Sunday 24th August: Dufton to Alston – 20 miles
We were up quite early, as we had another long twenty miles ahead, this time with a lot of climbing involved. It was a beautiful day – the sunlight poured into the hostel dining room. After checking out, we had a short wander around Dufton’s green – it was a spaced-out, open village with a grand row of trees and a curious, rounded stone fountain. And the objects of our day, the tops of the north Pennines, as a handsome backdrop. Neither I nor Mark seemed to be in the mood to hang around, so we started off and walked away.
Out of Dufton
The start of the day’s walking was a couple of miles through a wooded path that threaded between grazing fields; and some fields of wheat, which was a strange sight after the previous ten days.
The way eventually ascended towards upland stony farm track before the fields and track ended just before Swindale Beck, which was completely dry.
The fell climbing began: with a long, steady, grassy climb up to Green Fell. The Pennine Way isn’t loaded with climbing (perhaps other than the Kinder Plateau and Pen Y Ghent) so this is something different to challenge us perhaps.
The view behind, across the Eden Valley was as good as the evening before.
It was a long climb up to the top, thirty minutes or so of steady exertion. Just before the summit there was a grand, cubic cairn, with a small more conventional one right at the top. It was still sunny and a little windy, but not in any way disturbing.
Golf Balls and Erotic Cairns
We continued on, along the top and over the summits. The grassy turf gave way to patches of peat, gravel, scattered rocks and rough moorland (there were flag stones laid) in patches along here. There was even a stretch of tarmac.
This led up to the golf-ball shaped building atop Great Dun Fell, which housed a radio transmitter.
We walked on for a further two miles over the wide, flat top, pounding along the flagstones. By this point in the early afternoon, the morning’s climbing had tired me a little and I was rather hungry. My backpack was also beginning to weight heavy on me, so we rested for five minutes on a dry patch of grass.
The grassy top reached the rocky plateau of Cross Fell, heralded by a splendid cairn, which resembled a phallus much more than most other cairns did.
Ten minutes later, we were glad to get to the summit cairn and trig point of Cross Fell (at 893m the highest point of the walk). A chap with his own radio transmitter stowed in his backpack and his dog were spending their afternoon lazing around the trig point. The summit cairn was a grand, recent construction, resembling a dry stone spider.
How Many is a Crowd?
At that point, after hardly encountering a soul on the ascent (or indeed on the descent that followed), most of the world turned up at the summit of Cross Fell (as if out of nowhere). The volume of folk irritated me – I pondered during the afternoon: where did they all come from? Probably up and down from another path.
After walking off the top: a dull descent, especially for tired legs, we stopped to have a look around Greg’s Bothy. This was as uninteresting as most bothys tend to be – they’re not supposed to be listed buildings.
The remainder of the afternoon was a long and dull affair, marching mile after mile, gradually descending along the track from Cross Fell to Garrigill. We mainly motivated ourselves by measuring ourselves against the clock and judging our progress.
The monotony was broken up by a Land Rover going backwards and forwards once, some rat traps that were mounted above the ditches and the periodic need to urinate (I found myself having to go quite a lot during the sixteen days). As we got closer to the village, a rough stone wall accompanied us.
Finally, the long six miles down from Cross Fell were at an end and we walked into Garrigill (in the South Tyne valley).
A Piss-Up on the Green
Garrigill was a pleasant village, with a triangular green, smaller but more verdant than Dufton’s. There was a village fete/party of some sort going off as we entered. Being outsiders, we passed by and continued 100 yards before having a sit down at the opposite end of the green.
After a while however, the organiser came across and invited us over for a beer. He explained, that as the village pub shut the year before (landlord trouble), they were having some drinks (with a VW camper full of beers). Me and Mark had a nice chat with them about village life, the Pennine Way etc. It would have been nice to have had a second beer, but the one bottle had already made me feel inebriated (on an empty stomach too) and we still had five miles to walk.
South Tyne Valley
The last stretch along the South Tyne was rather sweet in the summer evening air (it really was that kind of lovely Sunday weather).
Needing a bit of ballast, I stopped to eat the last of my sandwiches, but the biters were out by the river bank, so we had to flee.
The last mile or so went above the river plain, to eventually reach the edge of Dufton: the YHA was situated here. It was one of the hostels built in the boom days of the 1970s. Things had changed somewhat: the place resembled the Marie Celeste and at the reception counter the warden had left us a note saying that he was out of the way that evening and to let ourselves in.
Time Team Action (Part One)
Having settled into our dorm, we headed out to the pub for dinner. In the Cumberland we noticed Stewart from Time Team getting a pint at the bar. Whilst eating our pies and chips in the corner, Mark and I listened in to quite an uninteresting fellow engage him in conversation at the opposite table.
Back at the hostel, we reflect on another long and hard day’s walking. Mark seemed in better shape than he did at Dufton the previous evening. I was starting to feel quite mentally tired though, two-thirds of the way through the walk.