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Pocket full of Pennines. The Northern Pennines completed.

Pocket full of Pennines. The Northern Pennines completed.

Postby stig_nest » Sun Aug 16, 2015 4:37 pm

Hewitts included on this walk: Cross Fell, Great Dun Fell, Knock Fell, Little Dun Fell, Round Hill

Date walked: 08/08/2015

Time taken: 6.5

Distance: 24.5 km

Ascent: 670m

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The Northern Pennines... What's up there?

It's just peat bogs, heather and monotony isn't it?

Well, the truth is the Area North of the Howgills, East of the Lake District is a quiet, rugged, wild open space full of stunning hidden valleys, numerous pretty waterfalls, mining relics & jaw dropping views.

As my mission to complete the English Hewitts nears it's end I found myself in a position to wrap up these secretive fells so, having had a few days up at the in laws in Scotland I headed back across the border and found myself pootling up a dead end road looking for somewhere to put the tent up for a night under the stars.

My last leg of the Pennines most Northerly tops was an eagerly anticipated loop of the biggest hills of the range. The high point would be Cross Fell, that hill that more often than not has its head in the clouds, that hill that has its own weather condition - the Helm wind.
In addition to Cross Fell a further four Hewitts were scheduled for a visit and given the forecast for clear calm weather it looked like I was going to have a fine walk.

Having reached the end of the road from Garrigill to Dorthgill I found that the track was not only ungated but also perfectly driveable way beyond the point I thought I'd be setting up base. So continuing on up the valley I eventually found a spot right in the middle of nowhere beyond the South Tyne watershed. This was a real bonus because not only was my walk now a loop but the long walk in that had been part of the planned 28k route had now been removed.
Late evening sunshine on tent nest

A beautiful clear night with barely a sound, save the odd Grouse led to a very good nights sleep and an early rise. The camp packed away by 8am and off towards Moor House.

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The track continued to be a mixture of very good gravel and stone or tarmac and progress was quick and effortless. The track is gated at the crossing of the River Tees but for a walker there is no obstruction to further progress as Trout Beck is picked up and followed upstream
River Tees & Gt. Dunn Fell

I'd read quite a bit about the Moor House project and I couldn't help feel more than a tad envious of those who have spent time doing studies at this far flung outpost. Passing the point where Trout Beck is crossed by the Moor House track I forked right and continued up a less developed track further into the wilds. Trout Beck was very calm and peaceful this morning but a little further upstream I came across a large section of absent track. The beck has obviously taken quite a bite out of the bank here whilst in spate conditions and the route comes to an abrupt end with a drop to the water some 4 feet below, skirting around this section I rejoined the now marooned upper section of track and continued towards the source of the beck.
Won't be driving up here no more

The track peters out into a lone furrow through the grass and heather but it's never hard to follow except for a couple of soggy crossings where it's pretty much every man for himself (or herself).

From the very start of the walk the golf ball like dome on the summit of Great Dun Fell had been like a beacon showing me the way. Finally it felt like it was actually within reach. I'm not a great fan of mans interference in the wild parts of our country. Farm tracks are fair enough, but things like cafes and the ilk are really not my thing. Somehow though, The radar installation up here is ok. Maybe it's the novelty value of it.
Upper reaches of Trout Beck. Fishies spotted even up here

Anyway, before Great Dun Fell I had planned to out and back to Knock Fell. There hadn't been a particularly satisfactory way of including this top previously. I had toyed with the idea of doing a loop including it with Murton Fell to the south but having paid a visit there as part of my Mickle / Little Fell walk the only real option was to include it with the Cross Fell route. As it turn out this was hardly an inconvenience. The path being three quarters paved with slabs lifted from countless redundant Northern mills. The summit area is reasonably flat so a wander about the cairns was called for. The view Westwards now had opened out and was every bit as rewarding as expected. But the eye was naturally drawn to the tops to be visited next.
Knock Fell, Looking at the onward route

Returning to the private Tarmac road up to the Golf ball I encountered my first two people of the day. They had cycled up the road from the village of Knock. An ascent of more than 600m. Is this the highest tarmac strip in U.K.?

I had been a tad concerned about Great Dun Fell. Due to the nature of the installation on the summit I thought there was a chance that the summit may have been fenced off behind a Stalag style security fence. My fears were unfounded though and aside from a cattle grid there was nothing preventing the true summit being reached.
Having had a bit of a chatter with the cycling lads I left the surveillance I was no doubt under and descended to the col and climb of Little Dun Fell. This proved less effort than it looked like it was going to be. Passing the small summit cairn I continued to the wind shelter which gave welcome respite from the gusts which had been gathering strength in the last hour or so.
Great Dun Fell from Little Dun Fell summit

I sat there a good half hour.
Taking in the view of the landscape that most folk in the country would never see, there was more than a ounce of sadness really. I had read quite a bit about these hills before ever setting foot in them, had made certain assumptions and had little expectation before committing to walking the Hewitts and now here I was within two or three hours of finishing them - perhaps to never return. I'd grown to love this area. It's peacefulness, the vast open views. Sure, there had been the odd moment when knee deep in peat I had cursed the place but you get used to even peat and heather eventually and to be fair there has been areas in the Arans, Berwyns and Elan Valley regions of Wales that were at least as bad.

Time to move on.

Cross Fell then. The ascent was again nothing too punishing and arrival at the Southern cairn was swift. At this point there is an Ordnance Survey concrete ring. I've never really worked out the how or why but there's not that many of these features. There's one at the top of Blencathra too as well as a few other locations but they're hard to spot even when you're looking for them.
From here a quick stroll over to the huge expertly constructed cairn and cross shelter marked the ticking off of my highest unclimbed English hill.
The view up here, even on a day like today was simply vast.
The Cheviots, Criffel, the whole of the Lakeland posse, Howgills, possibly even the Cleveland hills in the murk. What a place.
O.S. concrete ring and cairn on Cross Fell

So that was it? Well, not quite. I would have liked to have finished on Cross Fell, but Round Hill still remained. I had toyed with the idea of nipping up there the night before but had I done so I would still have had to traverse the slopes to get back to my car so for once, I stuck to my original plan.

I elected to leave Cross Fell to the North. I like to explore a mountain as much as I can and avoid doing the out and backs where it's feasible to do so. Picking up the Pennine Way again I headed away from the summit and continued on past Gregs Hut. It's fair to say hut is a bit derogatory for this bothy. A very sturdy old farmhouse type building. Weatherproof and open for you to spend the night there. No it's not the Ritz, but it would certainly provide some welcome respite from the sometimes vicious Pennine weather.

The mining remnants at Black Gut were passed before picking up the bridleway back towards Tees Head. My route to Round Hill would now take me across the amazingly named Crossgill Pants. This region looked like your worst nightmare, a good 2k of peat bog with little elevation. But as I approached it became apparent that a pathway had been laid using plastic mesh. I had seen this done before on Comb Fell in the Cheviots however there it had been laid out to encourage regeneration of the flora. Here there was no signs indicating such. Indeed it seems likely it had been put down to facilitate access to the Grouse butts which march up the side of Round Hill. Either way I used the mesh pathway which took me all the way to Cross Gill head. The climb up to Round Hill was all that remained now and battling my way through burnt heather, peat and rough grass back to the fence I then continued using the fence as a handrail up to the summit region. As a word of advice - The point where the fence is replaced by a dry stone wall is the best place to get to the summit side of Round Hill.

As you may have deduced, I continued up the left hand side of the wall to the top of the hill. Patiently waiting for the gate to come into view. It never did!
So 22km into the walk I find myself scaling a wall taller than myself. Another one of those now familiar doh moments!
Crossgill Pants. note the plastic mesh track

Summit of Round Hill looking down upper Teesdale to Cow Green Reservoir

The summit of Round Hill is something of an anticlimax but also as expected (if that makes sense).
A very small cairn on a small grassy bump. The views of the upper reaches of the River Tees is a delight no doubt, as is the view to the fells visited early in the day, but it lacks the grandeur of the views from earlier on.
I followed the fence down into the South Tyne watershed, passing more mining relics before picking up the track I had driven up the previous evening and the final stroll back over the crest to the car.
Sculpure marking source of the South River Tyne. It's interesting to note that there doesn't appear to be any such structure marking the source of the Tees, a mere 5k away.

So, All things considered are the Northern Pennines worthy of your hooves?
Well if your idea of purgatory is Peat and Heather then perhaps this isn't the place for you. It's not all like that mind. The section from Knock Fell to Cross fell is all easy going mainly on rock or slab. There's also other tops including the recently promoted Thack Moor which with a clear weather day will take your breath away. The other side of the coin however will have you traipsing through groughs and morale sapping bog between relatively insignificant bumps on blunt ill defined ridges. Black Fell from Tommy Smiths stone as bad as anything I can remember and having missed the path on Killhope Law the heather and groughs nearly beat me. Then there's the "adventure" I had up Meldon Fell in a blizzard in the middle of April. But overall I had far more enjoyable hours than bad.

The biggest draw in my opinion is the solitude you will undoubtedly enjoy. In the 200+ kilometers I walked it was only along the Dun Fells and Cross Fell section that I saw any number of people. Indeed I saw more folk in the two or so hours along that ridge than I did whilst on foot across all the other fells put together.
The rural nature of the region also means that in the event of a clear night you are likely to be mesmerized by the dazzling spectacle of the milky way. On a night with little or no moonlight it is a sight which really does take the breath away. The roads are noticeably quieter than even those in the Dales and the people who I came across were both friendly and informative.
A good number of the hills lend themselves to shortish routes and most have fences running up them. This makes navigation somewhat easier though it's not an area I would recommend walking in misty conditions.
There's no end of historical relics too, from a time when Lead was keenly sought. This does also mean that there are a number of unfenced shafts, adits and levels about and naturally great care should be taken when in these areas. There's also a few curios such as the Curry stool on Bink Moss, not to mention the legendary wellies.
The issue of access to Mickle and Little Fell is of course one of those tricky subjects. I wont divulge exactly how I covered these two though will say that I didn't encounter any spent shells or suspicious items walking in as I did from Scordale. I will also add that the section recommended by the military along Swarth and Maize Becks was very, very wet on my visit and I was glad to only cover this section once. The walk up to Mickle Fell from Maize Beck too would in my opinion be a thoroughly morale sapping trudge.
Looking over to Mickle Fell east top (Trig pint) from near summit of Mickle Fell

Mickle Fell & Little Fell from the summit of Murton Fell

At head of Scordale, A place where shelling never occurs according to a local fellow I met

I'm glad I decided to explore the region though. Yes there are hills up there which I will never return to but there's enough character and unique charm to be discovered here which could make for a memorable visit.
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Re: Pocket full of Pennines. The Northern Pennines completed

Postby ChrisW » Mon Aug 17, 2015 2:48 am

Fantastic write up Stig, it seems somehow 'wrong' that this was a completion (congratulations mate :clap: ) and it was just you standing at a somewhat disappointing little cairn all alone...then again maybe I've got this all ass backwards, as a 'lone wolf' I would have loved to stand there and contemplate the achievement alone.

Maybe I've got so used to seeing folks celebrating a completed round it's become expected when in fact, it's not really important in the grand scheme of things....all of those memories and that time alone with nature is reward enough.

I love the whole of the pennines and particularly the less trodden areas where being alone can really be appreciated and your photos make me long for some of that and a little bit of home.

Congratulations again Stig - keep em coming :clap: :clap: :clap: :D
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Re: Pocket full of Pennines. The Northern Pennines completed

Postby johnkaysleftleg » Mon Aug 17, 2015 9:52 am

A wonderful report. I agree that the NPs (at least the bits I have explored) have many hidden features that are fairly unexpected. I do have a hankering for completing them at some point but getting motivated for the potential bogs and telling the dog he can't come is a problem :lol: The view from Cross Fell on a clear day is truly epic however, Scafell Pike may well be the high point of England but it's Cross Fell that really feels like the roof of England on a day like that.
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Re: Pocket full of Pennines. The Northern Pennines completed

Postby Broggy1 » Mon Aug 17, 2015 10:12 am

Great report. :clap:

I also completed the NP's this year and enjoyed the area and will continue to explore it as I have easy access to the area via my parents caravan.

Some of the best bits - High Force and Cauldron Snout obviously, the valleys - High Cup, Threlkeld Side, Scordale. The main Cross Fell massif are big, big hills with far reaching views. Not Hewitts but Backstone Edge and especially the two pikes (Dufton and Murton) are excellent hills. As short walks I'd imagine Thack Moor, Flinty Fell, Great Stony Hill and surprisingly Killhope Law are good. Some lovely settlements as well - Allenheads, Garrigill etc.

Some of the worst bits - "that" ridge between Black Fell and Tom Smith's Stone which you quite rightly say is the worst of the worst, the ridge between Dead Stones and Burnhope Seat, the permitted approach to Mickle Fell, a few other bits - all worth saving for a dry period.

Lovely, quiet and undiscovered area. :clap:
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Re: Pocket full of Pennines. The Northern Pennines completed

Postby poppiesrara » Mon Aug 17, 2015 8:55 pm

Terrific report, Stig. :clap:

As you know, you're a bit ahead of me on the motivation for these!, but I'll get there one day & I'll be appreciating the advice and the detail then (and hoping for plenty of viewing days like this)...
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