Darden Lough

Embark on a trek across open moorland on the edges of the Simonside hills to reach a hidden lake in the Northumberland National Park.

I’d often passed the sign for this walk and stopped a while to gaze at the masses of purple heather that cover the hillsides. Unfortunately, the dull browns of mid-March don’t make for quite so pretty pictures.

I picked a changeable day to do this walk. While the first half was in reasonable sunshine, after reaching the lough the weather changed and an icy wind brought the rain lashing into my eyes. A lone sheep, perhaps taking pity on this poor walker, appeared ahead on the path to lead me in the right direction until the sun emerged once again.

Distance: 4 ½ miles
Start and Finish: Parking area on the Elsdon to Rothbury road (NY 95880 98125).
Access: No public transport to the start of the walk. The Saturday-only 808 service from Newcastle stops at nearby Elsdon.

A small lay-by at the side of the road between the village of Elsdon and the market town of Rothbury and marks the start of a walk into the moorland on the edges of the Simonside hills.

The sign in the lay-by marking the start of the route to Darden Lough.

Pass through the gate and bear right across the field, aiming for a small wooden footbridge over a particularly muddy patch of ground. North of this is more substantial crossing over the Grasslees burn. Climb over a ladder stile by a gate, and continue straight along the track, climbing gently towards the heath.

As the path starts to level, leave the track and head to the right. The right-of-way marked on Ordnance Survey maps serves as a guide in only the broadest of senses; the path on the ground shadows and criss-crosses the supposed path, but rarely sticks to it. Instead, the way is marked by a series of poles jutting above the heather — though these are intermittently placed and often difficult to see, especially from a distance.

Make for the trees over to your right. The path continues between the trees and the large rocky mound of Cloven Crag, after which it swings more sharply southwards to climb around at its foot.

A way marker near Cloven Crag.

There’s a particular sense of isolation out on the open moor like this. With nothing in the way of shelter, you’re entirely exposed to the elements.

The rugged sandstone of the Simonside hills shapes the landscape.

Bear right at a fork in the path to rejoin the right of way temporarily. Take the left path at the next fork, after which the path climbs slightly. Ahead to the left on the horizon stands the cairn on Darden Pike, which marks the furthest point of the walk.

Continue through the heather to cross a small bridge over the Black Burn. Across the burn the ground becomes much boggier as you climb uphill.

Finding your way can prove difficult, especially when the way markers are as overgrown as this.

Eventually your determination will pay off as you arrive at the cairn atop Darden Pike (the trig point stands on the other side of the fence here). From the hilltop you can look back across the moor to the farmland on the edges of the Otterburn Ranges, and also to the Simonside Hills on the other side of Darden Lough, which lies below you.

The view to the Lough from the cairn at Darden Pike.

Continue along the path to the wet ground by the lakeside. At a fence the path bears left to make its way back to the car. The return journey is much less arduous, being fairly straight and in sight of the fence to your right. The first stretch of ground is boggy, but as you leave the lough behind the sandstone of the Simonside hills is drier underfoot.

A pleasant descent from the Lough across the open moor.

As the path descends, you will arrive at a small wooded area on the opposite side of the fence. Go through the gate here, and follow the path down through the peaceful trees alongside the Clovencrag Sike.

Venture through the gate between the trees to leave the moorland.

After emerging from the trees pass through a gate on your left and over a footbridge across the stream. Ahead is the ladder stile crossed at the start of the walk; climb over here and cross the field to arrive back at the lay-by.

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