…in which I scale the toughest summit, explain huts to a Dutchman and fail to encourage a publican.
Dufton to Garrigill, 15 miles.
This is a long day so I wouldn’t wait for the hostel breakfast. An Oldie as slow as me needs to get going. I took advantage instead of their simple but delicious takeaway sandwiches, most of which had mysteriously disappeared by the time I reached Knock Old Man.
Little Dun Fell has a rudimentary summit shelter, Cross Fell a large and beautiful one. Otherwise the only resource en route is Greg’s Hut which sits directly and visibly on The Way at 6908 3545, the sole proper MBA bothy on the entire trail. Greg’s is a substantial stone cottage, an always open, all weather shelter maintained by volunteers – the donation box is the steel pillar just inside the door. It has saved lives. The weather on Cross Fell can turn foul and ferocious in a wink, you do need to check the forecast and take this day, your gear and your navigation seriously.
Greg’s has a wooden sleeping platform but as I feel the cold I suspect that other than high summer I’d need to pack in fuel for the stove to spend a comfortable night in there. There’s plenty of space around the bothy to pitch a tent – possibly a warmer sleep if you don’t happen to have coal or firewood about your person. Respect the hygiene arrangements – pack out trash and if necessary use the spade in the porch. People who leave human waste unburied near huts or rubbish inside them are lower than vermin.
Serendipitously we visited Garrigill at what may prove to have been the high point of its recent history – amazingly the George and Dragon was open! Appallingly, it has since closed down again. Considering the lovely evening of great food, fine ales and friendly company we spent in there in June 2016 it was tragic to see it once again so dark and sad when I returned in October. It was even worse on that return to hear the Post Office gentleman tell me (at some length) that his shop will probably soon close too. For decades Wayfarers have relied on this shop for teas, coffees, pop and ice creams, enjoyed on the pretty village green in front of it, so it’s closure would be a blow to the amenities and the lore of the trail.
There should still be one useful resource at Garrigill – you can camp in the children’s playground behind the village hall and use its loos, which are open 24/7. There’s even supposed to be some kind of bunkhouse, allegedly with showers and even the use of a kitchen, in the hall roof. The publican explained that residents are reluctant to publicise this, as they, perhaps reasonably, ‘don’t want the trouble’. Consequently the booking arrangement is obscure. In June it was ‘knock on the green door and ask for Emily’, but in October I was told Emily had departed. Garrigill is like travelling in Eastern Europe in the 1980’s, you have to keep your eyes open, your nose to the ground and just ask the locals. There seems still to be BnB and, bizarrely, a spa pool at St John’s which is advertised between the church and the hall.
If you do stay at Garrigill the question remains in the absence of the pub and possibly the shop too of what to eat. Camping grub from Middleton, I guess. It’s due to this kind of uncertainty at Garrigill that most Wayfarers push on to the fleshpots of Alston, making this day challengingly long and leaving the village dark and quiet which I suspect is how residents prefer it. But we were blessed in June 2016 by a brief and possibly final flowering of miraculous hospitality at Garrigill, and we enjoyed it very much. At Alston I recommend the now independent hostel, which is directly on The Way as you approach the town through the trees.
… needs to be taken seriously on Cross Fell, I wouldn’t venture onto it without a compass. Simon Armitage relates frankly and amusingly (after the event) in Walking Home how even in summer he got pathetically lost up here, requiring a GPS. I personally think a compass should be adequate but then I also carry as my camera a budget smartphone that just happens to have OS Locate on it as well. Think on’t, whiteouts happen up here.
Emerging sleepily from Dufton you’ll find back by the Hall the path you recce’d yesterday on your way in, didn’t you? It’s perfectly possible if less authentic to walk out along the road round the bend at the northwest end of the village, then to follow more or less straight on the substantial track that joins The Way at about 690 256. As Wainwright correctly points out, this isn’t as nice, missing out the charming green lane.
The summit of Cross Fell is a broad, level plateau. Approaching it along and up the flagstones from Little Dun Fell, which you mustn’t miss as the saddle is a quagmire, The Way peters out at 695 340 into a band of rocks. Just press on directly upwards through these. When you reach the edge of the summit plateau, if visibility is poor or threatening to become so I’d invest time in finding the important large cairn; OS Locate tells me it’s at 693 341. The secret of success on the Cross Fell plateau is to know exactly where you’re starting onto it from. The second cairn is at 690 342 and there are additional mini-cairns along the route but these are invisible in snow. ‘Ha ha, he said “snow”‘. You heard me, dude. The bearing from the second cairn to the summit is about 295 magnetic (October 2016).
‘Head north-north-west’ from the summit, says the NTG with blithe insouciance. North-northwest would be a bearing of 337.5 degrees and that, in my opinion, would be an error of casual navigation potentially life-threatening in a whiteout. If you’re lucky you’ll tumble down a small but injurious cliff onto the C2C*, the less fortunate walking directly north-northwest from the shelter will expire in a mineshaft somewhere random in East Cumbria.
The correct bearing northbound from the summit shelter to the first cairn is five degrees magnetic (in October 2016, please understand how magnetic bearings change), which is actually a gnat’s east of north. Walk this for 115 paces** to a cairn at which you then turn onto 356 degrees magnetic (October 2016) i.e. a gnat’s west of north for another 100 paces. This will bring you to the large cairn on the edge of the plateau at which you finally turn north-northwest, as previously but prematurely advised. Head directly down the steep, boggy and diverse descent at the bottom of which you’ll find a rudimentary wind shelter and, for the sharp-eyed, the small, old marker stone left to Kirkland. Don’t go there though unless you’re by now a cadaver longing for burial. The Way turns right down to Greg’s Hut, after which you then trudge the interminable but unmistakeable corpse road to Garrigill.
Please bear in mind that cairns, paths and shelters are not geological features but manmade and may move. Take care and use your own skill and judgement to check and re-confirm the above suggestions. Make sure you’re not allowing a smartphone in your breast pocket to confuse your compass, ha ha, who would do that? Oops…
* the Coast to Coast Cycleway, which joins the PW at the Kirkland waymarker. **I’m 1.73 m tall so my paces are a bit small.
If there’s one place in England I feel something approaching love for, it’s Cross Fell. I can’t explain, it’s just a remarkable place. On all three of my Pennine Ways this has been a wonderful and treasured day, in fact you and I would be here all day if I shared with you all the memories, impressions and like, you know, profound thoughts this walk has inspired. Luckily my Oldie brain cells are diminishing in both abundance and remanence, hence this blog. Either way I strongly suggest that, given any half-decent weather forecast, you leave Dufton before dawn (navigation is initially easy) to give yourself plenty of time among this geologically, ecologically, historically and culturally rich landscape. On the other hand, if it’s hammering down and blowing a hoolie, get the heck over it and hide in the hut.
In 1999 as I slithered up the frozen flanks of Knock Old Man every tuft of vegetation was hung with ice crystals that sparkled in the low sun, it was like walking fields of shining diamante, fells hung with bespangled lurex.
As I approached the summit through shin-deep snow, I noticed a chap on the far side fling an amusingly redundant mountain bike into a drift and stumble excitedly towards me, waving and hollering that I should desist from forward movement.
I thought I was about to fall into a mineshaft, but it turned out this gentleman was very taken with the bright yellow colour of my Berghaus shell (which I still use for washing the car seventeen years on) against the snow.
He turned out, although I didn’t realise it at the time, to be the estimable Ronald Turnbull, guidebook writer, photographer, king of the bivvy and ultrawalker extraordinaire. Embarrassingly, he insisted on photographing me in numerous poses and his images, some of which he kindly sent me, were the only record of my entire Way as I hadn’t carried a camera to save weight. To my even greater embarrassment, one was eventually published as a two-page spread in Winter Walking magazine. You never know on The Way, any moment you can end up as a centrefold.
This time my only encounter was with one of the fellow-walkers who repeatedly crop up along the days of any summer Way in odd and unpredictable sequences that are puzzling but fun to reconstruct, like a minced credit card in a string of sausages. In an extraordinary coincidence, I discovered afterwards that this gentleman too is a well-known ultrawalker and celebrity guidebook author. Unfortunately he is, though interesting, irrepressibly stentorian and without ever wishing to be rude I prefer a quiet life in the hills. I’d first met him in Teesdale and subsequently taken to hiding behind rocks whenever I heard his voice, which fortunately was possible for several miles. I haven’t said much about my fellow Wayfarers because actually they were all so nice, present company included, that to be funny at their expense would be mean. Although I could be.
The views from Little Dun Fell were extensive but that bad boy Cross Fell was hoodied in wispy mist. I brewed coffee at the shelter and conceived a mad urge to sleep up there, right there, precariously pegged to the quartzen throne of the hoolieking. The following October I made that happen and I’m here to tell the tale, although not yet. Whatever Wainwright may suggest, I don’t mess with the route off Cross Fell. I’m told, though I can’t confirm it, that the last PW fatalities occurred here, in an unsecured mineshaft.
Greg’s Hut was despoiled by stinking garbage, which was embarassing as I’d been waxing lyrical about its atmospheric charm and the miracle of bothies in general to a Dutch walker I’d met on the way down to it. Some had been gathered into bags but it was all too fluid and fragrant to risk in my pack and, unprepared for such ignorance, I didn’t have a carrier bag. Why oh why does anybody leave litter in a hut, especially food waste? There was a rat issue too as the sacks had been extensively raided. Guys…
The corpse road was despoiled too by numerous Fenn traps in log-borne mesh tunnels across the drain. ‘Do not interfere with legally set traps’ says the sign, and I wasn’t about to do so as it’s not my land, but equally it’s not a happy sight and the dearth of wildlife on these fells, other than the pampered grouse of course, is self-evident. A heavy shower whipped down from the summit and as I scrambled into my waterproofs there was my loved one hobbling uphill on her blistered tootsies to find me, concerned at my late arrival. Tea and Tunnocks from the Post Office were wonderfully reviving and then the meal in the George and Dragon was one of the best on The Way, generously and freshly cooked by people who understood and cared about food.
Ominously, of the dozen walkers that came off Cross Fell only five of us were in there, the rest, unaware of Garrigill’s temporary exuberance of amenities, having plodded on to Alston. The landlord, inbetween shoving unseasonal sections of Christmas tree onto the fire in June, told me he was already pessimistic about prospects. I didn’t like to suggest that his rather uncompromising indie rock soundtrack might not be helping, not least because personally I was rather enjoying it. Otherwise they were doing all the right things, well-kept beer, excellent food, social media, etc etc, but I understand that he and his kind, smiley partner abandoned the pub not long afterwards. Tragic.