The forecast promised good weather on the Tuesday, so that was the day I decided on the long walk I was hoping to include in our holiday. From our accommodation we could just about make out the Nine Standards on the top of Hartley Fell silhouetted against the skyline.
The Nine Standards are a collection of massive cairns, several metres high (the largest is 3.5 metres tall) – nine in total, as the name indicates – standing a little to the north of the summit of the fell, making them visible from miles around. I first heard of them when visiting and then researching the Raisbeck Pinfold, part of Andy Goldsworthy’s Cumbrian sheepfolds project. Inside the Raisbeck sheepfold Goldworthy included a conical stone structure and there are several other of these cone pinfolds at other sites around the Eden Valley. On the project website he explains how the shape of these structures was inspired by the Nine Standards.
The origins and purpose of the Standards is unknown and subject to a raft of theories. However one theory, that seems sensible to me given their location, is that they mark the boundary between Westmorland and Swaledale. Dick Capel devotes a chapter of his book to the Standards and he was responsible for a project to restore them (against some opposition) back in 2005.
Steve Allan, Cumbria’s premier dry stone wall builder, with two assistants and meticulous reference to the photographs, worked for eight days rebuilding the five cairns, which had been in a ruinous state and refurbished the other four. Their work won the North Pennines AONB Conservation Award 2005.https://www.edenbenchmarks.org.uk/nine-standards.html
So a visit to see the structures close up for myself had to be made!
Hartley Fell and the nearby hills are relatively featureless moorland but I expected, and found, excellent views during the climb and from the top, and I’m very much at home on bleak moorland. Although I would gain about 1600 feet to the summit, it was a relatively gradual climb most of the way with the hardest pull up the road from Hartley. The first couple of miles were on tarmac, which wasn’t great (although the views looking back compensated) before I reached the open moorland. The going on the moors was good at first but the final section up hill to the standards was very boggy and not good walking. The Standards are on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route which, despite seasonal variations, won’t have helped with the erosion. It’s difficult also to devise a good circular route so I had to return the same way I’d gone up. But visiting the Standards more than made up for any disadvantages and on the way up the best views are behind – they’re right in front on the way down.
It was bright and sunny as I set out mid morning, leaving J to spend a peaceful day on her own. I passed the statue of a youthful Lady Anne on the main street – she appeared to be striding of in the same direction.
I walked down to the Eden and crossed over Frank’s Bridge
and took the path along the river
and then turned off up the slope heading towards the small village of Hartley
There was a steep climb out of the village up the road but at he top of the slope, I turned round to be greeted by views of the Northern Pennines, where even Cross Fell was free of cloud
over the Eden Valley to the Lakeland Fells
and, in the other direction, over to the moors where I was heading.
I was still on tarmac
as I passed the massive quarry, which is still being worked. I tried to avoid looking at it, keeping my eyes on the moorland and pretending it wasn’t there.
I soon put it behind me, but still had a good distance to walk on the tarmac
before I finally passed through a gate and turned off the tarmac onto a dirt track – much better for the feet! I notice a car parked up by the gate – there was room for two or three. Later I passed a couple of women – a mother and daughter I think – who were on the way down as I climbed – it was their car. (They were the last people I saw until I got back down to the tarmac on the road down when I spotted one other person – a “twitcher”. I bet it gets a lot busier during the Coast to Coast season) .They’d cut out a good stretch of walking on tarmac and shortened the walk by 2 miles each way. But I still preferred to walk.
I think they’re the Howgills in the distance. I’m not used to seeing them from this direction!
Looking up across the moor I could just make out the Nine Stands on top of the hill.
Looking back to the Lakeland Fells
and to the North Pennines
On the way up, just off the path I spotted this circular structure which looked like it had been constructed fairly recently.
Carrying on those Standards don’t seem to be getting any closer!
I reached a fork in the road and took the path climbing up Faraday Gill
It wasn’t too bad at first
but then it got very wet and boggy underfoot
I was glad that I’d brought my gaiters with me and donned them at the end of the tarmac, but it was difficult finding a way to avoid becoming submerged in wet peat, mud and water as I continued on my way.
Eventually (!) I was getting closer to the Standards.
And then I was there.
The photographs don’t do them justice at all, you need someone standing by them to give a proper sense of scale and there was only me up there. This one is the largest – 3.5 metres tall and 3.7 metres in diameter at its base, tapering to the top with two intermediate ledges around its circumference.
They’re all different in size and shape
A cold wind had picked up and the air temperature was probably below freezing, but I was well wrapped up so didn’t feel too cold as I took in the views
The Standards are not on the summit of the fell, that was a short distance away to the south and there’s a topograph part of the way there across the top of the fell. I reckoned that as I’d come this far I might as well go the whole hog to the summit, which was marked by a trig point.
The peat was very badly eroded and it would normally be a quagmire bog hopping over to the summit. However, the ground was frozen so I didn’t end up with my boots swallowed in the mire – but be warned if you go up there in warmer, wet weather.
Here’s a few shots looking back tot he Nine Standards and the topograph on the way back from the top
It was time to eat now before I set off back down. The cold wind seemed to be strengthening but I sheltered by sitting on the leeward side of the largest of the Standards, it’s shelf making a handy seat.
Then it was time to start making my return journey retracing my steps.
As I mentioned I only saw one more person until I reached Hartley, but both on the way up and down I could hear the distinctive call of one of my favourite birds, the curlew. Just before I reached the tarmac I stopped for a rest on a handy seat and three curlews flew by overhead. That was a treat.
It was still sunny when I got back to Kirkby Stephen. It was mid afternoon and I was ready for a brew.
It had been a cracking day, cold in the wind but warm in the sunshine, and wrapped up well was perfect walking weather. We were expecting another decent day but a change was in the air!
Another excellent day. I envy you.
I was lucky. An almost perfect day and besides passing another milestone in life I can still manage to get up on the fells, albeit at my own, not very fast, pace!
More than I can do, sadly. Long may it continue for you.
It comes to us all sooner or later.
What an excellent walk. It seems really bizarre that their origin story is unknown.
Lost in the mists of time, as they say. This project was set up to try to solve the riddle https://ninestandards.org.uk/history/
It might have been cold but I reckon the sunshine, blue sky and excellent views were worth it 🙂
It was lovely walking in the sun, even though the air temperature was fairly low. The cold wind on the flat top was cutting, though with no shelter othe than the Standards. Superb views though with really clear air
You know you lost me when you mentioned bogs! It looks a lovely walk apart from that.
I was worried I might get lost – i.e mired in that bog! 😂
It was better on the top where the ground was frozen.
No scree though 😉
Been over 20 years since I was up there. Really pleased to see the cairns have been restored as I think they are truly iconic. Were you able to find out what the objections were to restoring them?
Dick Capel discusses this in his book – he initiated the project. The local bureaucracy objected as the Standards are listed buildings and are not supposed to be “demolished or altered by rebuilding once (they) have collapsed”
Really!! So the rules seem to let them fall into ruin?? I’m glad common sense prevailed then.
Yes. This is Dick Capel’s version of events but if correct it’s bizzare.
This walk is on my to do list. Great photos
Thanks Melodie. It was a good day for a walk up there. One for a fine day to take in the extensive views