There is no gear shop in Dufton. Actually, there is no shop in Dufton. There is a pub which is not serving food the night I arrive because of a bereavement. But I got an adequate enough meal in the hostel. I had to share a small room with two very tall cylcists. But I have had a decent sleep and the sight of a red squirrel in the garden cheers me up. I spot another one as I set off. It is another grey and overcast day and it is raining gently as I set off through the village.

So I still don't have a map case still but a friendly woman, one of the few  people walking the Pennine Way has given me a sturdier plastic bag so I am hoping that will do. And I am feeling surprisingly perky. This is good. Today has been looming like the cloud I am heading into for a few weeks. Cross Fell is the biggest hill in England outside of the Lake District and my route goes right over it. It is famously windy and it is windy today, quite apart from precipitation. And this day would be a very long one even if I did not have a mountain to traverse. The woman who gave me the bag and her friend are doing the same walk today but they are stopping at Garragill which is several miles nearer than Alston.

On the way out I pass another lying sign that claims Appleby is 8 miles away when it is much less than half that even by the road the sign is pointing to. Very, very strange.

The Pennine Way leaves Dufton by another well made track lined with stone walls. Though I have to brave a narrow bit with soaking foliage before it opens up again.

Dufton Pike is well in view as I walk almost straight towards it but the North Pennine Escarpment is predictably lost in the clouds. Nothing for it though and I walk on with some degree of trepidation.

Just like yesterday the rain is threatening, I get a bit of drizzle and then it stops again. But the wind is stronger and it is cold for July even down here in the Eden Valley.

The path takes me between two fields in each of which is a herd of young cattle. Boys on one side and girls on the other. I don't know if the males have been de-bollocked yet (I don't stop to check) but there seems something poignant about it, as if they are trying to get as close to each other as they can like segregated teenagers.

Soon I have another cow encounter. I have a good view ahead and can see that a large herd is walking purpusfully down the track that I am on. And yes, the cows have calves. But they seem to be going for a gate into another field and this proves to be the case. I elect to pause and let them clear before going on.

But a couple of fields further there is a group standing right by the gate I have to go through. Cows, calves and a bull; the full bloody set. Nothing for it so I pass by and they are placidness itself. I am beginning to think that that the madness that afflicted cows in May has passed.  I hope so. 

Onwards and upwards. The path skirts Dufton Pike and leads relentlessly towards..

Well, towards a massive bank of clag. This is going to be fun, I can tell already.

The path becomes a broad greenway and there are some breaks in the cloud behind me if not in front. Blue sky even in places. I keep looking back, partly to enjoy the views opening up of the Eden Valley but also in the hope of seeing clearer weather coming from the west. There are bright patches so some reason for optimisim. But there is plenty of grey cloud back there too.

I reach a sign informing me that I am in Moor House - Upper Teesdale nature reserve. Teesdale? That is a shock but then I think it must make sense for the reserve to cover the whole of the escarpment. As soon as I get to the top I suppose the watershed will be crossed. And so I start the climb, a steep ascent at first with steps in places. But a short one. I have my overtrousers on for once, which doesn't make it easier. But it is less hard than I had thought it might be.

By the time the path reaches the edge of Knock Hush it has levelled to more comfortable walking. A hush, I overheard another walker saying last night, is a man made watercourse designed to wash away topsoil and reveal the minerals below. From now, and for most of the rest of today I am in mining, or to be more accurate, ex-mining country.

The wind is getting stronger and it is really quite cold now. So after Knock Hush but before the final push to Great Dun Fell I take a water and museli bar break.  On I go, there is a currick marked on the map and I see it a great squared off cairn. Like the ones I saw between Malham and Horton, at first I thought it was the gable end of an old house. But in fact it is a strange and purposeless construction.

The path has been ok if wet in patches but now I get to stone flags reminsicent of Black Hill all that way south. There is a difference though. In places here the flags have sunk and the water risen. At times I have to walk right round them because they are completely submerged. It is a strange sight because the square flags are so carefully laid. A perfect path but under the water!

After trotting along the flags for a while I am startled to see a road. A road? Up here? I consult my slightly soggy map and realise that it must be the access road for the radar station on Great Dun Fell. It is marked but as a track so I was not expecting a proper metalled road. The wind is getting ever stronger and now there is hail in it. The rain cover of my rucksack keeps getting blown off and flapping like a kite and at times I am knocked off my feet by the force of the wind.

I decide to put the rain cover away as it is more hazard then help and take the footpath up Great Dun fell, passing close below the eerie white ball of the radar station, which seems to be completely deserted.

More flags take me down to the next depression on the ridge and I start the ascent of Little Dun Fell, but I am getting very fed up of this wind and, after a while, I decide to traverse round the top, leaving the footpath. Almost at once I am out of the wind and, as the rain has stopped I decide to take off my overtrousers which are impeding my progress.

I have to cross a boulder field that I cannot really see marked on the map but, though visibility is rubbish I am confident that I must meet the Pennine Way path if I keep to the contour. And eventually I do. Naturally, once I am back on the path the mist lifts a little so that I can see some of what is around me.

I have been considering bypassing the very top of Cross Fell. There is another path marked on the map. Well, right of way at least, that cuts a good couple of kilometers off the distance, though it only saves me few dozen meters of ascent. I take advantage of the break in the clouds to take a look. No clear path but the topography seems OK. Not as simple as this last little diversion, but still not too confusing.

Shortly after Crowndundle Head I find the path. Not a great one, to be sure, but clear enough. And it is a cross path so I am pretty confident it is the right one. It skirts Tees Head so I suppose these puddles just below me must be the source of the River Tees. I set off with reasonable confidence. The wind is not so bad here though the rain does start again. Another shower, I think, and press on blithely.

It proves not to be a shower. It is heavy, relentless rain. Of course by the time I think about putting my overtrousers back on it is far too late, my trousers, like my boots, are sodden. But it is only later that I remember my rucksack cover. Out of the wind here I could have had it on without any problems, but I forget I don't until it is far too  late to do anything about it.

And it gets worse. The path disapears on me. I follow some mountain bike tracks for a while but this turns out to be a bad idea. Eventually I realise that the two cyclists must have ridden on into a bog and probably disapeared forever. I work my way back up the hill for a while until I find something that might just be the path though probably isn't. More importantly I have a contour I can work round.  The visibility has gone again, of course. I can hardly see more than fifty meters in any direction, I am slogging through a bog, and it is pouring.

At last I find some spoil heaps and other signs of mining. I was looking for this as there are some marked on the footpath. Heartened I carry on and into a landscape of mine ruins. It goes on forever. Clearly the OS only bothered to mark a few workings.  There are still sink holes marked around her. I am stumbling around lost in poor visibility in an area littered with abandoned mine shafts and sink holes. And at some point, my camera gives up in disgust at being asked to work in such wet conditions.

I come to a strange double row of wire fence, about three  meters between the two fences. I risk getting the map wetter by trying to find such a feature. There is a possiblity but I am not convinced and eventually decide to stick to my contour walking. So I clamber over the fence and continue. On and on through more and more mining debris, none of which seems to be marked. And then a track.

But is it the Pennine Way? No way to say for sure but it is leading down in the right direction off of Cross Fell, so I take it.

The rain is coming and going again now and I begin to get views of the way ahead though, not being able to get my map out properly it is a bit confusing. Still I become convinced that I am on the Pennine Way. It is hard going, a rough and stony track not easy to walk on. But at least it is the right way. The longer I stay on the more I am sure.

At last it gets stone walls on either side and I get views of what has to be the South Tyne Valley. Eventually I can tell that what I am seeing is the fells above Garragill. At a dog leg in the track my footpath leaves the Pennine Way, a short cut to Alston.

As it has stopped raining and I am hopeful of better walking, I stop to take my boots off and wring out my sodden socks. A bite to eat and spot of water and I see a couple scrunching down the stony track. As we exchange greetings I realise that they are the first people that I have seen since leaving Dufton this morning.

The sock wringing proves to be sadly mistimed. The footpath is not a footpath but an ill-defined right of way that crosses a succession of marshy, rush covered, fields.

At last I get down to the road and with relief have a short plod to my next path.

More problems. I take the wrong way round the houses of Dryburn (looking at it later on a non sodden map it is clear which way the footpath goes) but eventually I find myself at the River South Tyne. I cross the footbridge and, with considerable relief, start the walk along the river bank to Alston.

I have met a fair few rivers on this walk. The Trent was the biggest but I merely crossed that. Others like the Derwent provided me with a long stretch of route. The South Tyne is going to do that for me tomorrow so I am very pleased to make its aquaintaince.

This is a fine walk, though it must be said that I am not in much condition to enjoy it. My knees have done very well today and my energy level has been surprisingly good considering how knackered I was by yesterday's much shorter lowland walking. But I am running out of go by the minute.

On I plod. Stopping often to rest on the stone stiles. This river bottom land is divided into an inordinate number of fields by dry stone walls and I have to keep climbing over stiles and then, it seems not fifty meters on, there is another. At least my camera has dried out a bit and started working again.

One field has four great bulls in it, placidly lying chewing the cud. Much less threatening than some cows with calves have been.  This is really lovely country to walk through. Lush after the uplands with fields fringed with meadowseet and other flowers.

The final part of the path runs between a dry stone wall and a wood that slopes down to the river. There is a cemetery marked on the map, just before Alston, and I keep willing it to appear. It seems as if it never will but then, at last, I see some gravestones.

There is a building after it and I pass a window with a lounge. It looks a bit institutional. A residential home, I think. But then I see the YHA sign. The very first house is the hostel.

I stumble in with great relief. Drying room. Hot showers. A chip shop and an open Co-op in the town. My own little room. A free towell! I have made it and I am a tired but very happy Spencer.


  1. Anonymous said...

    It sounds a rather difficult day - glad you were still cheerful at the end of it. I'm surprised at the red squirrels. I've seen them on the Isle of Wight and a little island of Poole but didn't know they were found in the north too.


  2. Patricia said...

    I admire your tenacity and the lovely photos.--Patti  

  3. MEM said...

    Great blog! That was a tough day on your own.  


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