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A Roman road, fiendish hill, and a bacon butty.
by trailmasher » Fri Apr 29, 2016 8:25 pm
Hewitts included on this walk: Melmerby Fell
Date walked: 20/04/2016
Time taken: 4.17
Distance: 13.9 km
Ascent: 526m1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Well it's Wednesday and the day has dawned bright and sunny once again and although it's a bit chilly it promises to be a good day as we embark upon our last walk - for now - in the North Western Pennines. After having a good breakfast and loading the car up we set off from the Alston YH to take the A686 Alston to Penrith road for some 6 kilometres when we parked up on a two car sized patch of ground that sits below the disused Meathaw Hill Quarries and opposite the small plantation of trees through which the small waterway of Mere Sike makes its way down to meet up with Aglionby Beck and from there into Black Burn.
For this last day we are going to do the easiest walk of the three that we had decided to do on this short visit to the Alston area having to consider that E isn't used to consecutive days of walking the fells. Our car parking arrangements have a double bonus as it is straight opposite the start of our walk, the old Roman road that is called the Maiden Way.
This old road has also been used for many years - since it was abandoned by the Romans - as a drove road, not only by local farmers/shepherds but also by Scottish cattle drovers as they brought their eatable wares down into England. This ancient road was constructed to link up the Roman fort of Bravoniacum at Kirkby Thore to Epiacum - now called Whitley Castle - just outside of Alston and of which I mentioned briefly in my Grey Nag report.
E and I have followed the course of it from Kirkland as it made its way to Bank Hall from where the line of it was used to accommodate the narrow gauge rail track that was used to run the mine or quarry trucks on. There is an old lime kiln where the road passes over Ardale Beck before the bit of a steep climb up Lad Slack. From there the going was easy as it climbed up to reach Meg's Cairn that is a great heap of stones from where there are good views all around. We didn't go any further than the cairn as we turned our attentions to Cross Fell as a circular route back to Kirkland. Anyway now I digress.
From the main road the way forward stretched out in front of us like a long brown ribbon as it made its way up the gentle looking slopes of the fell. The start of the MW is identified by a fingerpost and it starts by first descending southwest for a short distance down towards the old Penrith to Alston road from where it follows that slightly northeast to meet Mere Sike where it arrives at the Maiden Way proper. This old road is in great condition, wide and well stoned up as it continues on down to meet and cross Rowgill Burn…
where the only means of crossing it was by some rather wide spaced and oddly shaped stepping stones which E was not confident in using as a means of access.
We therefore followed Rowgill Burn west and upstream until we arrived at its confluence with Aglionby Beck where the two of the waterways were at their narrowest and just required a good stride to cross them. Once over this minor problem we picked up the track once again and followed it on its really steady climb with the far reaching views getting better with every step forward. It's a bit hazy just now but we can see the Cross Fell range of hills over to the southeast, north is the 609 metre Benty Hill…
and Black Fell, and Fiend's Fell is to the west of us, and south is just a track running upwards before us.
We passed on old corrugated iron hut…
that we presumed was used by the assassins of the local wild life and apart from the distant hills, heather, grass, and the odd grouse feeding station all is open moorland hereabouts. Apart from the sound of the curlews and odd cackle of grouse all is quiet and peaceful, and as of now we hadn't seen a sign of a trap although there are probably plenty to see if we got off this main drag and into the rough either side of us.
We plod on, sometimes quiet, sometimes chatting - I like the quiet moments - until after around 50 minutes we arrived at a point where the estate track now turned southeast to make its way down to the old disused mine workings and in use grouse butts at Smittergill Head.
This spot is identified by a square marker post with a blue arrow pointing in the direction to go, which is to still follow the course of the Maiden Way although it has now turned into a green lane.
This green track is narrower than the stoned up one and is easy to see and follow especially as there are substantial cairns of stones of which at least one is always in sight as they are set at regular intervals along the left hand side of the track.
This track is fairly good but it does have its moments when it decides to chuck in a bog or two, some fairly wide expanses of the wet boggy moss variety, and decides to stay in this vein for quite a distance even when at a greater height and the ground has started to produce some rock beneath our feet. There are quite a lot of places where the peat has washed away and left the underlying rock exposed. There are flat cobbles mixed in with the flat slabs of local stone which looks quite odd, and the more romantic side of me likes to think that maybe this is what remains of the original Roman road of 2,000 years ago. Wishful romanticising I think but then again…
The higher we climb the rockier the ground gets, and as the ground on our left slowly descends across Ousby Fell and down to Black Beck the ground on the east flank of Melmerby Fell begins to rise up as a rocky bank with a smattering of old and large sheepfolds scattered amongst the many rocks. It is here at about the 650 metre contour that we left the Maiden Way and proceeded to climb across the easy slopes of grass and heather, finding a way through the rocks…
until suddenly we were free of those and arrived at a an even easier grass covered slope from where we could see the summit cairn. A few minutes crossing over this brought us to a slight increasing of gradient from where the cairn which had vanished from view for a short while re-appeared. We soon arrived at the fairly large cairn of stones that belong to Melmerby Fell from where the aforementioned surrounding fells were more in evidence, whilst over to the northwest we could see Knapside Hill's massive cairn, although from here it looked more like a large outcrop of rock than a cairn and shelter.
Leaving Melmerby behind we took a well defined path running northwest through the short brown grass that had a few wet patches on it but nothing too bad.
In a very short time we were beginning to climb the rock strewn slopes to the summit of Knapside Hill to climb inside the shelter and have a welcome bite to eat along with a good long drink of water.
Having re-fuelled we now have time to look around and see that the views into the Eden Valley are amazing and looking back along our route to here we can even see where we had left the car parked up. From here we can also just about see our next target for the day, Fiend's Fell.
We left Knapside Hill to continue our journey north towards Little Knapside Hill along another good path on what is again very easy walking over grass…
and arrived at a gate stile in a wire fence from where had a slight descent down to a second gate stile where the ground was so wet and boggy that we climbed over the fence in preference to passing through the gate. It was whilst walking between these two hills…
that we could see the large stubby mast of the radar station down to our left sat on the fellside above Gamblseby and Unthank. A few metres from the gate the path ran into nothing so seeing that the ground directly ahead of was wet and boggy depression we struck off to our right following the high ground and heading towards what looked like a tumbledown sheepfold in the distance.
Whilst doing this a chap on a quad bike passed away in front of us and acknowledged our wave to him. Upon seeing the quad bike I surmised that there should, or would be a useful track to follow and after another few metres of climbing and before reaching the sheepfold we did indeed arrive at a fairly good track. The track was going roughly in our direction but it would do for now as it went a fair distance before we left it to walk northwest to a cairn and then a very large pile of rock and stone that was parked up just to the left of a third gate stile that would give us access to Fiend's Fell proper. Fiend's Fell is now looming over us dressed in a light brown cloak of short grass contrasting greatly with the more reddish brown of the heather that we were currently walking over.
It still looks a fair distance away but we can see what looks to be a large summit cairn but in reality is an old sheepfold that is positioned lower down and in front of the summit trig column giving the illusion from where we were that there is a Great Gable like cairn on its summit.
From the gate there is no sign of a path but the way is obvious, upwards. Within a few metres we came across a quad bike track that went all the way to pass by the old sheepfold and then on to the summit with its trig column at 634 metres. There are a few stones scattered around the base of the trig column but apart from those and a few more lying about there is nothing but grass and the old sheepfold to take your interest. But the views are great.
Our next port of call, the Hartside Café that mecca of motorcyclists is now in sight…
as we made our way north down the fell walking towards a large currick as we follow a grass path over good, easy ground.
Behind Hartside Café we can see Black Fell, Thack Moor, and just the top of Grey Nag as we continued down climbing a wooden fence panel before reaching an old quarry track that took us the rest of the way along to the café and well needed sustenance.
When we arrived at the café that had the inevitable abundance of motorbikes parked up…
in we went to find a good mixture of people from walkers, bikers of both the engine and leg powered type, business people, and families all at the business of doing what they had gone in for, eating and drinking.
Finding an empty table was easy enough and E went off to order two bacon sandwiches plus mugs of tea. The tea came straight away along with E whilst we had to wait about 15 minutes for the butties but they were well worth it once they had arrived, large rolls with more than enough bacon on them.
Civilised break over we went back out into the sunshine and began the walk down the main road back towards Alston. After about a kilometre we arrived at a small derelict cottage on the left hand side of the road and this is where turned off to walk down the lane that is directly opposite this cottage.
This lane was - or so I am led to believe - the course of the old highway between Penrith and Alston as mentioned earlier in the report and falls about 60 metres before it levels out and then starts to climb back up to our starting point.
From the main road down to the first bend of the old road it is deeply rutted as it runs between two wire fences and also gives us a good view of where we have been walking today.
Moving around the first bend the track gets better as it goes along only two wheel tracks with a good strip of grass lying between them that made it easier for walking.
At the few low spots on the track there was a fair amount of water lying requiring us to walk along the wall bottom where there was still some high ground left.
This old road/track wound its way gently up and down as it meandered across the fellside to eventually meet up with the Maiden Way at the point where we had left it earlier today. A short pull up to the road saw us back at the car once again a little bit sunburnt and pleased with the way the last three days have gone despite the bad weather on the Monday.
We achieved six out of the seven tops that we had planned to do so no grumbles there apart from the extra journey sometime in the future to knock off Bullman Hills, but it's going nowhere. Some good walking over mostly good ground, the exception being the Grey Nag walk in parts and the only company apart from E were the curlews and grouse. In three days of walking we have seen only three other people on the fells and all of those were on the Pennine Way around the Cashwell Mine area. Oh, and I lost one of my new Rab gloves on my way up to Grey Nag and that brought tears to my eyes as a Yorkshire man and his money…
I now have two fragments of walks to contend with, Bullman Hills and Westernhope Moor. I don't want too many bits and pieces of walks lying around as they take up extra time to do and travel back to when there are other unvisited places to go to. Ah well, they'll get done sometime I'm sure.
Whilst checking the track log I inadvertently deleted it so the route shown although not our exact route when approaching the base of Fiend's Fell is near enough to make no difference.
by ChrisW » Mon May 02, 2016 6:30 am
by trailmasher » Mon May 02, 2016 8:11 pm
ChrisW wrote: It was all great until the lost glove...and a new Rab at that, as a fellow yorkshireman I don't know how you stopped yourself from walking all the way back to find it
Thanks for your comments Chris and I couldn't entice E to go back even with the wind behind her and the bacon butty which she got in the end anyway . Three days walking and only three other walkers passed all within half an hour of each other
by johnkaysleftleg » Tue May 03, 2016 6:10 pm
by mamoset » Wed May 04, 2016 7:05 am
by trailmasher » Thu May 05, 2016 6:56 pm
johnkaysleftleg wrote:You certainly had some great weather on your short break and some fine walking. This looks a lovely walk as any would with a bacon buttie in the middle
Good weather along with a nice easy walk over mostly good ground with a bacon butty bonus Good scampering ground for Hughie Thanks for your comments
by trailmasher » Thu May 05, 2016 6:59 pm
mamoset wrote:Great TR trailmasher. Just goes to show, you don't need mountains to have an enjoyable day out
Thanks Mamoset and have had many a good day out just walking the lowlands
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