Cairn Hill, Northumberland

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Cairn Hill
Northumberland, Roxburghshire
Cairn Hill - - 1510699.jpg
Cairn Hill summit
Range: Cheviot Hills
Summit: 2,549 feet NT903195
55°28’9"N, 2°9’18"W

Cairn Hill or Hangingstone Hill stands at 2,549 feet above sea level on the edge of the shires of Northumberland and Roxburgh. It is a subsidiary top of the larger bulk of the Cheviot, the highest fell of the Cheviots and indeed of Northumberland. The Cheviot's summit stands 125 feet higher, a mile to the north

Cairn Hill itself has three noted tops:

Main Top

The main summit of the hill is marked with a cairn known as Scotsman's Cairn. It is all within Northumberland. A paved path leads from the Cheviot summit towards it across the sea of peat which is the shared summit plateau.

West Top

The West Top is on the border of Northumberland and Roxburghshire, and it provides the highest point of Roxburghshire.

The West Top is to the west of Cairn Hill’s main top, rising barely 50 feet above the summit plain. Auchope Cairn is to the north-west.

At the West Top one finds the Hanging Stone, which gives Cairn Hill its alternative name. The Hanging Stone marks out the West Top, and this is the point at which the county boundary takes a sudden turn from a south-west to north-east path to the north. West of here the boundary follows the watershed between the Tweed basin and the Northumberland coast, but from the Hanging Stone the boundary makes its path to the Tweed. This border was apparently defined in the Middle Ages as the border of Scotland with England, having formerly been the Tweed.

The Cairn itself rises to 2,382 feet above sea level on the boundary of Northumberland and Roxburghshire. Though at the county's very edge, the Cairn Hill West Top is the highest point of Roxburghshire; the county top.

Auchope Cairn

Auchope Cairn
Main article: Auchope Cairn

Auchope Cairn rises less than 50 feet above the surrounding ground on all sides, part of Cairn Hill and of the massive bulk of the Cheviot, Northumberland`s own highest hill, standing on the western extremity of the Cheviot. The view from Auchope Cairn has been described as one of the most outstanding views in Northumberland, and no doubt in Roxburghshire.

The view far out over the lands to north and south have inspired hyperbole:

"On a clear day the view to the west and north must be one of the most extensive in Great Britain"[1]
"...enjoy the breathtaking views in all directions, the Tweed Valley, the North Sea and the Northumbrian Coast, the mountains of Tweedsmuir faint and far between the triple sentinels of the Eildons." [2]

Hen Hole

Hen Hole

The Hen Hole is an ice-sculpted, steep-sided gorge through which the newly sprung College Burn leaps. This is without doubt the most impressive ravine in the Cheviot Hills where alpine vegetation survives and folklore abounds. The burn cascades down a series of small waterfalls below towering crags.

The ascent of the Hen Hole can be made on either side of the burn, with some easy scrambling, passing initially the delightful Three Sisters waterfall, followed by two more cascades, before climbing very steeply to emerge on the borders of the shires.

The Pennine Way

The heights of Cairn Hill are on the Pennine Way long distance footpath, at its very northern end before the decent to Kirk Yetholm, but those expecting a restful last stretch will find some truth in Wainwright's observation that it "commands a wide prospect of the terrain still to be crossed".[3] This, perhaps the most exposed part of the ridge, is yet a resting point for those facing the last eight miles of the Pennine Way.


There are many routes to Cairn Hill. The Pennine Way from Kirk Yetholm or indeed all the way from Edale in Derbyshire is the most frequented, but others present themselves. Most climbs, unless strictly on the Pennine Way, will include the summit of The Cheviot itself.

One recommended route is 5 miles from Mounthooly in the College Valley. The path follows up the College Burn, but it is privately owned and numbers are restricted. Towards the head of the College valley the track splits in two but the route to the top stays with the burn up and into the rocky cleft of the Hen Hole, at which point the gentle walk becomes at once a very different one.

An alternative is a 9-mile walk from the Harthope Valley, five miles south-west of Wooler, following a private road up through an old plantation to follow the New Burn through heather and over two stiles to eventually join the ridge across the top of Scald Hill, then following the fence off Scald Hill down and up to the summit plateau of the Cheviot. A millstone pathway leads to the summit trig point; a miry place. Cairn Hill is off to the south-west.

Around the hill

Away from these summits and that of the Cheviot the hill descends steeply. To the north-east of Auchope Cairn is a celebrated chasm known as the Hen Hole, in which the infant College Burn makes its way off the hill, heading northwards to the River Glen, whose waters eventually reach the Tweed.

The Cheviot Burn heads west into Roxburghshire, its waters eventually reaching the Tweed, as do most of the waters from Cairn Hill, though a few burns head south to the Kidland Forest and to Coquetdale.


  1. James Logan Mack James Logan: The Border Line (1924)
  2. Hall, Alan: The Border Country (1993)
  3. Wainwright, Alfred: Wainwright on the Pennine Way