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Alex gives us the low down on our recent walking weekend in the North Pennines..
Beyond the Yorkshire Dales, indeed beyond the Lake District, lies the vast area of high moorland known as the North Pennines. Most people see them on the right as they drive up the M6 towards Carlisle and Scotland, and for walkers in the eastern Lake District they form an ominous wall on the horizon, a suspended wave of heath and rock standing ready to rain destruction on the Eden Valley. For those willing to penetrate into this range of hills, the rewards are solitude, and that special nature of moorland which at once seems endless and yet intimate.
Our Large Outdoors walking weekend gathered in Alston YHA, right in the heart of the moor, on a dark November night, and set out on the Saturday to explore. We headed south, following the River South Tyne, past trees losing the last of their leaves, the clouds above rising steadily and even giving us some large patches of blue.
Turning west, we began the ascent onto Rotherhope Fell, which at nearly 600m (2000ft) gave us a great panorama in all directions, while remaining below the cloud. The westerly hills of Cross Fell and Great Dun Fell had their heads in the clouds, and large streaks of snow had formed on their lower slopes.
After a few miles ‘off path’ across the top of the moor, we joined the Pennine Way, which took us down to the valley again and a much needed pub visit before the last two hours back along the River South Tyne to Alston. Arriving just before darkness fell, we congratulated ourselves on an excellent day out, with fine views and little rain, at a time of year when many people would give up the walking and stay indoors.
Our Sunday walk ventured out east, starting from the old mining village of Nenthead (where tin, lead and silver were extracted) and walking down the River Nent, which eventually flows back to Alston. Down in the valley the trees were begrudgingly being dragged into winter, and the slushy leaves on the path clung to our shoes as we passed.
Just out of the village, we passed an incredible model village built by one man, then encountered a few llamas in a field, who stared at us on stretched necks as we went by, before heading up the excellently named Whimsy Hill. It was on top of this hill where we held the two-minutes silence, as today was Remembrance Sunday, and the far-reaching views of the moors, now all devoid of cloud, certainly added something to the occasion.
Despite quite a bit of bog on the way down, we returned to Nenthead with time enough to change shoes for lunch, enjoying the warmth of the Miners Inn as the clouds lowered above. There were other people appreciating the warmth of the fire, but in two days of walking we had seen no one else out in the hills, despite being quite a dry weekend, with that special brisk air of late autumn, and the mellow colours of the fading summer.
If you enjoy walking, you should make every effort to get out in November. It is frequently wet, but sometimes not, and either way you get that special time of year between summer and winter when change is in the air and you feel privileged to be out.
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