Let’s have more militancy in the rambling movement in 2019

Best wishes for all who have followed the blog this year. I hope you all have a great Christmas and a peaceful new year.The_Compleat_Trespas_Cover_for_Kindle

We’ve had some splendid walks this year. I have no “walk of the year”, for we’ve enjoyed them all. But our first ascent of Cross Fell – the highest top in the Pennines – has to be up there on the list. A terrific ascent and we hope to do it again this coming year from a different direction.

But one of the joys this past year has been our exploration of the countryside of County Durham. County Durham doesn’t seem to score highly on destinations when you talk to walkers, which is a great pity. It offers a terrific variety of scenery, some excellent footpaths and bridleways and lots of good, remote countryside. Do look at some of the blogs to see where we’ve walked.

There have been some disasters for walkers this year, notably the de-registering of common land in the Pennines, where the MoD has snatched the fells above Murton and Hilton. If they think that’s going to deter yours truly from walking there, well, they’re in for a shock!

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From Kidsty Pike (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Time, this coming year, for a bit more militancy in the rambling movement. Where was the big rally on Murton Pike against the thieving of common land? I’ve been active in the rambling movement for over fifty years, but it seems to me that rambling organisations have become too much part of the Establishment…

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In the High Pennines (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Where has the fight gone?

I remember the happy days of Forbidden Britain campaigns and trespasses. Where did it all go wrong? With our wild countryside and national parks and AONBs under threat why aren’t they out there battling? Apart from the worthy Open Spaces Society, I hear very little about actual active campaigning.DSCF0344

So this coming year I intend to be far more critical of threats to our countryside and our right to walk across it. It’s important not just to walk but to put something back. Our great outdoors is not just some vast gymnasium, but a precious resource that needs protecting.

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The threatened Murton Fells (c) John Bainbridge 2018

I salute the good folk of Brighton who are fighting to stop building over their precious nature reserve. I applaud the farmers and villagers of Murton and Hilton who took on the MoD. Neither battle is over.

So lets get militant, folks…

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The threatened Whitehawk Nature Reserve.

Enjoy and celebrate our walks but stand up and be counted when our rights to walk and our countryside are threatened…

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

John B.

And do check out my writing blog at www.johnbainbridgewriter.wordpress.com if you are looking for something to read over the holiday.

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Walking to England’s Highest Roman Fort

Epiacum, the Romans called it, a second-century fort built to guard the empire’s interests in Pennine lead mining, and probably to provide backup for Hadrian’s Wall. It’s unique in being the only lozenge-shaped fort in Britain – rather than the more familiar playing-card shape, and has the most complex defences of any Roman fort yet found. By coincidence, I’ve just finished reading Bernard Cornwell’s latest historical novel War of the Wolf, where he uses the fort fictionally in a climactic Viking battle several centuries after the Romans left our shores.

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The defensive ditches of Epiacum (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It’s a wonderfully lonely spot, high up on the fells with just isolated farms nearby and miles of wild countryside all around. You can drive there, but we preferred to walk from the market town of Alston, three miles away. The paths up there are pleasant too, the Pennine Way and Isaac’s Tea Trail.

Isaac’s Tea Trail? Isn’t that grand! But this isn’t an invented route linking up all the tea-shops in the vicinity. It’s named in honour of the legendary tea-seller, itinerant, jagger and well thought-of fundraiser Isaac Holden. Isaac began his working life as a lead miner in these hills. He travelled these hills, selling tea – then quite a pricey commodity – to isolated farming communities. The trail, thirty-six miles long, uses many of the ancient paths he would have taken.DSCF0849

We hope to walk much more of this path in time, but we very much enjoyed our first experience of it on the walk up to Epiacum – the Roman fort must have been quite a familiar sight to Isaac as he earned his hard living.

I’ve written before about the joys of Alston – high up in the North Pennines. Familiar if you’ve never been there as a film location. Productions of Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre and some of the Catherine Cookson films have used it as a setting. You can see why. Take away the cars and some minor infrastructure and you could easily be back a couple of centuries.

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Alston (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Memories of a war of a later time were evoked as we walked past Alston’s War Memorial. I write this as we near the centenary of the Armistice. My great uncle, Harry Howl Jeffs was killed in October 1918, just a fortnight before the end of the Great War, having served for much of the conflict. Fortunately my grandfather Joseph Bainbridge came home from the Trenches. My own father, another Joe Bainbridge, survived a great deal of fighting in World War Two. I read the names on all war memorials – men and women who lived in beautiful countryside like this never to come back. I wonder what the Romans stationed up at  Epiacum would think if they could know that two thousand years after their time we still haven’t found a way of weaning the human race away from war.

A lovely stretch of the Tea Trail and Pennine Way followed as we made our way uphill into wilder countryside. It reminded me of some parts of the Scottish Borders and, of course, it really is. The wild frontier of the Roman Empire. At least after the Romans had to withdraw from the line of the Antonine Wall.

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Epiacum

After Harbut Law, we climbed and then descended to the beautiful valley of the Gilderdale Burn, which we crossed on a footbridge. The Gilderdale Burn is the boundary between Cumberland and Northumberland. It must have been so familiar to the Romans marching this way along the nearby Roman road known as the Maiden Way.

A long but gradual ascent through sheep ranges brought us at last to Whitley Castle, Epiacum. Even though all that is left are the long mounds which were once the footage of walls and the defensive ditches it is still very impressive. Such was the confidence of its Roman defenders, that it’s actually overlooked by higher ground, itself covered by the mounds and scars of more recent lead mining activity.

We searched the molehills in vain for Roman artefacts – not that we ever have any luck. Some people do, however, and “molehill archaeology” events are occasionally held at the site. There’s a board with a useful illustration of what Epiacum might have looked like. The glory that was the Roman Empire might have left this spot, but the site is still magnificent.

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The heights above the fort, seen from its old wall. (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We followed the footpath down to Kirkhaugh Railway Station, on what is now the South Tynedale Railway heritage line. In fact, the station is a shelter and not much more but, in the season, you can catch an old train here from Alston and walk up to Epiacum – a thrilling way to get there.

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At Kirkhaugh Station (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The South Tynedale Railway was once part of the main railway line between Alston and Haltwhistle. In an act of folly by British Rail it was closed to passengers in 1976. Fortunately, enthusiasts replaced the line with a two foot narrow gauge railway – the highest in England and is now run as a charitable institution. The charity has several steam and diesel engines and is working on the restoration of more. We will certainly be seeking a ride in the future.

The South Tyne Trail runs alongside the railway line, fenced off for safety. A lovely level stretch of the trail, open for both walkers and cyclists. The scenery along the South Tyne river is very attractive. We crossed back from Northumberland into Cumberland along the way back to Alston.

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Where two counties meet (c) John Bainbridge 2018

As we wandered back, I thought a lot about Isaac Holden, the jagger in tea, who would have known every fell and valley in these wild hills. A tough life no doubt, but probably a healthier and safer one than lead mining. We hope to walk more of his Tea Trail in the future.

Despite the Tea Trail route and the Pennine Way, this is still countryside neglected by lots of walkers. So if you fancy a change from the fells of the Lake District why not give it a go?

 

 

Walking from Romaldkirk

It’s funny isn’t it? You see a placename on a map or a signpost. You have no idea what the place is like. Then you go there and wonder why you never made the journey before? So let me put it on record. Romaldkirk, high above the banks of the River Tees in County Durham is a beautiful village in an area blessed with stunning scenery.DSCF0818

County Durham has some great walks, though I suspect most British walkers don’t know that. But get up into those Durham Dales and I just know you’ll be impressed. We’ve been walking sections of the Teesdale Way this year. A great walking route, with – very often – alternative routes on both sides of the river. If it’s not on your walking to-do-list put it there today and elevate it to the top.

Now for Romaldkirk – a lot of English villages have a village green. But Romaldkirk has  three, with beautiful cottages, a couple of pubs and even a village stocks for ne’er do wells like me!

The village takes its name from St Rumwold, a Saxon prodigy who got his sainthood for preaching the gospel immediately after being baptised. He actually seems to have originated in far away Buckingham, and there seems to be only other one dedication in the country. Some parts of the church date back to Anglo-Saxon times. Inside is the tomb of Hugh Fitz Henry, who died of wounds in Edward I’s Scottish wars.

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The Tomb of High Fitz Henry (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The paths are beautiful too, especially on gorgeous autumn days when the colours are at their best. We followed the Teesdale Way down to the river. On the way we passed the derelict farm of Low Garth – a place that was, now sadly deserted and boarded up. I suspect its fate was sealed by the fact that it stands out in the fields with no access for motor vehicles. But what tales those old walls might tell – how families lived and died there for centuries, the laughter and the tears. Folk adding their own stories to the history of this place.

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On

Through woodland then, and down to the River Tees. And some of the finest riparian scenery I’ve seen in England for a very long time. The path rocky, some times close to the water, then high above it. The river sometimes still in deep pools, then the swirl of white water.

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On the Teesdale Way (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The path climbed and we came to a farm called Woden’s Croft – now there’s a name to conjure with, named for the Norse god Woden, the Anglo-Germanic version of Odin. Long before Christianity came to Teesdale, Saxons and Norse would have worshipped the old gods in this wild landscape, which probably wasn’t too different to the land we see today.

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Eggleston Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Below the village of Cotherstone (see blogs passim) we halted at the confluence, where the River Balder (another terrific Saxon name) meets the Tees, before crossing the footbridge over the Tees, to take the variation of the Teesdale Way to Eggleston Bridge.

This path runs high above the river, giving you a grand view over the whole of Teesdale, right up to Middleton. The wild countryside of the Pennine Fells in the distance, before coming back down to the river.

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The village stocks at Romaldkirk (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Eggleston Bridge probably dates to 1450, and once – as many bridges did – had a chapel built upon it. The present bridge was constructed in the 17th century, though there have been recent restorations.

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Romaldkirk Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We crossed the bridge and followed easy paths back into Romaldskirk, finishing our day by exploring the church and graveyard, visiting the tomb of Hugh Fitz Henry, and reading the inscriptions on many of the outside tombstones. People who would have known and walked the same paths that we had explored.

 

Turnpikes, Toll Gates, Fly Agaric, the South Tyne and the Pennine Way

There was a wonderful cloud inversion as we drove up Hartside on the way to Garrigill, for a walk along the Pennine Way and the South Tyne Trail. One of the best we’ve seen for a long time, hiding the levels of the Eden and the Solway. The high Pennines around were high above the clouds, a hard frost giving a ‘first taste of winter’ look to this wild northern countryside.

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Garrigill (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The road to Alston has one of the steepest climbs in the country as it ascends to Hartside – the once familiar cafe now a sad ruin after a recent fire. Interestingly, it was turnpiked in the 18th century at the expense of the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital in London, mostly because they owned a lot of moorland around Alston.

Turnpikes were effectively toll roads, built at the expense of private companies. I suppose, given that there was no real income tax at the time, it was the only way roads could be funded. Companies did it for profit, of course.

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On the South Tyne (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The snag was that people had to pay for travel, no matter how poor they may be. Some rich travellers didn’t like to pay either. It wasn’t unknown for wealthy gents to leap the toll gates on their horses. George Templar of Stover, Devon, made rather a habit of it.

But in a round about way, the creation of toll roads might have preserved some of our old ways, our ancient tracks which are now rights of way. Cunning travellers, seeking ways to avoid paying at the tollhouses, would seek out any useful untolled track that took them in the right direction. Hence, old stretches of road, footpaths and bridleways gained a new and surreptitious use.

We had intended beginning our walk from Alston, but they were resurfacing the road through. Instead, we started from Garrigill, so familiar to walkers of the Pennine Way, who come down tired and thirsty from the wilderness around Cross Fell.

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Fly Agaric (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Garrigill a pretty little village, one of the remotest in England. It was once named Gerard’s Gill. During the productive years of the lead-mining industry over a thousand people lived in Garrigill. It has shrunk by several hundred since.

We followed the Pennine Way along the South Tyne, which also bears the route of the South Tyne Trail. A pretty walk this, along a particularly beautiful stretch of river. The autumn colours were at their best, and it was pleasing to see a considerable amount of fly agaric – associated so much with fairies and witchcraft. It’s a powerful hallucinegenic and dangerous. Witches, they say, used to make their flying ointment from it. We hadn’t seen any for a long time. It gets its name by its ability to attract flies, of course.

Above the path are several farms bearing the name Skydes, High, Middle and Low – interesting name, perhaps Norse? There’s a Danish word which is similar, meaning fire or fusillade or shooting. If anyone has a definite explanation of the word please let me know…

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The Old Quaker Meeting House in Alston, dating back to 1732 (c) John Bainbridge 2018

I never walk the Pennine Way without thinking of the many people who have walked it – not least Tom Stephenson who created it – I met him once a long time ago – and Wainwright, who wrote a guidebook, but didn’t like the trail very much.

Whatever your views, this stretch is a delight, wooded riverbank and surrounding high moorland.

We came out in Alston, the highest market town in England (though the folk of Buxton would dispute that claim) – a nightmare on this day as they were tarring the main road through. A pleasant place, which has been used for films and television. It was used in a recent production of Oliver Twist – appropriately for Charles Dickens visited the town in 1838 while researching his next novel Nicholas Nickleby.

Like Garrigill, it was a boom town in lead mining days. Silver was mined here too, the ore often being sent down for minting in Carlisle. Its market dates back to 1154.

Seeking a slight alternative back we took the well-established track to Nattrass Gill, passing through Annat Walls farm – where an old farmhouse has become a barn. Wonderful, these old buildings. So little changed. You could easily film a period drama in any one of them.

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Nattrass Gill (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Nattrass Gill is a waterfall running through a wooded ravine, crossed by a narrow footbridge. It was a scenic spot beloved by Victorian tourists, though there were fewer trees in those days. The stone steps were put in to facilitate their access. A pretty spot, rather dramatic. Were in nearer the roads it would be thronged by modern-day tourists. Pleasant that you have to walk if you want to see it.

From Bleagate Farm – it gets a mention in documents dating back to the 1300s – we were retracing our steps of the morning, along the South Tyne back to Garrigill. The frost of the morning had lifted and there was bright sunshine, adding a delight to the autumn colours.

 

Teesdale Way to Cotherstone

A splendid walk along the Teesdale Way to the village of Cotherstone. From Barnard Castle the path by the Tees was particularly scenic, sometimes very rough, narrow above the water, suddenly ascending and then dropping back to the river edge. Then wider stretches through very pleasant woodland. A wild bit of river too, the kind of water where birds and otters lurk.DSCF0344

Soon after Tees Bank Wood, the Teesdale Way took us high above the river, then along the headland paths of airy fields through the two old farms of East and West Holme.

From Cotherstone Crag, there were grand views over the river towards the village of Cotherstone. We wandered down to the water and crossed on the footbridges before strolling up to the village itself. A charming little place, though little sign of the old castle that once dominated the river gap. One of those quiet villages where time seems to pass very slowly. The residents were holding a scarecrow festival, and many of the gardens had splendid examples.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

We walked out to the Tees Railway Path – another old train line that should really have been kept. The route of the single-track line was quite overgrown, with just room for single-file walkers. Hard to imagine the steam locomotives, blustering and noisy in the nicest possible way coming along where we now walked through such quiet countryside. The wild flowers – and there was a quite a variety – bringing colour against the fresh green of the trees.DSCF0341

We left the track and crossed it by an old railway bridge before walking to Grise Beck Wood. The waymarking was rather poor here, and we had to rely on the map a great deal to find our way along the footpaths – all duly reported on the Ramblers Association website (please do use it if you come across similar problems – it’s very easy to use.)DSCF0349

At Towler Hill Farm, we hit one of the alternative versions of the Teesdale Way, down through the very pleasant Pecknell Wood and then through the Tees end of Lartington Park. Soon the castle of Barnard Castle came into sight, on its high point above the town. A good ten mile walk which gave glimpses of countryside places still to be explored.

And here’s some Cotherstone scarecrows:

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(c) J and A Bainbridge

Teesdale Way to Whorlton

After rain in the night, we set out on a clearing morning from Barnard Castle, following the River Tees downstream to Abbey Bridge and then following the Teesdale Way. A strong scent of wild garlic as we wandered down the river bank.

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River Tees near to Whorlton

A very pleasant stretch of woodland walking, then out on to more open country as we entered Rokeby Park, although the house – the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s famous poem – is not in view.

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The Meeting of the Waters

But below the house is The Meeting of the Waters, where the River Greta meets the Tees. A delightful spot. If there was a road anywhere near it’d be a honeypot for tourists. Fortunately there isn’t. You have to walk and make an effort to see it – and all the better for that. Above is Dairy Bridge which crosses a deep gorge of the Greta – a place that was painted by both Turner and Cotman.

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Mortham Tower

On then through the estate parkland of Mortham Tower – the house a very attractive stately home, complete with Peel Tower. The path winds across fine and airy country, looking across fields to the River Tees. I find it quite interesting that many of the grand houses of the north preserved public rights of way. In some parts of Britain the landed gentry did all they could to keep the peasants (most of us!) out. Not here, happily.

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Whorlton Suspension Bridge

We crossed the River Tees on the Whorlton Suspension Bridge, which was opened on the 7th July 1831 – a toll bridge until 1914. We stood where, during World War Two, Winston Churchill stood to inspect troops training on an assault course on the steep cliffs of the northern bank, in those days when we fought fascism. The original toll house, still displaying its original charge board, stands empty on the far side.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Up a stretch of steep steps to Whorlton village, originally Querington, a very peaceful and attractive place, though the church only dates to 1853, when it replaced a chapel of ease, which dated back to Norman times.

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The Old Toll House

We returned to Barnard Castle, following the Tees upstream along the opposite bank to our journey out, though mostly high above the river, following the headland paths of fields. There were lots of sheep lazing in the sunshine and very long views across the dale.

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On the Teesdale Way

At one point, the path crosses the Sledwich Gill, where the waters of a tiny beck have carved a very deep gorge through the limestone, making the parish boundary between Whorlton and Westwick, with impressive parish boundary markers made by the artist Richard Wentworth.

After several fields the Teesdale Way plunges back into woodland on the northern side of the Tees at Tees Bank Plantation.

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Detail from a tomb in Barnard Castle Churchyard

A stretch of garlic smelling woodland brought us back to Abbey Bridge – another toll crossing in its day, where we crossed the road and took our original path back to Barnard Castle. At the Demesne, at the start of the town, we cut up through the churchyard, reading some of the ancient gravestones – the last resting place of men and women who would have known so well these same fields, woodlands and river banks.

Text and pictures copyright A and J Bainbridge

 

On Cross Fell – and the Fiends Fell was friendly…

For a walk including the three highest summits in the Pennines you need a good clear day. Because the long ridge of tops on the western edge of the north Pennines offer magnificent views across the Eden Valley to the Lake District in one direction, and over the wild fells of the Pennines in the other.

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The Summit Shelter

Cross Fell (2,930 feet) is not only the highest point of the Pennines, but – if you exclude the Lake District mountains – the highest summit in England.

It’s a fell that lives in myth as well as history. In its past history it was known locally as Fiends Fell, the abode of demons. It’s the home of the ferocious Helm Wind, the only named wind in Britain, which has been known to sweep down from its heights and devastate the Eden valley below. St Augustine is said to have blessed the hill to take away its curse, hence the word Cross – though some point out it means cross as in angry.

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On the Pennine Way

Seeing it most days in the distance, in all its moods, I can well imagine it as the sort of place where trolls might live. Cross Fell has an average of 110 inches of rain every year, and the snow has been known to deck its long ridgy top for 140 days a year.

But it was in a benevolent mood when we climbed it the other day, offering no more than a pleasant breeze to take away the heat of a scorching day. We were glad of the slight wind, for we notched up twenty miles through some of the loneliest country in England.

We left the village of Dufton in a blazing heatwave, following the Pennine Way as it wound around Dufton Pike to Cosca Hill.  The walk up to Knock Old Man is the steep bit of the walk, but the views over the Eden valley and its guardian pikes – Murton Pike, Dufton Pike and Knock Pike – were stunning. Not as green as usual, for the heatwave has seared them an almost autumnal brown.

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The Golfball

This is wonderful walking country. It’s true what they say – if the nearby Lake District didn’t exist, these north Pennines would be thronging with fellwalkers. We did see a few people doing the Pennine Way, but nowhere near as many as would have been there once upon a time.

Until Knock Old Man is passed, the secrets of the high Pennines remain hidden from view. Then, as the ridge is achieved, the vista over remote country to Teesdale comes into view. Like Dartmoor on a grander scale, I thought. Miles and miles and miles of wild mountainous land.

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Summit Fever

The only thing to remind you that you are in the 21st century is the golf ball radar station – air traffic control – on Great Dun Fell, which looks like it has wandered in from a science fiction film. The private road leading up to it is the highest bit of tarmacced road in England. We followed the ridge towards it, seeing nothing alive but the odd moorland bird, and a stoat scampering along the path as we went.

On then over Little Dun Fell to the head of the Crowdundle beck, which I know quite well in its lower stages. Once you’re up on the ridge, there’s little climbing left to do – just a gentle ascent through a rocky band and then a stroll along the ridge to the top of Cross Fell, with its rocky cairn and shelter in the shape of a cross.

It’s worth the climb – so much to see, right across to Ullswater and distant Derwent Water, Blencathra, Helvellyn – too many summits to name.

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On the top

If the Fiends Fell could talk, what stories it might tell. Of the Romans who marched from fort to fort in the valley below, the Vikings who settled the pastoral landscape beneath, probably scaring their children to sleep with their tales of trolls on this great height. And of the many walkers who’ve come along the Pennine Way, making their own memories of the long and high range of hills along the way.

We took a long and circuitous route back to Dufton through Knock, stopping all the while to gaze back at where we had been – past the golfball radar station, up to the top of Cross Fell’s long plateau. After even a brief moment, it seems almost unbelievable that you were ever up there.

A wonderful day’s walking.

And a big thank you to the Trolls of the Fiends Fell, for granting us a special dispensation of good weather and clear views.

Pictures (c) J and A Bainbridge