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Up on the roof of England (Dufton to Alston)

Up on the roof of England (Dufton to Alston)

Postby nigheandonn » Thu May 16, 2019 1:56 pm

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

Date walked: 23/04/2019

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This was the real hill day of my Pennine Way trip - in one way it seemed a bit daft to have come right across the range of hills yesterday to head back over them today, but you have to come out to civilisation somewhere, and the scenery of the western edge makes it worth it.

From the village green you can see that Dufton Pike really does belong to the village (sunset light in the photo from the night before!) - I would have quite liked to climb it, but it would have been a steep detour from what was already another very long day, although not quite as long as my guidebook seemed to think.

Dufton Pike

I picked up the path again at the other side of the village, through little lanes, and then lost it by going the wrong way through a farmyard, so that I found myself heading through fields straight for Dufton Pike and had to loop round until I found the right lane again.

Wooded lane

It was a much greyer, much cooler day, with an east wind blowing steadily down at me, and beyond the last farm buildings and Dufton Pike there wasn't much to look at except brown hillside, although as I came up higher the line of summits I was heading for came into view.

The tops in view

At Swindale Beck there was a surprisingly substantial bridge, where I sat down for elevenses.

Swindale Beck

Beyond that there was simply a slow and endless toil - apart from tiredness and unrelenting uphillness, I think I was held back much more than I realised by constantly fighting into the wind, which was solid rather than gusty. Anyway, it took me nearly two hours to cover nearly two miles to Knock Old Man, a fairly featureless climb at first, then up by the hollow of an old hush and over a steeper slope to finally come in sight of the cairn.

Knock Old Man in sight

Once up on the top things became easier, and it was just a walk on to the cairn, an odd square pillar.

Knock Old Man

The actual summit cairn is much less elegant, although the stones look like they might have been used for better building once.

Knock Fell summit

Between the grey haze and the flat summit the views were not what they might have been, but there was quite a good view back towards Mickle Fell and Little Fell, living up to their names.

Mickle Fell

Great Dun Fell, next in line, is unmistakeable, but the path towards it was quite elusive for a while, until it picked up again as a flagged line which I couldn't lose.

Towards Great Dun Fell

The path even briefly joins the real road which comes winding up to the radar station - its odd how exciting a road becomes when it's out of its usual habitat, although you wouldn't want them on too many hills.

The road

A signpost as the path leaves the road again announced that it was 5 and 3/4 miles to Dufton and 9 and 3/4 miles to Garrigill, a sum which made me feel slightly better (even if I did initially come up with an answer of 14 and 3/2 miles), because sums with the map and guidebook had left me expecting something more like 12 miles to the valley road - I now started to believe that I might make Alston for a latish dinner.

Someone was walking parallel to me up the road, which would be easier but duller, but I kept to the official route, where steps led steeply down into a deep hush and out again. The only cairn at the top is not even on the highest ground outside the fence, but I suppose someone felt there had to be one somewhere.

Great Dun Fell summit cairn

The true highest point is obviously inside the fence, although it's not very obvious exactly where it is - there was no gate over the entrance, and no unwelcoming signs, so I decided they couldn't mind too much if people wandered in, and tried a few likely spots. (The whole site turns out to be shown as access ground on the orange map, which is pleasing.)

The true summit?

With all the hunting about I forgot to take a proper picture of the site and the golf ball until I was round below them.

The golf ball

Little Dun Fell is actually a surprisingly attractively shaped hill, which deserves better than to be so overshadowed - I really liked the look of it as I headed towards it.

Little Dun Fell

The summit is fairly flat, although not nearly as bad as Knock Fell, and dry enough that you don't need a flagged path to walk on it.

Little Dun Fell summit

The far end of the summit area produced a shelter, where I stopped to eat my lunch, although with the wind stubbornly blowing from the east I had to sit down on the outside, against the back of the back wall, to get any good of it.

Wind shelter

The gap between Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell is where the River Tees begins, and it ran off towards a distant glimpse of Cow Green reservoir, the first time I actually had aeen it from above, as I had expected the day before.

The River Tees

Cross Fell is big, but it's too flat to be exciting - a line of tall marker cairns led on, and on, across the top until the huge summit shelter finally came into view.

Cross Fell summit

All the same, this ridge with the land falling away on either side towards a distant sea does feel far more like the top of England than any of the higher hills in the little tangle of the Lake District - there's a lot of space up here.

On the far side the path became much fainter, so that for a while I was never sure if I really was on the true line - I knew I had to make a right angled turn somewhere and was worried about missing it, but it turned out to be where the path joined a clearer track running over the hillside.

Faint path

The next landmark was Greg's Hut, a nice bothy with a separate sleeping room, where I sat for a little while reading the stories in the bothy book, and managed to write a bit of my own despite the pen having come to bits.

Greg's Hut

I was onto a good track now, stony but clear, and a long downhill stretch - my guidebook didn't think much of the track, but I found it pretty good walking.

Downhill track

Further down, though, the track had been renewed and made bright yellow, which I didn't think much of at all - not only was it harder to walk on because stonier, but it was just plain ugly. If it was going to be done, it should have been done in local stone.

Yellow track

It was a long way down without a change of track, but it wasn't really featureless - at first I was walking above a great shallow valley on my left, and then once I came past higher ground on the right, a steeper valley there and a hill beyond, and the first scattered houses of Tynedale.

Garrigill confused me by finally appearing not ahead of me, but behind - or at least well off to one side, but with the way the tracks curve you really do seem to be heading straight past it as it comes into view. Instead a track leads down towards it from a junction, further down than it seems and round more corners, to finally come out at the end of the village.

Down to Garrigill

It was just after 6 and the shop was closed, but there was a picnic table to sit at on the little triangular green, and there is a very friendly village hall with nice toilets and wifi, and even beds which you can book to stay the night - I should have been pushing on, but instead spent a while messing about looking up the hills I'd been over, and then sitting on the green having a snack.

The famous Garrigill pub, which has been (I think) closed for good and open again and closed again and open again, was in a very indeterminate state - all the signs are up, but the rooms were empty, and it looked like some kind of renovation might be going on - hopefully it's not a very permanent closure.

I still had some unknown distance to go before reaching Alston - the guidebook thought 5 miles, but the signpost where the path leaves the road again, by a little bridge over the river, said 3 and 3/4, which matched better with what I'd counted on the map.

Bridge on the Tyne

The guidebook also warned me not to expect a riverside idyll, but the first stretch really was quite idyllic, at least once I got past a kind of scrapheap where two goats glared at me - a narrow band between the fields and the river, passing a string of farmhouses further up the slope.

The other side of the river was not quite so idyllic, with the riverbank wander suddenly becoming a steep scrambly path to come out at the top of the slope, where even the signpost had collapsed with the effort.

Drunken signpost

There was more up and down now, and more stiles, hard work for tired legs - I was crossing the fields now rather than skirting them, scattering the lambs. About a mile from Alston the path comes into a band of trees, dropping very steeply to the river on the left hand side, and from here the hostel turned up more quickly than I expected - it has its own little gate from the path, which makes a very nice change from detouring off through a village when you feel like you should already be there.

I turned out to be the only person staying in the hostel - Dufton had been fairly quiet, maybe half a dozen, but not this complete emptiness. Since it was quite late, I went in to the first place I came to still doing food, Alston House, which wasn't as much of a pub as I thought, so that after a while I was again the only person there - the food was very good, though.

Although I still had one day of walking to do, this was where I left the Pennine Way for now - despite bogs and sunburn and sore feet it had been a really good section, a mix of moorland emptiness and hills to look at and hills to climb and rivers and villages.
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Re: Up on the roof of England (Dufton to Alston)

Postby dav2930 » Thu May 16, 2019 9:25 pm

A grand walk. Definitely a lot of space up there. These are my local hills; glad you enjoyed them. :)

A couple of times I've walked from High Cup Nick to Cross Fell, keeping to the high ground. I suppose you could do this and save yourself the descent to Dufton and re-ascent to Knock Old Man, if you have enough provisions. Maybe spend the night in Greg's Hut? :think:
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Re: Up on the roof of England (Dufton to Alston)

Postby johnkaysleftleg » Fri May 17, 2019 8:32 am

I do like Cross Fell, such a grand top with, as you say a huge amount of space, good weather a prerequisite to appreciate it however, I'm sure it's a very grim and unwelcoming place in poor conditions.
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Re: Up on the roof of England (Dufton to Alston)

Postby nigheandonn » Fri May 17, 2019 10:38 am

dav2930: I was looking on the map at a route keeping to the high valley - Langdon Beck to Garrigill via Cross Fell might be doable in a day, if you can get across the Tees. But I can see why the Pennine Way chose a) High Cup Nick and b) a descent to the fringes of civilisation!

JK: I'd like to go back in really clear weather - I was lucky with my 6 days in that it never rained, but I never really had a long distance view.

And I would like to spent a night in Greg's Hut! :)
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