Friday, 24 July 2015

The Pennine Way! Dufton to High Cup Nick

OK, so we didn't walk much of The Pennine Way yesterday, but I am still
Volcanic Whin Sill at High Cup Nick 
loving being able to wrap myself in a hint of its 'glamour'. Imagine: Simon Armitage woz 'ere! We got lucky by arriving at Dufton's little car park in time to snaffle the last-but-one space. You'd probably need to be up before dawn to park there on a sunny weekend! Walking through the village to the start of our footpath allowed us to appreciate the pretty cottages, have a brief chat with a local woman who wished us sunshine for our walk, and to spot an MOD red flag. It was more drooping than flying, but checking the map at its base established that we would need to be several miles off course in order to get ourselves shot at. Hopefully we wouldn't get that lost.

Dave had been concerned about the first leg of our walk which would be
I'd heard about 'the red flag
flying' but not seen one before 
a pretty much continuous ascent for a good hour or so. A description on The Walking Englishman suggested his party were 'jiggered' by the top and they are experienced walkers. As it turned out, the gradient is not particularly steep, just relentless, so we were able to keep going with a few breathers, more an excuse to turn around and admire the view you understand, not just that we needed to pause. I do love an expansive view and this has to be one of the best. As we got higher and higher, new miles of countryside were revealed and it felt quite special to be there. We had expected to be sharing with lots of other walkers because this is one of the most famous routes, but were alone for much of the climb. We did pass a man expertly rebuilding a dry stone wall, continuing an apparently rare art form these days, and his sheepdog, Nell, managed to sucker Dave into throwing a stick for her to rush off after - only the once though!

A wonderful view 
Levelling out, close to High Cup Nick itself, we passed this 'infinity
Hannah's Well 
stream' known locally as Hannah's Well. A narrow waterfall fell to our left, crossed the path and then dropped away over the sheer cliff to our right. Dave had found a leaflet in our campsite's information hut about the geology of High Cup Nick so, for once, we were confident that we knew what we were seeing. The sheer Whin Sill layer was created about 295 million years ago by molten lava rising up within the earth then seeping sideways before it could build up enough pressure to explode as a volcano. This magma layer cooled over a period of maybe fifty years to form the sheet of dolerite igneous rock which is, in places, up to 90 metres thick. The Whin Sill is the first such area where geologists worked out how it had been formed and so any other 'sill' worldwide is named for this one.

High Cup Gill is a distinctive valley caused by glacial erosion. It was
Approaching High Cup Gill 
exciting to see it opening out ahead as we approached. The first photograph on this post shows the Whin Sill on each side close-ish up, and this photo is from further back to show the curve of the valley. We walked along one side, occasionally brave enough to get close to the edge and peep over. Steep grass slopes alternate with areas of tumbled rocks and boulders and, on the far side, we could see fissures caused by water coursing down over long periods of time. Sheep and cattle in the valley appeared smaller than toys.

The valley apex is known as High Cup Nick because there is a cleft in the
From the top looking down 
cliff through which a stream flows. Grass banks gave us a respite from the wind and a place to eat our apple and sandwiches. It was cold here though so our break was curtailed after fifteen minutes. We already knew that The Walking Englishman's wife had not enjoyed the boulder scramble down from High Cup Nick into High Cup Gill, but from the very top it doesn't look too bad. Certainly the boulders are more stable than your average Spanish scree path so I thought I would be ok. This was a mistake! The start IS ok, but then we turned a corner and spent the next hour on a basically terrifying descent that I hope never to have to attempt again! My leg and shoulder muscles are aching still today.

From the bottom looking up 
Once safe on the valley floor, there isn't a path as such but our direction
Sticking by the stream wasn't always an option 
was obvious as we had to walk the length of the valley in order to get out again. I certainly wasn't going back up those rocks! We got even more of a sense of High Cup's majestic height from looking up than we had done looking down. Arriving near the farm at the valley entrance, we had to cast around for our route out, but once we spotted that it must be via the farm itself we were fine. We were tiring by this point though so chose to cut off a mile by heading part-way towards Dufton on the narrow road. Fortunately traffic is very light and there were verges onto which we could leap. A footpath after about twenty minutes allowed us to briefly join up with the Pennine Journey route. I was delighted by the artistic red stripes in the dry stone walling here. The red seemed to glow more brightly than it appears in the photo but hopefully you can get the idea.

Red striped stone walling 
Then, at about the five-and-a-half hour mark and as we were both getting a tad fed up, we stumbled across a magical place to finish up our walk. Dufton Ghyll, managed by the Woodland Trust, is a serene and tranquil little oasis of trees, lichens, babbling brook and ancient stone. If felt like the kind of place where fairytales ought to be set and I loved the greenish tinge to the light. We failed to see red squirrels, but I was amazed how just this change in what we did see around us had such a lightening effect on our mood. And, as if by magic, we exited Dufton Ghyll right by Dufton car park!

Dufton Ghyll 
We walked for a few minutes over six hours in all and think our route was probably about ten miles. Persons experienced in scrambling down rocks could easily cut a half hour off this time! Looking back up the rock scramble, we might have been better off hugging the grass on the right hand edge and then coming down on grass too. However that would have given us nothing to cling on to so might have taken longer. Probably a course on basic Rock Climbing For Nervous Girlfriends is the answer, but it really didn't look too scary until the moment when it suddenly looked even scarier to try going back up! I did enjoy my great sense of euphoria at having finally completed the descent.

One aspect of our walks that I do appreciate is seeing so many free
range herds of cows and flocks of sheep in huge green pastures. I soreally do hope that this way of farming doesn't become a thing of the past - a quaint tourist attraction. Global policy makers are currently in New York negotiating Sustainable Development Goals. Some see factory farming as the best way to feed the world. They think only about the large quantities of “cheap” meat, ignoring the health issues and drastic environmental problems that come with it. Two European Commissioners are negotiating the future of the food system on our behalf. We must urge them to choose humane, sustainable farming – and not put factory farms forward as the false solution to feeding the world. Compassion In World Farming has a quick click to send a message to our European Commissioners, but this must be done by the 31st July. Please add your voice now.

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