The stretch from Dufton to Alston is a long day, going up over Cross Fell (the highest point not only on the Pennine Way but also on the whole End to End trail). Cross Fell is notorious for bad weather – high winds and driving rain – and the trail guide tells me that it was originally known as Fiend’s Fell for that reason.
I was apprehensive about today, because although my leg was better for the rest it was still swollen, and I remembered the walk to Alston as long and difficult. I started the day by managing to leave my trekking pole in the caravan. I had a big tantrum and blamed the children for taking it out of the car before I remembered that in fact I had moved it out of the car myself when we moved campsite, and then had to apologise to Arran and Rowan.
The weather was overcast when I started, and as I climbed up the steep slopes towards Knock Fell it became apparent that the mist on the tops of the fell wasn’t going to burn off.
The conditions steadily deteriorated, and by the time I got up to Great Dun Fell the enormous radio station was all but invisible at a distance of about 15 metres:
By this point I was unable to see the cairns marking the path, so was navigating purely by compass. I’ve not had to do that before, and it was at points very scary, particularly when the path went through fields of boulders and disappeared. I fought down the rising feeling of panic and concentrated on getting my bearings right, and was rewarded by reaching the summit of Cross Fell long before I was expecting to. Sadly, the view from the top was nonexistent, so I opted for a very wet selfie instead!
It was too cold, wet and windy to stick around for long, so after a celebratory (damp) fruit pastille I headed rapidly downhill to start the long descent towards Alston. By this time I was wet through and very cold indeed, and I was very glad to stop at Greg’s Hut (the bothy by the path on the way down) and wring out my socks. There were other walkers there, all in an almost hysterically good mood – maybe with weather like this, everyone needs to persuade themselves that they’re not mad to be out there.
Of course, such being the way of things, the weather cleared up rapidly almost as soon as I left Cross Fell behind, and by the time I had gone 3 miles or so down the ‘corpse road’ I was able to look back and see the radio station in perfect clarity! By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, it was almost completely clear, and there was even some sunshine for the last bit along the river valley. I dried out a bit on the way, but was still very glad to meet the family for dinner (at Alston House, a nice pub and hotel which is very child-friendly) and some dry clothes.
Highlights: Finding out I can actually navigate without being able to see waymarks; a feeling of self-reliance at not giving in to panic; it’s all downhill from here to John O’Groats (well, on average).