There it was. The highest mountain in our county, and we were about to conquer it.
My friend and I had set off that morning taking the bus to beautiful Wooler where we began our hike across the moors of Northumberland towards our goal.
It was my first time in hiking boots (borrowed) and my first experience carrying a rucksack (also borrowed) but my friend was an old hand having hiked once before.
We were using an ordnance survey map of the area which showed elevations as well as roads and rivers so we figured we would have no trouble finding our way.
We soon realised that if the map had shown fences, farm houses, cart tracks, bracken and grassy areas it would have been much more useful. There were no roads in the area we were traversing so it amounted to trying to figure out which hill you were on and, with a compass, identifying the next one.
Being bright individuals we figured out a route with as little climbing as possible so that we could cover the distance quickly without tiring ourselves.
We hadn't figured on bracken and our route took us through some large patches. It is not impossible to walk through bracken but not advisable and very slow so we were forced to improvise as we went in order to miss these areas.
After about 2 hours we stopped by a stream, not shown on the map, to have lunch.
We had packed everything we would need to be away from home for three days so the rucksacks weighed about 100 lbs each and we were glad to take a rest although I was surprised at how easy it was to carry that weight when packed in the correct container.
That first attempt at taking off a rucksack was quite an awakening. Taking one arm out of the straps and trying to lift the whole thing with the other strap ended up with the rucksack traveling quickly to the ground with me on top of it. I learned that this was a team thing or else you just sat down until the rucksack touched the ground and then wriggled out of it. Getting back on your feet when you put it on was a bit more of a challenge when you were tired.
We studied the map while we ate our sandwiches because there were lots of thin little lines indicating rivers and we thought the one we were next to should be showing. After much discussion we decided that we were either ½ a mile north of where we should be or ½ a mile south of where we should be or the map was wrong.
Undaunted we climbed to the top of the hill where we could see mount Cheviot, took a compass reading and set off in that direction ignoring the map. Every hour or so we would climb a hill and reset our direction.
The plan had been to climb this mountain on the first day and head south to a youth hostel on the second but it became obvious that we had been just a little ambitious in our thinking so we re-thought and decided to camp at the bottom of the mountain and climb it on the second day. We still had yet to reach the mountain but it was definitely coming closer.
As we were crossing a patch of bracken that there seemed no way around I almost stepped on a fox. I couldn't believe that I hadn't seen it or that it had waited until I was only a foot from it before leaping up and bounding away. I might have been more impressed with the beauty of the red tail flying as it left if I had not fallen back in shock. For future reference do not sit down in bracken. My friend helped me up or I may have become a fixture as a grim reminder not to disturb the wild life. The sheep were staring down at us from their positions on the hill, their black faces filled with pity for these two hapless travelers who didn't have the sense to avoid bracken.
Suddenly as we crested the next rise we were at the foot of the mountain, or close enough, and as there was still plenty of light left we went looking for a suitable place to camp.
We found a lovely river where we could fill up our water and knowing all about the requisites of a camp site settled down for a meal before pitching the tent.
We had a little camp stove that had been easy enough to light when we tried it in the kitchen but again it was more of a challenge at the foot of a mountain with a fair wind blowing.
We cooked up our baked beans and I know I was congratulating myself on being so self sufficient.
After a nice rest the light started to fade so we unpacked the tent and set about the easy task of setting it up. It was an easy task in our back yard where the tent pegs just pushed into the lawn but, too late, we found that our ideal site had only about one inch of soil over rock. We moved several times but finally had to make the best of what we had. Some of the pegs went in deep enough with much pounding with a rock but others we had to pile rocks on top of to hold them. We set up our sleeping bags using a flashlight and climbed into them exhausted.
There is nothing like sleeping in the fresh air and I had the most wonderful sleep until about 3 am when the tent fell on my face. I even got back to sleep after fixing the wayward tent peg. My friend never even woke.
Our breakfast of powdered eggs mixed with river water cooked over our little stove made me realise that I was actually roughing it.
We packed up all our gear and I admit to having thoughts of leaving some behind because what had gone in easily at home was not being nearly so cooperative in the wilderness.
Pulling on my much larger rucksack I attempted to stand and experienced the most awful pains in my upper legs and lower back. My friend told me that was normal because I was using muscles I didn't normally use and I did see him wince a few times so I knew it wasn't just me. Climbing to the top of this mountain didn't seem nearly as appealing as it had the day before but I would never admit it so off we went.
After working through the pain the climb was really quite easy. Not much different from hiking the moors except for missing the downhill parts.
At the summit we stood and surveyed Scotland and England stretching out before us. We should have taken a flag to plant to prove we had been there because not many people made it to this point. Most hikers couldn't be bothered and it was certainly not a challenge for real climbers. Now that I live in another country I have had to reassess my concept of what constitutes a mountain. We have a small mountain on the North Shore in Vancouver called Grouse Mountain, tiny compared to the Rockies a short distance to the East.
To get there is a very short drive to the foot at 2890 ft elevation. The Ski hill starts at 4100 ft.
Mount Cheviot in Northern England is 2676 feet above sea level.