I arrived in Dufton at about 8am in the morning that day. It was misty, mysterious and it would stay like this for the majority of the day. Higher up, unfortunately, visibility was to be quite limited, and it only cleared up by the end of the day. However, the in-the-cloud experience is also one to relish.
The close-to 20 miles walk is almost always north to Alston. Dufton is a small place and I left it behind me rather quickly.
The first mile north is on Hunting Lane. It’s very rural, with lots of green grazing spaces around and with lovely hills all around, although they were shrouded in mystery that morning!
Around Cosca Hill nearby, the route turns to north-east and the views towards Moor House National Nature Reserve begin – even in the cloudy weather, they are impressive.
It is around here that the proper climb to Knock Fell (about 800ft higher) begins – a steady, and steep in many places, slog. Now in the nature reserve, any buildings are left behind.
Very quickly, the visibility became minimal and I was walking in the cloud.
Now on to Great Dun Fell, at 2,782 feet (848 metres), another 1.5 miles or so to the north.
There was nothing to see on top in terms of photography, though – except perhaps my own feet and some grass up to a few feet ahead of it – I pressed on!
Little Dun Fell at 2,762 feet (842 metres), a tiny bit lower than the Great one. I took this photo there – trust me, this is awesome visibility compare to the previous peak!
This was the sign that the cloud was clearing a bit and over the next few miles, more and more was beginning to be able to be seen. I was now walking in the north-western direction towards Tees Head – the trail changed from stone slabs to a wider rocky path now.
It was March, and at these elevations, snow was still on the ground in some places – here is myself in one such place at Tees Head. This is the spot where River Tees, growing to an enormous river at its mouth later, actually starts – hence the name.
Cross Fell is 5 minutes beyond this point, to the west, and is the highest mountain in the Pennine Hills (2,930ft / 893m). Again, little visibility so no photographic evidence; it was only on the descent from it (first north, then sharply turning east) that the sun managed to break through the clouds and views started coming in.
It is a peculiar and amazing experience to be walking in a cloud, unaware of the surrounding area and then as the cloud clears suddenly realise what was previously hidden from you. Suddenly, the vast spaces and surrounding hills came into view and I was blown away. The last photo show the mountain bothy Greg’s Hut, and it was here where I took my break, munching on my food and taking the splendour of these views in. Coming back to where I live, in a city with visibility limited to 10 metres (the house opposite mine), after these experiences is always a disappointment to say the least.
Past Greg’s Hut, the narrower path turns into a wider path and then approximates a very stony (quite annoying on the feet) road, with the spectacular, sweeping views all around the hiker.
At Cross Fell House, the trail turns north again and the slow 4-mile descent to the village of Garrigill begins. The best story can simply be told with the photos from the way.
There are actually three settlements in this area – first there is Gatehead, then the Way passes Garrigill and finally Gatefoot – all very small; upon reaching Garrigill – just a few streets and less than 10 minutes to cross – the route turns to north-west and follows River South Tyne now – it’s about 4 miles left to Alston.
After about 1.5 miles of following the river on its west bank, the trail crosses to the other side. From here, it’s the rest of the way to Alston with the river to one’s left crossing several fields with sheep grazing; very peaceful, serene and usually an easy and flat walk, with only a few ups and downs on the way. Beautiful Hobbit-style scenery (not Mordor! I mean the lovely grassy peaceful bits!)
Alston is a lovely little town. I was able to stock up there in the Co-Op supermarket for my next day of walking. It’s very picturesque and I understand it’s been used on many occasions for shooting films purposes. I was, however, more interested in the nature surrounding it. I stayed at a pub in Alston – this was the view from the parking space right next to it.
All images from this trip can be seen in the video below: