The weather forecast for the end of our week promised some fun. Warm, wet air coming in from the south was due to collide with cold air that had come in from the north earlier in the week resulting in a promise of some serious snow. Kirkby Stephen was on the edge of the Amber warning area. But we woke to a fine Wednesday morning
so took the opportunity to do something we meant to do during a couple of breaks in 2022 but never got round to – travel on the Settle Carlisle line – considered to by many to be the finest and most scenic route in England.
The line runs from Settle in Yorkshire, up Ribbledale and then across the heads of Dentdale and Garsdale then on through Mallerstang and the Eden Valley. The kirkby Stephen is about half way on the route. We chose to travel south through the most dramatic scenery to Settle. The train carries on the Leeds, but we weren’t going that far.
The station at Kirkby Stephen is almost a couple of miles out of the town so we drove over in the car. There’s a large car park there. We bought our tickets and waited for the train to arrive. It was busy but we managed to get seas are were able to take in the views from the window. I managed to get a few shots photos and videos – the best of which I’ve included in this post, but they don’t do the scenery justice.
The sky darkened as we got nearer to Settle – the weather was coming in, and we experienced some snow flurries while we were in the town. It got heavier during the day and the grey skies and clag which had descended during the few hours we were in Settle seemed to be following us up the valleys on the return journey. When we arrived at Kirkby Stephen we were glad to get back into the car and return to our warm and cosy accommodation. The next day would be quite different.
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.
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!
Our holiday in Appleby wasn’t a walking break but I did manage to tick off a route I’d been wanting to walk for some time. J was quite happy for me to disappear for a day so she could have a little time on her own.
The Monday was pretty awful – wind and rain, but I woke on Tuesday to a fine day, if a little cold when I was loading up the car with my walking gear. It was a short drive of about 5 miles to Dufton, where I parked up in the village car park.
It’s a pleasant former mining village, close to the Pennine Hills with several options for walks. I had planned to walk up to High Cup Nick, the top of High Cup Gill, an almost perfect glacial valley in the north Pennines.
Wikipedia tells us
The Ordnance Survey name the valley as High Cup Gill but it is often referred to by the name High Cup Nick, a name which properly refers in a more limited sense to the point at its northeastern limit where the headwaters of Highcup Gill Beck pass from the relatively flat terrain of High Cup Plain over the lip of High Cup Scar into the valley. ‘Gill’ is a word of Norse origin meaning narrow valley or ravine………….as seen in the classic view southwest over the valley into the Vale of Eden from its head at High Cup Nick, it is considered one of the finest natural features in northern England.
After parking up, I had a quick mooch around the village. Looking at that blue sky and it was hard to believe how awful the weather had been the previous day – but that’s the north of England for you! From the village green I could see that Cross fell and Great Dunn fell were capped with cloud – which isn’t so unusual, but the lower Dufton Pike was cloud free.
But that wasn’t were I was going. I was heading along the Pennine Way in the other direction and had my fingers crossed that the day would stay fine and that I’d get some good views.
It was a bit of a trudge at first up a fairly long stretch of tarmac, although as I climbed steadily views began to open up and the weather looked promising. It was misleadingly warm in the sunshine and I rapidly started peeling off layers – other walkers I met during the morning had also prepared for colder weather and had rucksacks full of fleeces and jackets that weren’t needed!
The road came to an end after a mile or so, turning into a rough track. I later met a couple of walkers who’d parked up at the end of the tarmac road, which cut out the walk on the tarmac.
Looking back there was a great view over to the Lakeland fells spread out on the horizon. Visibility was good and I could see for miles
I then passed through a gate onto the fell proper.
I passed an old lime kiln
It was a gradual climb up the side of the hillside, but, initially, the valley wasn’t visible being obstructed by the undulating landscape. But then, suddenly, it’s there before you.
Looking back down the valley.
The geology of the valley is particularly interesting, although much of the rock is limestone,
its rim (is) topped by enormous columns of volcanic rock. This rock, known as dolerite, was created during the Carboniferous period when the movement of tectonic plates forced magma to be squeezed sideways between beds of existing rock. As it then slowly cooled, the magma crystallised and shrank, forming the hexagonal columns that can be seen at High Cup today. (This same layer of dolerite, known as the Great Whin Sill, also forms the ridge along which the Romans built much of Hadrian’s Wall.)
I soon reached the head of the valley – the High Cup Nick. This was the view – the picture doesn’t do the view justice. I’d been concerned that it wouldn’t live up to it’s reputation and be something of a let down, but it definitely was not, particularly on a fine autumn day with views right across the Eden valley to the Lake District fells.
Looking in the other direction was a more or less featureless moor, wet and boggy.
I stopped for a while enjoying the view and to have a bite to eat and a coffee from my flask. There were a few other people who’d made their way up. I’d walked the last stretch up to the nick with a couple from Darlington, a young couple appeared who’d come over the bogs from Cow Green reservoir over in the East, another solo walker had come up from Murton via Murton Pike, and another person appeared climbing up from the bottom of the valley. I expect it gets very busy up here in the summer and at weekends, but on a fine autumn day mid week before the autumn half term it was fairly quiet and peaceful.
Time to start heading back! I’d decided on a circular route so started to make my way along the south ridge. There were a few options – I could have climbed a bit higher and followed the route over to Murton Pike, but that would have been a longer walk than I’d intended.
The path along the ridge gave good views down into the Gill.
Looking back to the Nick
Crossing the Middle Tongue it got a bit boggy !
but, hey, who cares with views like this
Starting to descend from the Middle Tongue I was back on drier ground amongst the limestone.
Murton Pike was over to my left. It was tempting!
Nearing the bottom of the descent I diverted and turned back following the lower level path that led into the bottom of the Gill. I wanted to get a shot up the valley. The light was good and with the sunlight filtering through cloud in the sky created patterns of light and shade.
I turned back and continued my descent towards the farm at Harbour Flat.
Looking back towards the hills and the Gill
I reached the quiet lane that runs between Dufton and Murton. Some more walking on tarmac for a while
before I turned off along a path through the fields and then joined the route of A Pennine Journey heading towards Dufton
Nearing the village I took the path through the very pleasant woodland that lines Dufton Gill
Then a final climb out of the gill into the village. I had a mooch around the village green taking in the views of the high Pennine hills
The village, “the farmstead where the doves were kept”, goes back to at least the 12th Century and grew during the 17th and 18th centuries when lead mines were opened up on Dufton Fell. Most of the houses around the green are from this period
there are extensive mining remains on Dufton Fell. The early mining leases were granted by the Lords of the Manor of Dufton throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. From about 1820 the mines were taken over by the London Lead Company (the “Quaker Company”). Lead mining ceased on Dufton Fell in 1897; however barytes have been extracted from the spoil heaps on two occasions in the 20th century.
in the 19th century there were many, including grocer’s, butcher’s (with abbatoir), bakery, general dealer’s and draper’s. The present cafe was the village post office and shop into the 21st century.
It seems like the Quakers were decent employers, building cottages for their workers as well as a school, and a library. They also provided a water supply installing five fountains in the village including this one on the village green, built in 1858.
It was very quiet. There were a few other walkers returning to their cars but other than that not a sole to be seen. There was a cafe in the old Post office, but it was closed – it doesn’t reopen until Easter – and the village pub, the Stag, didn’t look as if it was open. So no chance of a brew!
I returned to my car and changed out of my boots. After chatting with an older couple who’d been walking with their young adult granddaughter, I set off back to Appleby. It was only a 20 minute drive back tot he cottage where a welcome brew was waiting for me.