Dunkery Beacon, Somerset

Our first county top for ages, but a real winner. On our way to north Devon we drove through Exmoor. Dunkery Beacon (520m) sits just above the road between Wheddon Cross and Porlock on the Somerset side of the moor. The walk is very easy, barely a mile from the road, but the wind was blowing icy rain into our faces as we followed a stone path between the bogs.

It was then on to Devon. Not sure I have ever been to north Devon before. Note to future self: Morthoe-Woolacombe-Croyde-Braunton is a lovely corner of the world. We particularly enjoyed Damien Hirst’s Verity at Ilfracombe.


Q: Where can you go on August bank holiday in England to avoid seeing people?

A: The Cheviot Hills of Northumberland.

Every time I visit England’s far north-east I am struck by its beauty and remoteness. I imagine the Lake District was heaving on Monday. Not so these hills straddling the English/Scottish border. We hiked from Kirk Yetholm in Scotland along the Pennine Way to The Schil.

Northumberland is also the site of Hadrian’s Wall. I dug at Vindolanda in 2003 so it was nice to return with the family. The fort at Housesteads is, I think, the most northerly example of a large Roman settlement.

Our forays into Northumberland were part of a lovely family holiday in the Scottish borders.

The highlight was finding part of Dere Street — the old Roman road — in a field of cows whose attentions were somewhat unwelcome. As coincidence would have it, I listened last night to the tale of Y Gododdin, an old Welsh poem that remembers the march and defeat of ancient Britons against the Angles on Dere Street. I have to confess that the tale is new to me. That I know more about ancient Iraqi epic than the poems of these isles is something I need to rectify.

In Scotland, we also found our way to Rossyln Chapel to find the grave of Mary Magdalene to admire the stonework and enjoyed the pipes and drums at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Cat’s Back

Possibly my favourite hill in the country, Black Hill in Herefordshire, aka “The Cat’s Back,” is the perfect first wild hill to introduce to the new walker. Not quite the Herefordshire county top (which lies to the west, astride Offa’s Dyke), Black Hill rises 604m above the English/Welsh border. Drive up the valley from Longtown in Herefordshire and park at the designated car park (288 328). Five miles, 2550 ft ascent.


Cat's Back