This was the one. If we could finish this leg, the longest and most remote of the Pennine Way so far, then we would be in Garrigill. We would have an easy 4 mile "rest day" tomorrow, and we would start being able to "smell" that finishing line in Scotland! Saying that it is the longest, that is by a mere fraction over Day 1 Edale to Crowden, and of course we were now much fitter and stronger. Breakfast was enjoyed in Dufton Youth Hostel, washed down with protein shakes as usual. We tried our best to get everything together and embark ahead of Bobby and Toke to at least set a good initial pace for the day. The Yaseu FT-817 transceiver and SOTA Beam lightweight 3-element Yagi aerial were returned to the rucksacks today. They hadn't been required for a few days, but today we would pass over the highest point of the Pennine Way - Cross Fell G/NP-001 - and we intended to activate it for Summits on the Air.
We were no further than the stile at which the Pennine Way takes a left fork ahead of Dufton Pike G/NP-027 when Bobby and Toke caught us up. For a while, we walked with them and chatted excitedly about the possibility of a cloud inversion on Cross Fell, given that the low base of the cloud above us was not even clearing the peak of Dufton Pike, over 400m lower than Cross Fell. By the time we had passed Dufton Pike, and were about to skirt the lower flanks of Brownber Hill, the cloud base had lifted to well above Dufton Pike's summit, giving us all a reality check about the probability of a cloud inversion by the time we were up on Cross Fell!
By this time, Dan and Mick had also caught us up, and two more Pennine Way walkers were ahead of us. They turned out to be Barrie and Sandra, another pair like the earlier Kevin and Janet that I had 'met' online on a Pennine Way messageboard prior to commencing the walk. It was clear that the pacier duos of Bobby and Toke, and Dan and Mick were about to step out and pull away from Jimmy and I from this point. Hence I asked Barrie to take a photo of the last time the six of us would be together. Jimmy and I were stopping in Garrigill for the coming night, while the other four were heading to at least Alston, where we would be the night after. So this was definitely farewell and good luck time. Mick and Dan had only two days left, Greenhead being their final destination, but we told Bobby and Toke that we would be asking after them en route, and checking the signing-in books in the mountain refuge huts on the Cheviot hills. It was slightly sad in a way that the relationships and camaraderie unwittingly built-up between the six of us over the past week or two were about to be broken, but we all shook hands and wished each other well for the rest of our adventures.
The most height to gain on any day on the Pennine Way was today, so we were a little in awe of the morning's climbing. However, plenty of enthusiasm and a good determined steady pace meant that the height was gained without much in the way of physical or mental pain. John G3WGV had assured us last night that the ascent up to Knock Old Man was much more straightforward than it may appear on the map, and so it proved to be. Jimmy and I rewarded ourselves with a biscuit at the first summit of the day, before pressing onto the col ahead of Great Dun Fell.
Once we met the tarmac road coming up from Knock, near Dufton (apparently the highest tarmac road in the UK) we were on familiar territory once more. We had walked from this point twice before to reach the summit of Cross Fell. We were not tempted to follow the road all the way to the summit of Great Dun Fell, preferring the purist approach of sticking religiously to the Pennine Way path directly across the moor and Dunfell Hush to the giant "golf ball" radar installation.
It was now very claggy up here; so much for a cloud inversion! As well as being rather damp in the mist, an increasingly cool breeze started to pick up. We followed a familiar line from Great Dun Fell to Little Dun Fell, across a col on the ridge. At the shelter on Little Dun Fell was none other than Dan. Mick had gone ahead. We joined Dan in the cramped shelter and got stuck into some chocolate from our lunches. More anecdotes about his time with the notorious "Macc Lads" band were shared by Dan, before he got on his way, leaving Jimmy and myself behind.
From Little Dun Fell, the Pennine Way continues to cling to the crest of the ridge, dropping to the always squidgy Crowdundle Head before taking on the final 121m climb to Cross Fell summit. By now, the mist was very thick, so it was necessary to follow the line of cairns to the summit, each successive pile of stones only appearing when the last was reached. Jimmy and I set up all the radio gear in the large stone cross shelter close to the trig point and made our calls. It was about 2pm in the afternoon. The Hopkins National Trail Guide states about Cross Fell that "it may have taken two thirds of the day to come one third of the way", so we were relieved to only have to get to Garrigill, eliminating the time-pressure of four extra miles. Despite using the beam, only northern based stations were worked. There was somebody deliberately jamming the calling frequency somewhere in the north Lancashire area, which meant I couldn't hear any replies to my calls from the south. This was frustrating, because Mike G4BLH had so far worked us on every Pennine Way summit, and the run would stop here. Thanks to the following stations, all worked on 2m FM with 2.5 watts:
The summit of Cross Fell was now getting soaked by light but persistent and wind-aggravated drizzle. It was getting extremely cold, and we needed to get the hell out of there. We were not about to make a Bleaklow-style navigation mistake though, so a few moments to study the map and compass were prioritised. Visibility was so poor as to remove even the nearest cairn from view. We trusted the compass, and soon out of the clag came the first cairn, a most reassuring experience. We continued on the same bearing, and one by one each cairn appeared before us and was passed. Dropping off the summit plateau, the line of cairns stopped, and we were on very boggy ground with many streams running off the summit area in worsening rain. Visibility reduced further to about 5 metres, so we simply continued in a straight line downhill, trusting the map that at some point a bridleway would run perpendicularly across us. This faith was repaid, and we were able to follow the stony track down the short distance to Greg's Hut, a well-known mountain bothy. We had a little nosey around the hut for a few minutes, signing the book and reading the entries of all our other Pennine Way companions that had beaten us to it.
The rest of the afternoon was a long slog down the never-ending packhorse track/corpse road to Garrigill. We hardly saw another soul for the rest of the day. It was, after a long, long time and much anticipation, nice to be down at 'ground level', out of the worst of the elements, and walking on a normal road past the houses of Garrigill into the village centre. We were booked in at the Post Office, which doubles as a bed & breakfast establishment. Jimmy and I had a twin room up on the top floor, next door to the TV lounge. The shared bathroom was nicely fitted with bath and separate shower, but a card by the bath informed residents that it wasn't for their use; they were to use the shower only! This amused us, and as it turned out everyone else that stayed at the Post Office. We had lots of wet things and no drying room, but for a donation to an animal rescue centre, our landlady offered to tumble-dry anything that required it. She also gave us plenty of old newspaper to stuff into our wet boots.
After the customary shower and change, we went to the adjacent George & Dragon pub for our evening meal. Barrie and Sandra were there, and we joined them at their table. Jimmy, to my surprise, opted for the cold roast beef platter, while I ambitiously decided to give the trout a go. In contrast to my previous disasters when ordering trout at a restaurant, this one was prepared superbly, tasted delicious and did not give me a headache managing the bones! The beer in here was the good old Black Sheep again, which slipped down very nicely indeed. Barrie and Sandra were walking to Slaggyford tomorrow, in contrast with the easy leg we had planned, so I handed them my Wainwright book to sign. Back at the digs, Jimmy went straight to bed, while I went to watch a bit of telly. After some initial confusion, I realised that I just had to watch whatever the proprietors were watching in their private quarters, including the channel being changed before my very eyes! I didn't hang around and Jimmy was still awake when I got into bed. He agreed we could have the clock radio on 'sleep' mode, so we drifted off into the Land of Nod accompanied by BBC Radio 4.