“In some cases there are a number of possible return routes for each section of the Pennine Way. Those presented here have been chosen after a thorough investigation of the alternatives, and should not be abandoned in favour of other that might look better on a map.” No, Kevin Donkin, that is wrong. The joy of walking is about exploring and it is no kind of virtue to stick religiously to the routes in guidebooks. But, that said, Donkin’s Circular Walks Along the Pennine Way is a great wee book and this is Walk 4 in the North Pennines section. Unlike most of Donkin’s routes which follow the Pennine Way for a bit and return by some other route, this uses the Pennine Way as a return route after climbing the spectacular High Cup Gill which the Pennine Way by-passes.
The car park in Dufton was full but there was plenty parking on the street. I parked just a little down from the Pillar Box Pantry where I grabbed a bacon roll and a latte before heading off down the path by the car park into Dufton Gill. I followed the riverside path to the road, crossed it and walked past Greenhow Farm.; Then it was a lovely walk over fields with great views to the Lake District Fells and a lot of sheep with young lambs for company to the road at Keisley. The next kilometre followed this very quiet road as far as Keisley Bridge just after which a path heads off left for Harbour Flatt Farm. From here I picked up the main path up High Cup Gill. This climbs quite high up on the side of Middle Tongue before returning to the valley foot and following it all the way up. At the top there are two ways. One follows a path up some very steep grass off to the left, the other follows the steep but reasonably stable boulder field that fills the Nick itself. I opted for the latter which Donkin describes as “a daunting scramble”. I thought it straightforward enough and I am quite an easy man to daunt, more a clamber than a scramble up through the wonderful rock scenery at the top of the Gill. From here a nice ramble takes you gently down the Pennine Way back to Dufton with wonderful views west to the Lake District. It was a beautiful afternoon. At one point some oaf buzzing on a noisy offroad motorbike rather damaged my spirits but a skylark restored them by singing a wee song just for me.