The tiny village of Alwinton nestles where the plains of the middle reaches of the River Coquet begin to narrow towards Coquet Gorge. It sits on the border between the fell sandstones to the south and the volcanic Cheviot Hills to the north.
1. Church to wood
Turn left out of the car park, through the village and turn right. Along the road, you will pass St Michael and All Angels church, which dates from early Norman times, though it was rebuilt in the 19th century. Continue past Harbottle West Wood to the car parking area just inside the southeast corner.
2. Castle remains
For a short diversion, continue along the road to Harbottle Castle. Harbottle Castle ruins command the small hilltop above the village. Built in 1160, it saw much action during border conflicts, and was captured by Robert the Bruce in 1310. Its historical significance is that in 1515, Margaret Tudor, Henry VIIIâs sister, gave birth to a daughter, also Margaret, who became grandmother to James I of England, also James VI of Scotland. Following the uniting of the kingdoms, the castleâs strategic importance declined and it fell into ruin.
Return to West Wood and turn left just after The Old Manse.
3. Harbottle Grags
Take the footpath uphill and through a gate leading into Harbottle Crags Nature Reserve. Turn right and follow the track uphill alongside the forest boundary wall. Halfway up, you can rest on the wooden seat to enjoy the view over Harbottle village to the hills beyond.
Continue up, past heather and bilberry, which hide millstones abandoned in quarried hollows, to arrive at the Drake Stone. This enormous erratic boulder was broken from a nearby crag and carried here by a glacier during the last Ice Age. It stands 9m (30ft) tall and weighs an estimated 2,030 tons. Its ascent may have once been a rite of passage for young men, as its flat top is carved with names that date back to 1805.
The track now runs gently downhill and along the northern shore of Harbottle Lake. A fence near the western edge marks the boundary of the Otterburn Military Range. The lake surface is, at times, a frantic ripple of whirligig beetles, while damselflies breed in nearby sphagnum pools. The drier glaciated slabs to the north are covered in heather, with the occasional sprig of white variety, and the mammals in the reserve range from roe deer to the short-tailed vole.
4. Rose and Thistle
An uphill footpath along the boundary fence leads into Harbottle West Wood, and continues to its northern edge. A broad rubble forest road leads down to the right and back to the road. Turn left and follow this back to Alwinton, and refreshments in the Rose and Thistle.
Quiet road and rough mountain footpaths, rocky and sometimes muddy in places. Wear strong footwear and waterproof clothing.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car: Take the B6341 west from Rothbury for 4 miles, then turn right on to a minor road through Sharperton and Harbottle to Alwinton.
By public transport:
Frequent bus services run to Rothbury from Newcastle, Morpeth and Alnwick.
Two buses each day travel between Rothbury and Alwinton.
Rose and Thistle
Main image ©Getty
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