Cumbria had had a battering. The Beast from the East - as the press called it - had dumped a ton of snow all over but very much here and something called Storm Emma had blown it into huge drifts. Driving up the previous day thhe radio was all about military helicopters flying food into remote villages hereabouts that were cut off by snow. But now it was thawing and things seemed under control. I was pleasantly surprised to find that even the tiny minor road hat goes south from the A685 near Newbiggin-on-Lune to Waesdale was clear and very drivable. Coming into Weasdale there is a ruined farmhouse on the left. Just before this there is a place you can park. Just before this there is a track off to the left. I parked in the place and walked up the track which leads all the way over the top of Green Bell to the top of Randygill Top. I can down the same way following my own footprints. A nice easy hill walk for a wintery day. Visibility on the tops was very poor. But not so cold and especially as I came down the snow was disappearing very fast.
Car parks punctuate the South Tyne Trail and one is at Rowfoot just by where a sign off the main road points to the Wallace Arms. I parked here at walked south, easily down trail to the spectacular Lambley Viaduct. After crossing this some steps led me downhill to fork left and, very soon afterwards, branch right on a path that led me into Lambley. I turned left here. The path I wanted is unsignposted but is the obvious gap in the buildings just before the churchyard. This takes a tunnel to pass under a b-road before crossing some fields to a point where a minor road joins the A689. The right of way as you approach the road is signposted right across the garden of someone’s house. Alternatively you can just go left a bit and use a gate. Which I did. Opposite the minor road a track heads south. I followed this a short way to pick up the Pennine Way which I then followed north.
Back to the A689, across it, alongside a wall till the latter changes direction when it continues in the original direction, past the ruined High House then right and downhill to a bridge across the Hartley Burn then left and up again and over a bog field to Batey Shield Farm. Kevin Donkin in his Pennine Way Circular Walks – of which this is one – suggests skipping that last sentence and getting to the point by following the minor road north from the A689, writing: “This follows the course of Maiden Way, a Roman route running over the Pennine ridge (the name means ‘great ridge way’), and offers a good alternative to the unappealing mix of boggy moorland and cattle-churned pasture that is the next section of the Pennine Way. “ A key word is cattle-churned: this is of course a nice subtle way of saying to the reader, “If you are scared of cows, you might want to avoid this bit and here is how,” while sparing us all the embarrassment of any of us having to admit that we are anything of the sort. I stuck to the Pennine Way where I met no cows at all, unsurprisingly as it was the kind of very cold weekend when you would expect them to be away from their pasture somewhere warm and indoors but it was clear from the, er, material evidence underfoot that it is indeed pretty intensely cow-populous hereabouts when the weather is warmer. It was still quite tough going with no cattle to duck around. The Pennine Way hereabouts is pretty rough and sometimes extremely boggy. Past Greenriggs the landscape opened out attractively and I was soon on access land. Here you need to be careful as the route is not always obvious but the idea is to veer left. You are doing fine if you do this and meet a fence heading north. You are doing very fine if you meet the fence just where a yellow marker post reassures you you are still on the Pennine Way. It leads north from here again over very boggy ground. There are a couple of half hearted attempts to engineer short bridges across bits of this. At the highest point a ladder style crosses a wall and a short detour to the left bags the trig point on the top of Blenkinsopp Common – it’s a Tump if you are crazy enough to care.
From here the Pennine Way heads swiftly downhill before turning sharply right along a track for a bit then left along another to reach the A69. I too the last left about 250m too soon along the wrong track and hit the main road in slightly the wrong place which left me a bit confused but I quickly figured out what I had done and got back on track. This meant heading up by a wall along the side of the Haltwhistle Golf Course, ignoring a bunch of ladder styles for golfers to retrieve stray balls, until a sign sent me right across the edge of golf course itself, over a road, along a path in front of some houses, across a railway and up a riverbank to pass the ruins of Thirlwall Castle. From here to the road by the Walltown Quarry – where I had started yesterday – was about a kilometre up a nice grassy path past some sheep but pretty relentlessly uphill. My legs were getting rather tired now and I felt it. I followed the road down to the B6318 then a footpath across a sheepy field and by some woods past College Farm, where they like their horses – someone was practicing showjumping – back to the A69. After I crossed this, the rest of the walk was pounding tarmac, first two miles up another big hill then down it again to the attractive Featherstone Bridge. Then right and anolther mile and a half along the bank of the South Tyne, past Featherstone Castle and then a final slog up a final hill, past Hall Bank Head where something that did not sound friendly barked at me in the rapidly failing light on and to Featherstone Rowfoot where a friendly man with another very unfriendly dog – it really wanted to kill me but happily was on a lead – helped me locate the car park in what was now almost total darkness.
I parked at Walltown car park near Greenhead. £5 pay and display. From here to Cawfileds is a little more than 3 miles. The first half is a nice bumpy ridge with little drops and rises. Then it gets less hilly slowly dropping down to some woodland. After passing this and Cockmount Hill Farm. - doing my best not to giggle at the name - I came to Aesica Fort, a quiet spot not like Houseteads or Vindolanda with their car parks an entry charges. Much less to see but still well worth a look.
Soon I was at Cawfields where I turned right and followed the well-signposted Haltwhistle Burn Path. This was a delightful surprise a lovely riverside stroll down to Haltwhistle. When I got to the edge of town I turned around. I was staying there so there would b3 plenty chance to explore. I headed back up the hill on the road past Broomshaw Hill Farm to Lees Hall Farm. The road ends at the latter and the right of way skirts the right of the buildings. Going through a gate leaving the farm behind I noticed a sign inviting people coming the other way to ‘Beware of the Dog’. I hate that. Public rights of way are no place for intimidating signage, certainly no place for intimidating dogs to be running around lose. But today I saw only the sign and no dog. I also passed three signs advising me to be cautious of belligerently motherly cows and one alerting me to the presence of a bull. But these bovine terrors also failed to materialise. It was a freezing day and I guess they were all snug in their barns. From behind Lee Hall a short walk north took me onto the farm road that passes Markham Cottage before swinging left and taking me easily back to where I started.
A little north of Elton by the roadside at the foot of Anthony Hill are some stone troughs, the Burycliffe Troughs, with water in them fed by a spring reputed never to have run dry. As far as this point my route from Youlgreave this beautiful January day was the same as for 116. From here I went a short way down Cliff Road to where a footpath to the right led delightfully to Dale End. Juist south of here a phone box marks the start of the track down Gratton Dale. I headed down it. It was muddy and got muddier till I gratefully reached the beautiful , lonely spot which is the junction with Long Dale.
I turned right and followed the latter for about a mile to where a path off to the right took a diagonal line up the side of the dale and deposited me on the plateau above it. The fields here were empty in the cold weather but this is clearly cattle country where you can expect their company in warmer seasons. The field path turned into a track and deposited me on Weaddow Lane. I walked up here a bit till another path on the right headed away by a little river and some woodland. More fields then down the hill again to Middleton and up Bradford Dale and so back to Youlgreave.
I drove to the car park at Porth-y-parc. This isn't big and I got the last space - there are skgns around strongly interdicting parking anywhere else hereabouts. I set off up the track north towarsd Parc Lodge Farm. Here the path by-passes the farm buildings on the right before crossing the river and entering a field on its left bank (inhabited today by a solitdary horse) and followingh the river up it then into some woods that lead uphill to join another of the plurality of paths that converge on the top of this pleasant and popular hill. I was soon on the summit which was windy and quite busy. Returning was an easy stroll down the Rholben ridge.
I parked just by the Whistle Inn (the pub near Whistle Hart on the 1:25,000 map). From here you can see a path leading diagonally up the hillside. I followed this, crossing a tarred track at about 470m. Soon enough I came to a small windfarm – just two turbines but no doubt making plenty of power this very windy New Year’s Eve. From here a path leads off left toward the summit which it bypasses to the south. The summit area is very big and flat. Heaven only knew exactly where the precise summit was. There or thereabouts is good enough for me. I came down by descending more or less pathlessly to the north to pick up the tarred track I had passed going up. This would be unpleasant in the summer when the forest of ferns is in its luxuriant. In December when they were all dead it was easy enough.
The free multi-story car park in Ebbw Vale seems an unlikely starting place for a country walk but that is where I started. Immediately outside a sign point across a bridge to Newtown. I followed it over the bridge, past the Baptist church then right then followed the yellow road south. (To the right down here was once the biggest steel works in Europe. It closed in 2002.) Soon the road starts to rise steeply up onto the hill. Just after it passes a couple of houses the map shows a path doubling back diagonally uphill. This path was not signposted but was easy enough to spot. I followed it up to the quarry. Here the way is very clear between some fenced off pasture on the right (home to some horses) and on the left what purports to be Britain’s highest golf course. It is an easy trudge from here to the summit trig point. I came back the same way. It is a rather bleak depressing place. With the potential, given a little tlc, to be a rather attractive hill, Mynydd Carn-y-Defn is, in its upper reaches utterly ruined by the scarring effect of wildly excessive activity by people on dirt bikes. It’s a real shame.
The previous day (qv) I had failed to climb Mynydd Machen from the south because of paths being closed for forestry working. Sop today I thought I would have a go at climbing it from the north. I drove to Cwmfelinfach and followed the little yellow (well, on the map) road that goes south then east. It gets very narrow and there are very few passing places but there wasn’t much traffic. After a couple of miles I came to a cattle grid just after which there was a car park and a sign saying, Road Ahead Closed. So I parked. A track went uphill from here which soon branched. One branch, going SE, had a sign: Forestry working. Path closed. Authorised personnel only. The other, which went east a bit lower down, did not. Someone was coming down it and I checked with him that there was access all the way. Yes, he said. There was. So up I went and indeed there was. It is a pretty easy, pleasant walk. One of those rare walks so straightforward I never once took the map out of my pocket between leaving the car and returning to it. Near the top there is an enormous spoil heap. It is fun to walk along the ridge made by the top of this but getting on and off it is briefly unpleasantly steep. There was a lovely view from the summit trig point down onto the Bristol Channel.
There was plenty of the day left so I drove round to Wattsville and parked in Troed-y-Rhiw Road at the bottom of the hill. I followed a track down hill and then parallel to the road signposted to Hafol Tudor Cottage. The map shows this leading to a right of way footpath up the side of the hill but I never went that way. Instead I soon turned off right down a forestry track. This zigzagged up through the woods encouragingly. After a few zigzags it started to head downhill but just where it did so there was a path, clear if a little overgrown, going off to my right up the hill. This led up through what was left of the forest, got briefly very steep and rather unpleasant going up alongside the highest trees and eventually parked me on the large summit plateau, a rather beautiful sea of long, yellow grass. (Unlike yesterday on Mynydd Twyn-glas, there was no snow here at all.) The top is marked by a boundary stone and is some way south of the 381 spot height shown on the 1:25,000 OS map. It was a little tricky to found with the grass so long but find it I did.
I decided to come down using the right of way path I had spurned on the way up. The top of this is tricky to get to from here as it involves climbing down into a rather steep and pathless gully. I did this, found the path at the edge of the forest and followed it into the trees. I went down it pleasantly enough for about ten minutes until I came to a sign. Forestry working. Path closed. Authorised personnel only. This was not good. Climbing up a hill is a mission one can abort. Climbing down one not so much. It would have been a long a tedious way back up and round from here to find another way down – perhaps where I had come up. I couldn’t see or hear and forestry activity so I carried on swiftly and warily. After a bit I came to a place where there had indeed been some forestry work quite recently and it had obliterated the path. But I found some more zigzagging forestry tracks that soon took me back to the road. No sign of any tree felling in progress. And no corresponding sign at the bottom of the path. There was still a bit of daylight left when I got to my car so I drove east to Wentwood where I made a quick visit to the top of South Wales’ easiest Marilyn. Five minutes out and back from a car park at the top of what was toady a rather snowy bit of road.
Today began badly. I set out to clilmb Mynydd Machen from Machen. I parked by the church. A footpath goes up behind it which I followed uphill for a bit till it crosses a track. Here I met a sign. Forestry working. Footpath closed. Authorised Personnel Only. Oh well. I looked at the map. There looked to be another way, Instead of heading straight up I could follow the track round to the right past a place called Bovil and climb the hill a bit further east. So I set off. After about five minutes I came to another sign. Forestry working. Footpath closed. Authorised Personnel Only. I gave up and went to find another hill to climb.
I drove to Upper Cwmbran and parked near a church in a car park where a path heads off up to Blaen Bran Reservoir. In fact there are lots of paths. It was pretty busy – this is evidently where Cwmbran comes to walk its dog. And it was beautifully sunny with snow on the ground up here if not at sea level. I wended my way up past the ruin of Mineslope Mine and past the reservoir where a track led up the steep slopes onto the plateau, a big sunny snowy wilderness with a big line of electricity pylons, leaving the dog walkers behind. Turning right and following these led me eventually to a couple of transmission masts and a track leading right from here led to the summit trig point of Mynydd Twyn-glas. I climbed back down to the reservoir a bit further north on a rather steep rather vague path but was soon down among the dog walkers again.
If, as I was today, you are driving a long road between England and Scotland but fancy breaking the journey for a short walk this can be recommended. Turn off the A1 a little north of Berwick-Upon –Tweed where a signpost signs the way to the gloriously named Conundrum – which is just the farm immediately on your right as you come off the main road. Drive up a hill and round a corner to find a car park with a wonderful view back down over Berwick. There are two tracks going off west one from a bit above the car park, one a bit below. I set off walking on the one below which leads to a trig point just after which there is a track of sorts running roughly north to pick up the higher pf the two tracks which I followed back to the car park. About 3km. It doesn’t take long. The hill is the site of The Battle of Halidon Hill where in 1333 the English inflicted a crushing defeat on the Scots. One you pass the trig point the track borders a huge pig farm so you will see a lot of pigs.