In Search of Wild Things

In the far north of England, huddled against the Scottish border and looking out unflinchingly at the North Sea lies a primitive yet often overlooked wilderness. A rarely-awarded panorama shows the hills share the same pockmarked muscularity of the Cairngorms. To many these vistas are beautiful. To others, bleak. The mist and mizzle lift so rarely an agreement is yet to be reached.

It is an uncompromising amalgam of bogs, moss, and stone. Water oozes down porous valleys overlooked by scree-scattered slopes below wind scarred summits. Its heathery peat, once trod by kings and reivers, lies largely unfettered by humans, and to this day it remains one of the most sparsely populated regions in the UK. However, there is an elusive beast that has called the area home for hundreds of years.

The Cheviot Goat traces its lineage back to the Neolithic period when they were domesticated livestock – the only animal capable of toughing out these challenging conditions. Over time, they were replaced by sheep and set loose to roam the hills free of agrarian interference once more.

Human habitation is limited to a few valleys which snake their way into this impenetrable land like fertile tributaries. People are very much tenants in the Kingdom of the Goat, and they like their privacy.

Their coats are long and coarse with a pair of long, curved horns giving them a feral, near-mystical appearance. Keen eyesight and hearing, coupled with a reclusive nature, mean sightings are rare. Local farmers say you smell them before you see them.

In an attempt to catch a glimpse of them ourselves, we took to the Hen Hole – a steep, craggy valley nestled in the lee of the 815m Cheviot.

For 12 hours we climbed, scrambled, and yomped our way up and down its steep banks, crossing the streams, scree, and granite crenelations that fortify this otherworldly place. The weather, energized by its sweeping descent from Cheviot, threw multiple contrasting systems into the valley, and they swirled around us in unpredictable patterns. This meteorological impermanence juxta-posed dramatically against the ancient landscape, amongst which our quarry remained steadfastly elusive.

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It is easy to see why they stay hidden. Who wouldn’t find solace amongst such wild things?

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