest at Red Cribs then starts to climb to the last main summit on the Pennine Way, The Schil.

College Burn;  The Pennine Way to The Schil;  Halterburn valley

The Schil

The path changes direction a couple of times on its way to The Schil, first swinging northeast at a fence junction, and then after a further half mile reverting to north northwest to climb the summit dome of The Schil. There's an ascent of almost 400ft and it's cruel. I have particularly bad memories of this hill, for its ascent took nearly all my remaining reserves of stamina and I had to rest for twenty minutes at the top.

The border fence;  The Schil summit;  down to Black Hag

The Schil, elevation 1985 ft, is the last major summit of the Pennine Way. Unless you take the high level route beyond Black Hag it's all downhill from here, save for that last 150ft of ascent immediately before Kirk Yetholm. Follow the fence, still on the English side, north northwest off the summit. The valley of Curr Burn beckons off to the northwest. At the foot of the summit dome the border fence comes to an end, to be replaced by a border drystone wall. Follow it for a further 500 metres to reach a gate; go through this gate, leaving England behind for the last time, and take the grassy track northwestwards across the shoulder of Black Hag (which is up to your right).

The Curr

The head of Curr Burn

Decision time again. Had enough, or up for yet more effort? If you still have reserves of stamina, or you're a purist, or both, then you will probably favour the high level route. It runs northwards from here, up to the col beyond Black Hag, and thence along the ridge and the border once more to White Law and Whitelaw Nick before turning left off the ridge to come down to the Halterburn road a mile short of Kirk Yetholm.

I chose the low level route (which was still the official route of the PW at the time I walked this section) and I would recommend it over the high level route. At this point most people have had enough and just want to get it over with. Your route ignores the bifurcation of the high level route and continues along the grassy trod to the lateral col between Black Hag and The Curr, the summit to your left. Once you reach this col the valley of Curr Burn opens out ahead of you. It's still quite bleak and is mostly rough pasture though it is softened by a couple of forest plantations some way down. Bleakness aside, it will probably look inviting in the afternoon sun after the relentless slog of the Cheviot ridge.

The path turns into a fairly decent track just after the col. Follow this northwestwards for 600m, at which point the side valley of Halter Burn opens up to the right. Turn right and follow this valley down to the abandoned Old Halterburnhead farm, a kilometre ahead.

Halterburn Valley

The scene near Halterburnhead

You're on the home stretch now and you can afford to relax. The effort is nearly over, and there's just three miles to walk. At Old Halterburn head the valley swings to the left and immediately presents a more pastoral face. Trees, pasture, fences and enclosures begin to appear. A kilometre beyond Old Halterburnhead you reach the first outpost of civilization since Byrness; Halterburnhead farm, or just Burnhead farm (depending on which map or guidebook you follow). It seems almost weird, seeing vehicles and animals and people at last. Make your way carefully through the farmyard. You encounter the end of the public road just beyond the farm, and like as not there will be several vehicles here waiting for various weary Pennine Wayfarers to come struggling down the track. For some hikers the PW ends here, but most will wish to press on by foot to Kirk Yetholm itself.

Walk up the road now, looking out for the unaccustomed hazard of traffic. The scenery becomes ever more pastoral. You pass a lone building on the left; marked as the Peniel Centre in Wainwright's guide. Half a mile further on is a cattle grid. The high level route joins here, and now the road turns left away from Halter Burn to climb the ridge across to the valley of Bowmont Water.

Kirk Yetholm

Kirk Yetholm from the road

It's cruel, that ascent. It's the last thing you need at this stage, but don't give up now. It's only 150ft, for heaven's sake! Half a mile along the road the gradient levels out and there, ahead of you, is the rich green valley of Bowmont Water. Look back at the Cheviots for the last time and then follow the road down as it slides past the eastern end of Kirk Yetholm just below. In no time at all the lane becomes a residential road that drops you, without warning or ceremony, into the centre of the village at the edge of the green.

You've just walked the Pennine Way. Over to your right, at the far end of the green, is the Border Hotel - it's traditional to call in at the bar and sign the Pennine Way logbook (though only if you've walked the way in one expedition. I didn't qualify).

The Border Hotel, end of the Pennine Way

The chances are that you'll be overnighting either here, or in neighbouring Town Yetholm just half a mile further on. Otherwise, if you're early enough (some hope!) you might catch the late afternoon bus to Kelso. Masochists who don't know when to stop can pick up St Cuthbert's Way here and walk on to Melrose, and for those hardy souls tackling the End to End it's now only 475 miles to John O' Groats. Go on, you know you can do it.

Byrness to Border Gate Back to Pennine Way index Kirk Yetholm to Morebattle

This page last updated 29th December 2004