With the clock ticking for this years TGO Challenge James had mapped out an extensive loop starting in the quiet little village of Allendale in the North Pennines to give himself a bit of training. Whilst I’m not really in a position to embark on a fortnight long trip across the highlands just yet (maybe when the kids are a bit older, then they can come and carry all my gear) I was happy to tag along for three days of high level plodding and hopping across empty moorland under the warmth of a sun that I’d almost forgotten to exist.
Lonely winding lanes led us upwards out of Allendale and joined a network of bridleways which passed the remains of various abandoned lead mines and chimneys. It was a perfectly clear day, the Cheviots graced the distant horizons to the north, the barren moorland of the pennines shimmered with gold in every other direction. We spent the next few hours crossing moorland, the occasional road and wandered upstream alongside rivers to their higher sources. My only contribution to the route planning of this trip was to occasionally pass James an OS map from his pack so he could verify our whereabouts, so you’ll have to forgive the lack of specific detail about locations here.
Our afternoon was spent under an endless sea of fluffy cumulous clouds that hung lazily under a warm blue sky. The last time I went backpacking was less than a month ago and I’d needed crampons and an ice axe, this time I needed sunblock, the joys of living in the UK.
The evening was slightly marred by a busy farmer on a quad bike who was out feeding his sheep until nightfall, we were hoping to set up camp but remained obviously visible to him, our elongated shadows from the setting sun didn’t do much to aid our discretion. We headed for higher ground out of sight and found a decent enough if not slightly steep pitch, having to tie the loops for first time on the Trailstar numbed my fingers and it was clear that it would be a cold night.
Sure enough, a thin layer of frost coated the inside and outside of our shelters by early light. I was up before the dawn chorus and wandered round the empty hillside with a cup of coffee whilst an orange sun crept over the horizon.
By 9am the frost had all but gone leaving us with the beginning of a day that felt more like August than April. Not having to wear a down jacket whilst having breakfast, or to drink hot drinks before they froze was a novelty, I’m a big fan of a good old fashioned winter camp but the rare treat of lying down on dry grass under a warm sun was welcome.
A short climb took us to some isolated buildings at the head of the valley which turned out to be locked, the silver lining was that I found some a pond full of frogs full of the joys of spring getting right down to it and making sweet froggy love. Not something you see every day.
We left the amphibian debauchery behind us and made the most of the clement morning climbing higher and contouring round The Dodd before a descent to the boggiest of bogs. It was like walking on thick porridge and required much toing and froing to avoid being swallowed up by some of the soggier sections. The disturbing sight of the back end of a sheep sticking up out of one of the less solid areas of ground suggested a fairly horrific death, walking across such terrain isn’t to be taken lightly.
We spent the following hours meandering peat hags, moving at a snail’s pace towards the wind beaten summit of Killhope Law. As the crow flies it was no great distance but we arguably doubled that by navigating around the myriad channels of dark peat. An all too brief visit to the summit was followed by a stop off at a dilapidated shooting hut where we ducked out of the wind to cook up some well deserved lunch.
We enjoyed a brief return to civilisation crossing the road near Allenheads only to disappear into the hills again along a easy going track walking past idyllic farmhouses that sparsely populated the hillsides, the firm track was welcome after a full day of traversing bogs and moors and gave our damp shoes chance to dry off.
A sheepfold near an abandoned farm building was earmarked as a camping spot, from a distance it looked perfect; flat, short grass and next a fast flowing stream. As we got closer it became apparent that the area was covered in sheep poo. Our higher standards lead us upstream where we found a more appealing location. It’s worth shopping around sometimes.
I spent the evening taking timelapse shots of our camp, I must have enjoyed myself as I spent a good hour wandering round in cold wet trail shoes as the temperature returned to zero. A pair of birds circled above making unusual wobbly kazoo like sounds, James recognised them to be Snipe and the sounds come from their tail feathers whilst they perform courtship display flights.
Dawn was cool, windy and damp, a faint red glow in the east looked to be the most we would see of the sun today. I stayed in my bag and snoozed for a few hours, only to be woken by James walking over and pinching my nose (maybe that’s part of his courtship dance?). As you can see it put me in a strop.
It was a good day to head back to the car, the sky was dirty grey and full of drizzle. A reminder of the changeable nature of Britain in all seasons and that it’s always a good idea to bring waterproofs. As we headed north west along the moors back to Allendale we came across an unlocked shooting hut which gave us a little shelter from the screaming wind. Whilst it’s always a pleasure to be out the day was less than photogenic so we hardly bothered getting our cameras out on such a dreary morning.
Just after noon we joined the steep road that led down to the car park at Allendale to engage in the guilty pleasure of pulling off cold wet socks and replacing them with ones that are thick, dry and warm. Makes it all worthwhile.