The walk up the summits of Cross Fell, Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell on Sunday 1st June, 2014.
Five years ago whilst following a tangent from planning my three peaks of Yorkshire event I happened to land on Wikipedia’s Whernside page where I discovered the parent peak to Whernside was a mountain of which I had no previous knowledge – Cross Fell. Incidentally although this may be accurate a lot of what is posted on Wikipedia is utter cobblers…but that’s another tangent so let’s get back on track! I instantly became obsessed with wanting to both know more about this majestic outsider of the North Pennines and wanting to one day lay my feet upon its’ summit. I organised a walking forum meet up and began to plan and dream.
A total of four “definite” agreed to meet up with me and in keeping with most walkers underlying ‘green’ methodology three of us – myself, Sue and Karl all went to the venue in Karl’s car. In Kirkland we met Strider (deep apologies for not remembering your first name: Colin/Chris?) and Jon whom we had met previously sliding down Whernside on March’s ‘Right Pig Walk’! First I should say that there are not many residents of Kirkland…as such parking was restricted to park near the church – which had strange ululations emanating from it, and try not to encroach upon the tiny road. Kirkland is very, very small! We headed off on the route and took our first left hand turn-off (after some debate about which way ‘right’ would have taken us!). Within a hundred feet or so one of my water bottles decided to make a bid for freedom and jumped out of the inadequate pocket of my walking bag thus shedding ninety percent of its’ contents upon impact with the ground. This now left me with just sixty percent of the water with which I had intended to consume over the coarse of the 12 mile, 2000’+ walk! At first we were in something of a dappled light, shaded glade but then the road became a track and the views of this area of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty were laid bare before us.
I had seen many, many images of this seemingly endless path from five years worth of research…that’s photography for you – everything looks bigger, because it was not long before the end of the lovely easy stretch and the beginning of the ascent. It has to be said that the natural mechanics which make up Lakeland hills / mountains, are essentially ignored in the North Pennines, gone are the ridiculous, relentless pulls uphill that transform legs into iron and would have you believe that gravity can only ever be your enemy. North Pennines hills/mountains are much more friendly to the walker that has crossed the great divide of the Eden Valley – the M6! Of course any rise in land at some point must vary its’ gradient sooner or we’d have cricket pitches in superabundance (perish the thought!) and Cross Fell is no exception, soon the gradient got a bit meaner but never uncomfortably so. The walk was very obviously splitting into bands, whereby one stretch of the route would be relatively steep (but not Lakeland steep) but this would be followed by a much more gradual pull up the mountain – accompanied by more than an odd marshy section. At times the path did disappear but here is where Cross Fell’s prestigious name worked in our favour – whereas there are countless paths and routes up to the summit of Scafell Pike because of its’ name and status and position, the former traversers of this fell have essentially stuck to the same few routes presumably from just the four basic compass points…it is kind of in the middle of the back of beyond as far as accessibility goes.
I won’t lie, I did have the odd rest bite every so often…I counted eight – which is much better than previous performances on Sca Fell, Helvellyn, Skiddaw and Scafell Pike but this was down to the walk being easier as opposed to any marked improvement in my performance…okay I think doing Sca Fell two weeks before did lay some groundwork! En route we met a nice chap who gave us some useful advice on following the curricks – cairns to most people, in order to negotiate the route up and over the summit of Cross Fell in case the mist came down. After three hours we were at the top of Cross Fell. I had heard that there was a cruciform shelter atop Cross Fell as there are atop many other summits…I had no idea that it would be so big! We ate our lunch inside its’ confines – my huge pasta and chicken weighed in at around one kilogramme and there was no way I was finishing that (I’d have to walk up another couple of mountains to burn it all off again!), and played guess the fell by gazing off towards what we hoped was the Lake District – or what we could see of it through the hazy skies. I could have sworn that I saw Great Gable but to be honest the only one upon which we all agreed was Great Mell Fell.
The summit of Cross Fell is enormous – in mist this would be a nightmare to negotiate but we encountered no problems at all on our walk – the most tedious task was trying to get a view of neighbouring Great Dun Fell’s ‘golfball’ in the viewfinders of our modern digital cameras – the colour white doesn’t stand out well against a sky apparently! We had always intended to walk to the next summit…and the next one after that as this is the classic route of Cross Fell – Great Dun Fell including Little Dun Fell (well, try excluding it!) and now that we were sure that the mist or the notorious Helm wind was not about to descend upon us we set off in the direction of Little Dun Fell along a wonderfully slabbed footpath.
Little Dun Fell is by no means an ‘also ran’ it has a lovely profile and is very inviting when seen from practically anywhere in the neighbouring area. The path from Cross Fell’s summit to Little Dun Fell is just about as obvious as a path can be and facilitates rapid process across the col separating the two summits. Whilst progress was fairly swift the climb was not innocuous and a couple of times I had to stop for breath. Atop Little Dun Fell the views as could be expected were near enough the same as from Cross Fell with the exception of Great Dun Fell’s radome – which was still not displaying well in my camera’s viewfinder. We sat at the summit cairn for a few minutes, then, full of resolve and safe in the knowledge that there was still no sign of the Helm Wind or any mist we set off for the neighbouring Great Dun Fell along yet another fantastic slabbed path.
On it’s own Great Dun Fell would impress anyone, it is a fully fledged Marilyn (whatever one of those is) and a Nuttall (?) and has impressive stats being 2,782′ – 848 metres above sea level. The summit is generally easily seen from junctions 38 – 41 of the M6 but it is the giant Weather Radome at its’ summit upon which one’s eyes tend to lock. Again the short path separating the two Dun Fells was more steep in more places than the one which had lead us all the way up to Cross Fell. I think I was carried up the path more by momentum than by physical exertion. Pretty soon I was at yet another North Pennine summit plateau, having sneaked up on my now seated co-walkers who were taking in the views across to Lakeland once more. Whilst we were here every so often a cyclist would appear…my psychic sense told me that they would like to have had the summit to themselves in order to shout celebratory expletives after one of the UK’s hardest bike rides up the England’s highest tarmac road from Appleby, but that’s just conjecture!
Walkers in general do not like retracing their steps. Wherever possible we like to make circular routes for variety’s sake. However, the landscape around this area doesn’t lend itself at all well to circular walks and at the crest of many a hill lies a drop down that would put fear in the heart of anyone. Our route of descent would be the sensible one, we would backtrack as far as the marker at Tees head (I’ll get to this later) even if this did mean traversing the summit of Little Dun Fell once more – it was slightly harder the second time around as the legs were a little more weary now. We didn’t stop atop Little Dun Fell as to do so would take any accumulated wind out of our sails for the final push back up to Tees head. We had initially passed within a few yards (probably no more than fifty) Tees head on our original drop off Cross Fell. As its’ name would suggest this is the head of one of the north’s greatest rivers – the Tees. A silent decision had been made to not go poking around at a puddle just to say we had touched the Tees (?) but we did take the opportunity to have a quick sit down and relax for a moment or two. I finished my original second bottle – the first having been sacrificed to the God of bad-packing! It was suggested that as my water bottle came with a working filter – for these exact purposes, maybe I could fill it from the infant river Tees – although wary, I did take up the suggestion (even though Jon did give me some of his water) and the Tees tasted fine!
And so it came to pass that for the next hour and a half we spent our collective time dropping off this lovely mountain of which we had previously spent three hours ascending. The route was not tricky but there were a couple of sticky patches with which we had to happily contend. Secretly I think we were all looking forward to walking passed the laughably named “Grumply Hill” purely because it has such a curious name but in actuality it did have a nice enough profile for Karl to pose the implication “Grumply hill, anyone?” as if to begin its’ ascension – this was a challenge not accepted. We walked and dropped in altitude, there were some spectacular views across the entire North Pennines range and I made a pact with myself to visit this locale more times in order to bag some more ‘easier’ mountains. At one point we were somewhat perplexed as to how to head back to our cars – a left or right path decision had to be made but with the benefit or a map (Jon had promised to have one laminated beforehand) and GPS we were able to successfully negotiate our way to the cars passing a trio of some of the north west’s noisiest dogs. Finally some time after 18:00 – quite possibly closer to 18:30 we arrived back at our cars. Weary? I would say so – a special note of commendation should go to Strider here as the day before this hero had completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks – then I went and threw twelve and a half miles and two and an half thousand feet worth of ascent at him! The weather had been lovely – perfect walking weather, the company was also wonderful – we talked practically all the time! All in all as a wise man once said “A grand day’s walk”.
Not many mountains can live up to what Cross Fell had in store for me. I had quite literally dreamed of climbing this mountain on a number of occasions and at times when I had driven within its’ giant shadow it had somehow spoken to me on an unconscious level. I am delighted to admit that my expectations were fully met. As I have stated, prior to 2009 I could only name two handfuls of mountains and Cross Fell and its’ neighbours certainly were not in the collection. Whilst there are very apparent bragging rights to climbing the Sca fells and the likes of Great Gable and Helvellyn, even Skiddaw is no shrinking violet, here in the North Pennines, isolated but not ostracised this mountain’s reputation of being the haunt of evil spirits, of being too remote and inaccessible do nothing to tarnish its’ devotee’s cherished opinions, I know, for I am one of them. This is not a God forsaken place.
We’re now at the halfway stage of my quest to traverse the giants of England, the top ten mountains and I am delighted that at least one of them was away from Lakeland, diversity is often refreshing. My walker’s eyes next look to Ennerdale and the eye catching monolith that is Great Gable…but that’s in July and between now and then Christine and I have a wonderful holiday in Spain’s Costa Del Sol to which we can look forward. During my lengthy chats with Sue as we traversed these fells I did declare my intent to walk my coastal path again very soon, possibly this weekend, but I think that there is another location to which I must return very shortly for Winter Hill is simply gorgeous in Summer…and I’ve still not done Pendle since October!
Milage 12.5 approx