Note:- Most of this route lies in the MOD Warcop military training area. Officially, even on public rights of way, there is access only when firing is not taking place: there are 12 access weekends a year announced on the Government MOD access page.
The first few miles of this route from Hilton to Little Fell must be on a non-firing day when the red flags are down. This is the heart of the artillery firing range, where Roman Fell bears the brunt of the shelling and vigilance is still required with spent (or not!) ordnance lying on the fells.
Once on the way to Mickle Fell, which is really a very cautious overshoot area, our view is that the risk is miniscule even when firing. This is strictly our personal evaluation and walkers must satisfy themselves as to the risks involved and be entirely responsible for their own actions.
|OS Route Map →||GPX Route file →|
Date: 06 May 2018
Start / Finish: Hilton.
Maps: Explorer 019 Howgill Fells & Upper Eden Valley.
|Day 1||Roman Fell, Mickle Fell & Cronkley Fell||14.8miles / 3069 feet (23.8km / 935m)|
|Day 2||Maize Beck, Murton Fell & Murton Pike||11.4miles / 1375 feet (18.3km / 419m)|
A 2-day route around the fells of the remote Warcop military exercise area culminating at Mickle Fell and returning via Cronkley Fell and the south side of Maize Beck to Murton Fell.
Recent surveys have added two new 2000' tops to the Nuttalls list, Long Fell and Tinside Rigg, that I was keen to visit to maintain completion status. Another visit to the area had in any case been on the agenda for some time, partly to explore the Tinside Rigg region and also to more fully experience Mickle Fell by doing a complete traverse of its long curved ridge. The route also gives an obvious opportunity to add a couple of new Dewey 500m tops, Roman Fell and Murton Pike.
Some sections of the route are rough and trackless, boggy and very remote, a superbly wild landscape but one that can appear confusing even in clear weather.
Warcop access weekends have been notorious for mediocre weather in recent times, but here at last was a sunny bank holiday in the schedule. I predicted that others would have the same idea of claiming the two new Nuttall summits and I arrived early in Hilton to find one space available in the small parking area. The prediction would turn out correct: there were several walkers on these Nuttall fells but I saw nobody else at all thereafter until the locally popular Murton Pike at the end.
I set off on the track into Scordale past the warning notices and found that the substantial footbridge over Scordale Beck is near Swindale Brow, not a few hundred metres west as shown on my mapping. Shortly before Swindale Beck I struck out from the track and crossed a small stream to begin the direct pathless ascent of Roman Fell's north ridge. A steep climb levels out at High Hause followed by a very steep climb of Slape Stones through the rocks of Roman Fell Scar. There is a handy vague quadbike track along the rim of the scar that eases the work of the last few contours and gives a good local view back over Scordale, leaving a short walk to the summit windshelter. Time for a well deserved rest and a bite to eat.
Heading eastwards the coarse moorland of Roman Fell gives way to easy grass at the first col and the new summits of Long Fell and Tinside Rigg are soon reached, unremarkable as expected but enjoyable walking. Dogber Tarn lies to the south-east and the huge sprawl of Little Fell dominates the northern view.
I descended north-eastwards over rougher wetter terrain towards a vague line I had seen ascending towards the nose of Little Fell, it turned out to be a decent quadbike track that eased the ascent considerably once beyond the rough col. The line passes a standing stone at Scott Howe and reaches a stone enclosure housing the broken 745m trig point.
I continued north-westwards across the shallow dip towards the 748m summit but this time I failed to find the tiny cairn, assuming it's still there. On the vast flat plateau there is always another spot that looks a bit higher, but last time on our approach from the north we found it quite easily even in thick mist.
Continuing northwards to the plateau edge I tried to assess the best line through the boggy hags of Force Beck Head to reach the good quadbike track that would lead easily onwards to Mickle Fell. This area of peat mounds and bogs may not be as extensive as those in the Peak District but it has a few humdingers of its own.
I threaded my way quite easily through the mounds and bogs and picked up the track for an easy walk along Arnside Rake, giving a grand view across to Meldon Hill and passing a ruined stone shelter.
The track continues all the way across Mickle Fell, climbing sharply to the elongated summit plateau of short grass, whose 790m summit is at the far end, and continuing around the crescent-shaped ridge for 1½ miles to the 758m trig point, a very easy promenade with many shake holes and a good view of Cow Green reservoir and Cauldron Snout.
From the trig point I continued along the track and fence to a junction and surveyed the landscape northwards. The terrain now became trackless, rough and heathery. I picked my way down north-east well to the right of the fence to avoid the bogs to arrive at a crossing fence and, surprisingly, a farm-style gate and stile at the head of a steeply incised ravine of heather and rocks.
Looking ahead, something seemed off. The map shows broad descending ring contours and spot heights northwards to Green Pikes, but the land was clearly rising. Double checking the map and direction, I must be right: I weaved my way quite easily through the bogs of Arngill Head Brocks aiming for a currick on the skyline, conveniently in about the right position, and soon picked up another damp, peaty quadbike track that meandered easily to the currick. Here the situation became clear: the limited resolution of contour lines allowed the very gradual rise to appear flat on the map. The currick was at the western end of Long Crag, fringed by heather and rocks and giving a good view of the descent route.
The peaty track now became a surfaced shooter's track, leading past several smart circular stone butts and arriving at the stone cabin of Silverband Shop.
I headed eastwards on the shooter's track to the heathery Noon Hill and a waymark indicating the so called public footpath around its flanks descending to Skyer Beck. There is no trace of it on the ground but a series of posts guides the direction through the dense rough vegetation. I easily forded the beck and joined the good bridleway path ascending Birk Rigg to Cronkley Fell, passing the feeble flow of White Force.
Several tough wire enclosures have been constructed on the fell conservation area to allow natural vegetation to grow unmolested. I made a good pitch near here.
Dawn brought a cool and clear sunny morning and I set off early to enjoy the best of the low light on this landscape of heather, rock and cropped grass. The excellent path gives a good view back to Mickle Fell and passes White Well, the limestone outcrop that is the source of Fox Earths Gill. The cairn at Man Gate marks the start of the descent to the Tees and gives a great elevated view of Falcon Clints and the river.
This is part of the Moor House Upper Teesdale Nature Reserve that has information boards posted in various locations on the fells about the area and their work. Today I would see the usual grouse, curlews and plovers along with Greylag geese and an oystercatcher.
The path descends to a corner of an enclosure and along the valley, crossing Merrygill Beck and becoming less distinct as it reaches Lingy Holm and the river turns away.
Now came the potentially awkward 4-mile stretch to Scordale Head, following Maize Beck in the later stages. The hillside on the south side of the valley looked quite easy and I decided to take a higher traversing route initially, avoiding the loop in Maize Beck. At Lingy Holm I saw a fairly clear trodden line ascending the slope and I followed it until it petered out around the 500m contour. The traverse was pathless but easy, crossing a couple of incised ravines and eventually arriving at the substantial ravine of Greenmines Hush where Maizebeck Shop, a ruined mine, can be seen ahead.
I descended in the hush to Maize Beck and followed it to the mine. Beyond the mine the beck can sometimes be followed along its edge but occasionally I needed to climb out and descend back later, a little frustrating but nothing difficult.
I reached the fence coming down from Mickle Fell, our ascent route on our last visit to this spot and the point where the public bridleway comes in. Surprisingly there are some waymark posts here and even a couple of wired duckboards at the water edge. A short way SW Maize Beck turns right at its confluence with Swarth Beck, an excellent array of colourful rocks and cascades.
The next 1½ mile section from this confluence to Scordale Head follows Swarth Beck, a hummocky and potentially confusing landscape mixture of heather, grass and rock complicated by its erratic course and many small tributaries. The occasional waymark posts serve only as a very general guide to direction, not precise points as I discovered when I saw one well above me at the top of a heather scarp: I slogged up to find the post was in a sea of dense heather with no sign of a line, I descended back to my much better line by the beck. In the first part of this section I crossed and recrossed the beck several times to find a good line. The sense of wilderness is excellent though and it feels really remote.
Farther upstream there is less heather and more grass and rock as the beck flow reduces, passing a small ruin and the tight landscape opening out at Scordale Head where Roman Fell comes back into view.
I spotted a mown track ascending Murton Fell and it took me part of the way up, leaving a stretch of rough grassy ascent to the peaty hags of the summit plateau and the 675m undistinguished top. I returned near to the tarn I had passed for an unflattering foreshortened photo and picked up another vague quadbike track heading SW.
Approaching Murton Pike I saw a marker post, it indicated a way to what appeared to be a building foundation (Flagstaff on the map) and a surfaced track heading downhill. Lower down I struck out for the Pike and the well worn line that makes the short sharp ascent to the trig point. The views were hazy now in the heat but a cooling breeze made a fine spot for a snack. Within minutes a few other people had arrived from Murton below and others were snaking upwards behind, evidently a popular local walk.
The track swings around Murton Crag and descends into the village where a short road hike leads back to Hilton. Where the road turns right, an old bridge on the left across Hilton Beck gives access to a walkway up to the village.