Day 27. Alston to Dufton. 20 miles - Why you should never stop moving on the Pennine Way.
After yesterday's rather tame filler day, today was an altogether different beast. Sure 20 miles has become practically par for the course, but today would tackle 3 separate peaks and reach the highest point of the entire 1200 mile journey, the 893 metre high summit of Cross Fell. Bring it on.
I began the day by breaking my fast with Don from the night before. The breakfast was fine, but not picture worthy so I'll move swiftly on. Tummy rumbling worryingly from my curry the night before, I took to the 4 mile path to the small village of Garrigill. Ye gods what a boring morning, I felt supremely happy to be fed, watered and back on the trail (and not, say, stuck in the office), but any vivacity I possessed was swiftly drained by the sheer drudgery of the PW. Anyway, I got to Garrigill and it was lovely, but again completely dead, so I took a short break, purchased a good luck Wispa from the ancient Post office, and moved swiftly on. Unfortunately, I moved onto a ceaseless, unending climb up into the hills. The gravely path frequently broke underfoot and the higher I climbed, the colder it became as the clouds rolled in menacingly.
The ascent continued for hours until, when near the top and in freezing temperatures, it began to rain and hail at the same time - impressive. As luck would have it, I stumbled across a bothy when nearly at Cross Fell's peak, and jumped inside to escape the tumultuous conditions. Upon checking the Internet, I realised it was half time in the crunch non league play off tie between the giants of Fylde FC, and the titans of Solihull Moors - as I'm certain you all enjoyed this game live, I'm confident I can continue without fear of spoiling the result for you. Somehow, with hail bouncing off the windows like angry ping pong balls, I had full signal and so turned on the BT app and enjoyed. Trouble is, I'd gone from 2 degrees and moving around this morning, to - 2 and sitting perfectly still in the bothy. At full time I physically could not move my hands to put my phone down, and saw my fingernails had turned a rather fetching shade of blue.
I packed up as quickly as I could and moved on, but my hands were like ice, truth be told I was a little concerned, here I was alone on a mountain in the hail with no gloves, blue fingernails and a sneaking suspicion Solihull moors were just robbed blind. After half hour of deliberate walking I began to get some feeling back in my fingers, only to be 'treated' to the summit of Cross Fell. Imagine a desolate hill that rises into the clouds with a flat top strewn with dull splinters of grey rock and nothing to see for miles around other than more bleakness and you have Cross Fell. What a completely charmless place.
And after Cross Fell? A swift and steep descent followed immediately by another massive hill barely a metre smaller than the fell I had just bested. This one did have a gigantic golf ball at its summit which served as a radar point, but I didn't even stop for a picture. And after that? Bang, hill 3 straight away with zero time to recover. Hail, sleet, snow, rain, each hill had its own specific blend of those ingredients, but much like all lager (water, hops, malted barley, yeast), they tasted basically the same.
The descent into Dufton was the kind of perilous, sheer drop that surely claims the lives of hundreds of sheep, several cows, the odd hiker and even the occasional bird every year. I'm not ashamed to admit I fell flat on my arse twice as I navigated to the bottom. Dufton was OK at best, and my youth hostel was honestly lovely, but the real let down was the Stag Head Inn, which advertised itself as a real ale pub, then deigned only to serve 14 different lagers and a couple of scrumpies. Tut tut. For many, today would be one of, if not THE highlight of the PW, I think I have to concede early here and say I just don't get it. I've seen the moors up close, I've gone as high as the pennines climb, and I've witnessed the wildlife (mainly moss and mossy looking sheep) and I'm far from impressed. Oh well, only another (checks notes)... 180 miles to go....