Monthly Archives: May 2016

High Cup Nick 15.05.2016

For the second day of our weekend in Dufton, we decided to visit the spectacular High Cup Nick, with a return over the moorland summit of Backstone Edge.  First however, we wanted to wander through Dufton Gill to see the bluebells in sunlight.  Having wandered through the woods on the Friday evening, we knew it was a sight worth seeing.  They really were beautiful.  And there are so many – possibly the most I have ever seen in one place.  Annoyingly I found that my camera battery had died, but luckily Andrew’s was in full working order.  All of the pictures in this post were therefore taken by him.

Leaving the wood, we took a farm path that would take us almost to the bottom of High Cup Gill.  Most people follow the Pennine Way from Dufton village, but a relative had tipped us off that a more dramatic approach was to take the footpath that climbs right up through the bottom of the gill, exiting steeply at High Cup Nick itself.


The sunlight starts to break through onto to side of the gill


Looking back out of High Cup Gill

High Cup Gill is sometimes claimed as ‘England’s Grand Canyon’ and though it has to be said that this is something of an exaggeration, it’s probably true to say that it is England’s finest example of a glacial valley.  As height is gained and the sides of the valley start to converge, it does become slightly claustrophobic – but truly magnificent.



The slot on the left of this photo is the ‘Nick’ – a name that is often wrongly applied to the whole valley

The spectacular ring of crags that encircles the whole valley is part of the Whin Sill, an intrusion of dolerite (known locally as whinstone) that runs right through the northern Pennines, and forms such distinctive features as Cauldron Snout and High Force, as well as the Farne Islands and the outcrops on which Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castles are built.  The highest section of Hardian’s Wall also runs across crags formed by the Whin Sill.


The climb out from the head of the gill was extremely steep, but this provided a good excuse to admire the view frequently.  Although there was a path throughout, it can’t be very well used as of the 30 or so people that we must have seen at High Cup Nick, not one had used our route through the gill, nor did anybody appear to be returning that way.


This is the view looking down from the nick itself

Once we’d eaten lunch and satisfied ourselves that we had spent enough time admiring the view, we left the crowds behind to head up on to Backstone Edge.


Climbing up towards Backstone Edge

On reaching the moorland above, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a footpath had come into being since my previous visit around ten years ago.  On that occasion, we’d had to wade through the ankle-deep heather, an energy-sapping experience that had worn the dog out and almost made us miss our train home.  This may have been before the implementation of the ‘right to roam’, which would perhaps explain why there were fewer people walking there at that time.


The author by the large cairn at Narrowgate Beacon.  The onward route followed the edge of the moor round to the right.



A last look back at High Cup Nick from Narrowgate Beacon

The path continued all the way to the summit of Backstone Edge (2293 ft); not really a summit at all, just a high point in a sea of rolling moorland.  The path seemed to run out beyond the summit, but by that time Great Rundale Tarn, our next objective, had come into view.  Oddly, although the tarn is named after Great Rundale, its outflow doesn’t feed that valley, but instead runs east, to join the Tees.


Great Rundale Tarn

Beyond the tarn, we followed an old mine track down into Great Rundale.  It was rather loose and stony, but made for a quick descent.


Heading down into Great Rundale


The lower reaches of Great Rundale.  The structure on the left is an old lime kiln.


Dufton Pike comes into view at the end of Great Rundale

Reaching the bottom of the valley with time and energy to spare, we decided to nip up Dufton Pike as it was such a nice day.


Cuckoo flowers on the track below Dufton Pike


Looking to Knock Pike and distant Cross Fell from below Dufton Pike


Zooming in on Cross Fell

Once the track that runs across the base of Dufton Pike is left, the ascent becomes very steep, though it’s grassy all the way.


Looking across the sunlight-dappled Eden valley to the Lakeland fells from the ascent


Looking to Cross Fell and the Dun Fells from our ascent route

The views from the summit (1578 ft) are magnificent; more so than those from higher nearby fells.  This is mainly due to Dufton Pike’s pointed shape, which contrasts with the rolling moorland more prevalent in these parts.  The difference in shape is due to the underlying geology – Dufton Pike is formed from Borrowdale volcanic rock, more commonly found in the Lake District.


Backstone Edge from the summit.  The track in the centre-left was our descent route from the former.


The view to the south.  The prominent peak is Murton Pike – High Cup Gill is immediately to its left.

A steep descent returned us to the old mine track and back to Dufton.  It had been a superb walk, made all the more so by the sheer variety of the scenery encountered, which proved if nothing else that there is much more to the Pennines than the ‘dreary moorland’ of popular repute.

All photos by Andrew Collins.



Cross Fell 14.05.2016

My brother Andrew and I were spending the weekend at Dufton Youth Hostel, and having woken up to a glorious morning on the Saturday, decided that Cross Fell would make a suitable objective.  Monarch of the Pennines, at 2930 ft, Cross Fell is one of the ten highest mountains in England (though in which position depends upon how you define a mountain – a debate I don’t intend to enter into here!), and is higher than Lakeland giants Pillar, Fairfield and Blencathra.  The last two of these are clearly in view from Cross Fell’s summit on a clear day.  We had planned a route that would take us from the tiny village of Kirkland via and old mine track to the Pennine Way, which we would then follow over the Dun Fells and Knock Fell back to Dufton.


Looking back down Kirkland Beck


The old mine track heading for Ardale


Kirkland Beck


Cocklock Scar


Looking towards Black Doors at the head of Ardale


A closer view of the Black Doors

The mine track made for a very easy and gentle ascent, with excellent views into neighbouring Ardale.  It’s a much easier climb than many much lower Lakeland fells, though also much longer.


Cross Fell’s summit dome comes into view

Shortly after parting company with the mine track, we came across a bothy at the side of the path.  It’s obviously been around for some time as it’s marked on the map, though what it could be used for, I found it hard to imagine.  There isn’t room to sleep inside and there is barely room to sit up.  Perhaps it was a place where coffins were rested when this track was used as a corpse road.


The bothy at 674348

Rather than tackle the screes surrounding the summit dome, we continued to the junction with the Pennine Way, joining the latter for the remainder of our walk.  As we climbed towards the summit, we could see a couple of small patches of snow stubbornly clinging on in hollows on the northern slopes of the mountain.


Looking northwards towards Cold Fell.  The tiny bright green speck on the right of the picture is a mountain biker.


Looking towards Alston from near the summit


A currick defending the summit plateau

We reached the summit just in time for lunch, which was handy as it would have been a shame to pass up on the opportunity to use the recently rebuilt wind shelter.  Unusually for a mountain famed for its winds, it was very still; almost silent at times.  Before sitting down, we had a wander across to the far side of the plateau.  On the way, we encountered a dunlin, which stood unmoving only a few feet away from us.  We thought it was probably trying to lead us away from its nest, so we made sure to tread very carefully to avoid standing on any eggs.


Dunlin (Photo by Andrew Collins)


Wind shelter and trig point on the summit

Whilst eating lunch in the summit wind shelter, we were joined by two gents whose large backpacks and conversation suggested that they were doing the Pennine Way.  In fact we were to encounter several other people who also appeared to be doing this.  I was slightly surprised, as I thought the Pennine Way had declined in popularity in recent years, though I guess this will be peak time of year for people to attempt it.

Though there is an extensive view of the Lakeland fells from the summit, I didn’t take any photos in that direction as it was a little hazy.


Little Dun Fell (with the cloud shadow passing over) and Great Dun Fell (with the radar dome) from a currick on the south side of the summit plateau.  The hill in the background is Mickle Fell, highest in Yorkshire.  (Photo by Andrew Collins)

From Cross Fell, we continued along the Pennine Way to Little Dun Fell (2762 ft) and Great Dun Fell (2782 ft).  Thanks to the radar dome on its summit, Great Dun Fell must be one of the most distinctive if also most unattractive summits in England.  Still, I’d take this over a wind farm any day (scenically speaking).  I was surprised that it is possible to enter and wander around the radar dome compound – perhaps someone in NATS management is a keen peak bagger?


Looking east from Little Dun Fell across the featureless Pennine moorland


Looking back at The Screes on Cross Fell.  The red colour presumably indicates the presence or iron ore.  (Picture by Andrew Collins)


Looking back to Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell from Great Dun Fell


Knock Fell and Mickle Fell from Great Dun Fell

Just below the summit of Great Dun Fell, the path drops down into a particularly good example of a hush.  These were created by lead miners by damming becks and then releasing the water once a large amount had built up, so as to remove the upper layers of vegetation and soil and thus (hopefully) reveal the lead ore below.  There are many examples dotted about the Pennines and although they are a bit of a blot on the landscape, they are fascinating relics of the industrial heritage of the area.


Dunfell Hush

On the climb up towards Knock Fell, I noticed a small area of limestone, complete with mini limestone pavement and a little further beyond, a tiny pothole.  A quick bit of research on suggests that this is probably an entrance into the extensive Knock Fell Caverns.


Limestone pavement on Knock Fell


The small pothole

The limestone can’t be very extensive at surface level hereabouts, as we were soon back onto the boggy ground more typical of the higher Pennines.  There are even a few small tarns dotted about in the vicinity.


Tarn near the summit of Knock Fell


Boulder field with the imaginatively named Round Hill in the background


Looking back at Cross Fell and Great Dun Fell from Knock Fell (Picture by Andrew Collins)

The summit of Knock Fell (2605 ft) is not particularly inspiring and even the summit cairn is a poor effort when compared with the nearby currick Knock Old Man.  The views are good though.


Knock Old Man

The descent from Knock Fell seemed long, but it was gentle and there was an attractive beck for company.  This eventually joins Swindale, which forms an impressive gill in its lower reaches.


Looking down into Swindale


Another view of Swindale

Just after I had taken the photo above, I saw a ring ouzel flying low across the bed of the gill.  I wasn’t close enough to identify it visually (or to photograph it), but was its distinctive call gave it away.  Unfortunately it went into hiding, so I didn’t get a second look.


Knock Pike from Swindale


Dufton Pike

The walk back along the valley bottom was very pleasant, with good views of Dufton Pike.  As we passed Halsteads Farm, unbeknownst to us, a sheep was being driven into the lane just as we were about the pass the gateway leading from its field.  On running into the lane and seeing us, it did an about turn and within no time at all was back at the far end of the field!  No doubt the farmer and the sheepdog were cursing our unfortunate timing.  Happily the remainder of the walk back to Dufton passed without incident.


Primroses growing by the side of the track we followed back to Dufton


Another view of Dufton Pike