Posts tagged ‘North Pennines’

January 22, 2012

Moorland days and a bothy night in the North Pennines

by backpackingbongos

In my mind the North Pennines AONB offers some of the most remote countryside in England, a place where it is easy to get away from it all.  I found myself with a Monday off work and the urge to visit a bothy for an overnight trip.  I have to admit that I avoid many bothies on a Saturday night as that is when you are more likely to share it with people seeking a party rather than solitude.  I figured that a visit to a remote Pennine bothy on a Sunday night at the beginning of January should be a safe bet.

I planned a 5 mile walk in with a rucksack laden with 4.5 kilos of coal and kindling, the most essential bit of kit for a winter bothy trip.  On the drive to the start of the backpack I stopped for a short walk to investigate a hut I have been thinking about as potential for an overnighter.  An hours walk through drizzle left me feeling rather disappointed.  Although unlocked the hut was a less than inviting place to spend more than a few minutes.  Finding new bothies is a bit of sport for me, I love the idea of stumbling upon a hidden gem.  That was how I came across my planned destination for later that afternoon.  Five years ago during a summers walk along a deserted valley I spotted a chimney in the distance.  Curiosity got the better of me and I went to investigate.  I’m glad that I did as I found a cracking little place.  My planned backpack was forgotten as I pitched my tent outside for a lazy day in the sun.  I was thankful for the shelter later that evening when the midges came out in their millions.

I parked the car high on a moorland road, the world around me reduced by the thick swirling mist, heavy rain and a quickly fogging windscreen.  To be honest I started to regret not staying in the comfort of my own home, it really was not very inviting outside.  Reuben however was as keen as ever so we set off along the verge of the busy road.  The track was easy to locate and the first part of the walk was spent descending over 100 metres.  In my mind there is something wrong about descending at the start of a walk, especially when you know you will soon have to reclaim what has been lost.  With the wind blowing the rain directly into my face I crossed dry-shod what can often be a tricky river.

There then followed a long uphill trudge, the swirling mist soon becoming a thick wall of grey as I gained height.  The track made a sudden swing to the left and I continued uphill on a direct line to a substantial bothy hidden somewhere on the hillside.  Walking across the featureless moor in such thick mist was unnerving and I started to wish I had got out my compass.  However the building soon loomed into view, complete with a huge caterpillar tracked earth mover parked outside.  I opened the door and found the bothy silent and empty, with just the echo of my boots and the resident ghosts scurrying into the dark corners.

Whilst walking up the track I had started to debate whether or not to spend the night in the first bothy, the thought of trudging further in the clag did not appeal.  However on further inspection I decided that it would not be a particularly cosy place to spend the night.  It was damp, cold and just a little bit spooky.  I could not bring myself to bed down on the concrete floor downstairs, whilst the upstairs rooms were covered in plaster dust.  Also having a huge machine parked outside shattered any sense of being in a remote spot.

I shouldered my pack and once more set off into the gloom.  To be honest it was a bit of a trudge and it soon got dark.  Reuben was fitted out with a red beacon on his rucksack as his camouflage means he vanishes against the heather.  I turned on my head torch and the world shrunk around me, my vision being confined to its misty beam.

The sound of a river singing and crashing below me indicated that the bothy was close.  The track ended near to the unseen waters and I turned right to follow its banks.  As the tiny building came into view I thought that I caught the whiff of wood smoke but this turned out to be my imagination as the bothy was dark and bolted from the outside.  I was soon in its welcoming interior, lighting candles and having a look around.  I was pleased to see that not much had changed in the five years since I had last been here.  Although well used it is very well cared for with no evidence of litter or damage.  With my stove slowly boiling water for coffee I set about lighting a fire with the coal I had carried across the moor.  The bothy was already well stocked with coal, kindling and logs, which apart from a couple of logs I left alone.  In such a high remote spot, leaving plentiful fuel could be a lifesaver for the shepherds for whom the bothy is designed.

I spent a happy and peaceful night in front of the fire reading and eating before bedding down for the night.  I took one of the mattresses hung from the ceiling and used it in conjunction with my thermarest to make a very comfy bed near the fire.  With Reuben curled up next to me I listened to the wind blowing outside as I drifted off to sleep.

I managed to sleep until late, the gloomy conditions outside and the bubble wrap curtains meant that not much light permeated inside.  With a cup of coffee in my hands I went outside to explore and was met by low cloud sitting on the surrounding hills, along with a fine drizzle.  I returned to the bothy and was lazy for a while, drinking several cups of coffee and eating noodles.  Sunlight suddenly filtered though the window lighting up the interior.  This was my prompt to pack my gear and sweep up, leaving the place welcoming for the next visitors.  The ash from the fire needed to be emptied and I took the ash can outside to do so.  Immediately a strong gust of wind blew down the valley leaving me covered from head to toe in a fine layer of ash.  I spent much of the day picking it out of my nose and ears!

With the sun now shining and the hills clear I headed outside and put on Reubens pack, he then pulled a rather striking pose.

The bothy itself commands a lovely spot, surrounded by the extensive North Pennine moors.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that you are in such a small and crowded country.

The nearby sheepfold doubles up as the designated bothy toilet, the set up making me smile.  I think that the following photo says more than words can!

I was reluctant to leave the bothy and its surroundings but with the weather improving it would have been a shame not to get onto the hills.  We walked a short way up the valley before climbing steadily towards a distant sheepfold.  The views back towards the now unseen bothy were fantastically empty and desolate.

The sheepfold was a good landmark to head for as the surroundings were totally featureless.  Its walls provided shelter from the cold wind whilst I started to demolish a packet of chocolate biscuits.  Reuben was soon shivering from the cold so we set off once again, climbing higher and higher onto the hills.

The area is steeped in mining history and littered with its relics.  Although not marked on the map I found a well-worn old track that happened to be going in my direction, marked by ancient cairns.  Drifts of snow hidden in gullies had managed to survive a lengthy mild spell.

On the high moorland crest I came across possibly one of the largest sheepfolds I have seen.  The walls towered above my head when I entered and I began to wonder what its purpose was.  It was big enough to shelter a few elephants, surely too elaborate to be used simply for sheep?

The high rocky moorland plateau was liberally dotted with large cairns and curricks amongst the many boggy pools.  A lonely place, silent except the constant tugging of the wind against my hood which was pulled tight against the cold.  I wandered around aimlessly for a while just taking in the atmosphere of the place.  It was like some Andy Goldsworthy art installation, although I am sure that many of the curricks were there long before he was born.

I walked further to the west to look at the panorama of Lakeland peaks.  Unfortunately they were lost amongst the haze and had just become a shadowy outline on the horizon.  Disappointed I walked back east to pick up a bridleway that would lead me back to the car.  Here I have to admit I made a navigational error even though the conditions were clear.  I thought that I had located the path and I started to follow what I thought were a line of marker cairns.  It was a while before I noticed my mistake and I cursed as I climbed back up hill and then across rough ground to the obvious path.  It was my fault for being too lazy to get the map out and check rather than ploughing on regardless.

The path followed the line of an old Roman road which takes a direct line across the high moors.  The going was now easy and I was able to move quickly downhill, keen to get out of the cold wind.  The sun began to break through the clouds giving a lovely quality to the afternoon light.

My stomach was rumbling so I decided to make the short detour to the first bothy I had come across the day before.  The earth mover was working a few hundred metres away, its rumblings disturbing the peace.  I wondered what it was doing digging away on the moors, hoping that another track was not in the process of being built.

The bothy came into view, a much more welcoming sight than the day before.  There is a real sense of space on these hills and this bothy takes advantage of that.  It’s outlook is breathtaking on such a clear day.

I entered its cold and damp interior and set about making coffee and cooking some cous cous.  Reuben took the opportunity for a snooze on a manky looking rug.  I could hear the earth mover getting closer until it was right outside the bothy where it was parked.  The driver popped in for a chat, his job involving many lonely hours on the hills.  It turned out that he was a local contractor for Natural England and he was clearing out some drainage ditches.  He said he loved working on the hills when the weather was like this, although the weather can often make his job difficult.  He soon left me to my food, driving his tractor down the long track towards home.

I packed up and left the bothy for a second time, maybe I will return with 10kg of coal and get the stove roaring.  The place needs someone to fill it with warmth and banish its ghosts and damp.  The view from the door made me smile, imagine leaving your house to a view like this each morning.

The long track back to the car was much more fun in the setting sun than on the way up in the mist.  All of the clouds eventually disappeared and a huge moon started to rise above the moors to the east.  The temperature dropped rapidly as I made the final climb up to the road by head torch, my breath swirling in front of the beam.  The car was covered in a thick layer of ice by the time I reached it, the moon reflecting off the bonnet.

If you missed it the first time round here is the video of this trip.

Once again you may have noticed that this trip report is a little cryptic as I deliberately don’t give away my exact location.  The reason for this being to protect the wonderful bothy that I visited.  Publicity usually leads to their decline and there is very little mention of this one on the internet.  Do you fancy visiting a bothy?  If you do I suggest that you join the MBA.  This is not essential but it is good to contribute if you use them, you also get a booklet with a list of every single bothy that they maintain.  But there are plenty more out there that aren’t maintained by them and these are usually hidden gems.  My tip is to explore the hills (the more remote the better) and look out for building symbols marked on the map.  You never know what you may stumble upon.

January 15, 2012

Bongo TV: Moorland days and a bothy night

by backpackingbongos

Last weekend I had a fantastic trip to a remote bothy hidden deep in the North Pennines.  A write-up will be forthcoming some time this week.

In the meantime here is a little bit of Bongo tv.  If you have ever had the urge to watch me mumble into the camera incoherently, then you are going to be spoilt for choice here.  I have also realised that I say ‘err’ a lot which is rather embarrassing.  However I am rather pleased at how the river crossing shot starting at 11 min 45 sec came out.  What you can’t see though is the panic on my face as Reuben nearly knocked my camera into the water……….

August 21, 2011

Around High Cup Nick with a backpacking hound

by backpackingbongos

It was early evening as we passed through Kirkby Stephen and drove up to the summit of the moorland road.  A good weather forecast meant that the planned two-day backpack taking in High Cup Nick was on.  However before setting off on that we decided on a quick overnighter a short distance from the parked car.  The reason for this?  This was my backpacking partner Rae’s first backpack for several months after being diagnosed with plantar faciatis, a painful condition that has had her out of action for a while now.  Secondly the weekend was to be Reubens first ever backpack and night outside.  Thirdly I had a new shelter to play with, my MLD Trailstar.  With a combination of factors coming into play it was good to know that the security of a vehicle was close by and packed in the boot a tried and tested tent.

A gentle breeze blew across the grassland as we headed across Nateby Common, Reuben excitedly hoovering the ground with his nose.  It was pleasantly warm, the sun still high in the July sky.  Crossing the shoulder of Tailbridge Hill the ground was covered in a fragmented limestone pavement.  We made a short descent towards the hidden depths of Rigg Beck and found a patch of rough but reasonably flat grass.  Although less than a kilometre away from the road, the rest of the world felt a million miles away.  It would be unlikely that anyone would stumble across our camp in the next twelve hours.

It can take a while to get your head around setting up a new shelter but the MLD Trailstar is intuitive.  Within minutes I had managed to get a good taught pitch, not perfect but I was pleased non the less.  The main problem with it is finding a patch of ground that is big enough, the footprint is simply huge.  Water was fetched out of a nearby stream and with camp chores done I sat around taking in our rather lovely surroundings.

The sun started to set directly behind the summit of Tailbridge hill and as soon as it disappeared out of sight from camp I headed up hill with Reuben.  I had a feeling that something special was about to happen when the hills behind me started to take on a pink hue.  Reaching the summit the panorama was simply breathtaking.  The Eden valley was laid out in front of me with the distant Lake District as a backdrop.  The sun was making its final descent towards the horizon and putting on a fiery display as it did so.  I sat by the summit Cairn with Reuben for a good half an hour and watched the spectacle whilst snapping away with the camera.

A chill breeze and a rumbling tummy soon got the better of me and we headed on down back to Rae and our camp.  It was good to sit in the gathering twilight to cook and chat, an outcrop of limestone making a good bench.

Retiring to my shelter with Reuben was a completely different experience for me.  Firstly it was the first time that I have not slept in a fully enclosed tent, and secondly it was my first time sharing a shelter with a 22kg bundle of fur!  I put on Reubens fetching jacket and laid out a fleece sleeping bag liner on an old roll mat, he hopped on and I zipped him in, only his head sticking out.  For security his lead was pegged into the ground, I did not want him wandering off during the night.

I settled into my sleeping bag, enjoying the experience of being able to lay there and watch the lights twinkle down in the valley, I quickly drifted off.  I was soon rudely awakened by a low growling and what can only be described as a wuff, Reuben very rarely goes woof.  I turned on my torch to find him sitting at the entrance, staring out into the darkness.  It was a bit unsettling as I could not see anything out there, I called to him but he ignored me, intent on guarding our shelter.

Day 1 – 7.9 miles with 590 metres ascent

I was awoken with a wet, smelly lick and opened my eyes to find Reuben standing directly above me.  He had obviously been woken by the small army of midges that had invaded our shelter.  I was soon up and dressed before looking at my watch, it was not even 7am.  I made coffee and breakfast, aware that it was probably too early to wake Rae who was safely tucked up in her Akto.  The midges were few in number but pretty annoying, not enough however to spoil a peaceful morning on the moors.

Rae was duly woken, rucksacks packed and we were soon back at the car ready to drive to Dufton for the start of our short backpack.  To save Rae a painful slog along tarmac with her plantar faciatis I dropped her off just outside Murton so that she could sit for a while in the sun.  I drove on to park by the lovely village green in Dufton, where I shouldered my pack and headed back the way I had driven.  It was a long hot slog in the sun and it seemed much further than the map suggests.  It suddenly dawned on me that I could have left my pack with Rae, lightweight would have been the way to go in the heat.  My pack was heavier than normal as I was carrying extra doggie related paraphernalia, Reuben oblivious to this as he happily trotted along side.  Picking up Rae we headed through Murton, another idyllic village and found a handy bench just before the track climbing up Murton Pike.  Lunch was consumed in the sun, the peak above us looking steep and high, I was not looking forward to the climb.

The only way was up, however the track climbed at an easy gradient and we soon gained height.  My water rations were running out, I was careful to keep Reuben hydrated but this had been at my expense.  I was feeling increasingly tired and slightly sick, I am not designed for backpacking in hot weather.  At the col below Murton Pike we lounged on the grass taking in the extensive views.

I had planned to climb the conical peak but could not summon the effort to do so.  I needed water so we set off higher up the track before branching off across country towards Trundale Gill.  The walking itself was very agreeable but all I could think about was glasses of cold water!  We were soon above the deep trench of the upland valley, impressive as it snaked its way down towards the Eden Valley.

Alas from our vantage point we could see that it was bone dry, the bottom covered in sheep nibbled grass.  It was obvious that water rarely flows down it from this high up, even though the map shows its source at least a kilometre above us.  Feeling increasing dejected I led the way down so that we could cross onto the opposite hillside.  There was a feint sound of running water and I spotted a green flush down a steep bank.  A bit of digging around and we managed to access a wonderful spring at the point it exited the hillside.  It was so cold that our bottles ran with condensation as the freezing water came into contact with the warm air.  It was sheer bliss to be able to drink deeply and I felt that I could relax once again, who would have thought water would be so hard to come by on these usually wet and boggy hills?

With a water source located we thought it prudent to find a pitch within a short distance, just in case all the other streams had dried up.  A steep climb towards a cairn on the horizon and we found the perfect spot.  All around was rough grassland with the exception of a square of flat sheep nibbled grass, just the right size for two tents.  It was perfect and we soon had our tents up, doors facing the spectacular view.  We were just above the 2000ft contour and there was a stiff breeze blowing, perfect for keeping the midges at bay, if anything we were worried about camping in such an exposed spot.  At that point in time it was simply one of the most perfect pitches I have found.

After fetching more beautifully clear, ice-cold water I sorted my shelter out and sat in the sun for a while admiring the views.  Murton Fell was behind us and is the only hill in the surrounding area I have not yet climbed.  Leaving Rae to enjoy camp, Reuben and I headed off towards the summit, admiring the views back towards Murton pike.

The summit itself is flat, featureless and pretty boggy.  There is however a great feeling of space and sky up there, endless moorland stretching off to the horizon.

Stopping at the cairn I realised that the air was now completely still, within seconds I was covered in midges.  The magical spell was now broken so we headed back the way that we had come to escape the troublesome beasts.  Walking through the peat groughs the amount of midges were an impressive, although worrying sight.  In areas sheltered from even the lightest breeze, huge black clouds of them rose like smoke, dancing in the now humid air.  The hillside was alive with their buzzing, not the zzzzz you get when one buzzes in your ear but a constant high-pitched hum.  I quickened my pace to the wall that is the boundary between the elevated bog and the grassland on which we had pitched.  Thankfully they disappeared as a gentle breeze was blowing over the escarpment.

I walked over to Rae who was lounging in her tent to tell her of the midge hell on the hill.  With perfect timing as I got to her the breeze there suddenly died as well.  Like a scene from a horror movie clouds of the little devils rose, driving her inside and me into a flapping demon.  The next hour or so was simply hell, midge net on I paced up and down the hillside, to stand still for more than a few seconds was too much to bear.  Reuben was frantic and ran up and down with his face in the grass, like a demented canine snow plough.  Another splendid sunset failed to impress me at the time, it was mostly hidden behind a thin veil of a midge net.

I cursed the fact that I did not have a proper tent that night, I really though I would be ok once high on the hill tops.  Lesson number one, always take a bug proof shelter with you in August.  No matter where you are going in the UK or how high you plan to camp, you may regret it if you don’t…………

Thankfully just as darkness was approaching the temperature suddenly dropped and a slight breeze picked up.  The midges fell as quickly as they had risen.  Once again our camping spot was the idyll that it had originally been.

Day 2 – 6.8 miles with 190 metres ascent

After a day of excitement Reuben had a wuff free night and I managed a good sleep.  I did however wake up with most of my legs out of the shelter at one point in the night, the pitch was not as flat as I originally thought!  Worries about the possibility of abandoning camp in the early morning were unfounded as dawn brought a strong breeze with murky cloud and drizzle.  The views from our high perch had vanished and it looked like there was a risk of us being enveloped in hill fog which was already drifting over the higher hills.  Packing up my gear I found a lovely spider which sadly had perished underneath my sleeping bag, its legs covered by some sort of mite?

The contrast in the weather from the day before meant that we did not hang around for long once packed up.  Staying on the same contour line we crossed a wall by a ladder stile and got our first view of High Cup Nick.

It has got to be one of the best geological features in the country and I always end up awestruck whenever I see it.  If you have never visited before I highly recommend approaching it from the bleak featureless moors to the east.  That way the ground suddenly plunges away at you feet.  However from our line of approach we got the pleasure of walking along the entire southern rim.

From the head of the valley, the scale is so large that it is impossible to fit it all in to a photo!  We stopped for a while and chatted to two Pennine Way walkers who were heading from north to south.  One of them enjoys it so much that he was on about his 5th end to end walk.

To camp here and watch the sun set would be spectacular, especially if the sun was aligned down the valley.  Sadly the murk was not allowing us views across to the Lake District and it was rather chilly standing around.

Climbing grassy slopes towards Narrowgate Beacon we got a good impression of just how extensive the moors are in this area, they continue unbroken by roads for miles.  This area is probably as wild as it gets south of the Border, no jagged peaks, just huge open spaces.

I was aware that although open access land, the area to the north excluded dogs.  Not for conservation mind, but strictly for the preservation of grouse which were coming close to the annual pop of the gun.  Our onward route just about skirted this exclusion zone as we headed north to the trig point on Blackstone edge.  A narrow path along the ill-defined edge has developed and gave easy walking along the escarpment.  Reuben has now sussed out that whenever there is a trig point he will be requested to pose on top of it!

We had planned to stop for lunch at the shooting box near Great Rundale Tarn but realised this was in the doggie exclusion zone.  Not wanting to risk a telling off we continued along the edge past numerous cairns looking for a sheltered spot.

The deep valley of Great Rundale Beck provided a bit of respite from the nagging wind, enough to get a stove out and a brew on.  Soft mossy grass provided an ideal spot to lounge around for a while, a last bit of the wilds before heading to civilisation.

Great Rundale Beck has been ravished by mining, the hillside scarred and littered with the remains of the mines.  It is a fascinating place to walk down, although I would imagine it must have been much more beautiful before it was touched by the hand of man.

The vehicle track brought us swiftly back towards civilisation, the cone of Dufton Pike blocking the entrance to the valley.  It is a cracking little hill, well worth the steep climb to its pointy summit.  Not this time however with bellies rumbling and a thirst needing to be quenched we were soon back in the rural idyll of Dufton.

This is the sort of village that I dream of living in, about as English as it gets with stone cottages surrounding a lovely green.  A pretty and welcoming place but with huge desolate moors peeking over the trees.  I sat and daydreamed as we devoured sandwiches outside the cafe.

August 1, 2011

From heaven to hell in under a minute

by backpackingbongos

Amongst the rough moors a perfect patch of sheep nibbled grass was found to pitch.  We were above 2000ft and the views across the Eden valley stretched into the Lake District and beyond.  The sun was beating down but we were cooled by a pleasant breeze.  Walking across the parched moors we were lucky to come across a tiny spring less than 10 minutes from camp.  From it we filled our water bottles with ice-cold crystal clear water.  Backpacking does not get much better than that.

I left my friend to enjoy camp whilst I bagged the nearby Murton Fell and returned less than an hour later.  The sun just starting its spectacular display as it made its way to the horizon.  Then suddenly and without warning the breeze dropped, the air completely still.  They rose in great clouds, a biting mass covering exposed skin.  An hour and a half of sheer torment followed, I had no refuge as I had brought an open shelter on its inaugural outing.  The sheer numbers were overwhelming and I could not stand still for more than a few seconds.  The dog was frantic, running up and down with his face to the ground like a snow plough.  Unfortunately the fiery spectacle was wasted on me, a photo snatched, my vision impeded by a headnet.

Rewind 24 hours and it was a completely different story.  I climbed the summit of Tailbridge Hill with Reuben, just in time for the sun to put on a glorious show.  I sat and watched the sun slide slowly towards the horizon.  Reuben sat and watched the sheep.  The sheep stood and watched Reuben.

I’ll get a full trip report up in due course.

January 7, 2011

A winter backpack across the roof of the Pennines

by backpackingbongos

The big plan to backpack the wild West coast of Jura between Christmas and New Year fizzled out with achy joints and fountains of nose juice.  Instead I moped around the house feeling slightly relieved that the weather had turned totally rubbish with day after day of grey skies and fog.  Then suddenly out of the blue there was a forecast of blue skies and frosty nights straight after New Year.  A plan was hatched, I would take this opportunity to camp on the summit of Cross Fell, something that has been on my to do list for a while now.

Luckily I awoke on New Years Day hangover free, the homemade elderflower champagne had done the trick, drunkenness without any pain!  That evening saw the Bongo camped next to Cow Green reservoir for a comfy nights sleep ready for an early morning attack of the hills.  Well that did not work as my iPhone alarm failed to go off pre dawn.  I awoke with a jolt and peered out of the windows at a completely frozen Cow Green with a backdrop of snowy hills against a cold grey sky.

Day 1 – 9.9 miles with 535 metres ascent

Garrigill is the sort of village where I would love to live.  Hidden deep in a fold in the Pennines, cottages huddle around the village green with a good pub at its heart.  Last time I was here the pub had closed down but thankfully it is up and running again.  Leaving the van by the green I was passed by an elderly gentleman in full tweeds and a splendid deerstalker hat.  He assured me that if the clouds lifted I would get a view of both the east and west coasts from the summit of Cross Fell.

I set off up the lane with tweed and hat envy, foregoing the pleasures of the river side path up the River South Tyne as I had set off much later than intended.  However the dead-end lane with no traffic was a pleasure to walk with the moors rising up all around me.  My peace was shattered briefly by a group of scramblers at the road end, the last sign of life for the day as I took the track towards the river’s source.  This is marked by a large sculpture, its plinth giving a good excuse to remove my pack and have a sit down.

Descending slightly into the next valley I entered an empty, bleak world of moor and sky.  This is about as close as you are going to get to wilderness in England, miles and miles of high empty moors.  Signs warn you to stick to the paths and tracks as the area is littered with disused mine shafts, many unfenced and hidden amongst the deep heather.  Crossing the Tees and heading up Trout Beck I came across an amazing sight, icebergs were laying strewn across the partially frozen river.  The temperatures in this high moorland bowl must have been pretty extreme a week or so ago to freeze such a large fast flowing river.  The past few days thaw would have been spectacular as the river tore itself up depositing dinner table sheets of ice high up on the river bank.

Further up a small set of falls had me transfixed with their winter beauty.  It would have been amazing to set up a camera to capture the river freeze and thaw over a period of a couple of weeks and then condense the footage into a couple of minutes.

My aim was to head up to the source of the river but first I wanted to investigate Moor House and check out the bothy there.  It turned out the bothy was firmly locked and for the use of the visiting scientists only.  However if you are ever in need of assistance in the area there is an emergency phone that you can dial 999 from.

Returning back to the river I went a little way up-stream and stopped by a ruin and did something I very rarely do whilst backpacking.  I cooked a meal and made a brew.  A great thing to do in the cold weather and it brought some warm into my body.

The track alongside Trout Beck soon becomes a feint path as you head further and further into the wilds.

As height was gradually gained the scenery became even bleaker and there was a dusting of snow, which with the steely grey skies made me feel like I was entering a monochrome world.

My plan for the day was to climb Great Dun Fell then follow the Pennine way north to the summit of Cross Fell.  Approaching the 750 metre contour of Great Dun Fell I became aware that darkness was nearly upon me.  The late start and a stop for lunch meant that there was no way I would reach my destination for the night.  I spotted a frozen spring in a hollow and breaking the ice determined that I could get some silty water out of it.  A flat bit of ground nearby helped make my mind up that I should set up camp.  It was only 3.30pm and it would soon be dark.

I had chosen probably the most exposed spot possible with open moorland spreading for miles in all directions.  However there was not even the slightest breeze and the silence was absolute.  The nights forecast was to remain like this so I thought that I would risk it, although the Scarp1 crossing poles were deployed, just in case!  The main difficulty I encountered was getting tent pegs into the rock hard ground, with re pegging and shifting about  necessary as softer spots were sought.

The only man-made structure visible from my tent were the strange ‘golf balls’ on the summit of Great Dun Fell, an object I am only used to seeing from either the M6 or the eastern Lakes.  There was also a ‘Currick’ a few hundred metres away that looked like a figure staring at my camp, slightly creepy!

Returning to my water source as soon as the tent was pitched, thick ice had already formed where I had broken through only minutes previously.  I could already tell that it was going to be a cold night!  I spent a while walking around taking photos until the cold drove me into my tent.  I got into my sleeping bag fully clothed for a bit to warm myself up.

The evening went, doze, cook, doze, hot drink, read for a bit, doze, hot drink, finish book before lights off at about 10pm, it was a long old evening!

Day 2 – 9.8 miles with 365 metres ascent

I had planned to be up and away before dawn but typically after such a long night I managed to over sleep.  Getting up and packing was hard in the sub-zero temperatures.  Even though my boots were wrapped in my jacket inside the inner tent they were frozen solid.  My water was also frozen and it took a while to bring it to the boil.  Strangely there was no condensation inside or outside my tent, it was bone dry even though there had been no wind.  All the moisture from my body had condensed on the outer of my sleeping bag, the chest, head and foot area being pretty wet.

Within minutes I was up on the summit of Great Dun Fell taking in the views across the Eden valley before setting off for Little Dun Fell, a much wilder spot.

I had to avoid the areas that had been paved with flagstones as they were covered by thick ice, although the bogs either side were easy-going being frozen solid.  Gentle slopes led to the edge of the Cross Fell plateau and I got a sense of how vast this fell actually is.  It is not somewhere where I would like to be during a full on storm with limited visibility.

From the trig there was a brief moment when the Lakeland fells were lit up by the sun but otherwise it was a cold grey world, although the air itself was exceptionally clear.  So much for the forecast of bright sunshine!

With such good visibility it was easy to cross the plateau without taking a bearing, heading for a prominent cairn that overlooks the vast rolling moors to the north.  There was a real sense of space up there, the line of the moors unbroken by any man-made structures.

Crampons would have been helpful to get me down the northern slopes, the old snow was as hard as iron and any slip would have seen me hurtling down at some speed.  I spent ages picking out bare patches of ground, zig zagging until the Bothy of Greg’s Hut was in view.

This has got to be one of the highest bothies in the UK, as it sits on the 700 metre contour.  I spent a night here a few years ago one late November during a snowstorm, spindrift being blown through the bothy walls.  The small amount of fuel we had brought for the stove barely warming the sleeping room.  I bet that snow falls upon its roof on many days through the winter.

There are two rooms inside, the first being decorated with prayer flags under the wooden beams.  With the painting on the wall it reminds me a bit of the lodges you get in Nepal.  The second room has a stove and sleeping platform and I sat in there for a while cooking couscous and drinking coffee whilst the strengthening wind blew through the eaves.

A notice on the wall said that it was 7 miles down to Garrigill via the Pennine way and I was keen to get back quickly so I did not get home too late.  As soon as I stepped outside I managed to slip on a hidden bit of ice and fell heavily on my knee.  As usual I feared the worse but after a bit of swearing I was up and inspecting the damage.  Only a bruise to me but I had managed to rip my new Paramo trousers.  Cursing I hobbled off taking more care on the march northwards.

The track to Garrigill is surfaced and hard on the feet.  The views remain good as it keeps above the 600 metre contour for several miles, this would be a serious proposition in a storm.  For the first time that weekend the sun started to make an appearance and by the time Garrigill was reached the skies were clear and the gritters were working the high moorland roads.