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Melmerby Fell and the Maiden Way

Melmerby Fell and the Maiden Way

Postby nigheandonn » Sun May 19, 2019 5:49 pm

Hewitts included on this walk: Melmerby Fell

Date walked: 24/04/2019

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I'm not sure how the Maiden Way got so definitely into my Pennine Way plans - five years ago I split it all up into three day chunks for long weekends, which had to have good starting and stopping points for getting in and out, and although I've ended up doing it in six day blocks instead I've just carried on doing what the plan told me. But I had to get out of Alston somehow, and I had a notion to walk the Maiden Way, and it would have been a shame to leave Melmerby Fell unclimbed when I'd been on the hills to north and south.

I managed a slightly more relaxed start to the day, going out about 9 to find some breakfast and coming back to the hostel for check out time, and slipping down by the Pennine Way gate to the bridge. The good weather seemed to have finally broken - it had always been hazy, and the day before had been cooler in the wind, but this was the first time the clouds had really gathered, and the forecast wasn't brilliant.

Road junction

I took the minor road down through Leadgate rather than keeping to the main road for any longer than I had to (although I couldn't make any sense of the signposts), and this took me down roughly parallel to where I'd walked the night before, passing all the names I'd seen on the other side of the river.

It was a shame that I wasn't going to get the good views west on any of the days up here, but the hazy landscape was quite attractive itself.

Hazy views

Beyond Leadgate the road began to climb, and my legs began to object, but the road eased off and I warmed up a bit and it got better.

The road climbs

For a mile or so I had no choice but to stick to the main road - I'm not sure I'd want to do it on a holiday, but for now it was fairly quiet and the traffic was all quite polite, and nothing very exciting happened before I reached the point where the track led off.

The Maiden Way

Even in the haze there was a good view of the track stretching off into the distance, down into the valley to cross the Black Burn, and up again on the other side. There weren't very many landmarks on this long stretch, just a peculiar hut, and the distant hills, and further on the place where the good track turns off and a grassy track goes on.

Strange hut

The grassy track is quite visible, although it's just a worn line, barer than the ground around it, and sometimes wet and sometimes not. I thought it was just the usual miners' or pedlars' track, but apparently it really is the line of the old Roman road, with its foundations still visible to scanning from the air.

A trodden line

It was so flat here that I thought I must be further up than I really was, and so was doomed to disappointment for a while - I wasn't sure if the track turning off was the path shown on the map or a new track, because I'd passed a path already.

Occasional cairns marked the route, and further on I came into a stony place which really did look like it might once have been a road, but there was no sign of it coming to a summit any time soon, and no sign that any one of the cairns was more than just a marker.

Roman road

When I did finally reach Meg's Cairn it turned out to be an accumulation in a great patch of stones, rather than a really separate cairn, but there was no doubt about it, as it marked the point where the ground started to fall away on the other side.

Meg's cairn

I had a deadline, the little bus which was going to meet me at Ousby, and which I'd phoned to confirm from somewhere near Greg's Hut the day before, but I had to find time for the out and back to the summit of Melmerby Fell, which I had decided would be easier than trying to cut across earlier, over unknown ground. Since it was a straight up and down I left my bag in a little hollow near the cairn and headed up, crossing a dip, and coming up above a wall corner onto the main ridge of the hill.

Wall corner

Much to my surprise, not only was the ground smooth and relatively dry, and the grass short, but a faint trace of path led towards the summit, and a couple of canes with scraps of tape marked the route - I'd really been expecting a wasteland, and instead it was a quick and enjoyable climb marred only by fighting against the wind.

Heading uphill

The summit had a good cairn, and a view to another marker cairn on a lower point - I was back in the land of curricks, of course, so this shouldn't have been a surprise.

Melmerby Fell summit

The hazy view didn't take in much more than Cross Fell, but it does have a nicely distinctive outline from the side - from a distance it's just one of the triptych, with Great Dun Fell really drawing the eye.

Cross Fell looming in the haze

I wasn't worrying much about time any more, but walking in the wind always makes me jittery, so I hurried back down worrying that my bag would have blown away or been eaten by sheep - it hadn't, of course, and I could collect it and try to pick up the path again.

The landscape on this side of the hills was very different - a little line of bumpy hills stood out, and I had great trouble connecting them to anything on the map, which was a whirl of contour lines looking entirely different.

An odd line of hills

The path went off at more of a slant than I expected, heading over to the left through the stony ground rather than straight down the wall, but the line was clear, and it led to a gate reassuringly marked with a bridleway arrow.

Through the gate

The one thing I was sure about from the map was that the path led steadily downwards, without climbing again, which baffled me completely - I was sure I had to cross the little line of the hills to the left, and equally sure that there was no way of crossing them without dropping and climbing.

But I followed the path on - at one point the clearest line seemed to be leading down into the mysterious valley, but I broke free and picked up the true line again at another marked gate. By now the way on was clear, an efficient route skirting the top of the little hills - I should have remembered that this was still a Roman route, and trusted the builders more.


Another fence was almost at the top of the ridge, with another gate to keep me right - a rival track ran off downhill here, but I knew I wanted to be on the other side.

Another fence

There were odd ruins of mine buildings up above me as I zigzagged down - I think this is the Man at Edge marked on the map, although there didn't seem to be any actual man, even in the form of a tall cairn.

Old mine building

The path crossed a distinct raised track running straight down the hill, but as it didn't seem to be my way I kept to the fainter track which swung across the hillside, only to meet the raised track again as it swung back further down and realise that it was quite definitely the remains of an old tramway, rails abandoned to bury themselves rather than taken away.

Tram tracks

I came down now into a tiny valley where the path essentially vanished - I would probably have been better to follow the tramline, but I wanted to keep to the Maiden Way for as long as possible.

Down a tiny valley

The valley at the bottom of the slope was obviously the edge of civilisation, a surprisingly pretty spot with walls and footbridges and deliberately planted trees. This was where I left the Maiden Way to follow the track along towards the Ousby road end and the bus - the map showed a building part way along the track, but I didn't expect it to come into view looking like a ruined castle.

Signs of civilisation

As I came past it turned out to be something even stranger, a lime kiln on an improbable scale.

Lime kilns

The track wandered on round the field edges, and looking back gave a good view of the hills, split at this side into the same kind of foothills as around Dufton Pike - which wasn't all that far away, as I'd been working my way south as I descended.

Between cairns and tramlines and kilns and the twisting lines of the hills, all this side of the ridge was surprisingly exciting, and a real change from the slow steady climb on the other side - Melmerby Fell may not stand out particularly from the ridge, but it's got plenty going for it, and even a nice little distinct summit.

Looking back

From the road end I only had to wander along gently into Ousby - a lovely stream by the road at first, and a lonely church, and then the first scattered buildings - another red village, like Dufton, where Garrigill and Alston had been more worn brown.

Ousby church

Where I had an open view to the east it was looking up to the little line of hills I'd crossed earlier - but it was really a goodbye to all the North Pennine hills which had been keeping me company for the last few days.

Farewell to the hills

I expected to have 10 minutes or so to sit in the sun outside the pub, which didn't open in the afternoons, but the bus was running early and turned up not much later than I did - I was the only passenger and there was obviously no one else to be picked up, because it cut out Melmerby and took me straight to the pub in Langwathby, a place I've gone past quite a few times on the train, but never actually been in.

I was catching the train at 5:30, so my hope was to have a kind of early high tea here as I didn't think I'd have time to grab anything at Carlisle. Happily the pub did do food all day, and I sat outside in what had turned into a surprisingly sunshiny day, drinking a last pint, before wandering along to the station, where the platforms are a guessing game - you just have to not let the bends in the road confuse you about which way is north.

Edinburgh when I reached it again was exactly as grey and cold and impenetrably misty as it had been when I left it six days earlier, which made my sunburnt arms seem a bit like something from a dream, although I was assured it hadn't been that way all the time in between!

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Re: Melmerby Fell and the Maiden Way

Postby trailmasher » Wed May 29, 2019 7:00 pm

A pity about the haze as the views across the Eden Valley and towards the LD skyline are well worth looking at. That's a nice route that you did and just goes to show how good the Romans were at road building 8). This area is in my neck of the woods and tend to go up there at least once a year.
Well done on a great walk :clap: :clap:
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Re: Melmerby Fell and the Maiden Way

Postby johnkaysleftleg » Wed Jun 05, 2019 8:22 pm

I agree Melmerby Fell is a really nice top. The walk up from Melmerby itself is a really fine walk when combined with the fine rocky top of Cuns Fell.
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