Walk date – 18th September 2019
Distance – 11.5 miles
Weather – hazy sun at first, then overcast and cool, slight breeze on the top
We’re in the North Pennines today, one reason being to satisfy our (my) curiosity in respect of the prominent structure on the Cumrew Fell skyline which can clearly be seen when driving along the B6413. The fell is not particularly high, being only 1581 ‘ at its highest point, but as we haven’t walked up it before we hoped it would have plenty of interest along the length of its long and flattish top, as well as finding out just what the mystery structure was. We had hoped for a better day than it turned out to be but after an initial short and hazy sunny spell things very quickly went downhill as the sheets of cloud finally joined forces and left us with dull white skies, an all too familiar pattern over the past couple of weeks. Other than that we had a dry day although it was a little on the cool side in the slight breeze once we were on the top. Typically the cloud layer was beginning to break up as we walked the road back to the car so we were treated to a few seconds worth of sun now and again. Apart from a couple of farmers on quad bikes on the lower slopes we met no-one at all either on the fell or during the road walking section. If you don’t like it busy the North Pennines could be the answer to your prayers.
N.B. Part of this route crosses open access land on a managed grouse moor over which DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED, UNLESS ON A PUBLIC RIGHT OF WAY.
To remind walkers of this there are notices at all the relevant points beyond which dogs are not allowed. Access to certain areas is also restricted during the nesting season.
Foul Syke – Townhead, Newbiggin – Bridleway up Cumrew Fell – Cardunneth Pike – Hespeck Raise – Roughet Hill – Brackenthwaite – B6413 – Foul Syke
Just a little further north from Newbiggin is this gateway and small lay-by at Foul Syke where we parked. A quad bike driver plus passenger and dog was hurtling around the field behind the signpost chivvying the cows towards the field gate at the far end. A zoom in will reveal the herd, just above the hedge towards the left of the shot, making their way across. They had been sitting quietly before the quad bike turned up and they bellowed their annoyance as they stood up and started walking. I suppose we all know that feeling, when you’ve just got yourself nicely settled and then somebody comes along wanting something.
We go through the gate following the rough track up to a much churned up and very muddy gill crossing. Beyond the gill we carry on across the field and then turn up towards the gate at the foot of Bove Wood …..
….. or what remains of Bove Wood following some very intensive tree felling.
Further along was this pond which looks as though its gradually being taken over by reeds and assorted vegetation, it was impossible to get any closer without getting seriously wet feet.
Still following the waymarkers towards Newbiggin where the sandy bankings were riddled with rabbit holes. The chap we saw ferreting in Dovedale on our last walk ought to come and try his luck here, he’d probably end up with more rabbits than he knew what to do with.
A look back at Newbiggin’s Townhead as we reach the gateway to the bridleway. The sandy bank peppered with rabbit holes can be see over on the right of the shot. Having walked through a few fields full of long and dew soaked grass trouser bottoms are now a little on the damp side.
The gate we’ve just passed through is to the left of the shot by the signpost. Beyond the gate is the bridleway which is the next section of the walk. The path is straightforward and easy to follow as it climbs steadily up the fellside.
As we climb the views of the Lakeland fells begin to appear but they were very hazy today which was a little disappointing. Over to the right though it was possible to identify Blencathra and Skiddaw, everything else to the south of them had morphed into smoky obscurity.
Another look back as we continue the one and a quarter mile climb from the bottom up to the turn off point. It isn’t in your face steep just a long uphill slog and it wasn’t long before the face mopping began. The Lakeland fells are a little clearer in this shot.
The bridleway eventually levels out, more or less at the point where it passes between this lime kiln on our left …..
….. and this one over on our right.
Our legs can relax a little as we walk along the level section for a short distance but as the track begins to descend towards Geltsdale we have to swing sharp left and begin climbing again, up the winding track to …..
….. the shooting box. Its marked on the map as such but its really a lunch hut where grouse shooting parties can gather for their mid-day meal, drinks and general conviviality. Its in good repair and outside there is plenty of table and seating space. Lots of parking space for their accompanying vehicles too. The doors were locked so I can’t tell you what the interior was like, although as it was so well looked after on the outside there’s no reason to think it would be any different on the inside. A farmer coming down on his quad bike gave us a cheery hello.
There being no grouse shooting parties wanting use of the tables and seats we made use of them ourselves and had a short Mars Bar break. These are always short stops because J can demolish one of those bars in seconds, sometimes by the time I’ve taken my pack off and got my snack out he’s finished and ready to go again! I really don’t know how he does it so quickly. It takes me ages to get through one of them because the sticky goo just refuses to go down and I simply can’t get rid of it. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like them, the other is that they are much too sweet for my taste. As usual I’ve gone off topic and what I intended to write was that this is the view we had from the lunch house whilst said Mars Bar was being demolished.
Packs were hoisted once again and we continued on up the track with a brief pause just to take a look back at the lunch hut.
Just a little further up the track we passed this grouse butt. Cumrew Fell is a grouse moor, part of the Croglin Estate I think, and just as it was with the lunch hut, so it is with the grouse butts. Well built, well maintained and individually numbered, number 9 being the first one we passed closest to although we did see several similar ones on the skyline above the left hand side lime kiln.
A grouse butt par excellence you could say. Snugly lined with wooden planks, insulated from the wind, anti-slip mesh on the wooden floor and the tops of the stone sides disguised with living plants, it provides a very des res for a day’s grouse shooting.
A little more of a climb from the grouse butt and at the southern end of Cumrew Fell is this large, sprawling and untidy heap of stones. Its a bit on the big side to be a cairn or a collapsed grouse butt so I’m thinking it might be an ancient tumulus, but if it isn’t then I don’t know what its supposed to be. Obviously a great deal of time and effort has been put into collecting all these stones and placing them at this point and you wouldn’t do that without having a good reason to do so.
The view ahead from the heap of stones/cairn/collapsed grouse butt/tumulus or anything else you might care to name it. Now for a good long tramp across the moor. As we walked across we noticed numerous short white plastic tubes inserted at intervals all over the moor and when we got close enough to one of them we could see why they were there. Beside each one was a large rectangular plastic container, about three or four inches deep with each one weighted down by a large stone. A handy and essential source of water for thirsty gun dogs as they chase around collecting the downed birds as there are no becks along the top of the moor.
Further along the track, obviously used by wheeled transport when grouse shooting is in full swing, and out of season too for general maintenance of the butts, the heather tracks and the moor in general. It was good to notice that in places where large puddles might occur the dips in the track had been filled in and the track made level again. Here we get our first view of Cardunneth Pike over on the left of the skyline while the high point of the fell is over on the right.
A slight incline beneath our boots as we march on with strange looking structures in line abreast over on our right.
We wandered over to the one closest to the path for a closer inspection. Another well constructed grouse butt, and quite by chance also carrying the number 9 as did the first one we came to back at the lunch hut. These are obviously much more basic than the stone ones and seemed to have been more recently constructed, there was a definite smell of wood preservative in the air.
A look back from the same spot at the line of ‘basic’ grouse butts and over on the right is the path we’ve just been walking. From this point it was just a short distance to …..
….. this gate which we have just passed through. At this point we turn off and follow the wall to make our way over to the escarpment edge. It doesn’t matter which side of the wall you walk as stiles are built into it at intervals so there’s no problem getting from one side to the other.
J leading the way along the path on this side of the wall, the path on the other side is just as clear and easy to follow. You might be wondering why there is a window box perched atop the wall so, to avoid any confusion, I should explain that it (or rather they because there are a number of them along the wall) is not a window box at all but a grouse butt wearing an elaborate disguise. All the butts have been integrated into the wall and then cleverly concealed by the ‘window boxes’, as they will be forever referred to in our house. All these butts were numbered too, there has been a seriously organised and perfectionist mind at work here.
Another stile and ‘window box’ at the point where the slope begins to descend to the valley and where we turn up to follow the path I am now standing on. On a better day the views would be extensive but the greyness of the day is just obliterating them.
A single file footpath takes us along the edge of the escarpment towards the cairn which is looking rather like a crown at this distance.
Its a pity we didn’t have clearer weather but on the centre skyline the northern fells are just about visible.
The tumulus and cairn on Cardunneth Pike. Apparently this is a Bronze Age burial site dating from about 2000 BC and where an amateurish Victorian dig unearthed several cremation urns. The tumulus covers a large area and some of the stones have since been fashioned into small wind shelters although getting into them is a bit of a risky business. Clambering over the stones provides endless opportunities to sprain or break an ankle, or any other part of the human anatomy since they are all awkwardly and haphazardly placed.
Set into the well built cairn is this plaque which states the cairn was re-built in 1961 by the said Thomas Armstrong. However I have read since that it was re-built in 1993 by a man named John Ritson so I am somewhat perplexed. All I can offer by way of explanation is that maybe Mr Armstrong rebuilt the cairn in 1961 to replace an earlier collapsed one, then the one he rebuilt also collapsed and was subsequently rebuilt by Mr Ritson who included Mr Armstrong’s 1961 plaque out of courtesy. I now need to lie down in a darkened room for ten minutes while my brain disentangles itself.
The northern fells (well nearly if you peer hard enough) from the Armstrong cairn. After a good deal of wobbling we finally managed to get down into one of the wind shelters and got the sandwiches out.
Getting out of the shelter was no easier than getting in but we managed it eventually, picked up the path again and continued along the escarpment over towards to the wall.
Before reaching the wall we veered off to the right and followed the path, squelchy in many places, alongside the wall and back up to the ridge
Back on the ridge I take a shot of the trig column on Cumrew Fell while J battles with the gate opening. Most of the gates we’ve had to go through so far have fought hard against being opened and we’ve had to climb over one or two as their latches had rusted into the catch and just wouldn’t budge.
We pass through the gate and make our way along to Hespeck Raise, the top of which is just visible to the right of centre. The Solway Firth and Criffel are somewhere in the distance but are difficult to identify in the murk.
There’s a choice when you arrive at this wall corner, you can go through the gate and continue on with the wall on your left, or carry on with the wall on your right and eventually a stile will appear allowing you to cross the wall. We went through the gate as the ground looked a little drier than it did on this side.
The afore-mentioned stile which we will be returning to following our walk over to Hespeck Raise so for now we stay on this side of the wall.
Its only a short distance from the stile to the cairn on Hespeck Raise which apparently used to be a slender column but has now collapsed into this mound although it is still possible to see some of the remains of the column. Cold Fell, rising up from Geltsdale, can be seen behind the cairn.
A more modern structure also adorns Hespeck Raise in the form of a telecommunications mast, necessary I suppose but ugly nevertheless. From here we walked back to the stile, crossed over and then doubled back on ourselves …..
….. heading towards this lone cairn from where I took a look back at the cairn and mast on Hespeck Raise. There is no laid path across here although quad bike tracks appear now and again so its a dampish tramp through rough grasses and heather for the most part. Turning back around …..
….. we headed for this broken wall beyond which there is a view of Talkin Tarn in the centre of the shot. Beyond there is nothing to see but a grey-blue blur. Beyond the broken wall we make our way through knee high heather keeping a sharp lookout for …..
….. this large marker cairn on a lower rise with its view of Castle Carrock reservoir.
Looking towards the next cairn just in front of J with Talkin Fell and Simmerson Hill in the distance. From the cairn in the distance we bear half left over the brow and drop down to another broken wall which has a wire fence on both sides. The heather seemed to become taller and thicker the lower we went and it was like walking on a well sprung mattress, at least we’d have a soft landing if we were suddenly tipped off balance, which is always a possibility when ploughing through this stuff.
We made it safely down to the double stile at the broken wall where we crossed over and made our way down to the gate in the wall below. J was leading the way at this point and told me he was going to go round that dense patch of bracken. Unfortunately the path had other ideas and led us straight through the shoulder high jungle. So much for avoiding the bracken then as I fought my way through it, trying to dodge the back lash from its fronds as J ploughed through it ahead of me.
Down at the gate where we now had the joy of churned up mud and cow slurry to negotiate, all of it full of deep hoof holes containing some very smelly liquid. A short distance further along we had to cross the wall on the right. The gate was open but walking straight through it wasn’t straightforward, faced as we were by a very, very large pool of water. More nifty foot acrobatics were required.
The remainder of the field crossing passed without incident and we were soon down at this junction. The brown earth path to the right leads back to Castle Carrock which we don’t want to visit, so we veer off to the left …..
….. and follow the green lane down the hill and along …..
….. a very pleasant woodland path …..
….. at the end of which is this double lime kiln, although a look back over the shoulder is necessary to see it.
We follow what seems like a path but which eventually peters out so we follow a grassy route alongside a ditch which brings us out on the track alongside the reservoir. At the junction at the end of the track we follow the signpost indicating the route to Brackenthwaite. Just when we thought we’d done with uphill walking for the day we met a stiffish walk up the tarmac lane at Roughet Hill.
Roughet Hill behind is now behind us and we swing left up another slight rise and then veer right, through this gate and onto the field path once more. The barns are part of Roughet Hill farm which is just behind us.
We cross more fields and eventually arrive at Brackenthwaite farm where we follow the tarmac lane to the left. Inevitably the farm dogs begin barking like there’s no tomorrow.
The tarmac lane continues and at this point the signpost indicates the way to Albyfield. We debate the pros and cons of continuing on over the field paths, it will be a shorter route but J’s ankle is feeling the effects of the rough walking we’ve done and he doesn’t want to subject it to more of the same.
In the end we decided to carry on down the lane and pick up the B6143 at the end of it. It will add a little to the distance but we have plenty of time and it will be much easier on his ankle.
We emerge from Brackenthwaite at the junction having added half a mile to our walk but not having added any further stress to J’s ankle. Cardunneth Pike is peeping up on the skyline behind the wall.
Here’s a better view of it from the walk back along the road.
Dobbin wandered across to say hello so J offers him a handful of lush grass which was eagerly accepted.
The North Pennines landscape from the road.
Here we are back at Foul Syke where the sun finally shone when we almost back at the car, typical! A grand day out exploring new, for us anyway, territory, and although the anticipated views were somewhat obscured by the general haze and dull light it didn’t spoil our day that much and its been a very enjoyable exploration. Time to pile in the car now though and give the legs a chance to recover as they are now letting us know all about the eleven and a half miles they’ve travelled today.