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Desolate, dramatic and at times dazzling, the area around the English-Scottish border is a land of dormant volcanoes, fortified towns, vast saltmarshes and some rather horrid history


“The weather’s decent. Let’s pop up to the border and look at the volcano.” It’s not really a proposal you expect to hear in Britain. An hour later, having hiked from the small Northumberland town of Wooler to the summit of Humbleton Hill, we arrive at a cairn and are greeted by two cackling black grouse and the hunched silhouette of our volcano: the Cheviot. It’s the highest peak in an eponymous range of mountains that forms part of the border between England and Scotland.

Dr Ian Kille, who specialises in geology walks (and also happens to be an outstanding potter), patiently explains exactly what we’re looking at. Around 400 million years ago, he tells me, the Cheviot was a full-on volcano, the size of Mount Etna and busy spewing out magma; the hill we’re standing on is made up of ancient lava flows.

The landscape certainly fits the job description of a border. After our volcano calmed down, periodic ice ages left a legacy of enduring glacial hardware. Among these hills lurks intriguing rock art, such as cup and ring designs. It’s hard not to imagine the clanking ghosts of Picts, Romans, Scots and English soldiers, as well as smugglers and other ne’er-do-wells. “This is a landscape that’s been fought over in many different ways, both by nature and man,” says Ian cheerfully. “The landscape has governed the people and how they behave.”

Ian points out that, while we’re currently in England, we’re actually looking south into Scotland. “In places around here the border is almost straight north-south.”

My journey is taking me north-east to south-west — from the River Tweed to the Solway Firth — along a border that’s remained largely unchanged since it was agreed in 1222 by English and Scottish knights.

I’d begun the previous day in Berwickupon- Tweed, maybe best known as the English town whose football team plays in the Scottish leagues. But Berwick should be better known as a mini York or Chester; it enjoys a superb setting on the mouth of the River Tweed — those who arrive by train will sweep across the Tweed on the magnificent Royal Border Bridge.

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About National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Walk this way: Lofty passes through volcanic lunar landscapes; ancient pilgrim pathways strewn with churches and ruins; sumptuous forested trails opening out onto vineyards. a rambler’s reward is culture, ambience and wild scenery on the walking routes through Italy, France and Spain