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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 ukcaving.com suggests that this is probably an entrance into the extensive Knock Fell Caverns.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.