Day 52 Sunday 23 August Dufton to Alston

Miles walked: today 20 cumulative 797.1

A walk between a mining village and a mining town. Lead mining was an important industry in Cumbria. There is evidence that Dufton has been a settlement since Roman times and is was an important lead mining centre from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It is now a pretty village with nothing to suggest it’s industrial past.

The walker’s field at the camp site was a hive of activity at 6:30. Today’s walk is one of the hardest on the PW. Not only is it long but it crosses Cross Fell, at 893 metres this is the highest point on the Pennine Way and also the highest point on my Lejog, unless I go mad and throw in a few Munros when I reach Scotland. It is also notorious for bad weather. It even has its own wind, the Helm Wind. This was not blowing today, although the conditions were bad enough.

I was the second walker to leave the camp site. There were ominous mists over the lower slopes of the fell but it was dry as I walked on an enclosed path between the fields of the valley farms.

The path the started to climb on to the fells, the cloud base depressingly low

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I was soon in the mist. At first navigation was easy as I just followed the path. The first mini-top was The Heights. This was stony so the path was indistinct and it was too misty to see any cairns or path markers. I unwisely set off in what I thought was the right direction. After about 100 yards I checked my compass and found I had become disorientated in the mist and had veered to the south-east instead of heading north. Of course I should have set a bearing at the top. I did so now and quickly found my way back to the path.

I dropped to a saddle where there was a service road that led up to the radar station in the top of Great Dun Fell. I thought this would be easier to follow than the path and would also save time. On my way up I was passed by several Lycra clad cyclists whose main aim seemed to be to ride up so they could freewheel down. There are meant to be “golf balls” at the top but they were invisible. I could just see two satellite transceivers just beyond the fence.

Happily, there was an obvious path to the top of Cross Fell as it was now raining heavily and I was getting cold. I hadn’t put my fleece on and I didn’t want to open my rucksack to get it out because of the driving rain. There are meant to be good views across to the Lakes and as far north as the Solway Firth. Today I could see nothing. I sat in a wind shelter on the summit but it was not very effective so I set off down the hill. It was difficult to see what was a path and what was a river so again I set a bearing and strode off across the moor. After about a mile I came to Greg’s hut

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There used to be a lead mining community here. The buildings had become dilapidated. Greg was a mountaineer who was killed in a climbing accident in the Alps and his friends rebuilt the hut as a bothy in his memory. As you can see, it is a three roomed hut. The entry is into the lean-to. Then there is a living area with a table, a few chairs and a plaque to the memory of Greg. The third room has a raised sleeping platform and a wood burning stove. I briefly toyed with the idea of staying here but it was early in the afternoon so I made a brew and put my fleece on. I was going to take some pictures in the hut but my phone lost its charge.

The walk down from the hut is along a cinder track. The first part is badly maintained and runs through the old lead mining community. I passed ruined buildings, the tops of the old mine shafts and entrances and hushes. A hush was a channel dug by the miners. Water collected at the top and would wash away the topsoil exposing the underlying rock. If favourable, they would then go and dig the shaft to extract the galena ore.

By the side of the path there were a lot of fragments of fluorspar (calcium fluorite). At the time it was considered a waste product but is now used in various chemical and ceramic processes. Good quality crystals are used to make semi-precious gems

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When polished, a pair of earrings for Angela?

After the mine, the track was well maintained. There were feeding trays by the path for the grouse, so presumably the track is used to convey shooters up on to the moor. I have no problem people shooting birds for food. My brother-in-law farms and he rents out his fields for pheasant shooting. The “sportsmen” are not interested in the birds at all which I think makes the “sport” gratuitous. Usually they leave the shot birds behind when they go home. John can sell the birds to local butcher and some find their way to me when they get turned into roast breast and leg poached in a port and red wine sauce, the carcass used to make the stock.

For the first time in the day the weather improved and I had views over the surrounding hills. The rain soon returned. After what seemed an interminable length of time I arrived in the pretty village of Garrigill. When I was planning the walk, I was hoping to stay here but the pub shut about 2 years ago. It was meant to re-open last month but still looked pretty shut to me.

The rest of the walk followed the South Tyne river. There were numerous rabbits in the fields. Either the rabbit virus that ravaged the country last year didn’t get this far north, or, the survivors have done what comes naturally and bred like, er, rabbits.

I met a JoGLEr on the path, my second of the trip and we swapped some suggestions about routes. Both End to Enders I met walked the A99 and A9 from John O’Groats and hated it. I think the John O’Groats trail is my best option. In his book, Andy Robinson suggests a remote wild camping route from Fort William but this sounds too much like hard work, especially as you would need to carry about seven day’s food.

It was getting late when I arrived at the Cumberland Hotel in Alston and I was tired. A shower, chicken and mushroom pie, a pint and a malt scotch revived me. I retired to try to get my stuff dry and looked forward to a day off.

The following day was a rest day. After a lazy start I bought provisions for the next few days, read the paper and did the crossword. Two friends, Bron and Steve, drove over to meet me for lunch and then we wandered round the town. Alston is an old mining town. It claims to be the highest market town in England. The centre is very pretty with cobbled side streets, an old market place and several interesting antique and craft shops. It reminded me of Hebden Bridge, although it is much smaller. Many of the shops have notices in the window describing their history.

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I have been in County Durham since leaving Yorkshire at the Tan Hill Inn. Tomorrow I will cross into Nothumberland, my last English county.

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