Two nights on the moors – the sounds of spring above Allendale

by backpackingbongos

The drive to Northumberland was punctuated by a gear stop in a middle class suburb on the outskirts of Leeds.  A shiny new Trailstar was waiting for Rich at his parents house.  He sat for a while with the package on his lap as I drove north, putting off the excitement of opening it.  Curiosity soon got the better of him and the contents examined, the familiar grey silnylon in an orange stuff sack.  It would be put to good use on the North Pennine moors over the next couple of nights.

Day 1 – 15 kilometres with 620 metres ascent

Allendale 1

Allendale Town is a pleasant village and we parked opposite a cafe which we immediately decided would be visited upon our return.  We were soon crossing the River East Allen and heading up a series of steep lanes.  High on Dryburn Moor are a couple of chimneys with smelting flues made of stone running up to them.  Most of the flues have now collapsed but in places the stone construction is clearly visible.  It must have been a feat of engineering on this high and desolate place.

The views to the north were extensive in the cold and clear air.  We could see all the way to the Cheviot hills, a patchwork of low moorland and forestry filling the huge panorama.  Northumberland really is a county of big horizons.

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A series of tracks and paths led us down into West Allen Dale where we misread a path sign and bumbled right past the back door of a cottage.  The dog in the garden did not appear to be too happy about this, or no doubt the owner who came to the back door.  A bridge crossed the river at an idyllic spot so we took the opportunity to sit for a while, listening to the sounds of water with the sun on our faces.

The remote Wellhope burn was to be our destination for the night.  Looking at the map it looked like it would provide plenty of seclusion with flat pitches next to the river.  South of the Ninebanks youth hostel we crossed the Mohope burn and entered the grassy pastures at the foot of the dale.  The view was of grassy fields finally giving way to the bleak moors.  We decided that we would continue for a mile or so into the access land and pick a spot for the night.

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Sadly our plans of picking a hidden spot was not to be.  As we progressed up the valley a farmer was out tending his sheep on the opposite slopes.  He was too far away to go and ask permission to camp but too close to camp within full view.  We therefore had a bit of a dilemma what to do.  As there was plenty of daylight left we decided to continue to the terrace of barns at Wellhope, whilst he continued to buzz about on his quad bike.  Without a cloud in the sky the low sun cast a magical light on the moors as we climbed higher.

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The barns were dilapidated and the ground outside unsuitable for camping.  The only alternative was to climb higher onto the moors and search for a pitch on the edge of the plateau.  In the end we found an acceptable patch of rough grass and I pitched my Trailstar whilst Rich noted what to do so he could pitch his.  It took a while to set his up as the guys needed to be cut to length and attached to the shelter.  With the air quickly cooling and trailshoes soaked with boggy water, it was a painfully cold process.  The farmer was still driving around on the other side of the valley, so we kept our fingers crossed that we would not get moved on.

The air was alive with the sounds of moorland birds.   The pastures that we had passed through earlier had been filled with acrobatic lapwings with their distinctive cries.  The most lovely however was the lonely call of the curlew.  If you have never heard its cry whilst dusk falls on the moors then you have not lived.  Then there was the familiar cackle of the grouse, letting out a sound like a broken instrument.  All in all a good selection of noises to fall asleep to.

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Day 2 – 18.5 kilometres with 470 metres ascent

Allendale 2

It was a freezing cold night, frost forming on the insides of our shelters.  I also realised once in bed that the slope was greater than initially thought.  I kept slowly sliding out towards the entrance.  All in all it was not one of the best nights sleep I have had.

The sun was very welcome when it finally rose and provided some much needed warmth.  It was a pleasure to breakfast and then pack in good weather.  The air was once again alive with the sound of birdsong, this time also joined by a skylark.

The farmer had not left until after dark the night before and was back again by 8.00am.  It must be a tough existence farming on the uplands, especially after such a cold spring.  With height gained the night before we headed south towards the spoil heap and shooting hut on the horizon.  There were great sweeping views back the way we had come.

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I had heard that this shooting hut has a flushing loo so I was rather disappointed to find both the hut and outside loo firmly padlocked.  Even the knackered looking old winding house was locked.  It was a gloomy and rather forlorn spot.  A nearby shallow pond however was teeming with frogs busy procreating.  There appeared to be an amphibian orgy taking place in one corner, a tangle of froggy bodies and webbed feet.

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A waymarked bridleway led us to the far side of the valley giving views of moorland as far as the eye could see.  I love these wide open spaces.

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The bridleway continued upward before contouring below the summit of the Dodd, a hill that just breaks the 2000ft barrier.  The path gave backpacking perfection for a while, grassy and level with panoramic views.  A few miles of that would have been perfect.

Alas our route soon left the path and we squelched our way through bog.  For a while the going was a quaking nightmare, a wrong step being potentially dangerous.  An unlucky sheep had not picked the best route, only its head and top of its back visible above the morass.  We were pleased to get to the summit of the road and feel a firm surface beneath our feet.

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The going up Killhope Law was initially good, a feint path followed a fence, the peat firm and dry.

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However we were soon winding our way though a series of sodden peat hags, constantly climbing up and down them.  It was impossible to keep to a straight line.  It was exhausting both physically and mentally as the summit for ages did not appear to get any closer.  Finally we picked up a feint path once more for the final section to the summit.

The trig sits in a desolate wasteland of soggy peat, the cold wind making us none too keen to hang around for very long.  The summit is also marked by a large wooden pole, the purpose of which we have no idea.  It must have taken a considerable effort not just to carry it up but to actually erect the thing.

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The original plan had been to continue across trackless moors for a few more miles taking in another 2000ft summit.  However progress had been so slow and to be honest a little tedious so we decided to change our plans.  We headed to a dilapidated shooting hut and cooked some lunch whilst looking at the map.  It was good to get out of the wind for a while and get the stoves on.  You can’t beat a hot lunch whilst backpacking.

The Carriers way descends to near Allenheads so we decided we would take that.  A good gravel track that led us straight down into East Allen Dale, a relief after the bogs of Killhope Law.

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Down at the road a sign pointed towards a cafe a mile away at Allenheads, we were tempted but at the same time lassitude had set in.  Instead we trudged along the road for a bit and took the access track for Byerhope farm.  This turned out to occupy an enviable position at 460 metres above sea level.  A large whitewashed building with views across to Killhope Law and airy views down the glen.  In our minds we imagined what it would be like to live there.

The track continued onto the moorland plateau above, eventually a couple of shooting huts came into view.  Unlocked they gave a good opportunity to sit for a while out of the wind.

Our chosen spot for the night was near the abandoned Halleywell farm which was approached by a couple more shooting tracks.  The buildings sit in a lonely spot at the head of the Beldon burn which eventually flows past Blanchland.

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We wanted to hide ourselves away as much as possible so descended past the buildings to the stream below.  The ground next to a circular sheepfold looked to provide an idyllic spot but it turned out the grass was about two inches deep in sheep shit.  Not too enticing with a floorless shelter!  A bit of searching around found a grass enclosure which was sheltered from the wind.  We soon had both Trailstars up, Rich deciding on a Hobbit height configuration.

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It was a cracking spot and it was good to relax in the early evening sunshine.  There was once again a cacophony of moorland birds which were joined at dusk by the drumming of the snipe.  The first time I heard snipe was whilst camping on the West Coast of Scotland.  I have to admit that I found the sound a bit unnerving as I did not know what it was.  Now it is up there with the cries of the curlew as my favourite sound of the moors in spring.

Day 3 – 12 kilometres with 160 metres ascent

Allendale 3

I managed a whole night without sliding out of the Trailstar so had a good long and deep sleep.  This was full of vivid dreams, the like of which I only really get when camping.  Usually Rich is up at dawn, even he was still fast asleep on this grey and windy morning.

We had a slow and relaxed start, neither really keen to get going, the sky threatening rain.  Eventually we did pack and headed up past Halleywell and onto the track we had walked the day before.  We followed it for a while before joining a bridleway, looking particularly bleak on a grey Sunday morning.

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It was a simple case of following a few tracks and bridleways back to Allendale town and we were glad to find another unlocked shooting hut in which to shelter and cook lunch.  The wind was howling through holes in the corrugated tin roof and walls whilst we cooked.  A final tramp across the moors led us to a lane which we followed back into Allendale town.

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The cafe was indeed open and we piled in after a change of clothes, eager for a carbohydrate heavy feast.  Unfortunately it was not that sort of cafe so we made do with coffee and cake instead.  Rich had offered to pay in return for me doing the driving.  I was pleased that he had as the bill was rather substantial.  The village really is a rather charming place and we enjoyed exploring both the dales and the moors above.  The area had been pretty much deserted.  A place I am keen to return to sooner rather than later.

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30 Comments to “Two nights on the moors – the sounds of spring above Allendale”

  1. Nice one. Looks a bit like Dartmoor!

  2. What is a snipe?? As kids, at girls camp, we used to always trick the first-years and take them on a “snipe hunt,” on which we’d scare them silly although, of course, snipes did not actually EXIST. 😉

  3. your last post has just wetted my appetite for upcoming 2 night backpack.garrigill-high cup & back.just as your trip reports for Blackburn bothy & spithope inspired me to follow.and gain the soul inspiring experiances .like sitting in front of roaring bothy fires.or that magical feeling of solitude when roaming the rolling hills of the cheviots. or the north pennine moors.living in Newcastle gives me easy access to these wonderfull playgrounds.love your site along with northern pies are my 1st port of call for inspiration.

    • Thanks for the kind words George. Garrigill to High cup will be a great walk, its wild and lonely up there. Assuming that you are wild camping? Newcastle is indeed a fine launching spot for the northern hills, they are a long old way from Nottingham.

  4. A wonderful read as always with the photos clearly exemplifying the starkness of the moors, especially when it is cool and damp. The pole, a temporary radio mast for the military? It is unusual not to see Reuben in a photo or 2, I am sure he was a sad puppy for being left a home. Looking forward to your TGO tales.

    • Cheers Roger. I suppose the pole could have been used as some form of radio mast, it really must have been an effort to get it there. Sadly Reuben could not come along as dogs are banned from much of the open access land up there. Seeing as it is nesting season I thought it was important that I left him at home. He did sulk a bit when I left home with my pack and he did not get an invite.

  5. Fantastic post. Just a lovely area to walk. Superb light in the photo’s. Envious.

    • It’s great up there, because it was so cold and clear the light made the moors shine. Countless opportunities to explore.

  6. Those moors have a real austere charm that hard to pin down but I love them. Spent a couple of pre-xmas weekends at Ninebanks YH so I know that valley pretty well (including the cottage with the dog – they’ve diverted the path around the outside of the drive but that was only in the past 12 months – previously you did have to walk through past their door!). Greenleycleugh Crags is one of favourite spots in the UK

    • I can remember reading one of those posts Andy, some chap went for a winter swim in a bog. That diversion at that cottage only appeared to be marked from one side, we just blundered through the garden, with the dog wuffing at us.

      • That was Mr Beating the Bounds. It was a very nasty. very deep and very cold bog. Still funny though, especially as I was one pace behind him and would fallen in instead had he not taken one for thhe team

  7. My first ever encounter on a wild camp with the sound of Snipe “drumming” was when I was a youngster. The noise had me and my mates wandering around the moor looking at the ground to see what was making the noise. It took ages before we eventually worked out it was in the sky above. A lovely sound though and a real sign of spring on the way.

  8. As a fan of big sky and open moors that was a fine read. Good training mate for the TGOC that.

    • Cheers Martin. It got the legs and lungs working so all good preparation. Good backpacking country up there.

  9. I enjoyed that trip report James. Never walked in this area.

    • Thanks Mark. Its probably not that far from where you live, somewhere to head in the height of summer when other areas are busy.

  10. I just love those expansive views you get up there. And the area’s always pretty quiet too – no hordes! Looks like a grand few days. 🙂

  11. You can get Snipe and Curlew in lowland areas too. Here on the Cheshire/Shropshire border we have both and the odd Oystercatcher too. The call of the Curlew is definitely my favourite bird “song”. Oystercatchers have a similar call.

    • I suppose I had forgot that you get them in lowland areas. Its just something that I have only ever heard on the moors. I do love the cry of the curlew.

  12. My son just sent me this link. Re Byerhope Farm, we could tell you what it was like living there as we did live there from 1983-1997. 9 White Christmases in 14 years. 6 weeks on X-Country skis as couldn’t get even a 4-wheel drive tractor to the house. Unbelievable gales! Lambing in the snow almost every Easter on the slopes around the house. Beautiful sunsets,amazing views. We were very privileged to own the place and live there full time. The people we sold the farm to in 1997 are still living there AFAIK. It was truly an amazing part of our lives. See some pics of the place at http://www.the-hornes.org.uk/byerhope.htm

    • Hi David. Wow what an amazing place to live. Looks like you had some memorable times there. The snow looks rather challenging with a vehicle!

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