A path that goes somewhere

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the importance of walking paths which come to a sudden halt, suggesting that there is always something to see along the way. There is no such thing as a path that goes nowhere. All paths go somewhere, even if you have to come back the way you went.

DSCF0258
The River Eden where the Bridleway is interrupted (c) John Bainbridge 2018

But there are other paths, paths that definitely go to a destination, along which you can walk and eventually connect to other paths and make a circular destination.

At first glance, the bridleway running south of Appleby in Westmorland towards the little village of Ormside ends abruptly just short of that place. There is no bridge over the River Eden. You can continue, but you need to wade the river – a deterrent to a lot of walkers, though horse riders might fare better.

But walk it we did, in beautiful May weather. And I’m pleased we did, for it led to a fascinating conversation with a local farmer (and I should state here that all of the farmers we meet in the Eden Valley seem particularly friendly to walkers).

We set off for this morning walk of but a few miles from Appleby, once the county town of Westmorland, though it’s hardly bigger that a village. We crossed the footbridge at Jubilee Ford (where not so long ago we saw an otter) and then took a footpath past Well Bank Wood, a private nature reserve.

DSCF0252.JPG
Walking in Eden (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Then out on to the bridleway mentioned above, which crosses the Settle to Carlisle railway line and then steers a straight route towards the Eden and Ormside. A very pleasant path too, the hedges lined with Hawthorn in full blossom, contented cows grazing in green meadows. Considering this stretch of countryside is so near the busy A66, it is remarkably peaceful.

In very little time, we reached the River Eden. There is no obvious crossing point to complete the few yards of the journey into Ormside, nor much sign that there ever was.

It was while we were admiring the river scenery with its abundant bird life that we met the farmer inspecting his fields, riding in a conveyance that was half carriage and part tractor,

We asked him if there had ever been a bridge?

He said not in his memory, and he had first come to this farm eighty-six years ago. He could never remember a bridge, though there used to be stepping stones nearby a while ago – these long lost to the flooding Eden.

DSCF0265
The Old Rising Sun, now a private house, but once an important part of the Gypsy Horse Fair (c) John Bainbridge 2018

He’d heard a tale that, in Victorian times, a man had begun a local collection to fund a bridge, but that the rascal had decamped taking the collection with him!

The farmer told us that he tended the fields daily, recently accompanied on his rounds by a friendly cock pheasant. He’d gone to school at the primary in Appleby which is now an ironmongers and agricultural machinery store.

He remembered the New Fair, to which the Gypsies come to Appleby each June, in the old days when it was centred more on the Rising Sun Inn on the lane to Dufton, rather than on the Fair Hill where it mostly takes place today.

Our farmer could well remember when the present Fair Hill was still better and notoriously known as Gallows Hill, the place of public execution for those convicted of a host of crimes at the Appleby Assizes. He’d heard older folk speak about the last public execution there.

We didn’t cross the river, but walked back the way we had come, taking with us a few of his many memories of the Eden Valley.

 

Advertisements

The Charm of Birds: Grey of Fallodon

I find that there is something rather sad about the fact that May is slipping away for another year. Northumberland 231

It is, I think, my favourite month. I relish the fresh green of the countryside, the sweep of bluebells under the trees and across open hillsides. The beech tree does two great bouts of magnificence in the course of a year, with its untainted green leaves in May and its beautiful brown and gold in autumn.

And May is the month of full bird song, when the dawn chorus is at its height. When we stayed at Rock, in Northumberland, the dawn chorus was quite stunning – as was the late evening singing of the birds.

I know that I am not alone in this feeling about the month of May.

During a visit to Barter Books in Alnwick, I found a book I had been searching for for quite a while. I had a copy many years ago and it was lost. I was pleased to get it again.

The book is The Charm of Birds by Viscount Grey of Fallodon. The Sir Edward Grey who was the British Foreign Secretary at the 1914 outbreak of the Great War. If you have never read it I urge you to seek it out. Grey was a considerable bird watcher, in the sense that he appreciated them when out for a country walk.

His book is a hymn to all that is best in our country’s nature. You don’t have to be a birder to appreciate it. You just have to love our countryside. He devotes a whole chapter to May.Northumberland 007

But in May we are overwhelmed. New green is spreading everywhere… neither eye nor ear, nor outward nor inward ear of man is equal to it. Each of us can select for especial and particular enjoyment a few things: the tender green of young beech leaves; the scent of mass in whin; a glade of bluebells; a wide field of buttercups under the sun: but when we have done our best, we are yet oppressed by a feeling that we can but take in a small portion of the abundant beauty. There comes upon us also, not only a sense of abundance, but of haste; it is all passing; the leaves darken from day to day; luxuriance remains, but tenderness and delicacy are fleeting. It is only for a short time that new beech leaves are so soft that the wind stirs them without sound. In early spring we long to hurry the season; in May we would say to it, “stay! thou art fair.”Bluebells at Derwent Water 013

And it cannot be stayed…in later years, as the season approaches, experience and age qualify the confidence with apprehension lest clouds of war or civil strife, or some emergency of work, or declining health, or some other form of human ill may destroy the pleasure or even the sight of it: and when once again it has been enjoyed we have a sense of gratitude greater than in the days of confident and thoughtless youth.  Perhaps the memory of those days, having become part of our being, helps us in later life to enjoy each passing season. In every May, with the same beauty of sight and sound, “we do beget the golden time again.”

Despite incredible efforts of diplomacy, Sir Edward Grey could not stave off the Great War. His world changed for ever, though he continued to enjoy his experiences with birds and nature.

On the eve of that war he made his famous remark: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time“.

Sadly, I think they have never been re-lit since.

Walking with the Victorians to Easedale

The best short walk from Grasmere, and one which no tourist ought to neglect, is that to Easedale Tarn, situated in a wild and secluded mountain recess, 2 and a half miles from Grasmere.

DSCF0171
Easedale Tarn (c) John Bainbridge 2018

So runs the description in my copy of Jenkinson’s Practical Guide to the English Lake District, published by Stanford in 1872.

The Victorian author was right, of course. It is a magnificent short walk, though there are lots of competitors for the best walk from Grasmere. But it’s one of our favourites, and as we hadn’t been up to Easedale Tarn for a couple of years, we thought we’d revisit.

Jenkinson’s Guide goes on to say: “A pony can go the whole journey; carriages only half way.” Having neither a pony or a carriage we walked – Shank’s Pony is by far the best way to walk the Lakeland Fells.

DSCF0181
Sour Milk Gill (c) John Bainbridge 2018

And a very beautiful day it was, warm and with good clear views. And, just to add a little more to the walk, we added Codale Tarn and Tarn Crag to the itinerary.

And just to placate the mountain spirits, we visited the graves of Dorothy and William Wordsworth as we strolled through Grasmere churchyard. Personally I think that Dorothy is far more interesting than her brother – and she was one heck of a fellwalker in her own right.

It was, of course, largely the popularity given to the Lake District by Wordsworth that inspired all of those Victorian visitors. And perhaps here is where we should qualify just who we mean by Victorian visitors. They were of course Victorians with a certain amount of disposable income. The poor only came at all if they lived nearby, or had the misfortune to be servants.

But those Victorians in whose well-heeled footsteps we were following, would almost certainly come to bow their heads at Wordsworth’s grave. He’d been dead for twenty-two years when my guidebook was published.

Wordsworth would have been thrilled at the Class of his Victorian visitors – this one-time revolutionary who sold out and joined the Establishment, hated the thought of the labouring classes visiting his Lakeland preserve. Such rural snobbery leaves me cold.

I should confess here I’m not William’s greatest fan. I like some of his portrait poems and much of The Prelude, but he wrote a lot of wordy rubbish as well in his later years. As Lakeland writers go I much prefer De Quincey, Coleridge and even Southey. Sister Dorothy’s Journal is far more interesting than most of William’s poems.

Critical and political matters aside, we walked up the path beside the magnificent waterfall of Sour Milk Gill Force (as the guidebook describes it). In later years, the Victorians retitled most Lakeland Gills as the more poetically sounding Ghylls.

DSCF0164
Codale Tarn (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Well, whatever you call it, it’s a very fine Force – a favourite of mine, though there wasn’t much water coming over on this dry day. And on such a beautiful day there were few people about either. One of the benefits of being early starters as we take to the hills.

Not that our Victorian guide book writer was altogether uncritical about Sour Milk Gill:

This is a fine fall; but owing to the want of wood and overhanging rocks, it reminds the on-looker of the beauty which is bold and showy, rather than that which is modest and refined.

Well, if you say so. I think Sour Milk is grand as it is, so there!

In Victorian times Easedale Tarn had a refreshment hut for the ladies and gents who’d undertaken the expedition. I’m not fond of such intrusions myself, and thankfully it vanished a long time ago. Our Victorian guide was a trifle underwhelmed:

Many persons will be annoyed at finding a small hut erected in this mountain nook, which retreat seems dedicated to solitary pleasing reverie…

For those of his readers who were not into such reveries, he adds that:

Refreshments are provided by the person in charge of the hut, and a boat can be hired for a row, or a little trout fishing on the tarn. The charge for boat is 1s (shilling) per hour, and 5s per day.

I’m interested in just how they hauled a boat up the rocky track to Easedale Tarn, but then peasant labour came cheap in the 1870s. Still, I’m glad I didn’t have to do it. And the poor chap with the hut must have had quite a haul with his refreshments every day of the season.

The guide’s author does give a dramatic description of the landscape surrounding the tarn:

From the shores of the tarn rises an amphitheatre of wild, rocky precipices, Tarn Crag lying on the right, and Blake Crag (Blea Crag I assume) directly in front, with Sergeant Man farther back. A large number of moraine heaps are on each side of the water, and the ground near the shore is rich in detached blocks.

Not a bad description of this mountain nook even today.

We walked along the side of the tarn and up the scrambly slope beyond to the even more isolated Codale Tarn, which is to my eyes an even more impressive stretch of water and, hidden away as it is, a splendid and lonely mountain tarn. A place to linger, as we did, on such a grand day.

Lovely word, tarn – the name given from Old Norse by the Vikings who settled in these Lakeland valleys – it means tear, and, at a distance, that’s exactly what they look like – tears stranded on the fell slopes.

Our Victorian guide rather skates over Codale Tarn in his descriptive prose, possibly because the ladies and gents he was writing for couldn’t get that far on their ponies:

Codale Tarn, containing trout, lies out of sight in a hollow beyond a small knoll, at the head of the glen, and the rill which issues from it is seen to descend the rocks and flow into Easedale Tarn. If it be visited, a pleasing deviation may be made by descending into Far Easedale Glen.

DSCF0177
On Tarn Crag, with Windermere in distance (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Determined to add one Wainwright height in our own little expedition, we didn’t take his advice, but took a walk over the wild fellside to the summit of Tarn Crag. It must be twenty years since I was there last, and that had been on a day of rain and low cloud. With the good clear views we were enjoying it seemed a pity not to seek out such a splendid viewpoint.

While our Victorian guide recognises that his more athletic readers will want to seek out the high places, and gives copious instructions in how to reach the more popular summits, he neglects fell tops like Tarn Crag, mentioning it only in passing.

DSCF0179
Tarn Crag (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Which is a pity, for I think its a fine top, with the mighty Deer Bield Crags on its Far Easedale slopes. The views from the top are tremendous, particularly looking down the long glaciated valley over Grasmere and Rydal to Windermere.

We descended down one side of the Deer Bield Crags into the valley beyond and then walked the bottom half of Far Easedale back into Grasmere. And a very beautiful stretch of walking it is too,  especially on one of the green days of this late spring.

DSCF0180
A Rocky Path Marker (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Like most fellwalkers today, we dare to make our way to the summits unaccompanied by the experts. The readers of Mr Jenkinson’s Guide were obviously a little more nervy of wild places, for the author frequently advocates the services of mountain guides with their ponies. Pricey too, except for the well-heeled by inheritance or the nouveau riche:

For a one horse conveyance, 1 shilling per mile. For a two horse conveyance, 1 shilling and 6 pence per mile. If the stage extends more than 10 miles, 1shilling and 4 pence per mile. The return journey with empty carriage is not charged for.

In addition to the above, the driver’s charge is 5 shillings per day, 3 pence per mile, or 6 pence per hour. If the payment be by mile, no charge is made by the driver for the return journey with empty conveyance. In long excursions it is usual to pay for the driver’s refreshments, and also the horses’ feed, and in all cases the hirer pays the tolls.

Ponies for mountain excursions are charged 5 shillings to 7 shillings and 6 pence according to the distance, and guides to the different mountains charge the same. It is in all cases better to have an understanding of the charge before starting.

So even a modest day’s Lakeland trip by Mr Jenkinson’s readers, might well cost more than an 1872 labourer could earn in a long hard week.

dscf0182.jpg
The Path from Far Easedale (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Jay’s Grave – Burial at the Crossroads

Kitty Jay was buried at the crossroads because, legend tells us, she was a suicide. Her little grave is a much-visited place on Dartmoor, marking the crossroad of two highways – one a present-day modern road, the other a green track leading from the Widecombe valley towards the high ground around Manaton. Four Cross Lane, though the name is not often used these days.

Burying suicides at crossroads was not unknown in earlier times. There are other examples by the old tracks and roads of the British countryside, but the story of Kitty Jay strikes a note that seems to reach out to people.

But what is the truth about Jay’s Grave?

Well. here’s the legend: Kitty or Mary Jay (sometimes Ann) was apprenticed as a maid from Newton Abbot workhouse. She became pregnant and hanged herself in Canna Barn (when I was young, the farmer said the one rafter in the barn that wasn’t rotting was the one she tied the rope around!)

In Victorian times, the grave was found once again, as recounted in Devon Notes and Queries:

Jay’s Grave, which is by the side of the Ashburton and Chagford road, where the Heytree and Hedge Barton Estates meet. A workman of mine, aged 74, informs us that about forty years ago, he was in the employ of Mr. James Bryant, of Hedge Barton, Manaton, when he remembers Jay’s Grave being opened, in which a young unmarried woman who had hung herself in Cannon (sic) Farm outbuildings, which is situated between Forder and Torhill, was said to have been buried, but no one then living at Manaton could remember the occurrence.  The grave was opened by order of Mr. James Bryant in the presence of his son-in-law, Mr. J. W. Sparrow, M.R.C.S. Bones were found, examined, and declared to be those of a female. The skull was taken to Hedge Barton, but was afterwards placed with the bones in a box and re-interred in the old grave, a small mound raised with head and foot stones erected at either end. Such is the present appearance of the grave.

Jay’s Grave became a early tourist attraction in the twentieth century, promoted a great deal by the author Beatrice Chase (Olive Katherine Parr) in her bestseller The Heart of the Moor.

Beatrice Chase was mostly responsible for the tradition that flowers mysteriously appear on the grave when nobody is watching. She was one of the first to actually put them there, though there have been many others – several of them known to me. Now the multitudes deck the grave and there’s no feeling of mystery at all, which is a pity.

The grave, by the way, has changed a great deal in the fifty years I’ve known it – it used to be a much simpler mound, and has, I think, been spoiled by the adjustments.

The tale has inspired lots of Dartmoor Culture, with songs by Seth Lakeman (whose dad Geoff used to interview me about badgers for the Daily Mirror many years ago), and Wishbone Ash. John Galsworthy, who lived nearby at Manaton wrote a short story based on the tale, called The Apple Tree. Lois Deacon (of whom more below) wrote a whole novel entitled An Angel From Your Door.

How much of the Kitty Jay legend is true is debatable. Why did a pregnant woman in c.1820 feel the need to kill herself? Parish records for both Widecombe and Manaton suggest that it was not uncommon for young Dartmoor girls to be pregnant as they walked down the aisle for a later marriage? The legend suggests she killed herself in shame…

Was she, as the legend implies, suicidal because of a broken love affair?

We’ll never know, but if she was the victim of social exclusion, it’s rather amusing that she’s remembered to this day and those who judged her are quite forgotten.

But many years ago I did all I could to investigate the tale. I spent an afternoon with Lois Deacon at her Chagford home. She was a formidable but charming Quaker lady who’d become notorious for writing a book about the early love life of Thomas Hardy, Providence and Mr Hardy.  She was also long before the secretary of the great Liberal politician Isaac Foot, father of all those famous sons, Michael, John – another friend of mine – and Dingle, who all made a mark on politics.

She admitted to me that she often put flowers on Kitty’s grave. But then she showed me a humdinger of a piece of evidence – she produced a photocopy of an apprentice record from the Newton Abbot poorhouse. It showed that a Catherine Mary Jay was apprenticed as a maid to Barracott Farm at Manaton – not that far from Canna Barn where the fatal deed was done. I believe the date was around 1820, though I can’t remember for sure.

Could this have been the Kitty Jay of legend? I think it very probably was, though how much of her subsequent tale is true is probably lost in the mists of time.

Annoyingly, I never followed up the evidence in the document Lois produced, and the lady is  long dead. But it’s out there… somewhere. Perhaps in the Record Office or some parish archive? If anyone can track it down then please do let me know.

And while you are walking our ancient tracks, do take a long look at any unspoiled crossroads you come upon. Burials at such places were not that uncommon.

 

 

 

 

Walking the Dartmoor Borders

A shorter walk on the Dartmoor borderlands, revisiting some of the first areas I got to know some fifty years ago. I give the route below, for it is a pleasant ramble – good for an evening walk.

The walk starts from the village of Manaton, once the home of the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, author of The Forsyte Saga. He lived at Wingstone Farm, having eloped there with his cousin’s ex-wife Ada Nemesis Cooper. Yes, Nemesis! Enough said…

The route climbs over Hayne Down past Bowerman’s Nose to Jay’s Grave – the last resting place of Kitty Jay, who hanged herself two hundred years ago and was buried at the crossroads. Then to Hound Tor and the ruins of the nearby Medieval village, before returning via Leighon.

Our walk was a day of good views. You can certainly see some goodly stretches of Dartmoor from the high points of this walk. The sky was full of larks, foxgloves lined the walls of the Houndtor village, stonecrop covered the flatter boulders. If you do the walk, I hope you enjoy it.

The walk starts at the Manaton village car park, map reference SX750813. The route is some 6 miles and there is 1,040 feet of climb, though this is spread out across the walk. The ramble is mostly on paths, quiet lanes with some open moorland. Watch out for traffic on the lane sections. Suggested Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL28 Dartmoor. As always you do the walk at your own risk!

1. Leave the car park by the lower entrance. Cross at the crossroads, heading down the lane signposted Leighon. Descend to the foot of the hill, passing Mill Farm. After a slight rise take the second gate to your right. After a wooded and rocky entrance, the path heads left across a field. Exit at the stile and gate on the far side. Turn right up a lane which becomes a bridleway as it swings to the left by the entrance to Hayne House. This climbs to a gate leading out on to Hayne Down.

2. The path climbs diagonally up the side of the Down, heading just south of west for a quarter mile, towards a notable group of rocks. This is the lower of Hayne Down’s two summits. Make your way to their western side and you will encounter Bowerman’s Nose, a very distinctive pile of rocks. After visiting this notable Dartmoor landmark, descend westwards to a narrow lane (there are several paths all heading downhill). On reaching the lane, turn left until a gate is reached.

3. Pass through the gate, and take the bridleway to the right a few yards in. This clear path marks the boundary between Cripdon Down and Swine Down, climbing and then gradually descending. Follow for a quarter mile until another lane is reached. Here is Jay’s Grave, never without the flowers which mysteriously appear! Turn left along the lane for half a mile until the next junction (you can follow a path running parallel to the tarmac on the left bank). The crossroads is Swallerton Gate. Thor Heyerdahl wrote much of his book The Kon-Tiki Expedition in the nearby cottage.

4. In front of you is Hound Tor, one of the most spectacular of Dartmoor summits. Climb up to this, passing between the highest sections of the tor, a wonderful viewpoint for much of eastern Dartmoor. On the far (eastern) side of the tor, take the broad track heading downhill into the moorland valley (when the path is blocked by a line of anti-erosion fencing, head right for a few yards and then continue downhill.) This brings you to the ruins of the Hound Tor Medieval Village, a good place for a tea-break. This village was abandoned in the Middle Ages and only rediscovered and excavated in the past century.

5. Continue in the same direction, keeping to the left of the dramatic Greator Rocks. After a slight rise, pass through a gate and the descend down the steep path beyond. A quarter mile brings you down to the Becka Brook, which is crossed here by an old stone bridge, a delightful spot of twisted trees, boulders and thick layers of moss. Cross the bridge and take the path through the trees which winds and twists for a quarter mile until open moorland is reached.

6. At the path junction head left, contouring the lower slopes of the hill. The path runs parallel to the trees and stone walls, running through heather and bracken. After a quarter mile it becomes enclosed. Follow it downhill, passing through two gates. There are good views here back up to Hound Tor and Greator. At the next path junction, head left, down into the hamlet of Leighon. The path becomes a surfaced lane and crosses the Becka Brook again at a lovely old bridge.

7. Ignore the first path to the left (signposted Great Houndtor) but take the second, just past a grey stone cottage. Cross the stile and take the path through the wood. Cross a stile just after a tiny brook is crossed. Ascend the field beyond, keeping parallel to the left hand hedge, past some mighty boulders (note the good view of Black Hill over your right shoulder as you gain height).

8. At the top of the field pass through a gate on to a country lane. Turn right and follow the lane back into Manaton (straight across at the crossroads halfway). As you pass through the hamlet of Southcott, note the House Martin nests lining the eaves of the white cottage. Enjoy the walk!

Journeys Into Forbidden Britain

My subversive volume on illicit country walking is now out in paperback and as a Kindle Ebook. The book examines the history of the access to land on foot movement, with some personal reminiscences of trespassing adventures…

THE COMPLEAT TRESPASSER

Journeys into the Heart of Forbidden Britain

by

John Bainbridge

 

WALK MAGAZINE SAID OF THE COMPLEAT TRESPASSER:

“On a vagabonding tour through Britain’s most delightful countryside and forbidden tracts, Bainbridge charts the history of access and assesses the present state of the law. Villainous landowners feature; so do the likes of GHB Ward and CEM Joad, calling at rallies for access to mountain and moor. Gamekeepers, spring-guns and mass trespasses also get a look-in. Redolent of country air, with nature and archaeology dealt with in graphic style, the book evokes the age of campaigns before words like ‘stakeholder’ and ‘partnership’ were hatched out. The author lends his support to the England Coast Path campaign and calls for the Scottish access model to be extended throughout Britain. It’s thought-provoking stuff and well worth a read.”

In 1932, five ramblers in England were imprisoned for daring to walk in their own countryside. The Mass Trespass on to Kinder Scout, which led to their arrests, has since become an iconic symbol of the campaign for the freedom to roam in the British countryside.

The Compleat Trespasser – Journeys Into The Heart Of Forbidden Britain, written by outdoor journalist John Bainbridge, looks at just why the British were  – and still are – denied responsible access to much of their own land. This book examines how events throughout history led to the countryside being the preserve of the few rather than the many.The_Compleat_Trespas_Cover_for_Kindle

It examines the landscapes to which access is still denied, from stretches of moorland and downland to many of our beautiful forests and woodlands. It poses the question: should we walk and trespass through these areas regardless of restrictions?

An inveterate trespasser, John Bainbridge gives an account of some of his own journeys into Britain’s forbidden lands, as he walks in the steps of poachers, literary figures and pioneer ramblers. The book concludes with a helpful chapter of “Notes for Prospective Trespassers”, giving a practical feel to this handbook on the art of trespass. At a time when government is putting our civil liberties at threat, destroying the beauties of our countryside, and your right to access it, this book is a most useful read.

 Available in paperback and eBook on Kindle: Just click on the link to order or to start reading for free:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Compleat-Trespasser-John-Bainbridge-ebook/dp/B00CCQYAMO/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1428044393&sr=1-1&keywords=compleat+trespasser

A Circuit of High Cup Nick

It is one of England’s iconic landscapes, one of the great attractions for walkers on the Pennine Way, a superb example of geological splendour – the superlatives come thick and fast when you regard High Cup Nick. As impressive at a distance as it is up close.DSCF0086

I see it quite often as we travel around the Westmorland Dales, the great gash breaking into the frontier of the northern Pennines.

Everyone in my part of Cumbria calls it High Cup Nick, or more often just the Nick. But that’s not really its name. Properly, it is High Cup Gill. Only the gap in the rocks at its head is really High Cup Nick.DSCF0066.JPG

I first walked up to the Nick many years ago, taking a route around its southern rim and then  following the Pennine Way back to Dufton, where I was staying. In more recent years, we simply walked out along the Pennine Way and back again. We thought it might be interesting to circuit the Nick and Gill once again, in the opposite direction to my first expedition. And once the first long hill is climbed, there’s very little altitude to make.

It’s no wonder that Tom Stephenson wanted the Pennine Way – his “long green track” to pass this way. To do any sort of Pennine route that ignores such a magnificent place would be very odd.DSCF0091.JPG

And it was along the Pennine Way we walked up from Dufton on a beautiful, sunny Sunday, with incredibly clear views across the valley of the River Eden to the distant Lakeland fells.

You are scarcely over Did Hill before the Gill starts to open out on your right-hand side, climbing up to Narrow Gate, where the path between the drop into the Gill and the higher slopes of Dufton Fell is, as the name implies, a narrow one – over 700 feet of drop to the waters of the High Cupgill Beck – a modest water in scale, given the great cleft it flows down. Further along is Nichol’s Chair where a Dufton cobbler originally sat on top of the rock pillar and made a pair of shoes… why?DSCF0092.JPG

Then the Nick itself is reached, one of the most photographed places of the wild Pennines. They’ve all sat here – those great fellwalkers of the past: Tom Stephenson, Wainwright, A.J. Brown, William T. Palmer – no doubt lost in as much admiration as I was.

The Nick, with its edging cliffs of Whin Sill is breathtaking.

We had a tea break by the waters of the beck, just where it tumbles down into the great chasm. As I’ve said, such a modest little beck. You can step across it in a good stride. You’d think the Gill’s beck ought to be an Angel Falls or a Niagara, not this attractive but modest flow.

DSCF0099.JPG
Keisley Bridge

Do many people walk the Pennine Way any more? This was a beautiful morning, but we saw very few people walking, and the few we did see seemed to be just out for a day’s ramble?

We wandered down the southern edge of the Gill crossing Middle Tongue Fell, a very easy bit of moorland walking, then descended Middletongue Crag, easier than it sounds, to the farm of Harbour Flatt, then along the lane through the hamlet of Keisley back to Dufton.

A very pleasant lane, fresh with the earliest greenery of this late springtime and lined with primroses and the blossom of the may.  We passed Keisley Bridge, repaired in recent years. I had last sat on its parapets many years ago when I explored this countryside for the first time. It’s a peaceful little spot with only the occasional car to disturb the harmony of a pleasant day.

I was pleased that High Cup Nick had lost none of its magic for me – one of those English places that everyone who loves these islands should see at least once in their lifetime.

All pictures (c) J and A Bainbridge