During that unusual stretch of time between Christmas and New Years the weather proved chipper enough to hightail it up to the North Pennines for the very last weekend of the year. I had a particular destination in mind to pitch a tent, a place I’ve been wanting to return to for a good few years. I last came up to the quiet village of Dufton about 6 years ago with James on a weekend in early summer for a backpack over some rough Pennine moorland up to Meldon Hill before a bivi next to Maize Beck on the Pennine Way. Our walk back to the car included an approach to the head of High Cup, a dramatic glaciated u shaped valley carved into the moorland.
Today, the rest of the country appeared to be enjoying bright sunshine and clear skies, typically this wasn’t the case in the North Pennines, thick dark clouds formed over the A66 and almost on cue as the car door closed, the first spots of a heavy rain shower began to fall.
An old mining road, now a bridleway, snakes up out of the village under Dufton Pike, heavy rain brought out rich colours on the hillside and turned sections of the path to a muddy stream.
Stopping to drink from a stream that flowed around a long abandoned structure (a kiln maybe?) at Threlkeld Side, the lousy weather had more or less blown over, leaving an everchanging sky with the odd burst of sunshine allowing occasional glimpses of some snow capped summits way over in the Lake District.
It was freezing cold up on the moorland plateau, I stuck my head in the unlocked shooting hut near Great Runsdale Tarn, always good to have a place to leg it back too if things turn sour, but right now a bright winter sun sat low and cast a warm golden light all over (though it was still freezing).
Tramping over the rough peaty moorland with an icy wind with not another soul in sight for miles around, a brief flurry of snow fell before the sun started to dip. The normally soft peaty ground was frozen solid, normally it can be like walking in very thick porridge up on the moors, but to continue the breakfast cereal metaphor, today was like walking on a massive frozen dry weetabix…..
It was still light when High Cup Nick came into view, a perfectly formed deep valley flanked with dark pinnacles of cracked black rock.
Night fell quickly and I was pitching a tent in the dark with a very strong wind tearing up the valley, it would have been easy to find a more sheltered spot further back but the idea of waking up with that view had taken precedent over common sense. Pitching a trailstar in really strong cold winds in the dark in the middle of winter is just as much fun as it sounds. It took a few goes to get it just right but it was worth it, the wind really picked up through the night, roaring and crashing up out of the valley, the tarp barely nudged.
Cocooned from the winter in a tent warm and cosy, with decent food, a few drinks and a kindle….(it wasn’t all perfect, I forgot my spoon and had to fashion some cutlery from a tin can and tube of toothpaste).
The morning was thick with mist, a silent wish for a perfect sunrise in my perfect location hadn’t really come to fruition, so I mooched about for a bit up the beck in the hope that it all might lift.
It worked…..the power of mooching!
A day (or two) could have spent wandering further round the edges of that valley but a drive back to the sunny midlands for work the next day had me walking off the hill about noon. A final stop off by a spring to make a cup of coffee gave a last opportunity to look back and take it all in. Not a bad way to end the year.