A murky day and night on a monochrome moor

by backpackingbongos

I parked near the summit of the moorland road, the highest part of the two day backpack.  For once I was going to start a walk by going downhill. The weather forecast was iffy to say the least but optimism brought me out to the North Pennines anyway.  It looked like I was going to be disappointed.  Wind was battering the car, mist drifting across the tops of the surrounding hills.  I got my gear out of the boot and was greeted by a fine drizzle.  I resorted to putting my boots and waterproofs on in the passenger seat, pulling a few nifty contortions in the confined space.

Dressed all in black nylon I set off down the road, a slightly rounded and ageing hill ninja.  The footpath sign filled me with optimism as I left the road on a green well-drained path.  I had read bad things about this path across the barren moors.  Ahead of me was a sea of flat moorland stretching to the horizon, not a single feature to break the expansive monotony.  A land of big skies if the sky itself had not decided to drift just a few metres from the surface of the earth.


The waymarked path led me onto that featureless expanse and then without warning deserted me.  One minute there was nice springy turf to walk on, the next there was just bog.  A final waymarker stood at the edge of the quaking morass and then there was nothing.  I squelched along for a few minutes in the direction of the right of way, boots quickly being overtopped by oozing cold bog water.  I was soon fed up and decided to abandon the ‘path’, instead I veered off to the left across the heather towards an infant stream.  The going was still rough and tough but at least the ground stopped trying to remove my boots.



The shallow watercourse gradually became more pronounced before its confluence with a much wider valley.  Although shallow its banks were steep sided and I struggled to descend the few metres to the bottom.  With all the rain over the past few weeks these banks were as slippery as ice and I was aware that they could have become unstable.  At the bottom the river was uncrossable so I climbed an intersecting valley, the narrow ‘V’ of land giving good views of the river snaking its way across the moor.



Below lay what looked like a large garden shed, shiny and new it looked rather incongruous in this wild and bleak setting.  Crossing the river by a new bridge I approached it, looking forward to sitting inside to eat my lunch.  I was disappointed to find it locked, so instead hunkered down next to it to get some shelter from the cold wind.

The steep track behind the hut led me back onto the moor, deserting me to face a sea of thick heather.  A small watercourse gave a handrail to follow up and over an ill-defined watershed.


The gathering ground for another stream was a mass of reeds and sphagnum moss, a watery grave for the unwary.  I carefully sloshed my way across, the ground a quaking mass, clumps of rushes providing the only solid foothold.  It was like walking across the worlds wettest mattress.  I don’t think that the moors can hold much more water.

The infant stream led me damply down into a large shallow bowl, a slightly raised bog being its centrepiece.  A combination of a fleeting lightening of the sky and the vividness of the bog brightened the scene considerably.  A joyfully wild scene if you ignore the distant sound of traffic.


The north Pennines have some wonderful watercourses hidden away on the wild moors.  Here the open expanse was broken up by a rocky defile with a splendid waterfall crashing into its depths.  The waterfall is reasonably wide and must drop a good twenty feet, yet is not named on the 1:50,000 map.  I imagine that few people come here, these moors being well off many people’s radar.

However on this wet and windy day the Pièce de résistance was the shooting hut that is wonderfully situated right above the waterfall.  The first door that I tried was locked, however the other was not.  I would now not be spending a long night cooped up in a small backpacking tent during the gales that were predicted for later.



It was only quarter past three and I did think about bagging the hill directly behind the hut.  However this would have involved a long trudge across more wet moorland.  I really could not be bothered.  Instead I mooched about my immediate surroundings, made a coffee and stared intently at the waterfall.  By four it was dark and I sat in the hut stretching out the process of making food and hot drinks.  I finally lit the fire log I had carried across the moors and watched it produce no heat for an hour or so.  Finally I bedded down on a narrow bench for the night and did my best not to roll off onto the concrete floor.


The wind picked up during the night, rattling the door and the roof.  The white noise of the waterfall outside intensified, becoming a roar.  My alarm went off at seven thirty and I reluctantly got up, it was still pitch black in the hut.  With a cup of coffee I went outside into the pre-dawn murk, the waterfall looking rather splendid after the overnight rain.


A second coffee and bacon noodles were consumed before I packed up and headed outside.  My enthusiasm to be in the hills that I had felt the previous day had vanished.  I was faced with the cold wet reality of mist shrouded moorland.  Thankfully I had a good track to follow, the estate obviously having spent a lot of money on the local grouse shooting infrastructure.  I’m not a big fan of tracks being bulldozed across the moors but this one had been done reasonably well and was beginning to soften into the landscape.  However it was still not marked on my map and I followed it rather blindly hoping that it would come out roughly where I wanted.  At one point the rain turned sleety and then for a few minutes full on snowy.  Not that white fluffy snow though, just the stuff that is as wet as rain only colder.

The track deposited me close to the trig point and I managed my bag without too much effort.  Somewhere in the gloom there was an unseen shepherd shouting something at what I assume was a dog.  I met him on his quad round the corner, he asked if I had seen seven sheep which were missing.

On the road I stood at the footpath sign pointing off into the mist, my route being another five miles back to the car.  However instead if I continued along the road for a mile and a half I would also be back at the car.  I have to admit that I took the easy route.  It was pleasant enough if walking into wind-driven sleety rain could be called pleasant, and only two vehicles passed.  I was dismayed to see that the verges were liberally sprinkled with the detritus of some underdeveloped half wits that had passed by, knuckles dragging behind their vehicles.  I could have filled a couple of bin bags with the confetti of the unthinking thick with beer cans, fag packets and takeaway wrappers.  One thing I learnt is that Neanderthal man has undeveloped taste buds as Carling and Fosters are their weak lager piss drink of choice.

Anyway, lets wax lyrical a bit about the rolling moors rendered as soft outlines rolling off into the horizon.  Bright patches of sky quickly chased away by banks of hill fog.  I was pleased to get back to the car, surprised at just how clean it now was.  High on the moors in the wind and rain makes for a perfect natural car wash.

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10 Comments to “A murky day and night on a monochrome moor”

  1. I’d have voted for the easy option down the road too!
    Reminds me of lying awake in gregs hut, listening to the wind trying to rip the roof off…
    Looked like a nice spot though.

    • It was a cracking wild spot Chrissie. Enjoyed listening to the wild weather outside. The following day was really miserable, glad that I walked the road and went home early!

  2. Certainly a splendid waterfall – good find.

  3. Splendid and the hut would have been open. Great atmospheric photos there to.

  4. Those monochrome photos are strangely appropriate for the N Pennines at these dull times, bleak-looking indeed.
    I’m sure we have walked past that cabin and waterfall but again I can’t offhand place the location – I can think of a few candidates that fit the familiar picture.

    • Cheers Geoff, it was really bleak on the moors in that weather. I’m sure that you have walked past that cabin, did not want to give its location away on the internet!

  5. Austere moorland indeed. Can’t begin to imagine how wet it must have been. Great tale as always

    • Thanks Andy. It was good to get out an blow those winter cobwebs away, just a shame the weather did not play ball!

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