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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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