Day 14 - Appleby to Garrigill

29km, no hikers

Road to Dufton, Pennine Way to Great Dun Fell, moorland trail to Tyne Head, road to Garrigill.

Disembarking at Appleby rail station after a sunlit ride, I made for the adjacent Midland Hotel, intent on a hearty lunch. I was not alone: a huge band of cheerful blokes already filled the pub, their pile of baggage implying they were just warming up for a raucous Spring Bank Holiday weekend away. I fought my way through this friendly throng, but when I got to the bar I learned the kitchen was going to be busy with orders for an hour and a quarter. Never mind, I thought, I’ll go for fish and chips, and that worked out just fine and much cheaper.

The month of wet weather had raised river levels, so I decided to walk the lanes to Dufton instead of struggling on muddy paths. Above all, I wanted an easy start, and the prospect of wrestling with string and rust and muck didn’t appeal. I enjoyed a quiet amble past council workers erecting temporary fences in advance of the influx of participants for Appleby Horse Fair. Hawthorn blossom whitened and scented the way, a farmer was taking a first cut of grass for silage, and the Pennines glowered high and steep and rugged before me.

Dufton had always struck me as an oasis. It is on the Pennine Way, sandwiched between a hard day over Cross Fell and a long trek through the wilderness of upper Teesdale. On this visit it seemed more like the Marie Celeste. I’d tried three times in the previous week to speak with the warden at the youth hostel and never received a call back. The Stag Inn was closed for the afternoon. The Post Office and village store, which used to serve tea, was also closed, probably for ever. Fortunately the toilets were open and indeed were being decorated. The painter’s radio was broadcasting news of Bank Holiday traffic jams as I went on my way through the fossilised village.

Many Pennine Way walkers regard the climb from Dufton to Knock Fell as the worst ascent of all. Granted, it’s a long, steep climb, but the surface is gentle on the feet and there’s plenty of running water for refreshment. The views to the Lake District and Mallerstang are superb, and on that day they were also dramatic.

Distant views of the Lake District hills from the lower slopes of Knock Fell

Distant showers wafted their floating veils of rain into the valleys, while sunbeams back-lit the clouds and turned Haweswater to silver. I felt I was the only human enjoying this beauty, with no company bar the birds and sheep. Late on a Friday afternoon I expected no intrusion, and for once I was right. The only clouds on the horizon were, literally, the clouds on the horizon, which were creeping nearer.

By the way, the climb up Knock Fell is only a problem when you try to go too fast – Engage with the Landscape! Once I’d made the summit I headed straight for the road to the radar station. There I turned right and picked up the faint bridleway that leads beside Trout Beck towards Moor House, the headquarters of the National Nature Reserve. As I started downhill I felt wisps of mist forming around me, but the air ahead remained clear. I made haste, pausing only for an occasional backward glance, and each time I saw the roll of cloud thickening on the watershed, its leading edge sliding downhill after me like a breaking wave, dissipating as it warmed in its descent. What a great demonstration of one of the principles of atmospheric physics! Like a surfer, I stayed ahead of the wave and felt nothing more than an occasional spot of rain.

’The roll of cloud thickening on the watershed’

I bid farewell to the infant River Tees and walked through to its baby cousin at Tyne Head. Rabbits froze as I came down the road, sheep skittered nervously, lapwings swooped and cried, and cattle stared intrigued as I passed their fields, so I chatted to them over the walls and sang the theme from ‘Rawhide’. Go on! Surely you remember it!

Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin,
Though the streams are swollen,
Keep them dogies rollin,

It was time to start looking for a place to spend the night. My rucksack contained a sleeping bag, a short foam mat and a bivvy bag, but, in the interests of keeping the weight low, few other comforts. With such sparse kit, I didn’t want to settle down until I was ready to sleep, and I didn’t spot anywhere that appealed before I found myself walking into Garrigill.

There was scarcely a light in any house. The pub was far from busy. Is this what happens when we sell houses to people who won’t actually live in them? Believe it or not, Wordsworth wrote a sonnet on that very theme nearly two hundred years ago. For further marginally relevant poetry, see The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith, penned in 1770. Some things don’t change.

Apart from kids making a noise on the recreation ground, where I’d camped before, all was still. I headed north from the village and found a grassy spot half a mile away. I rolled out my bed. My domino mates would be buying their first pints and setting up the board. I fell asleep and slept soundly until six o’clock.

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