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A rough ride on Grey Nag to Tom Smith's Stone Top

A rough ride on Grey Nag to Tom Smith's Stone Top


Postby trailmasher » Mon Apr 25, 2016 2:25 pm

Hewitts included on this walk: Grey Nag

Date walked: 18/04/2016

Time taken: 4.13

Distance: 14.31 km

Ascent: 641m

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Grey Nag and Tom Smith's Stone Top.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts


This is the first report of three days of walking whilst based at the Alston Youth Hostel. It's also the first of two firsts as far as E is concerned as it's the first time that she has stayed at a YH, and the first time that she has done consecutive days walking. As I'm currently trying to knock a hole in the number of Hewitt's, Nuttall's, and Birkett's that I have still to get up we decided that we could knock the tally of H's and N's down by seven with the minimum of travelling along narrow, winding roads which E loathes with a passion.

It was a miserable looking morning as we pulled up at the small parking area that is on the bridge opposite the telephone box that is about 3 kilometres from Alston on the A689 Alston to Brampton road. It was mild at 6°c but it was quite breezy, damp and the clouds covered the fell tops as we got set up for this latest walk in the North Western Pennines.

The start of the walk is directly opposite where we are parked and the fingerpost advertising the Pennine Way confirms this as we stepped over the low wall and entered a small copse of trees to follow a narrow path…
1 - The start of the walk to Grey Nag.JPG
The start of the walk to Grey Nag.

southwest as it rose gently up to meet a footbridge over a beck that runs into the River South Tyne that itself runs -for now - southeast in the valley below us.

Following the path as it rises and leaves the trees behind, Whitley Castle - the 9 acre site of the old Roman Fort named Epiacum that was built early in the 2nd century - comes into view. It is thought to have been built to protect and control the lead mining that was going on in the area even then, and looking at the number of defensive earthworks that surrounds the site it must have been an exciting place to have a posting at. If any more information about the fort is wanted then please follow this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitley_Castle

After passing through the gate stile at the edge of the trees we were now on open pasture land and this is where it began to get messy underfoot. It looks like the farmer has set up his sheep feeding stations across the route of the Pennine Way and the ground is churned up for a fair length uphill and many metres in width making the uphill journey both dirty and difficult as the ground was very greasy. We found a similar situation at the other end where Isaac's Tea Trail - after passing over the metal footbridge that spans Gilderdale Burn - begins to cross the fields. I may be being cynical about some farmers but…

We continued our slippery way up the Pennine Way until it veered off to the east whilst we continued on uphill on an increasingly improving grass track and passing some old mine workings before arriving at an old lime kiln that is still in fairly good condition where the path eventually ran out.
6 - The old lime kiln.JPG
The old lime kiln.

From here on we were to walk over pathless moor crossing areas of sometimes heather, sometimes brown tussocky grass, or a mixture of both. Intermingled with this there are wet areas of moss, some large, some small, and it's near impossible to walk around all of it or we would never have got very far today.

Not long after we had left the lime kiln the April showers of song fame began to fall. The breeze that we started off with is now a cold, strong wind and blowing in our faces. The showers were a mixture of rain and hail and even with hoods up and faces mostly covered, where the hail hit, it hurt. One or two showers were forecast for the morning but just now there are more showers than dry spells. The higher we climbed the stronger the wind got until it got to a point where we had to stop a few times and turn our backs on the rain and hail to give body and soul some respite from the elements. Needless to say that the only things in our vision at these moments were the peaks of our hoods and the grass under our feet but from where we were passing over Whitley Common and approaching Black Hill the views only cover Ayle Common to the north, Alston Moor to the east, the fells of Geltsdale are west, whilst south we can just about see Black Fell.

We passed a small cairn which I think was on Black Hill from where we had a good view across Gilderdale which will be our preferred route back from Tom Smith's Stone, crossed over a couple of wire fences, passed by Watchcurrick Spring to arrive at a point where a fence running southwest meets a dry stone wall running more south than southeast, this is where we squeezed between an old roll of sheep netting and the wall before being able to make our way over to the sheepfolds, trig point, and large cone shaped cairn of stones that is incorporated into the dry stone wall.
13 - The cone shaped cairn on Grey Nag's summit.JPG
The cone shaped cairn on Grey Nag's summit.

As we arrived at the 656 metre summit the showers gave up trying to batter us down into the heather and grass but we still had a strong, cold wind to keep us company as we settled down in a sheltered spot in the sheepfolds whilst having our lunch.
14 - The sheepfolds on Grey Nag's top.JPG
The sheepfolds on Grey Nag's top.

15 - Lunch on Grey Nag top is a meat and potato pasty.JPG
- Lunch on Grey Nag top is a meat and potato pasty.

At last the cloud has lifted so at least we could see something of the surrounding fells, not much, but enough to spot a few hills in the distance. It was warm work climbing up the easy slopes of the fell as we battled the elements but now having sat down the cold started to creep into our hands and E particularly felt it. Whilst having our break E commented that due to the weather had she been carrying a back pack she wouldn't have been able to make it up to the summit although she had said nothing to the negative on our way up.

We didn't linger too long as I wanted to get E warmed up again and so started the warm up procedure by climbing over the wall so that we could reach the stones surrounded trig point and summit cairn where the event was recorded on a mini SD card.
16 - Elizabeth at the Grey Nag trig column.JPG
Elizabeth at the Grey Nag trig column.

17 - The wall from the summit leads to Black Fell.JPG
The wall from the summit leads to Black Fell.

Our next port of call was to be Tom Smith's Stone Top at 637 metres, so we followed the wall southeast…
19 - Follow the wall to Tom Smith's Stone Top.JPG
Follow the wall to Tom Smith's Stone Top.

passing a fairly tall currick sat to the right of us with the wall terminating where a fence adjoined it running in the same direction. We initially followed a wet, narrow path and then after dropping around 35 metres to the col we were met with a quad bike track which we followed as best we could until we met the worst ground conditions of this walk.
21 - Looking back to Grey Nag from the col.JPG
Looking back to Grey Nag from the col.

The ground in the col is very wet and adorned with numerous boggy hags, grough's, spongy mossy areas and the like. From the col to the top of Tom Smith's Stone Top where there is no cairn or distinguishing feature to mark the summit and then on to Tom Smith's Stone at 626 metres these conditions abound. From here we had a good view of Black Fell to the south but we are not going there today as we don't fancy the rough walk across more boggy ground on a day such as we have already had today. More to the west Thack Moor and Watch Hill can be made out through the haze. The wind is still blowing, although it has eased off slightly, the sky is getter brighter with a touch of blue in the distance, and E's hands have warmed up nicely. We soon arrived at Tom Smith's Stone which is square, stands about a metre high, has the letters A, C, K, and W carved one on each face of the stone, and is positioned at the junction of three fences that mark three parish boundaries.
26 - Tom Smith's Stone.JPG
Tom Smith's Stone.

We are not too far away from Woldgill Tarn just to the south of us although we didn't take the time to have a look at it as we climbed over the wooden fence panel that acts as a sliding gate to follow the boundary fence southeast for a short distance before leaving it behind to pass to the north of Calfless Head. We are now starting our descent down into Gilderdale.
30 - Calfless Head.JPG
Calfless Head.

From Tom Smith's Stone the boundary fence is running roughly in our direction of travel and as we drop down past Calfless Head the going is not too bad as we pass over the typical heather and rough grass of the Pennines. The ground at the upper reaches of Calfless Head had collapsed into a long, wide, mossy grough before reverting once again into the gill or sike that it should be and one that we followed down to Long Grain Foot Fold and Woldgill Burn. As we descend and the beck/sike widens there are a number of traps sat on logs spanning it and we're not really sure of what the gamekeepers are hoping to catch. Would it be stoats, weasels, or mink as I'm not sure whether these animals live so high up on the fells?

The lower that we get down the fell the easier the walking is as the ground is now covered in a blanket of short green rough grass, a welcome change to what we have travelled over so far today. As the waterway deepens and widens out it becomes more attractive as the grassy banks change their appearance and become rockier as does the bed of the now named Woldgill Burn.
33 - Looking down Woldgill Burn into Gilderdale.JPG
Looking down Woldgill Burn into Gilderdale.

There are the makings of an old stone wall along the side of the burn and looking at the bed of the burn it looks like the stone was taken from there as it is made up of the same flat layers that cover it. The course of the burn is a convenient place to get stone for a wall as it is in layers of about .100mm thick and extends into the hillside therefore resulting in not only deepening, but also the widening of the burn.
36 - Woldgill Burn.JPG
Woldgill Burn.

The removal of stone as the workmen have moved downstream has also stepped the bed of the burn causing small attractive waterfalls to be formed. This is where we had our second break of the day.
34 - Mini waterfalls on Woldgill Burn.JPG
Mini waterfalls on Woldgill Burn.

We followed the course of the burn as best we could climbing a fence before reaching Woldgill Scar where the course of the burn deepens quite a lot and we can only look into it from above as a journey through it would make for a rough passage in its narrow confines.
37 - Woldgill Scar.JPG
Woldgill Scar.

We noticed that a tree planting operation had been carried out on the far side of the burn and the tumbledown wall has now been replaced by a wire fence that we have to climb over as it tries to stay alongside the burn but the lay of the land and meandering of the waterway prevents it from doing so as the fencers have followed the easiest line possible.
39 - A view down Gilderdale.JPG
A view down Gilderdale.

From Calfless Head we have been walking roughly east but from Woldgill Scar we now take a definite turn to the northeast to follow the fence as it climbs up the fell side above what is now Gilderdale Burn.
41 - A view back up Gilderdale to Tom Smith's Stone.JPG
A view back up Gilderdale to Tom Smith's Stone.

The fence eventually arrived at a dry stone wall topped with barbed wire that was fortunately slack enough to hold down on to the wall top as E displayed a master class show of getting over this obstacle. Leaving the wall behind we now descended back down towards the burn passing over the same rough and green grass as previously mentioned but now there are long swathes of rushes to negotiate with the accompanying wet ground that they grow in. There are also a number of large stone circles which are not high enough to have been sheepfolds unless the stone has been taken for some other work elsewhere.

As we arrived at the burn we met up with another north easterly positioned wall that is once again adjoined by a wire fence that has partly fallen down so getting around the wall was easy enough this time. From this spot we had to climb up the fellside once again as we followed the fence to pass some old mine workings…
43 - The view up Gilderdale.JPG
The view up Gilderdale.

before dropping back down again to scale another wall that put us into greener pastures close alongside the north bank of the burn. We now have a path to follow, albeit a sheep trod but nevertheless something that made our forward passage seem easier than it has been for the last hour or so.
44 - Gilderdale Burn opposite Wanwood Bent.JPG
Gilderdale Burn opposite Wanwood Bent.

The sky has brightened and the sun is trying it's best to get through as it attempts, and succeeds, to burn away the clouds to leave a few patches of welcome blue above us. We are now very close to the burn and follow the path through a scattering of boulders and some ancient and small quarries that we presumed were worked to get the stone for the sheepfolds and mine working buildings of days gone by.
46 - Ancient quarry by the side of Gilderdale Burn.JPG
Ancient quarry by the side of Gilderdale Burn.

We arrived at the last gateless fence of the day which for some reason completely spanned the burn but as the flood water had washed away a large part of the bank we simply walked under it to regain the path at the other side.

There were a couple of places where we had to climb back up the fellside to negotiate a couple of small rocky outcrops either side of some wet gullies where a bit of scrambling is required which didn't present any untoward problems. Once around these it's a straightforward walk by the burn until the footbridge that carries the Pennine Way/Isaac's Tea Trail over Gilderdale Burn is reached. This is where we had our third and final stop to refuel before continuing on the last leg of the walk back to the car.
51- Pennine Way footbridge over Gilderdale Burn.JPG
Pennine Way footbridge over Gilderdale Burn.

After our break we now continued our journey northwest along the Pennine Way/Isaac's Tea Trail firstly climbing up a narrow, wet, and stony path to reach a decent wide and green track that follows the wall steadily uphill. After a good few metres of this good track we once again arrived at a spot where there has been a sheep feeding station. The ground which passes through an area of rushes has been churned up to a deep porridge like mush that was difficult to pass over and we were pleased that we took our own advice and had kept our waterproof leggings on even after the rain had stopped. Once we had crossed this the ground firmed up again as the route now passed over good pasture land until we arrived at a large bench seat constructed out of three lengths of log.
53 - Elizabeth sat on a giant bench seat overlooking the Roman Fort.JPG
Elizabeth sat on a giant bench seat overlooking the Roman Fort.

We had arrived at the site of the Roman Fort of Epiacum and the two information boards mounted on a wall gives a good description of the history of it, or what they think is the reason for selecting this particular spot for a large and unusually shaped and fortified military building.

We took the chance of climbing over the gate and having a wander across the ditches and ramparts…
55 -  Ditches and rampart defences at the Roman Fort.JPG
Ditches and rampart defences at the Roman Fort.

to reach the highest spot from where a good view over the fort can be found. After a look around we found our way back over to the Pennine Way and then retraced our outward steps back to the car.

Apart from the weather and various areas of bad ground conditions this has been an easy walk. The slopes both up and down are easy though mostly pathless and it is a long climb up from the main road and would have been more attractive if we could have had some views. Due to the hazy conditions the views got no better as we reached our highest points of the walk. Gilderdale is long, wide, and remote with nothing to see only vast expanses of moorland and the burns, a place where one wouldn't want to have an accident as it looks like not many people use this way off the fell. Even in a thick mist or fog it would be hard to get lost though, as simply walking down the fell would bring one to the burn, old wall, and then the fence any of which would just be followed back to the Pennine Way or the main road at Gilderdale Bridge. Although the sun came out late on in the walk it still wasn't warm enough to shed a coat as the wind was still cold. We haven't seen another soul on this walk and this seems to be a regular occurrence whilst I have been walking in the Pennines, not that I am grumbling about it as I like a bit of solitude which is something that is harder to find whilst walking in the LD.

After pitching in at the hostel which is privately owned and is run under license to the YHA, showered in the separate male and female toilet facilities - yes that's right - off we went and revitalised ourselves at the Cumberland which is just a few metres up the road from the hostel. Although E is tired she is happy with the day's work done, especially so after the rain and hail stopped.

Early to bed and early to rise as we have another Pennine journey to get on with tomorrow.
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trailmasher
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Re: A rough ride on Grey Nag to Tom Smith's Stone Top

Postby Broggy1 » Mon Apr 25, 2016 3:19 pm

Smart move to avoid the walk between Tom Smith's Stone and Black Fell.

This is easily the worst section of ground I passed during all my North Pennine exploits and the only time where it did cross my mind that it was too wet to continue.

Your route here (at least the ascent and descent) looks notably better so probably best to leave Black Fell on it's own or combined with Thack Moor as I remember the ascent from Melmerby/Gamblesby being not too bad.

Nothing like a bit of North Pennines for bringing the tough conditions :clap:
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Re: A rough ride on Grey Nag to Tom Smith's Stone Top

Postby thefallwalker » Mon Apr 25, 2016 4:54 pm

a good report with some excellent picture's TM :clap: The pictures certainly don't show the cold & wind that the both os ys had to endure! (it look's pretty nice) :lol: The cairn on Grey Nag is really impressive and makes me wonder why there isn't such like cairns on some of the "big uns" in the LD? :crazy: I guess you at least will be used to "splodging" around in the bogs by now this winter/spring :lol: I hope you both enjoyed your few days walking! see ya soon mate :D
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Re: A rough ride on Grey Nag to Tom Smith's Stone Top

Postby trailmasher » Tue Apr 26, 2016 8:58 pm

Broggy1 wrote:Smart move to avoid the walk between Tom Smith's Stone and Black Fell.

Your route here (at least the ascent and descent) looks notably better so probably best to leave Black Fell on it's own or combined with Thack Moor as I remember the ascent from Melmerby/Gamblesby being not too bad.


Thanks for your comments and advice Broggy :D and I have heard about the rough conditions re Black Fell :crazy: I think that my intended route will be from Renwick to Thack Moor, Watch Hill, Black Fell, Hartside, Renwick :)
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Re: A rough ride on Grey Nag to Tom Smith's Stone Top

Postby trailmasher » Tue Apr 26, 2016 9:07 pm

thefallwalker wrote:a good report with some excellent picture's TM :clap: The pictures certainly don't show the cold & wind that the both os ys had to endure! (it look's pretty nice) :lol: The cairn on Grey Nag is really impressive and makes me wonder why there isn't such like cairns on some of the "big uns" in the LD? :crazy: I guess you at least will be used to "splodging" around in the bogs by now this winter/spring :lol: I hope you both enjoyed your few days walking! see ya soon mate :D


Thanks very much TFW and good to hear from you :D It's a pity that photos don't record the cold winds that we get and I had a job keeping the lens dry again :roll: As for 'splodging around in bogs' the only thing that is good for is giving you thighs like our Arnie :lol: :lol: We had three good days ta, Tuesday and Wed being better weather days :D
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Re: A rough ride on Grey Nag to Tom Smith's Stone Top

Postby ChrisW » Thu Apr 28, 2016 4:24 am

Another lovely view of home for me TM, though a little different for you two by the wound of it :? The rain and hail seems to be a staple of the North Pennines, I swear you get hail there in August :crazy:

Love the photos as always and confess that a simple little sign with "The Pennine Way" on it brings me home as fast as anything else I could imagine. :wink:
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Re: A rough ride on Grey Nag to Tom Smith's Stone Top

Postby trailmasher » Fri Apr 29, 2016 1:26 pm

ChrisW wrote:The rain and hail seems to be a staple of the North Pennines, I swear you get hail there in August :crazy:


As I type this I can see the snow down to the bottom of the fells below Cross Fell :roll: I love the quiet and solitude of the Pennines and the Howgills :D even if it can be a bit rough underfoot at times :crazy: and thanks for your comments Chris :D
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