Dufton to Alston: Across A Cross Fell2November 5th, 2012Beer and travel
Morning in Dufton is heavenly. Soft light glistens on the village green, the distant hills are misty, and the birds seemingly haven’t slept, instead devoting every moment, dark or light, to their celestial symphonies.
No wonder it’s called the Vale of Eden. And the prospect of exploring Cumbria’s fertile land spurs us to leave Dufton. That and the unenviable comfort of youth hostel bedding…
Within minutes of joining the Way we’re surrounded on all sides by undulating fields of faultless farmland dressed in a glorious, consistent green. The land is all one hue, the only difference in colour between fields achieved by the sun that dances on the curvatures of the land. Nature creates art with the shadows of millions of blades of grass, a silent spectacle unfolding beneath a cloudless sky.
As we rise above Cosca Hill, fresh faced and glad we didn’t win a week’s worth of beer at the quiz the previous night, the terrain dissolves into the no man’s land between moor and field; trees thin out, streams narrow, and hedgerows give way to the resilience of reeds and gorse. Greenery darkens, the sun rises towards its late morning perch above the verdant cone of Dufton Pike. Against a dull hill the rigid blue sky is speckled with ever watchful radomes bouncing radio waves against passenger planes in the sky.
This eerie place sits 1000 feet above Dufton. It’s a tough climb for the first day, and our route avoids the curiously new road surface that curves up towards the heavenly looking golf balls. Just to spite us, the detour naturally involves the circumnavigation of a disused quarry shaft, appropriately named ‘Dunfell Hush’ which is exactly the sounds of falling down it when miles away from another living creature. Luckily we skip over any hidden mine shafts and the path pop us right up against the radomes. The spooky spheres are less angelic up close, coloured in roughly with worn-off white and sat atop windowless square boxes that looks like they’d blow away in a gentle gust. They look less airport security and more hideout for mad scientists trying to create a real life Day of the Triffids. On the cheap.
We’re not halfway done for the day but lunch is calling. The afternoon trek towards our hostel seems an age away. We can’t even begin to think of a pub yet…
Our lunch stop marks the tallest part of the entire Pennine Way so far, surpassing the more foreboding features of even the Three Peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen Y Ghent. Cross Fell’s summit roars with wind and we join two southbound walkers sheltering behind the meagre walls of its dry stone cairn. The air is pregnant with cold and hot air which sweeps along the inclines of the fell and gives birth to the Helm Bar, an innocuous enough looking line of cloud that rustles the winds into a turbulent force of nature. They say Cross Fell is named for the typical English meaning of the words – think angry, grumpy wind demon sitting atop a desolate fell trying to keep pesky explorers away. “I don’t care how windy it is, it’s MY fell!”
Suddenly two fighter jets accelerate cloud wards over nearby Dun Fell, so low against the brow of the hill that we could pluck the pilots faces out of a police line up. But even the power and noise of their twin jet engines fails to out muster the Helm Wind which sweeps across the tops and batters us into the cold hard discomfort of the shelter walls.
Along with our fellow explorers we re-gather our strengths – bananas, dried apricots, Mars Bars, cheese and pickle sandwiches consumed via osmosis in the teasing gaps when the wind doesn’t batter us blue. Even without our lunch the views from our lofty plateau lift us – a panorama of vale and fell in equal measure spreads out for miles below. From this vantage point we can track the wandering of smoke from distant factories which cloud the view towards the peaks of the eastern line of the Lake District.
We rise and turn into the wind, and very soon lunch seems insufficient and a pint seems unimaginably far away.Tags: alston, dufton, pennine way