Welcome to LEJoG Day 51
Day 51 pre-amble
Today’s post is named after High Cup Nick, the obvious highlight of the day. However, I also wanted to give a nod to Cauldron Snout, the waterfall encountered a few miles upriver from Langdon Beck where the River Tees “runneth over” dolerite steps of the Whin Sill (it says here). Put the two together and you have a title which plays on this Biblical quotation, a sentiment entirely appropriate for one of the most rewarding days on the Pennine Way.
LEJoG Day 51 (Tuesday 23 July 2019)
Langdon Beck to Dufton (13 miles)
Cumulative: 709 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 15 minutes. Average speed: 3.06 mph. Weather: Cloudy, but warm and breezy. After High Cup Nick, very warm with no wind.
Practicalities: Walked from the YHA to Saur Hill Bridge, where I rejoined the Pennine Way and official LEJoG route.
Start: Saur Hill Bridge, near Langdon Beck, 9:55am. End: YHA, Dufton, 3:10pm.
Once back on the Pennine Way, cross the beck, pass a farmhouse and head WSW towards Widdy Bank Farm, situated by the north side of the Tees with Cronkley Scar looming over the opposite bank. This is easy walking on grass – even the many cows were completely docile, as they have been ever since leaving the Midlands, oddly enough.
The section between Widdy Bank Farm and Cauldron Snout was an unheralded delight. Back with the Tees again throughout. If you don’t look too closely it is reminiscent of parts of Day 1 between Land’s End and Zennor. By which I mean there’s water on your left constantly, and a path that frequently takes you over rocks and boulders, forcing you to concentrate and take care in the absence of an obvious route. The crags on the right are known as Falcon Clints. That’s the northern bank, sadly not the western. They aren’t as high as the Cornish cliffs, and a river which is not far away from disappearing into Cow Green Reservoir is clearly no match for the Atlantic Ocean. However the nature of the walking and sense of adventure are similar.
Within the hour you should arrive at Cauldron Snout, which is reckoned to be the longest waterfall in England. For me it certainly tops the podium when it comes to the three waterfalls between Middleton and Dufton. The overall drop stats aren’t as impressive as High Force, but Cauldron Snout has three advantages. Visually it is more interesting, resembling a rapids ride rather than a simple waterfall. Second, you can get much closer to the flowing water, though try not to be daft. Best of all, the scramble right next to it is properly challenging as well as being great for photographs.
The mouth of Cauldron Snout
Falling water about two thirds of the way up Cauldron Snout
Same view without the zoom
As you finally part company with the Tees for good and leave behind the waterfall and reservoir, you may be disheartened (I was) to note the remaining distances. It’s still 5 miles to High Cup Nick and more than 8 to Dufton. There’s little in the way of exciting landmarks during those first 5 miles. Birkdale Farm (just over ½ mile from Cauldron Snout) is of some interest however, as the highest hill farm in England. It also marks the border between County Durham and Cumbria. Just two counties to go on the Pennine Way now. And indeed, for me, just two counties to go in England. You won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve been tracking them, and here they are:
- Cornwall (Days 1 to 11)
- Devon (Days 11 to 15)
- Somerset (Days 15 to 23)
- Bristol (Days 23 and 24)
- Gloucestershire (Day 24, and non-consecutive parts of Days 25 and 26)
- Monmouthshire (Days 24 to 26, interrupted by Gloucestershire on Days 25 and 26, depending on where I was in relation to the River Wye)
- Herefordshire (Days 26 to 28)
- Worcestershire (Days 28 to 32)
- West Midlands (Days 32 to 34)
- Staffordshire (Days 34 to 37)
- Derbyshire (Days 37 to 41)
- West Yorkshire (Days 41 to 44, interrupted by Lancashire on Day 42)
- Lancashire (Day 42 only)
- North Yorkshire (Days 44 to 49)
- Durham (Days 49 to 51)
- Cumbria (Days 51 to 53; expect to leave it soon after Alston)
- Northumberland (Days 53 to 57)
The biggest surprise to someone who knows the geography of England and Wales is that you spend three more days in Somerset than in England’s largest county, North Yorkshire.
Anyhow, after Birkdale Farm comes a long, ascending track to Rasp Hill. It’s described in Trailblazer as a “long slog”. This is accurate in terms of the monotony but in reality it’s done in about 25 minutes. I was very close behind (what turned out to be) the same Dutch couple as I caught up at the end of Day 50, and decided to stop on Rasp Hill for a quick bite, setting off again 15 minutes later.
Almost immediately you come off the main track and descend (via mildly boggy ground and the odd slab bridge) to Maize Beck. Although the weather was dry all day, the section between Rasp Hill and the bridge over Maize Beck was squelchier than the much-feared Sleightholme Moor two days earlier. Just before the bridge I got too close to a slow-moving couple: let them cross first and get ahead but overtook them within a few minutes of crossing anyway.
And so began the final stretch to the eagerly-awaited High Cup Nick, one of the visual highlights of the whole Pennine Way. Ever since reading about it in the guidebook (previous edition) in 2015, I’d been looking forward to this moment. I sense that the reader may be anticipating some undercutting bathos here. Well no, not really. Not this time. High Cup Nick is visually stunning, the weather was perfect for my 35-minute stay there, and it’s just as fondly-remembered now as, say, Pen-y-ghent.
The only thing I would say before opening the curtain is: this approach really drags. Surely, you’d think, having waited four years to get here, what does another half hour’s walk matter? And would this wait not build up your anticipation? No – I just ended up feeling relief that I could eventually see what all the fuss was about. For the first two minutes there was even a sense of anti-climax. Not in an “is that it?” sense – if you think that about High Cup Nick you should probably find a new hobby. Just in the sense where “great, finally, I can sit down and relax for a bit” momentarily supersedes the “wow” factor.
High Cup Nick, looking south-west, with the Eden Valley beyond
High Cup Nick, from closer to the edge, in part shadow due to cloud
View of the southern cliffside at High Cup Nick
There were around two dozen people sat in various places along the edge of the bowl. The biggest surprise was to see a couple of walkers making their way along High Cup Gill (the stream visible at the bottom of the canyon) and taking a direct climbing route to where we were sat.
Zoom on the two intrepid walkers below (the two visible further back didn’t climb the face)
In the end it’s hard to tear yourself away – you soon realise how commonplace most sights on LEJoG are next to this. I don’t expect to see much that’s more spectacular until the Highlands of Scotland. Walking along the northern edge, seeing High Cup Nick from a different angle, I had to take a retrospective picture:
The remaining four miles to Dufton were the least enjoyable of the day. First the good things: the walking in the first half hour or so after leaving High Cup Nick was excellent: rocky or stony but quick, similar to level walking in the Lake District or approaching Kinder Downfall. And the views across the Eden Valley to the eastern fells of the Lake District were splendid (picture below):
But on the way down I really started getting pissed off with apparent under-estimations of Pennine Way mileage in the guidebook. My total mileage from Middleton to Dufton was 8½ plus 13, so 21½. Dave’s was even longer (9.1 plus 12.9, being 22), but the guidebook says 20. Then the text refers to a 4-mile descent to Dufton from High Cup Nick, but the walk profiles at the back say 3 to 3¼ miles.
It doesn’t sound like much of a complaint, but the last hour was very warm, and by Dufton the weather was hot. It’s a common misconception that the worst weather for walking is rain – as long as you’re well protected, a distance walker shouldn’t care too much about rain. The worst is hot weather with no breeze, and particularly if you’ve set out in all-weather kit. At times like these you really want your mileages to be accurate, put it that way.
The lower part of the descent (after Dod Hill and the lone beech tree) was where it started to drag, and the last bit of road from Red Stone Farm to Dufton YHA seemed much longer than the guidebook indicated. Final word: the guidebook recommends Middleton to Dufton as a single stage. There’s no way I could have done that, given the effort, the distractions and the extra 1½ to 2 miles. Even the book itself suggests allowing 9¾ to 10¾ hours for the “20” miles, while the recommended time for Dufton to Alston (just half a mile shorter) is only 6½ to 8 hours. I’m guessing this discrepancy is due to the frequency of stops and photographs, but even so: I have no hesitation in recommending that you break this walk into two unless you’re super-fit and relatively unconcerned with smelling the roses.
After the walk
Finding the hostel closed until 5pm (again) was a real mood-enhancer after that hot, stuffy descent, I can tell you. But let’s stop the moaning right there. Dufton is a very pretty little village, and even though the pub was closed until 6pm, this little café was a godsend. Got changed in the lobby at the front of the hostel, where you could leave your boots and bag. That Dutch couple arrived at almost exactly 5pm, and most fortunately for them this meant they were first to be served when the hostel opened. I think anyone who’d arrived nearly two hours ago and waited patiently would be slightly irritated, but the guy at reception was incredibly friendly and helpful to everyone, and this was so obviously a top-class hostel, that it seemed incredibly churlish to begrudge the wait.
Enjoyed a two-course evening meal at 7pm in quite a large group – the Dutch couple were on a walking holiday and finishing in Garrigill tomorrow. They made the joke about the contrast with their flat homeland before I could. Also present were an English couple touring the area on electric bikes, and a Dutch solo Pennine Way walker who had completed Middleton to Dufton in one go. The food wasn’t amazing, but it beat self-catering, and the accompanying beer was truly refreshing. Everything was better than Langdon Beck, and better than any hostel I’d stayed in for years. Paid a little extra for the evening meal and breakfast (hadn’t booked it in advance) but it was worth it. I have only happy memories of Dufton YHA and recommend it to any walker.
Postscript – My Listening Pleasure
Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae, from Widdy Bank Farm to the top of Cauldron Snout. My favourite album of 2018 and my most listened to this summer. No listening pleasures during the rest of the walk.
Picture (taken 23 July 2019) is the best of my three photos of High Cup Nick.
Next: Day 52 (24 July 2019)… in which my patience, and my right knee, are sorely tested.