North Pennines backpack – Croglin to Gilderdale

by backpackingbongos

The mass of moorland to the north of the Alston to Penrith road (A686) has drawn my eye for a few years now but is somewhere I have just never got round to visiting.  Being August and not liking to share hills with other beings I thought it would be the perfect time to visit, I could even tick off three of the four Nuttalls located there.  Nuttall bagging has been a long time sport of mine, but something I will go into another time.  Another reason for the visit to the area was to check out a few building symbols marked on the map, a possibility of bothies that I have not yet found?  I have been a member of the MBA for a few years now (all bothy users should join) and have the full list of the bothies under their care.  However there are many more out there just waiting to be discovered, in fact they are often so good they are kept very very quiet.  For example there is one in mid Wales with gas lights, gas cooker, hot water and a flushing loo – not many people including myself would want give that location away!  By complete accident I have found two stunning places in the North Pennines that do not belong to the MBA, as well as Gregs hut – are there any others?

This trip would also be the perfect opportunity to try out a few new pieces of gear that I have recently brought, I will write about that in another post.

I got home on Friday after work and was in two minds about whether to go or not.  The weather was not looking great and I really could not face a long drive on my own.  I faffed about for a while and discussed options with my partner.  She reasoned that I would only kick myself later in the weekend if I stayed at home.  Finally at 7.30pm I got myself out of the door and started the drive north.  A big problem half way up the A1 when a section of the motorway was closed, meaning a long tailback followed by a long slow moving detour to rejoin the motorway.  I finally reached Cow Green reservoir in upper Teesdale at 12.30am, a great spot to park up the van for the night.

Situated at nearly 500m the wind and rain was lashing the van when I woke in the morning.  I did my usual bad weather procrastination but this looked like it was here to stay.  Not wanting to waste a day I thought that I really should get up and drive to the start of my backpack at Croglin village just over the Pennines.  Thankfully in that short time the weather changed dramatically and it was summer again.

Day one – 9.5 miles, 660 metres ascent

It was 1.00pm by the time I left the van outside the church and set off through the village.  There were still plenty of hours left in the day and I thought that I would just walk until I got tired or it got dark.  The lane soon turns to a track as it climbs above Town Head farm before heading high above Croglin Water.  The weather had cleared enough to give extensive views across the Vale of Eden to the Lake District fells.


I soon met a ‘This track is not a public right of way’ sign which was a bit misleading as I was now on access land.  They clearly showed a list of dates when you could not exercise your right to roam.  I got the feeling that walkers were not really that welcome!  I branched off to the right to pick up a grassy bridleway that descended to follow the valley at a lower level.  Ahead lay the long wild and remote valley of Croglin Water.  I love the feeling you get when you are just about to enter wild country.


The grassy track continued for a couple of miles becoming less defined and boggier until it reached the valley bottom where Stockdale beck joins it with its small but nice waterfall.


The buildings marked on the map soon came into view but alas on closer inspection they were dilapidated and boarded up.  At least my search had brought me into this beautiful secluded valley.  Just behind the huts the ground had been desecrated by two parked up JCB diggers that had started a new track leading to nowhere in particular.  Sacrilege in such a lovely spot and I had to trudge through the wet muddy track they had created.


A bit further on a small limestone crag gave a perfect place for lunch and I sat there content with the world as I felt the warmth of the sun on my face whilst listening to a buzzard calling.  The ground became rougher and much wetter as I climbed onto the ridge to the north of the valley.  Just before reaching Tom Smith’s Stone I was greeted by a mass of water filled peat haggs that were intent on trying to take me down into their sodden depths.  If I got stuck here help would be a long time coming!


The summit of Tom Smith’s Stone top really outlined the futility of summit bagging and must be one of the least inspiring ‘mountain’ tops I have ever climbed.  Dull, brown and rather wet!  The ground soon rose to the much more satisfying summit of Grey Nag which boasts a huge summit cairn and trig point and extensive views down into Alston.


Rough ground down into Woldgill burn led to even rougher ground as I traversed to the ruins on Watchers hill in Gilderdale.  A superbly wild and remote spot with a real feeling of isolation.  I had not seen a single person all day.


A short walk to the head of the valley brought sight of the building I had been searching for.  A substantial stone Miners shop in a really superb position.  It was unlocked but to be honest was not a place I would choose to stay in unless I was really desperate.  There was evidence that at one time it had been used as a bothy but the graffiti on the door did not date past about 1960.  These days it looks like it is used by shepherds / farmers for storage.  Disappointed I walked a bit further up the valley and found a grassy patch to pitch the tent.  As I sat outside to cook the sky grew darker and mist started to cover the highest top.  By the time I was in the tent a steady rain began to fall and lasted the entire night.  For some reason that night I dreamt of zombies!

Day 2 – 7.5 miles, 370 metres ascent

I managed to sleep until 9.00am, only disturbed by the occasional zombie.  I spent a lazy couple of hours cooking and looking at the scenery whilst waiting for the promised sunshine.  You can’t beat laying in a tent watching the world go by (actually nothing went by except a couple of sheep but it is nice to sit with an empty head!).


I even managed to get off my backside for a few minutes to take a couple of photos of my pitch.


All through the night the old mine building was a bit of an unnerving presence.


By about 11.00am the sun had finally done its duty of drying out the tent so I was packed and off on the ascent of Black Fell, which at 664 metres was the highest point of the weekend.


It was now an easy walk over grassy terrain to the currick on Watch Hill where I stopped for lunch.  I could not relax as I was constantly bothered by a succession of wasps and bees all for some reason showing great interest in the Tesco’s carrier bag that held my food.  Moorland bumble bees are usually fairly inquisitive and often buzz around for a bit before flying off.  These ones kept on landing on me, getting flicked off and then coming back again.  I gave up and walked on to the trig point on Thack Moor.



It was here that I passed two guys out for a day walk, the only people I had seen since leaving Croglin.  Not bad for a August weekend, these hills are definitely the place to get away from it all.  A rough boggy descent and the landscape suddenly turns to welcoming limestone, with green cropped grass and small crags and boulders.  The walk down Holl Gill would have been a delight but I failed to look at my map and spent a fair while hacking through bracken.  It was now hot and I had run out of water.


I finally got to the floor of Croglin water on the south side and took the track to the strangely named hamlet of Scarrowmanwick.  As I closed the gate behind me and stepped onto the road I noticed a sign saying ‘Private track no right of way’.  They obviously want to keep these hills to themselves!


10 Comments to “North Pennines backpack – Croglin to Gilderdale”

  1. One of the best areas in England to escape to a (largely) unspoilt wilderness, but there are some recent bulldozed tracks up there. Our visits there were in drier years!.
    They were constructing new tracks above Croglin Water near Blotting Raise where there is a shooters hut, speaking of which, the glorious 12th. is fast approaching.

  2. Looks like the effort was worth while and you had a reasonable weekend. Thanks for the Bongo info’. I’ll have a browse around and let you know how I get on.

  3. Geoff, Indeed it is one of the wildest parts of England, somewhere you can really get away from it all. It was really soggy there though, squelching along all weekend. Not sure if the grouse think the 12th is glorious!

    Paul, will be good to know how you get on with Bongo hunting. The pics on your site are stunning btw, popped you on my blogroll.

  4. looks great.
    Plu I had a great night watching you camp from the confines of that old mining building.

  5. Hope that I was not talking to myself, seem to do that when alone these days……

  6. No leftover meatballs on Grey Nag I hope:) Looks a great area and one I have been considering since Mike Knipe wrote about it. Your fine post has me fired up to go North.

  7. No leftover meatballs, but someone had done a poo behind one of the drystone walls. Hope it was not Mike! Go north Martin, resist the lakes and swim the North Pennine bogs!

  8. It wasn’t me that did a poo. I waited till I got home. I did feed the mouse that lives in the wall on Grey Nag. He’s very fond of cous-cous.

  9. Thats good to know Mike! Its a great summit, would have camped there but had ran out of water so had to descend.

  10. I enjoy this post. You should do more!

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