For a while I could almost have thought I was back on northern Dartmoor in the old days when, apart from the ancient tracks, there were fewer paths. In recent years, paths have sprung up on Dartmoor, from tor to tor and from antiquity to antiquity etc.
In those golden olden days we used to have to find our own way across pathless and rough countryside, navigating in good weather on distant landmarks, or in bad on compass bearings.
Anyway, a long way from Dartmoor as I thought back to those days. Though the geological roots are different, the long and peaty stretch of the North Pennines reminded me greatly of the plateau of North Dartmoor.
We set out from Dufton intending only to walk up the old lead miners track into the Pennines to visit Great Rundale Tarn. A walk we’ve done a couple of times and which I’ve blogged in the past.
A lovely walk too, with grand views as you climb the miles up to Threlkeld Side, first along an enclosed lane and then out on to open fellside with increasing views across the Eden Valley to the mountains of the Lake District. The lane was lined with beautiful foxgloves by the stone walls separating the track from the distinctive height of Dufton Pike.
We watched a hare as he shot up almost the entire height of the Pike in just a few seconds – oh that I had that energy!
It’s hard to imagine Threlkeld side as it must have been at the height of the lead mining. Noisy and dusty I suspect, as you look at the industrial disturbances that nature hasn’t yet healed.
Great Rundale Tarn is a broad sheet of water situated among the peat hags of the Pennine plateau. And it was here that we changed our plan for simply returning the same way.
I’ve often visited the Whin Sill geological marvel that is High Cup Nick, usually going there in a circuit from Dufton. Now if you look at the OS map you won’t see any paths marked between Great Rundale Tarn and the Nick.
But they are there, firstly a stalking track down the side of the beck (Tarn Sike) and then rougher paths between the beck and the peat hags as Tarn Sike becomes the Maize Beck, a deeper flow of water with some splendid little waterfalls. And it was on this black peaty stretch of the Pennines that I was reminded of Dartmoor.
Except for the wooden grouse butts, of course. And there were lots of them. The first stretch of path from the tarn (where there is a shooting box) was obviously created to cater for the grouse shooting industry, not something you ever see on Dartmoor. Now, whether these grouse butts are used these days I’m not sure. In all our long walk we didn’t put up a single grouse so perhaps not. I hope not.
But the Maize Beck is a delight. A lovely gurgling river that comes within a whisker of tumbling down into the great canyon of High Cup Nick, but in fact doesn’t – swinging eastwards at the last moment to cross the Pennines to add its waters to the wild River Tees hard by the great waterfall of Cauldron Snout.
We left the Maize Beck at a footbridge over a tiny and picturesque gorge and set out on to the open fellside.
It was sweltering hot as we walked the Pennine Way to High Cup Nick. And it was only here that we came across fellow walkers. In fact, being a hot Sunday afternoon, High Cup was positively crowded. We even had to socially distance as we passed walkers coming in the other direction from Dufton.
I wondered how many intended to walk beyond the famous Nick to the wild peaty moorland beyond?
I suspect not many.
(c) Text and pictures J and A Bainbridge