Conquering Cross Fell
Follow the instructions for Blencarn to Kirkland via The Rigg until you reach the gate before Wythwaite Farmhouse.
Then, with Wythwaite on the left, turn right to a post bearing three waymark discs. Turn left here between more gorse and after crossing two more wet areas, with stepping stones, you arrive at the sheep pens.
Here sheep are gathered from the open fell in the autumn to be sorted and reclaimed by their owners. We have now walked a mile and a half and before going on why not pause for a breather.
Behind is the long narrow strip of Cringle Moor (The Rigg) with Blencarn and its fishing lake. Beyond, over the Eden Valley the Lakeland fells adorn the skyline. To the right is Blencathra (also known as Saddleback due to its distinctive shape) with Skiddaw behind. To the left are the round humps of the Dodds leading to Helvellyn. On a clear day the Ullswater valley can be seen and further to the left are Mardale and the Shap Fells culminating with Howgill Fells and flat topped Wild Boar Fell above Mallerstang.
Carry on through the sheep pens on to the open fell, taking care to close both gates behind you. Keep straight on following a green path close-cropped by sheep. Continue through bracken until you cross a small stream using exposed stones or perhaps merely stepping across at a narrow point. Carry on this path toward Littledale which nestles between Grumply Hill and Moray Hill.
Before entering Littledale, where the path becomes close to Littledale Beck, a divergence bears right heading up to the top of Grumply Hill. Here there is a choice; to take the high road or the low road? Both rejoin at the head of the dale.
The low valley path
Goes straight into Littledale and gains height gradually along the flank of Grumply until the diagonal path across the face of Wild Boar Scar is reached. Here we can rejoin other who may have taken the high route.
The high route
Climbs steeply up the nose of Grumply Hill and when the top is reached the path becomes less distinct as it undulates along the ridge. Ahead can be seen Wild Boar Scar with the path climbing up diagonally to the left across its face. Ahead, and at the end of the ridge, you will see two patches of reeds dark against the lighter grass. The low path from the valley passes between these and this is a good point to aim for.
When the Wild Boar Scar path is reached others, who took the lower route, may be waiting and you may rest and admire the view. We have walked almost 5km and have reached 487m above sea level.
Off you go again upwards on this well trodden path ignoring any sheep tracks encountered on the left. At the top enter a sunken path which bears to the right. Head for a pile of stones which can now be seen about 200m ahead on the skyline. You will soon see that the stones have actually been arranged to form a low shelter which is useful when the wind is westerly.
From here the path is clear and marked frequently with small piles of stones. A more substantial pair of cairns can be seen ahead and after these are passed continue to follow the small marker cairns. At the top of the next rise there is a standing stone about three feet high.
This appears to have been set vertically at some time in the past, possibly as a boundary marker.
Boundary stones are often encountered, usually with carved initials denoting long-gone landowners or parish boundaries. This one however has no markings.
You are now approaching Teeshead, the dip between Cross Fell and Little Dun Fell. To your right is the head of Great Dale and towards the left is the boulder strewn face of Cross Fell.
To the right is Great Dun Fell with its radar station and distinctive “Golf Ball”. One of the purposes of the radar station, as it is locally known, is to be one of a series of navigation stations for civil aviation.
As the path begins to level out another appears on the left which heads up towards the rocky face of Cross Fell, ignore this and keep ahead on the cairn-marked path. Soon you reach a narrow cleft which crosses your path from high on the left then descends in a straight line down into the valley.
This cleft is known as a “hush” which is a relic of lead mining activity in the early 18th century.
Water was collected high on the fellside behind a dam. This was then released in sudden flood which washed away surface soil and rubble to expose underlying rock and, hopefully, lead bearing veins. If you make a short diversion up the hush you will find the remains of the dam.
Cross the hush over the built up stone pathway and then continue on to arrive at the Pennine Way Path which comes in from Little Dun Fell on the right.
The Pennine Way is paved here with large slabs of limestone over this waterlogged peat covered area. You are now at a crossroads marked by a slab carved with a cross denoting the Pennine Way south to north and the bridleway which you have been following from the west over to the South Tyne valley and Garrigill in the east.
This area is a watershed where begins the Crowdundle Beck flowing westwards to join the River Eden, to the East springs the River Tees beginning its long journey to the North Sea. On the way down Teesdale the infant river passes through Cow Green reservoir, which can be seen over to the right, before dropping down Cauldron Snout and over High Force at Middleton in Teesdale.
The way is now obviously to the left, following the slabs. Where these end the path becomes less obvious and you need to pick your way up through the rocks to the large, well built cairn which marks the southern edge of the Cross Fell plateau. Continue in the same direction to another large cairn which is ahead on the skyline, and after about 50m the summit triangulation pillar and shelter comes into view.
You have now arrived at the highest point on the Pennine Chain, 893m above sea level. Cross Fell was originally known as Fiends Fell, perhaps from the roaring noise of the Helm Wind which was thought to emanate from evil spirits who lived on the fell. Legend has it that these were exorcised and a cross erected on the summit giving rise to its present name. It therefore seems appropriate that the shelter should be built in the form of a cross but the shape is practical as protection can be found no matter from which direction the wind blows. This shelter was rebuilt in 2015, but follows the original design. This is the ideal place to enjoy your lunch after your five and half mile climb and now that you goal has been reached you can stop and enjoy the 360 degree panorama.
To the north the Pennines stretch away to the Tyne Gap and Northumberland, in the opposite direction beyond Great Dun Fell this great range separates Yorkshire from Lancashire before coming to its southern end in Derbyshire.
Away to the east the fells slop gradually into Durham while the western edge falls abruptly to the Eden Valley. Take a walk across in this direction and as you approach the edge of the plateau the whole of the Eden Valley is revealed. The River Eden begins its journey in Mallerstang to the far left below Wild Boar Fell. From here it flows northwards along its beautiful valley for sixty miles to reach the Solway estuary beyond Carlisle.
On clear days the Southern Uplands of Scotland can be seen to the right across the Solway Firth.
Beyond the Eden Valley the mountains of the Lake Districts are silhouetted against the western sky.
Are you ready now for the return journey, it’s all downhill from here!
Look to the north where another cairn is seen, head towards this and then continue in the same direction following a series of cairns leading over the edge of the plateau. At the bottom of the long slope, which can be very wet underfoot, you reach a track coming up from Garrigill in the east.
Turn left and follow this good track for about half a mile then as the path becomes more indistinct small piles of stone guide the way down. Where a small stream is met, cross and then keep it to the left to avoid a very wet area. Soon you join another good stony track coming from the right.
This track leads to old lead mine workings above the head of Ardale. Old maps show that coal was also dug from open pits in this area. You may find it interesting to go for a look if time permits.
Keep on this stony track as it heads down to become a rough sunken path which eventually flattens out before entering another sunken gully with the steep cleft of Ardale to the right.
Directly ahead you will see more evidence of mining.
The most visible feature is a long man-made hollow which follows the contour of the hillside. This time it was limestone that was quarried from these open-cast pits which can be clearly seen but over the years have been clothed with close cropped grass.
The limestone was burned in a kiln at the end of the quarry and was important for building and also widely used in agriculture. Some remains of the stonework of the kiln can be seen on the left of the track. Coal to fire the kiln was probably brought the short distance from the pits above the head of Ardale.
From the coal pits continue on the good green track as it winds its way along the front of the fell until Blencarn Lake comes into view. Now you will gradually descend through rough pasture, crossing a bridge over the beck which flows from Kirkdale to our left, and on to the gate which marks the end of the open fell part of our walk.
Go through the gate, and enter a lane which opens into the small hamlet of Kirkland. At the end of the short lane Kirkland Hall is reached on your left.
You now need to decide on your route back to Blencarn. If you choose to return via “The Rigg”, then you need to follow the Kirkland to Blencarn via The Rigg instructions, from the Kirkland Hall point.
Otherwise, continue down the road with Kirkland Beck to the right until you arrive at the old stone bridge. Cross the bridge and find St Lawrence’s church on your right.