Walk Day 43 – Dufton to Alston

Day 43 – May 21 Dufton to Alston
 Weather: Sun, Cloud, warm & humid  B&B: Cumberland Inn (£42)
 Departed: 8:45 Arrived: 16:50  Walked: 6h 45m Rested: 1 hr 14m
 Distance Today: 20.00 mi / 32.19 km  Total Distance: 679.82 mi / 1094.06 km
 % Complete: ~ 59.22%  Pint of the Day: Yates Bitter
 GPS Track for: Day 43

Today’s walk was one of the toughest so far, certainly the most challenging since I left the South West Coast Path. It was a 20-mile 7 hour trek that will ensure I sleep well tonight.

I want to give a big thumbs up to the Hall Croft B&B in Dufton. The owners are extremely friendly and they served one of the best breakfasts I’ve had so far. They don’t serve meat but they will do a cooked veggie breakfast if you like. I skipped the cooked breakfast entirely as they had a great selection of other items on offer: homemade fruit smoothies, fresh fruit and yogurt, cereals and the best homemade English muffins I’ve ever tasted. I wish I could begin every day with a breakfast like that.

At breakfast were two Dutch guys doing the Pennine Way in stages and this was the first day of their second stage. I figured the Dufton to Alston walk might be a pretty tough “Day 1” but now I know it is. They started before me but I passed them a few miles into the walk and am wondering how they fared. At least they weren’t carrying large packs.

I left at 8:45am and it was sunny and already very warm, almost hot. I joined the Pennine Way and headed up a narrow track through some trees which eventually climbed the lower half of Dufton Pike. Within 10 minutes I was a sweaty mess. Eventually I emerged from the trees and began the 8-mile climb up to Cross Fell.

The PW took a reasonably straight course up an 800-meter hill called The Heights. There was one particularly steep stretch that reminded me of some of the more difficult climbs between Boscastle and Bude. The objective, Cross Fell was always in sight but still many miles away to the north-west. Once on top of The Heights it would be necessary to follow the ridge up and down to Great Dun Fell and Little Fell. Great Dun Fell has a radar installation on its summit and in good weather is visible from many miles away.

I passed quite a few patches of snow on the way up and a large patch was clearly visible on the south face of Cross Fell. I believe this is the snow I saw a few days ago that I mistook for somewhere in the Lake District.

For the most part the Pennine Way to Cross Fell was easy to follow (at least in today’s good weather conditions). There were a few places that required double-checking my maps but in most places the trail is either flagged or is defined as a well-worn path in the peat and grass. It was a long and tiring climb but I finally reached the navigation cairn on Cross Fell (893m) at around 1pm. The views on the summit weren’t as good as those on the way up so I didn’t take a rest, in fact I didn’t rest at all until I reached Garrigal at 3:30pm.

Finding the right path down from Cross Fell could be tricky as there were quite a few cairns to choose from. I met somebody in the pub this evening that chose the wrong cairn and ended up going down the wrong side of the hill … fortunately for him he could call his wife and be picked up in a car. I picked the right set of cairns and before long I joined up with a track that eventually became a gravel road. I would end up following it for nearly 10 miles. I could see it winding through the moorland for miles ahead of me and at times it seemed like that frickin’ road would never end.

After the scenery this morning the afternoon was a disappointment. This area was heavily mined and the landscape heavily scarred and monotonous (at least in my opinion). As the afternoon wore on the clouds began to roll in but it remained warm and muggy. The very uneven gravel road was hard on the feet and I grew tired of it fairly quickly … yet there it was stretching out to the horizon. Eventually the gradual descent became steeper and I could see the village of Garrigal below me. By the time I reached it my knees and feet were in need of a rest.

I knew from John Parson’s blog that the George and Dragon pub was boarded up but I was hoping there would be a shop. I was very happy to find the Post Office shop was open and bought a cold drink and an ice cream bar … it was definitely an ice cream bar day. I sat on a picnic table near the village green and was briefly joined by another walker who had the same craving for ice cream.

The last 4 miles to Alston followed the South Tyne River although it often climbed well above it. My hopes for a leisurely stroll were dashed. There was very little breeze in the valley and so it was a sweaty affair that only the swarms of little green flies enjoyed. By now many of the clouds were black and there was a real threat of rain, or perhaps even a thunderstorm. The rain did in fact begin but not before I was checked into my room at the Cumberland Inn. This was one of those days when forking out the dosh for a room and a shower was money well spent. A pint of Yates bitter and homemade Chicken Balti were just what the doctor ordered.

Tomorrow I’m off to Haltwhistle via the South Tyne Trail. It will be a much easier day in terms of length and altitude and there is the added bonus of knowing that Sunday is a rest day.

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