Note:- The section of the route over Mickle Fell, Little Fell and part of Murton Fell 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.
Our view is that the risk is miniscule around Mickle Fell and Murton Fell even when firing. The risk increases somewhat around Little Fell, but we feel it is still very small on the northern side as covered by this route. On this trip we didn't even check the firing days and times, we just set off with a rough plan for a route. This is strictly our personal evaluation and walkers must satisfy themselves as to the risks involved and be entirely responsible for their own actions.
|Outline Map →||Route file →|
Date: 31 Jul 2004
Start / Finish: Dufton. Good roadside parking.
Maps: Outdoor Leisure 31: North Pennines.
|Day 1||Dufton Pike, Cross Fell & Round Hill||14 miles / 4440 feet (22.5km / 1353m)|
|Day 2||Meldon Hill & Mickle Fell||12 miles / 2100 feet (19.3km / 640m)|
|Day 3||Little Fell & Murton Fell||10 miles / 700 feet (16.1km / 213m)|
A hard gruelling circuit around the mountains North-West of Dufton. Day 1 is easy walking but with a lot of ascent, days 2 and 3 involve a lot of tough going over mainly pathless, remote and superbly wild fells.
A track leaves Dufton signed 'High Scald Fell' and approaches the formidably steep cone of Dufton Pike. A short way before the track bends N around the base, we went L through a farm gate to gain the SE slopes. Although steep, progress was surprisingly rapid on easy cropped grass to the summit, from which we could see that the high tops were still misted out. The views were disappointingly hazy today.
The trouble with traversing a Marilyn is that you know you must lose at least 500' of height to gain the next objective!. Descending less steeply NW, we joined the Pennine Way (PW) to start the civilised but long climb to Knock Fell. The high tops were clear now as the PW marched on, with the aid of paving over the wet bits, to the big three, culminating at Cross Fell. The views were still very hazy as we sat at the cross-shaped windshelter - but not for long. We have occasionally been driven away from a summit structure by midges but never before by wasps, there were hundreds of them emerging from the windshelter and some took a fancy to the inside of my pack. Moving swiftly on, we descended to the rough stony track that heads E past Gregs Hut bothy with fine local views N over the moor. The diminutive Bulman Hills are seen on the L and the track bends N through the old workings to arrive at 720370, where a shooters track ascends R to a gate. The flat summit area of Long Man Hill is a short walk NE and is marked by a small cairn.
Descending E over pathless moor, we spotted two tracks starting from shooting butts below. Taking the L one, it took us most of the way to the small waterfall where Doups Burn drops into the attractive valley. Crossing to the S side for an easier final descent, we collected water at the fall and joined another track that sets off up Round Hill. There are several ill-defined tracks around the butts on this side of the valley, and climbing SE they converge inexorably to a farm gate in the ridge wall. Through the gate and turning R, the summit lies beyond the next gate and we made our first pitch on the grassy top.
A cool still dawn had settled some mist in the valleys. We descended ESE by the fence, alongside a stream that starts just a short way down and provided good clear water. The valley road S becomes a track that leads to a bridge over the Tees and another track heading SW alongside Trout Beck. This is a lovely valley walk, and the beck flows through an attractive gorge. Where the beck bends R towards Great Dun Fell and Ninewells Sike joins from the L, we crossed and climbed S over the pathless but not difficult moor to the haggy top of Dufton Fell. Standing on peat hags occasionally to gain some height, we found the large tarn that is surprisingly difficult to spot in this terrain.
The traverse to Meldon Hill involved threading our way through rough moorland and many sinuous peat groughs adorned with cotton grass, and it took a long time. Aiming first for a small cairned hillock, then trying to spy the easiest line ahead, we eventually arrived at the lowest point and spotted the aircraft wreck that we missed on our previous crossing. Meldon Hill actually seemed nearer at last, and the going became easier to the final climb over grass to the trig point, which seems to have had a bite taken out of it. The views were even thicker now but Cow Green reservoir was plain enough below.
Descending SE, as if to atone for Dufton Fell, a grassy track appeared that gave very easy walking alongside Watersinking Sike. Passing to the R of a small fenced enclosure, it continues to the lower slopes where the sike swings E. At this point we crossed to the S side of the sike and surveyed the far side of the valley:- the boundary fence can be seen ascending straight as an arrow to the top of Mickle Fell. We decided on this as our route and made a beeline for it, crossing the PW and descending the pathless moor to Maize Beck, which was very easily forded on large boulders. We collected water here, a little stained and tepid but not bad.
A shooters track sets off uphill on the R of the fence, just flattened rough grass and heather but quite easy to walk on, and this took us most of the way. It deteriorates further up and becomes intermittent, but the walking remains quite easy all the way to the fence corner at the top. From here a cropped track, that wouldn't look out of place in a town park, gives a very pleasant stroll across the flat top to the large cairn at the far end, where we made our second pitch. Pity about the views though, we could only just see Meldon Hill through the haze!.
As we predicted from the moisture-laden air, the morning was misted out except for a superb clear view of Long Crag with veils of mist on its flanks, which lasted about five seconds and we didn't have the camera to hand. Returning to the fence corner, we descended WSW on a compass bearing, firstly over spongy grass and then rough moor to a small rise (spot-height 684m). From the top, an easy grassy vehicle track follows the high ground, curving reliably SW over Arnside Rake and turning abruptly R before a boggy area. At this point we left it and crossed the peat hags, quite easily in summer conditions, and climbed S to the large flat expanse of Little Fell.
Following the W edge of the plateau to the point where it starts to descend, we set off NW, again on compass bearing, crossing the peat hags to a large stony area where we were at last clear of the mist. Approaching the head of Scordale over more rough moorland we arrived at a solid square sheepfold, and just beyond, a set of shooting butts. A trickle of a stream follows the leftmost line of old well-camouflaged butts to Swarth Beck Head. From here a wide peaty track, though faint at first, meanders easily SW up the flanks of Murton Fell all the way to the plateau edge. It is then easy walking NW as far as the line of Danger Posts, where rough tussocky moorland sets in once again and the tarn between the twin tops comes into view, with a fine display of cotton grass. The higher top is a short way beyond and marked with a tiny cairn, and a larger but lower columnar cairn a few yards away.
Aiming NNW for two prominent curricks on the skyline, which are only 2m lower than Murton Fell itself, we crossed yet another depression of peat groughs and rough moor. From the curricks, High Cup Nick came into view and the terrain eased. Descending steeply to the edge of High Cup, the welcome cropped turf seemed like a carpet and we felt we had earned this great natural spectacle, though the view down the valley was very hazy. We followed the PW route back to Dufton.