The Pennine Way Revisited - 1994

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 4 - Greenhead to Dufton


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Day 5 - Thursday 16th June - Greenhead to Alston - 17.3 miles - 2270 ft ascent

Accommodation: Alston Y.H.A. - 13.65 dinner B&B

I went down to breakfast at 8 a.m. and met a youngish couple whom I had seen in the pub and another pair of chaps who were all doing the Pennine Way, so it made a change having a few others to chat with. After a good breakfast, I set off at 9 a.m. into a rather damp and dismal morning. I had my waterproofs on from the outset and the weather gradually turned from drizzle to rain for the rest of the morning. The first four miles were over a fairly bleak moor which is not very interesting even in good weather, but then it follows the valley of the River South Tyne up on the hillside, which gives quite pleasant, but not spectacular views. Even in these rather poor weather conditions this part of the walk was quite enjoyable and I would even go as far as to say that I enjoyed it more this time than in the rather better conditions which prevailed when I did the walk before. This comes down again to having too high expectations the first time, whereas second time around it is possible to appreciate the scenery for what it is.

By 12.30 a.m. the cloud started to lift and I stopped for lunch at the halfway point of the day's walk with a spot of sunshine thrown in. Two other pairs of Pennine Way walkers came the other way and one lot stopped for lunch with me by a stream. They were two brothers of about 60 and were carrying camping gear. When I asked how much it weighed, one of them said that he had started off with 54 lbs including a lot of provisions and water, but reckoned that he often carried a day pack of about 30 lbs. It is amazing what some people carry - I am sure I would be crippled after the first day if I were to carry that sort of weight.

My socks were soaking wet as my boots were letting in water where the leather had cracked near the bottom of the tongues so, as it looked like being drier, I changed into some dry socks and wrung the water out of the wet ones. I finally finished off all the food I had brought from home; the fruit cake was finished yesterday and the flapjack today. At 1.30 p.m. I set off again with only eight and a half easy miles to go. So much for the improvement in the weather; the rain started again, but at least it had stayed dry for my lunch stop and there was still quite a reasonable view across the South Tyne valley to make the walk quite pleasant.

A few miles from Alston I met an oldish couple who were headed for Slaggyford from Garigill and were doing the whole walk in 20 days. After chatting for a while I continued up to the site of Whitley Castle, the site of a Roman fort which is about two and a half miles from Alston. The site was quite extensive and I was surprised as I could not remembered seeing it last time. I can only think that I must have walked by the side of the site without really noticing it was there. This time I had a better look, which meant detouring slightly from the route. I eventually headed into Alston and arrived at the hostel at 5.10 p.m.

There were good drying facilities including a spin dryer, so I did all my washing and then went into town to do some shopping as I had used up all my supplies of food completely and I didn't want to waste time in the morning.

There were a number of Pennine Way walkers in the hostel and, at last, I was at a hostel with a meals service. Most of the others in the hostel had come over Cross Fell with mist, rain and strong winds so they had not had a good day. One chap from Norfolk was completely dispirited and sounded as if he were on the verge of packing the whole thing in. His friend was much more laconic and philosophical about the whole thing, in fact he looked as if he might be getting rather fed up of his companion who was saying that this day was supposed to be the climax of the whole walk and that he had been building up to this for the whole walk so far only to have all his hopes dashed. From the tone in his voice it sounded as if he were almost on the point of crying so I thought of him from then onwards as 'the Wimp'. He had spent lots of money on expensive gear which had still let in water and the whole thing had been a complete waste of money. Why anyone should bank everything on one day of the walk I do not know. There are bound to be days when the weather is bad, so there is no point in building up too many expectations for any particular day. I can only think that, because Cross Fell is the highest point on the Pennine Way, he expected it to be the best. In fact, even on a good day, the views are not especially good, as the main points of interest are the mountains of the Lake District which are in the far distance.

I had fared quite well in the rain as, apart from my feet getting wet, the rest of my things had been kept reasonably dry. Even though my rucksack had let in quite a lot of water, all my things were also inside roasting bags with plastic ties. I have found these to be particularly good because they are extremely tough and are also transparent, making it easy to see what is packed in each bag. I did not have the strong winds to contend with that the ones coming over Cross Fell had suffered, as I had been walking in more sheltered, lower level places. However, one has to expect that water will find its way into even the most expensive rucksack in bad conditions and the answer is to provide a second level of protection by putting things inside plastic bags.

It is much more pleasant, especially when walking alone, to be able to sit down for an evening meal with a number of others who are all doing the same thing, as there is a lot of friendly chat about the trials and tribulations of the walk. For the first time so far I met someone else who was walking from north to south. She was a Scottish woman living in Sheffield aged about 60 who was walking alone. She had set off on the same day as me but had stayed overnight in the second mountain refuge hut in the Cheviots without even having a sleeping bag. Fortunately it had been a warm night as she could have nearly frozen to death in bad conditions. From there she walked straight to Bellingham, then to Once Brewed, Greenhead and then to here. At Greenhead she managed to get into the Youth Hostel even though it was supposedly full. They allowed her to take shelter and then, eventually said that there was a woman in there who was used to having a room to herself, but they would ask her if she would mind sharing it for the night. That seems a bit rich for a Youth Hostel where everyone is supposed to share in any case. It makes me think that some of the hostels put up the 'full' signs at the slightest pretext to save themselves extra work.

Dinner was soup, Cumberland sausage (again) and apple pie with ice cream, and was very nicely cooked. After dinner, 'the Wimp' was writing postcards and saying that he was going to ask the warden to post them for him. I thought he was a bit optimistic, but didn't say anything at the time. Shortly afterwards, he came storming back complaining "Whatever had happened to customer service?": the warden had just quietly shaken his head at the request. I then reminded him that this was the Y.H.A. he was referring to, where the customer is the last person to be considered (although, in fairness, there are a few wardens who go out of their way to be helpful).

Another couple who were doing the walk were a rather heavyweight and talkative young lady with her rather quiet boyfriend. Normally one finds that most long distance walkers are fit and lean but, although she seemed to be quite fit, it must have come about by turning all her fat to muscle, as her well developed calf muscles were as thick as my thighs. She didn't seem to be having any difficulty despite her weight and didn't make a big issue of the bad weather over Cross Fell.

Later in the evening I went along to the Blue Bell where there was a notice in the entrance saying "Why not try Toby Light - only 90p a pint", so I did, and it was quite a good pint, and much more my idea of a reasonable price for beer. I met a couple of chaps who were on the Pennine Way and staying there, and had a good chat before returning to the hostel at 10.30 p.m.


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Day 6 - Friday 17th June - Alston to Dufton - 19.4 miles - 2750 ft ascent

Accommodation: Dufton Y.H.A. - 15.75 full meals

I set out at about 9.10 a.m., after breakfast at 8 a.m. Most of my washing had dried quite well but my boots were still a bit damp. The weather was rather overcast with low cloud but still rather better than yesterday. As I was leaving the hostel the warden gave me a packed lunch which I hadn't ordered. I checked on my sheet from Laurie Rhodes of the Pennine Way Booking Service and found that I hadn't been charged for one, but he had obviously ordered one from the hostel. The warden said that I may as well take it as it was no use to him and, not being one to ever turn away food on a walk, I did so.

After about a mile or so I met up with the lady from Sheffield who walked quite slowly. She said not to wait for her, so I went on only to find that I had difficulty working out which route the path took through the fields near to the river. She caught up with me again and together we tried to find the correct path. The signposting was non-existent, and we followed what seemed to be the right one only to find that it wasn't as we came to a wall with no stile. We made our way up the hillside to meet another path, but a bit further on we could see the bridge where we had to cross the river, so we had to climb a fence and scramble down a steep bank to get there. On the other side of the river the path still was not very clear and a farmer working in the field asked why I didn't keep to the footpath, to which I replied that if only I could see one I would gladly follow it. He pointed it out at the other side of a wall and complained that lots of people walked through the field instead of along the path on the river bank. With such poor signposting it was hardly surprising as it is difficult to see from a map whether a path is at one side of a wall or the other. Much of the route earlier on had been very well signposted, but this stretch has been badly neglected. The places where route finding poses most of a problem are through farmland such as this, where there is a need to find the exact route in order to find stiles through walls and fences, and it is here where it is important to have good signposts. In fact, it is in a farmer's interest to show the way clearly, if he wants to avoid walkers wandering all over his fields and climbing walls and fences in order to get where they want to be.

Click to Reduce

River South Tyne towards Garigill
River South Tyne

By this time I had left the lady from Sheffield, as again she said she didn't want to walk quickly. I met a Pennine Way camper on his way from Garigill, who asked me where there were shops and pubs on the way. He didn't quite seem to take in the fact that they were very few and far between up here, so I urged him to stock up in Alston or else he would find virtually nothing until Bellingham without going quite a way off route. The odd bit of sun came out near Garigill and the cloud level had lifted near to the top of Cross Fell, so with a bit of luck it might be clear by the time I got there.

I stopped for a rest at 11.15 a.m. about a mile up the hill above Garigill. At this point the Pennine Way departs from the main track for a way to cut off a corner by going across the the moor. I took this route, although I suspect that most people stick to the optional route along the main track, as the path virtually disappeared after a while, and I had to just head in the right general direction to meet up with the main track again about a mile further on. The stony track to Greg's Hut, the mountain refuge hut below the summit of Cross Fell, seemed to go on for ever, and the wind was getting stronger and colder all the way. I could see for quite a few miles back down the track but couldn't see any sign of the lady from Sheffield. It was quite a relief when I finally reached the shelter of the hut at 1.30 p.m. and when I got inside there were quite a few people in there, although only one was a Pennine Way walker, the others were only out for the day.

At first it felt much warmer inside because of the shelter from the wind, but after a while it started to feel very cold as all the stone walls were very cold. There were plenty of things there for lighting a fire for anyone caught in very bad weather; in fact the previous day's walkers that I met in Alston had lit themselves a fire, but there was no reason to do so today, so I went off on my way up to the summit where I met up again with the group I had met in the hut. The cloud level had lifted off the top of the fells, but it was still very overcast with a very strong, bitterly cold wind. There was moderate visibility from the top and it was just possible to see the mountains of the Lake District but not to make out much detail. Over to the east was a vast expanse of wilderness of open moorland as far as the eye could see. A huge black cloud hung over the Cross Fell range, much darker than everywhere else. This is quite common here as the clouds form when the air quickly rises from the Eden Valley to come over the fells.

As it was rather inhospitable high up, I made my way quickly onward. Between Cross Fell and Great Dun Fell I met up with a group of three contractors who were laying another line of stone slabs. They told me that some of the slabs weighed as much as a quarter of a ton each and they moved them into place by levering with crow bars and rolling them on logs. By the time I reached Knock Fell I was feeling distinctly chilly and was very glad to start dropping down the side of Knock Fell where the wind was a little less strong and not quite so cold. Down at the bottom it was much more sheltered and I was able to thaw out by the time I reached Dufton Youth Hostel at 5.55 p.m. On the way into Dufton I saw a couple of red squirrels which are getting quite scarce in other areas. There were also quite a number of curlews with their long curved beaks over the moorland.

The walk over Cross Fell is often talked about by Pennine Way walkers as being the hardest part of the walk. Although it is the highest point on the way at just under 3000 ft, I do not find it a particularly strenuous walk, and some of the days at lower levels actually involve more climbing because of the undulating land. However, I think that the real reason such stories abound is because of the notoriously bad weather that this region attracts rather than the difficulty of the terrain.

The hostel was almost empty, having only two other chaps who were walking three quarters of the Pennine Way and a district nurse staying for a few days and touring the area. Dinner was at 7 p.m. and I had soup, spaghetti bolognese and bread and butter pudding. The lady from Sheffield was intending to stay at the hostel, but had not booked and didn't expect to arrive in time for a meal, but I told the warden that she would be coming and she said she would keep some food for her, which was very good of her. She finally arrived at about 8 p.m. and was served with the full three course meal.

On the way she had started to have problems with the heel of one of her boots which was now flapping loose. They were only cheap boots but it was still no excuse for them to do that. She had a tube of Evostik and tried to stick the heel back on without either drying or cleaning the surfaces but just putting it under a bed leg overnight after squeezing in a liberal amount of glue. I didn't have much faith in this and thought that she would have to buy some more boots at the next town. However, she had different ideas and said that if it didn't work she would try some super glue.

My own feet were doing quite well considering that I had had three quite long days in a row. I had very little in the way of blisters and not much aching either. The next day was less than 13 miles, so would be very leisurely.


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