Scotland's hills are an empty place. Nothing there but grouse moors and wind turbines. In an effort to match these conditions we choose the Northern Pennines for this year's PreWalkDaunder. Although here we will not find any wind turbines.
|NICKED FROM THE DAILY MAIL. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
This year's clutch of Daunderers descend upon Dufton from as far south as Croydon, as far east as Holland and from Aberlour, way up north. I haven't done the arithmetic but I would guess that between them they've finished over a hundred Challenges, and with an age range of some forty years.
|HOW MANY GROATS TO THE POUND? LAURA'S PICTURE|
Shoe-horned into a tiny patch of grass we flip up the shelters and head off to the Stag Inn for the rest of the night. It is warm and comfy in there. It is very cold outside.
|LUCKY THE DOG'S HUMAN (NO - LUCKY ISN'T HUMAN)|
|OUR CARNIVAL QUEEN|
|MORPETH, CROYDON, PETER & GERRY|
|AFTERMATH OF A NASTY ACCIDENT WITH A CHAINSAW|
|THE LATE RUNNING POOLER MAJOR|
|EDITED TO REMOVE BEER CAN FROM TOP OF HEAD|
|BENEATH THAT TABLE THERE ARE SOME VERY SUDDEN TROUSERS|
Natural Navigators will already have noticed that the shadows in the next picture are cast in a different direction to those of the tents further up this post. Apparently this is because it is now the morning. I'm not a morning person. Some idiot had been belting around the campsite on a very powerful quad-bike since ten past bloody six in the morning and clanging anvils against gigantic sheets of steel, dumped here by the Chinese. Thoughtful. And there are the crows, of course, around about five o'clock. Bloody countryside. How do you post comments on Trip Advisor?
|ROOM FOR A FEW MORE?|
So what lies ahead? It always looks so easy on the map, but the first day is about thirteen miles with well over three thousand of Her Majesty's imperial feet of uppishness. That's one hell of a lot for a lowlander whose idea of a walk is strolling around Waitrose leaning on a shopping trolley. The second day looks to be around twelve miles in a perishingly cold wind with the uppity bits cleverly concealed in bog and upon dreadfully constructed sharp-stoned roads, built presumably to transport chinless tossers in Range Rovers to go and kill birds for fun. All grisly things come to an end eventually, and the last day will be wonderfully downhill on what I remember to be soft green paths, but we should still suffer cold northerlies with snow showers.
And the nights? They're forecast to be well south of freezing. Deep joy. A bit of a Challenge.
|THE ROUTE: CLICK TO ENLARGE|
Within half an hour of setting out we're grateful for the views back to the hills of the Lake District, so we can pause to identify old friends. After a few moments it's back to the day job and hauling far too heavy bags up the side of Knock Fell.
|LAURA COUNTING CONTOURS|
|PETER JETTISONING THE HEAVY STUFF|
Around about here Young Morpeth (currently well into his eighth decade) decides that he is not yet hill-fit and needs to go back down to the comfort and warmth of the pub. Peter had a triple bypass only a few months back and to get as far as this is frankly very good going indeed. It's going to be a slow recovery, but already he is looking years younger with colour back in his cheeks and a glint back in his eye. In fact he looks a lot perkier than I currently feel. But this is situation normal for the train crash that is my frame.
|PHIL'S PICTURE: HARD WORK FOR A FLATLANDER, CLAMBERING UP KNOCK FELL|
By now our unwieldy group of ten remaining Daunderers have split fairly naturally into the capable and incapable. I nail my colours to the mast of the latter group. And speaking of masts we notice the twin masts of Shackleton's HMS Endurance, dragged up the hill by Naval Cadets in the fifties and given a ceremonial partial burial at the top. These days the old girl's masts are used to house aerials so folk down in Dufton can have a decent TV picture.
The large white dome is a more recent addition, added by Richard Branson as a memorial to one of his aborted balloon sorties. It does have dual use - inside are six mezzanine floors of Eastern European call-centre workers.
|JUST THE MASTS REMAINING OF HMS ENDURANCE. A DOME MARKS THE SITE OF THE WRECK.|
It's a cracking roller-coaster of a walk from Knock Fell, over Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell and up onto Cross Fell. And today we have views in every direction. The first time I was here (1976, with Bob Butler) it was a blizzard and we saw sod-all. The second time was on my LEJOG in 2007, in thick very cold cloud.
It's a surprisingly big flat top with a brand new shelter incorporating the dome of the mosque dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt with care here many years later, after they flooded Cow Green reservoir.
|THE NORTHERN LAKE DISTRICT. CAN YOU SPOT TERRY ABRAHAM?|
|ALISTAIR SITS ON THE ROOF. THE BULK OF THE MOSQUE IS UNDERGROUND|
It's a delightful yomp, mercifully downhill, to collect the stumbly track to Greg's Hut. To the north and east there is nothing but moorland stretching away forever.
|OBVIOUSLY NO DRESS CODE ON THE INVITE...|
Greggs Hut (wrongly spelled as Greg's on the OS maps) is believed to be the very first location of the massive Greggs business now found in every town centre. Unfortunately, Mike Knipe is at the head of the queue and scoffs the last of the Pies. By the time the rest of us arrive it is past closing time and the counter staff have nipped off to the party back at the Great Dun Fell Pleasure Dome.
It's a cracking location, but I think the Damp Proof Course needs attention.
|GREGGS PIE SHOP|
|MAD'N'BAD WINS THE PRIZE FOR PRETTIEST HAT - A WHALE CONDOM.|
|NO ONE WANTS TO LEAVE BUT THERE'S A FAIR CHANCE IT WILL BE WARMER IN THE FREEZING WIND OUTSIDE.|
It's a lovely stroll above Skirwith Fell before we turn right and drop down to just beneath 2,000 feet to flip the tents up in the last of the sunshine in a field of thistles alongside the headwaters of the River Tees.
|TEN PITCHED IN THE THISTLES NEXT TO THE INFANT TEES|
This feels like a very big place. It's wonderfully quiet with just curlew, larks and geese for company. Hip flasks are passed about the place as the sun sinks below the shoulder of Cross Fell and the temperature drops like a stone. Snuggling into the luxuriousness of my winter bag I'm soon away with the faeries.
|EIGHT OUT OF TEN IN THE LAST OF THE SUNSHINE|