|OS Route Map →||Route file →|
Date: 31 May 2008
Start / Finish: Kirkby Stephen. Large free car park.
Maps: Explorer OL19: Howgills & Upper Eden.
|Day 1||Nine Standards & the High Seat ridge||13.3 miles / 2940 feet (21.4km / 896m)|
|Day 2||Swarth Fell & Wild Boar Fell||13.9 miles / 1860 feet (22.4km / 566m)|
A variation of our previous Mallerstang circuit, including a visit to a new 500m top Nateby Common (Tailbridge Hill) and returning directly along the Swarth Fell / Wild Boar Fell ridge.
Talk about incredible coincidence:- most of this route coincided exactly with a marked route for an event organised by the LDWA and Rotary Club, and the event took place on the second day of our backpack. We are LDWA members but don't follow the organised events much, and we had no idea it was scheduled for that Sunday. From Swarth Fell onwards, where a checkpoint tent was set up, the normally very quiet ridge was teeming with runners and walkers in various categories coming the other way, but it didn't matter much as it happened: the weather turned nasty and it was heads down into the driving mist and rain.
Crossing Frank's Bridge over the River Eden and ascending to Hartley quarry was a hot and sweaty business, there was hardly a breath of wind on the lower slopes but a cooling breeze developed as we climbed on the signed path alongside Faraday Gill. The gill exhibits a fairly common behaviour for streams in Yorkshire: it was flowing quite well further up but completely dry on the lower slopes where the water had disappeared underground.
The path arrives at the famous and imposing Nine Standards with attendant topograph, while the summit trig point is a short walk to the south.
Returning towards the topograph we cut across to the path SW that descends via Rollinson Haggs to a prominent cairn with a good view of Nateby Common and High Seat ahead, and continues around the head of Dukerdale.
A pathless but very easy ascent on the far side of Dukerdale gained the cairned top of Nateby Common, marked Tailbridge Hill on the map. We descended SE towards the limestone pavement of Lamps Moss and picked up the good grassy track that emerges onto the B6270 near the county boundary.
There is a good track descending past rock encrusted shake holes and climbing steeply up Fells End to gain the ridge at High Pike, where the walking is easy and spacious across the broad deserted expanse leading to a final short climb to the cairn on High Seat.
A path continues to Archy Styrigg and nearby cairn of Gregory Chapel. From here the easiest line is an intermittent path around the eastern edge that passes a prominent currick and curves around to climb by a fence to the summit of Hugh Seat. There is a good view back over the spacious moor towards High Seat.
We followed the fence southwards towards the rather boggy Scarth of Scaiths, where we came across a Swaledale sheep who had fallen into a very glutinous black boggy patch and was completely stuck. We had an incident exactly like this on Kisdon a few years ago and we knew the drill: get a good foothold either side of her, grab four good handfuls of fleece - not her horns - and heave her out, which we did without getting covered in black goo ourselves. After finding her feet and regaining her composure she started to nibble the grass right away, a good sign, and she will be fine.
Climbing to Little Fell, some of the slopes have been scored with channels since our last visit, as if the moor had been ploughed, and there are some shooting butts on the middle slopes that we can't recall. Perhaps the plan is to introduce more heather on this boggy and tussocky landscape for the presently sparse grouse, but at the moment the fellside looks really scruffy.
There was a surprisingly chilly wind as we packed up the tent beneath leaden skies and descended the moor westwards, assisted by the vague wheel tracks of the vehicles used to plough the moor. Reaching the good stony track of the High Way we turned R towards Hell Gill Bridge and joined the path S to the B6259. Passing under the railway viaduct the footpath is signed from the road and it joins the bridleway onto the Swarth Fell ridge, which we followed past the ruins of High Shaw Paddock.
A footpath ascends diagonally to a stile and from there we climbed directly up the slopes to The Hags, a large expanse of bog that was mostly quite dry after the recent paucity of rain and easy to cross on sheeptrods to the ridge fence. The whole bog was liberally covered in cotton grass.
Approaching the subsidiary top of Swarth Fell Pike we felt the first drops of rain and saw the checkpoint tent erected at the top with the first event runners arriving. On Wild Boar Fell the mist was swirling around and the rain was heavier and blowing hard over the escarpment edge, and from the other Little Fell lower down the ridge it looked quite dramatic as we emerged into clarity, but it must have been a depressing sight to the remaining walkers and runners facing the steep climb into the damp grey clag.