A Pennine Trek, Part 3 – Hell and High Walking

hell 1

WE used to live in a Cumbrian village called Marton, which had the nickname “La’l Hell” – or Little Hell. In its iron-mining heyday, it was said a bloke had to “fight to get in and fight to get out again”. I note from the internet that Hexham shares the same distinction. Hexham was known as the “hell” of the Border country. In the old days, if you wanted to offend someone, you said “To Hexham wi’ you and ye’r whussell”, or “Gang to Hexham”. Which makes me wonder why I’ve spent to past two days walking there . . .

From Hangman Hill I’m heading for Hell along Broad Way, a footpath across the moors that links Allenheads to the outskirts of Hexham. I have no doubt that before the advent of metalled roads it ran all the way to the town, affording travellers and drovers a convenient route from the south to the north. (Click images for high-res versions)

hell 2My night beneath Hangman Hill was uneventful. I wasn’t attacked in my tent by cattle thieves, highwaymen or lesser ruffians, and I heard no moaning, groaning or creaking of nooses on the night wind. In fact, except for the continuous clucking of grouse – which are so thick and desperate to be shot that they peck about in the heather like domestic hens – I had a very peaceful time.

Now it’s 7.40am, the sun is shining after rising behind Hangman Hill in a glorious moorland dawn, and I’m on the high track to Hexham – or Hell, as we shall call it for the sake of tradition.

hell 3 hell 4 hell 5 hell 6 hell 7 hell 8But really, there isn’t much left to say, because my walk from Bowes is pretty much at an end. After two or three miles, Broad Way descends to fertile valleys and joins the national road system, running straight and true between widely-spaced walls that perhaps shed light on its origins. I’ve only six or seven miles to walk to Hell – which, incidentally, is the only Tory-held seat in the North-East – so instead of boring you with small talk about the weather or my blisters, I intend to have a rant.

hell 11On my march to Hell I pass many farm entrances, and nailed to the gates or gateposts of most of them are yellow signs saying: “YOU ARE BEING WATCHED.”

If these signs were fastened to farm buildings so that the only people able to read them were actually walking – legally or otherwise – on private land, then I would have no issue with them. But I am on a public road. I have as much right to be where I am as the farmer, his wife and the dairymaid.

The last time I sat down and thought about it, I was living in a free country. We have a right to privacy and a right to roam. We have freedom of movement on public roads and pathways, and many generations of men and women have laid down their lives to uphold those freedoms.

When I am going about my business in a public place, harming neither person nor property and abiding by the law, the last thing I need is some faceless landowner telling me I am being watched, because this indicates to me that I am automatically a suspect. I am a potential thief, a robber, an enemy of the farming community.

I am none of these things; I am a British citizen with rights and responsibilities. I do not accept I should be watched because I am simply walking along a road. I do not accept it is reasonable for the public to be affronted or intimidated in this manner. So in a perfect world, I would expect those landowners, farmers, tenants, or whoever, to remove their signs and stick them somewhere more appropriate.

hell 9 hell 10After a couple of hours pounding tarmac, I reach the long and steep descent into Hell. By now I’ve arrived at the conclusion the landowners in this vicinity have for generations held the belief that all strangers are potential sheep thieves, cattle rustlers, vagabonds, villains, highwaymen, robbers, ne’er-do-wells, tinkers, apple-scrumpers, egg-stealers and poachers. Hence the strategically-positioned Hangman Hill on the high road from the south – a grisly welcome for visitors and a sharp warning to those who intend falling foul of the law.

On the edge of the town centre I cross another road descending from the east. It’s called Gallows Bank.

Welcome to Hell. The next train leaves in ten minutes and I’m going to be on it.

hell 12

Hexham Abbey. It’s a nice town really.

About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Camping, Death, Drove roads, Environment, Footpaths, Ghosts, Hiking, History, Mountains, Ranting, Walking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to A Pennine Trek, Part 3 – Hell and High Walking

  1. Mjollnir says:

    Looks like nice walking and a bloody good rant is justified! You won’t have this problem when you join Greater Scotland! 😀


    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. I could claim nationality with my parentage. I got a clan tie somewhere.
      Cheers, Alen


      • Mjollnir says:

        Of course you could – I’m pretty sure we’re distantly related somewhere along the line 😀


        • McEff says:

          My father was into tracing his roots, and apparently the McFadzeans originate from Lochbuie on Mull. I don’t know whether they have an annual get-together like some clans do, but if they ever have one I’ll certainly go along. Quite fancy wearing a kilt.


          • Mjollnir says:

            Mull it was indeed. Forced out by a surfeit of MacLeans most departed for the then Gaelic speaking region of Galloway and the name is still fairly common in Ayrshire, Wigtonshire and Dumfriesshire. I think I told you my Grandfather came from a tiny village in south Ayrshire where his father was the local CofS minister so your father was right. 😀


            • McEff says:

              That’s interesting. I’ve often wondered how my father’s family ended up in Sanquhar. I did wonder if they’d drifted down in search of work or been booted out during the Clearances. If you’ve any more information it would be gratefully received.


  2. Greg. says:

    Tent looks good Alen. I’ve just deleted a long rant about the type of people that vote Tory because I may have offended some of your readers. Lol as they say nowadays.


    • McEff says:

      Greg, it’s not like you to hold back. Didn’t David Cameron get into trouble for using LOL with that woman with the red hair? He thought it meant something else. The tent’s brilliant, by the way.
      Cheers, Alen


  3. Jo Woolf says:

    Oh dear, it was all going so well! 🙂 I love the pics of the heather moorland and the old tracks. I think those signs are an offence in themselves, assuming that your intentions are dishonest or suspicious. Talk about George Orwell! There’s no simple decency or respect any more. PS What would my ‘whussell’ be, if someone condemned it to Hexham?


  4. Hanna says:

    We also have a monitoring craze in Denmark. A particularly beautiful scenery was completely destroyed by the use of fences signs and cameras.
    It seems to be a beautiful area, Alen. It is unfortunate that there were no ghosts. If one of the grouse had crept into the Hobbit hole without you noticing it 😈
    All the best,


  5. The Farmwatch signs aren’t actually against ramblers at all – they’re against sheep rustlers and quad-bike pinchers, both of whom are greatly on the increase in the countryside nowadays. You’ll also see a lot of farms using (and displaying notices about) smart water on their equipment (although not on their livestock unfortunately).


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