Friday, 16 March 2018

Great Dun Fell and Cross Fell

Thursday 16th September 2004

After spending most of this holiday in the Yorkshire Dales I had now moved further north into the vast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty called the North Pennines, which lies between the Yorkshire Dales and the Northumberland National Parks. It is the most remote area of England with open heather moors and peatlands covering a vast area where few people live. There is nowhere else in England as remote and in 2004 I went for a walk across this desolate terrain in not the best weather up to the highest point in the Pennines, and the highest point in England outside of the Lake District. I was staying in the Langdon Beck Youth Hostel in Teesdale and to get to the start of my walk I had to drive through the bleak upland terrain over the pass and into South Tynedale to the pretty little village of Garrigill where I parked beside the delightful village green. I returned to this village in 2009 while walking the Pennine Way but the weather must have been really bad as most of the pictures that I took that day were of the River South Tyne north of the village of Garrigill near the end of my long twenty mile trek across the Pennines.

Instead of following the river downstream on this walk I followed it upstream along the course of the South Tyne Trail on paths that were rather muddy until eventually I reached the safety of a good track is the continuation of the road through the valley. This track continued to take me south and I soon reached an obelisk that has been set up to mark the source of the River South Tyne while the track continues south over the pass and with hardly any drop comes into the valley of the young River Tees. The weather was not great on this walk with generally low, grey clouds all day although I don’t have any recollection of rain even though there probably have been. Crossing the River Tees I took a track that passes the site of Moor House field research station to head deep into the uncharted wilderness of the North Pennines far from any other person. Eventually the track ended and I was left to fend for myself on a dwindling path with little sense of where I was going except to follow the stream.

There is a clear bridlepath marked on maps but on the ground things were a little more uncertain, and yet I kept going in the poor weather gradually gaining height until eventually a deep scar in the ground appeared beside me in the mist and following this brought me to a clear path: the Pennine Way. With great relief I followed this path only to be confronted with a terrifying collection of buildings surrounded by a wire fence. This is the radar station that I had seen the previous day from the top of Nine Standards Rigg and now, in much worse weather, looking scary as it emerged out of the mist. Continuing across the highest hills in the Pennine range I passed over Little Dun Fell and eventually reached the flat top of Cross Fell. I remember having to be very careful with my navigation across this featureless top but eventually found the tall cairn that marks the summit of the highest hill in the Pennines.

On a good day I’m sure there are good views but I’ve never had much luck on Cross Fell. In 2009, when I took the picture above, I had poor weather, just as I’d had in 2004, and the only other time I have been in the area, in 2006, the weather had been just as bad. After a brief stop at the summit I took a compass bearing and headed off the plateau onto the bridlepath that crosses the fell, but I remember having some uncertainty around this area near Greg’s Hut that I think was due to a land slide. Some earth had moved over the path obliterating all trace of the route but keeping in the same direction I eventually came to the other side where I found the track that runs from Greg’s Hut heading east. This provided me with a sure guide across the bleak, open moor gently descending and heading slowly back towards Garrigill and was nicely relaxing with little requirement to think taking me all the other off the vast upland area. Eventually the track became enclosed and took me down to the road a short distance from Garrigill.

This was a mammoth walk across some of the most remote and isolated ground in the England. I never saw a single person all day, partly because of the poor weather but also because of the remoteness of the landscape. This was still quite early in my walking career and yet I had successfully navigated my way across the featureless landscape safely returning to where I started, and it is days like this that built up my confidence in my ability to walk in featureless terrain such as this, although I wouldn’t go out looking for it. It is scary to think what would have happened if something had gone wrong on this walk as it would have been a long time before help could find me, and even more scary is that when I got back to the youth hostel I discovered that the phone that I’d taken with me, but never turned on, had almost no power. Thank God I didn’t need to call for help. From then I always ensured my phone was fully charged before going walking.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Nine Standards Rigg and the Teesdale waterfalls

 Wednesday 15th September 2004

After my walk on the day before this I headed to the small market town of Kirkby Stephen and stayed at the atmospheric youth hostel that used to be a Methodist chapel. There I found a great camaraderie amongst the other people staying at the hostel as it seemed as though most of them were in the process of walking the Coast to Coast Walk and were exchanging stories of their exploits along the trail. At the time I had not walked along any part of the Coast to Coast and was feeling rather left out. There was a great mix of people all come together because of their love of walking and many of them with a goal of walking from one side of the country to the other, from the west coast of England to the east coast. This is what a youth hostel should be, but in recent times youth hostels have catered more for families looking for a cheap holiday and the unity of endeavour in all hostellers has sadly gone.

The Kirkby Stephen Youth Hostel is no longer part of the YHA network, although it is still open as an independent though it no longer provides meals for everyone and this was when most of the camaraderie happened. I was torn between what I was going to do the following day. My schedule called for me to be far away from Kirkby Stephen the following evening and yet I was keen to experience a little of the Coast to Coast spirit on the trail. Eventually I decided that I would follow my fellow hostellers along the trail all the way up to Nine Standards Rigg so next morning I set off through the historic town following the route of the Coast to Coast Walk over the River Eden to the village of Hartley and along a quiet road gradually gaining height. Wainwright had got into a lot of trouble with his original route for the Coast to Coast Walk as it took routes through private land where there was no right-of-way forcing him to make many hasty alterations, usually onto roads.

When Chris Jesty did his second edition in 2010 he suggested an alternative through the Ladthwaite valley however the road remains the official route and when I walked up it in 2004, and later in 2010, it was the only route. It is a pleasant walk, despite the tarmac, and the weather that had been poor for most of my holiday was now shining brightly on me and lifting my spirits. As is inevitable with large groups of walkers the various Coast to Coast walkers were strung out along the length of the road all going at their own pace with me going at my pace and only occasionally talking to my fellow coasters. At the end of the road the trail follows a bridlepath up Hartley Fell before coming off to head up Faraday Gill straight towards the prominent cairns that stand guard at the summit of Nine Standards Rigg. These stone cairns were rebuilt in 2005 so when I was at the top in 2004 they were still in various stages of decay; nevertheless they provided a commanding view across the surrounding countryside.

I had far-reaching views across the Eden valley towards the Lake District, but it was the views north that proved to be the most memorable. I could clearly see something very large and very white sitting at the top of one of the highest hills of the Pennines, and although I had no idea what it was I was so intrigued I made a point of finding out. It is the radar station at the top of Great Dun Fell whose giant, white domes can be likened to golf balls when seen from many miles away. This distant view distracted my attention from my immediate purpose of getting across the top of Nine Standards Rigg. There is a serious problem with erosion on the hill and for many years there have been various paths to take depending on the season, but this hadn’t taken into account the high rainfall in recent weeks so there was a terrible quagmire at the summit that all the coast to coasters were having to negotiate on their way down to Whitsundale.

I had to return to Kirkby Stephen so I left my brief companions on their slithery way and turned west to Baxton Gill Head and onto a bridlepath that was actually the original route of the Coast to Coast up Nine Standards Rigg. This soon brought me back onto my outward route and down the road all the way into Kirkby Stephen. After lunch I drove up to Teesdale parking at the Bowlees Visitor Centre to begin looking at the stunning waterfalls in the area. Not far from the visitor centre is Summerhill Force and Gibson’s Cave, however I have no memory of visiting them even though I’m sure I did. I do remember leaving the visitor centre to cross the main road and pass over Wynch Bridge onto the Pennine Way a short distance from Low Force. Following the trail upstream I eventually reached the stunning High Force, which must be one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Britain.

I was walking along the southern bank where the Pennine Way passes the waterfall but access to the northern bank is by via a private footpath for which a fee is charged. Despite this there were many people on the other side whereas I was on my own enjoying the spectacular views, for free. The weather was fantastic so I wandered further along the Pennine Way until the River Tees started to veer away from the path and at that point turned around to head back past High and Low Force and returned to my car. On this day I made two very different walks, one up a hill that is topped by many piles of stones stacked in many ways, and the other past several waterfalls to a stunning waterfall that is a wonder of the North Pennines. After several days of poor, at best mixed, weather it was great to have some wonderful sunshine and some great views to enjoy it in.