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Kielder : Deadwater Hills 2 days / 14 miles (23km)

OS Route Map → Map Route file →

Date: 21 Sep 2014
Start / Finish: Butteryhaugh (Kielder) NY632930.
Maps: Explorer 042 Kielder Water & Forest. Note: the old Outdoor Leisure 42 map shows this walk marked with green diamond symbols and is still largely accurate on the ground, the main exceptions and other observations are noted in the description.

Day 1Deadwater Fell & Peel Fell6.7miles / 1788 feet (10.8km / 545m)
Day 2Deadwater forest & North Tyne valley7.2miles (11.6km)
Pitch on Peel Fell

A 2-day circuit of the Deadwater Hills of the Kielder Forest region, a new area for us, largely following the route of the old 'Kielder Stane' Trail, now called the Deadwater Trail (DWT) on some marker posts.

We had pondered the Kielder Forest area for some time on the maps, a region encompassing a number of new hills including Peel Fell, a Dewey summit and our one remaining unclimbed 600m hill in England - the 'SiMS' list. This route traverses Peel Fell and includes Deadwater Fell, another new summit from the Dewey 500m hills, a circuit that seemed right for the predicted conditions.

The route is one of sharp contrast: the ascent of Deadwater Fell, and the descent through Deadwater Forest and return along the North Tyne valley, are very easy walking on good paths and tracks, but the traverse of Mid Fell and Peel Fell is typical north Pennine peat bog of heathery hags, tussocks and sphagnum. Despite being a named trail and furnished with a few waymark posts, the latter section is not sanitized in any way and after a wet spell is potentially very boggy in a few places. The line is almost always discernible on the ground though with even a few brief fragments of good path.

We saw several sketchy accounts of these hills online, and this being a sunny Sunday morning we expected to see at least a few walkers on the ascent from the Kielder Visitor Centre, but we saw nobody at all and the area was deserted for the whole trip.

As noted above, our old Outdoor Leisure map shows this route as a named trail but the newer Explorer map does not. Typically each revision of a 1:25,000 map shows various new named walks springing up here and there, but this is the first case I recall of a trail being removed.

Day 1 - Deadwater Fell & Peel Fell

From the parking area by the houses in Butteryhaugh we walked back southwards along the road to the start of the path above the river North Tyne through Viaduct Wood, indicated by a very large multiway fingerpost. This woodland path made a most attractive start to the walk and it emerged opposite the bridge over to the Castle Visitor Centre and pay-and-display car park. Mountain biking is very popular here with several signed bike trails of graded difficulty, and the bike-hire building has excellent public toilets alongside.

Ascending to the top edge of the car park there is no trace of the DWT path shown on the map, but some bikers were setting off purposefully through the trees - just a short distance away is a good surfaced path. Further up there are some marked forks in the path denoting various bike trails and nothing of value to the walker, but we always kept ascending to the right and northwards and met the main forest track that passes north-westwards above Ravenshill at a clearing on the left. A signed DWT path branches right to ascend near Lightpipe Sike to a T-junction. The strengthening autumn hues of the trees and grasses made a colourful foreground to the rather bland distant slopes across the valley.

River North Tyne from Butteryhaugh Bridge
River North Tyne from Butteryhaugh Bridge (21 Sep 2014__10:06:03)
View north-west from Kielder trail path
View north-west from Kielder trail path (21 Sep 2014__11:00:33)
Autumn colours from Kielder path at Lightpipe Sike
Autumn colours from Kielder path at Lightpipe Sike (21 Sep 2014__11:26:47)

At the path T-junction the OL map shows the trail continuing to ascend directly up the slope: the right turn might have led to a continuation path, but we took the known easier option and turned left to cross the sike at a footbridge. This path leads onto a forest road that ascends in a wide zigzag to clear the trees, and here a DWT sign indicates the more easterly track that climbs gradually around the flank of Deadwater Fell, rather than the westerly track marked as the DWT on the OL map that goes straight up.

There is a good feeling of spaciousness and distant views from the track and the first signs of the extensive technical paraphernalia on the summit of Deadwater Fell can be seen protruding above the edge. As the track bends back towards the summit there is an information board describing this 'Ancient Borderland' and its habitat, overlooking the boggy mid-section of the route towards Mid Fell and Peel Fell.

The 571m summit is at the northern end, while the 569m trig point is overshadowed by the tower-mounted ball of the flight navigation aid station, along with several masts, weather instruments and grubby buildings.

View over the moor to Mid Fell
View over the moor to Mid Fell (21 Sep 2014__12:30:39)
Peel Fell from Deadwater Fell information board
Peel Fell from Deadwater Fell information board (21 Sep 2014__12:31:50)
View north-west from Deadwater Fell
View north-west from Deadwater Fell (21 Sep 2014__12:32:31)
Deadwater Fell trig point and navigation station
Deadwater Fell trig point and navigation station (21 Sep 2014__12:38:59)

Retracing our steps past the information board back to a fence line, we could see the line of the DWT curving around to Mid Fell, passing to the right of a pool at a waymark post. There had been no rain for ages and we had an easy crossing with only occasional brief squelching and sidestepping. Not being a photogenic route, we made a detour to the pool to add a bit of foreground interest and colour to a photo of Peel Fell, but that brief dalliance with the horrible matted tussocks and heather made us resolve not to explore farther along the ridge towards Carlin Tooth later as originally planned.

A fragment of good path took us to the large cairn of Mid Fell, now looking rather dull under clouded grey skies, and we continued on the damp spongey line first to the south easterly 602m cairn of Peel Fell and then alongside the extensive peat hags, bogs and pools to the north westerly spot-height and cairn, also marked 602m. Here on the border line between England and Scotland we hunted around in the grim tussocky terrain and found a surprisingly good spot to pitch.

The mainly grey sky and thick haze ruled out a decent photo this evening but we hoped for clearer air the next morning.

Peel fell from pool near Mid Fell
Peel fell from pool near Mid Fell (21 Sep 2014__13:25:50)
Cairn on Mid Fell
Cairn on Mid Fell (21 Sep 2014__14:03:35)
Peat hags and bogs on Peel Fell
Peat hags and bogs on Peel Fell (21 Sep 2014__15:18:43)
North-westerly cairn on the edge of Peel Fell
North-westerly cairn on the edge of Peel Fell (21 Sep 2014__15:29:10)

Day 2 - Deadwater forest & North Tyne valley

The dawn brought enough clarity and interest in the sky patterns to produce a couple of decent photos of the pitch, along with a cold start and a chilling breeze.

Early sky from pitch on Peel Fell
Early sky from pitch on Peel Fell (22 Sep 2014__07:38:55)
Early sky from pitch on Peel Fell
Early sky from pitch on Peel Fell (22 Sep 2014__07:41:09)

Close by the large cairn the DWT line descends south westwards along a line of old decayed fence posts, past another faded waymark post and alongside an old wall to a forest corner. A good grassy ride continues reliably into the forest to Rushy Knowe and another waymark post directing into the trees. A short way after is the start of a forest road that descends to Master Grain and all the way down to the main Kielder road, giving pleasing views over the tree lined ravine of Deadwater Burn.

Turning right on the road, we found the other deviation from the OL map route: at the first kink in the road it shows the route branching off left through the trees to join the old railway trackbed, but there is no sign at all of any way through now. Not a problem: a little farther along the road at Deadwater Farm an access track leads directly down to the trackbed.

We had heard the bleating of a sheep roundup on approach, and a short way along we met the farmer with his Swaledale ewes already penned. He called for our assistance: he had their '11-in-1' inoculations ready and a calibrated injector but couldn't quite read the graduations without aid. We confirmed the setting as the sandwiched sheep looked restlessly on. He told us about the historic stone laid at the source of the river North Tyne just along the road, a spot missed by our route.

The valley trackbed is a pleasant and easy return to Kielder terminating opposite Castle Drive, which despite being obviously a road with houses and the village post-office/shop, is shown as a track on the map. From here we walked through to the visitor centre and reprised the short walk through Viaduct Wood to Butteryhaugh, spying a red squirrel on a branch just above our heads, our first sighting for a long time.

Deadwater Burn and Bells Moor from old trackbed
Deadwater Burn and Bells Moor from old trackbed (22 Sep 2014__11:23:03)
Helping the farmer with the sheep inoculations
Helping the farmer with the sheep inoculations (22 Sep 2014__11:23:21)
The old trackbed along the North Tyne valley
The old trackbed along the North Tyne valley (22 Sep 2014__11:45:32)