Not being in a youth hostel dormitory, we couldn't rely on the others to wake us up, so my first awareness of the second Saturday on the Pennine Way was with the bleeping of the travel alarm clock perched upon my rucksack. There was a sink in our twin room, so we immediately made up our protein shakes in the pint pots we had smuggled up from the bar the night before. This was a day we were certainly looking forward to. We were on our way to Dufton, a village we had stayed in before on a walking weekend, and the route there promised much.
I got talking to a retired mathematics teacher over breakfast, who insisted on setting me a problem about supercircles. I still haven't solved it, basically out of laziness once it became necessary to look up some of the integrals from university. We soon set off, very pleased with our stay at the Langdon Beck Hotel. We tried to get away pretty sharpish after breakfast in the hope of meeting our four walking companions. The first job was to cross the ford and return on the public footpath and bridleway back to Saur Hill Bridge where we left the Pennine Way yesterday.
As we dropped down towards the bridge we could see Toke and Bobby on the Pennine Way ahead, still moving at their usual breakneck speed, but unlike their first days on the trail, doing so without frequent rest stops. So we gave up on any idea of seeing them two until Dufton. As we reached the bridge, we met Mick, who reported that Dan was already well away having set off early that morning. Mick was also walking at a faster pace than us, so after a brief chat and catch-up on events, he also moved on ahead. It was back to just Jimmy and I yet again, but this was just fine. We had hardly had a cross word since the very first day and were enjoying each other's company. Walking is definitely the lifestyle best suited to Jimmy's brain!
We were reunited with the appealing River Tees within the first half-hour of the morning, and enjoying an easy grassy stroll around its curving north bank. However, this gave us a false sense of security, and our rate of progress slowed suddenly when the river began to sweep around to the right. Underfoot now was not that wide flat firm grassy path, but a narrow and obstacle-ridden route of rocks and boulders. It was hard going, and we couldn't really look up and admire the imposing Falcon Clints above due to the concentration required on where we were putting our feet below.
After the drawn-out process of getting beyond all the rocks without twisting ankles or indeed falling into the Tees, the sense of anticipation returned as we began to hear the smooth noise of falling water. With every step, the volume multiplied until it was a breathtaking roar coming from behind the next corner. This was it, without actually seeing it, we knew this was going to be something very special. Around the bend we came, and there right in front of us was the explosion of white frothing water at the foot of its crashing drop from the Cow Green Reservoir. Cauldron Snout at its spectacular best. The sheer violence of this water cascade was simply awesome, and we allowed ourselves the decadence of a slow amble up the path which followed its right-hand edge. In fact, the ascent was necessarily cautious, especially where the rocky path edged rather close to the crashing rapids below. The rocks and slabs here were wet underfoot, caused by spray from the adjacent torrents, and some mild scrambling was involved as we climbed up and away from the danger area.
We could not take our eyes off this magnificent feature, so it seemed an appropriate opportunity for an extended photo-shoot and a snack. The Cow Green Dam now towered behind, offering a slightly unwelcome reminder of civilisation, but then that is the supply for Cauldron Snout, so we could hardly be resentful. At this point we left the Tees, and for the next hour or two we would keep company instead with Maize Beck.
Initially, the Pennine Way path climbed high above and a few hundred metres away from the beck. We were back to the more usual upland moorland walking, although it seemed a rather sudden contrast from the waterside interludes of the past two days. The distinctive long ridge summit of Mickle Fell G/NP-002 rose majestically above the other side of Maize Beck as we looked across. We recounted our recent expedition to that summit, which was our final serious training walk ahead of the Pennine Way. We had taken advantage of a published military non-firing access day to walk on Mickle Fell for the first time, and soon we were reacquainted with the firing range warning signs, but this time over on the opposite side of the fell.
A spot of lunch was taken up by some disused mineworkings, where the spoil heaps afforded shelter from the biting wind which was now blasting across the higher altitudes. For months we had been anticipating an important decision to make regarding the crossing of Maize Beck. The official route and traditional method is to ford the beck before it bends northwards as it comes down Maizebeck Scar. If the beck is high or in poor weather the recommendation is to follow the alternative Pennine Way route uphill and around. We were keen not to do this, as it would have impaired the approach to High Cup Nick, the next major feature we were looking forward to.
In any case, a few weeks before setting off, I learned that a new footbridge had been installed at the traditional crossing point, so the decision did not have to be made, although it did appear that the beck was safely "fordable" today. Once over Maize Beck, we knew full well that we were heading ever closer to the spectacle that is High Cup Nick. Perhaps it was not so much of a spectacle since we had read so much about it and seen the pictures! Nonetheless, this U-shaped glacial valley, suddenly opening up the world beneath our feet was truly awesome. Two other walkers were sitting and resting at its edge, but as much as I would have liked to, I simply didn't dare get any closer than about 10 metres!
The path skirted around the northern lip of High Cup Nick before appearing to follow a terrifying line just inches from a sheer cliff edge. "No way" I said to Jimmy, "We will find another way further up" before doubling beck and glancing up the hill. As it turned out, we had missed the actual Pennine Way path heading steeply upwards on a wide stony track just before the "walk of faith". Once we had reached "Hannah's Well" at its highest point, and crossed it, we only had downhill walking to remain for the day. There was a final bit of 'work' to do as we dropped fairly steeply off Peeping Hill. For a while it seemed we would never be able to drop so much distance as to be level with the floor of High Cup Nick, and it reminded us of coming off Bleaklow towards Crowden-in-Longdendale on the first day in that respect. Steadily though, we did get down there, and once we were on the bridleway track to Dufton, we downed packs and treated ourselves to a leisurely and celebratory apple.
Dufton Pike G/NP-027 loomed over us to the right (north) and there remained a theoretical chance we would climb it tonight for a radio activation. Probably not though, Jimmy and myself agreed, better to rest and focus on the more demanding day ahead of us tomorrow. While munching on the apples we chatted and reflected on the fact that once tomorrow was "in the bag", we would have really broken the back of the Pennine Way, and be on the home straight. A message on Jimmy's 'phone confirmed that our friend Richard G3CWI was on his way up the M6 from Macclesfield to join us for the evening. With a spring in our stride, we completed the final twenty minute stroll into Dufton village.
While checking in at the hostel, we were greeted enthusiastically by Toke and Bobby who were checked into the same dormitory as us for the night. The lads had again left a couple of bottom bunks for Jimmy and I, for which we were grateful. The hostel warden was initially somewhat flustered as he couldn't immediately find any confirmation that payment for our stay had been received, and his concern then concentrated on a child being in a dormitory with other adults. I assured the warden that we knew everyone in there, although this was only 60% true, and he finally allowed us to check in.
Richard arrived shortly afterwards, and he related to earlier asking a couple of Pennine Way-walking lads at the hostel if they had heard of Tom and Jimmy. "Oh yes, we know Tom and Jimmy!" they had replied, told Richard in a way to suggest we had built up a level of notoriety on the expedition so far. This, as suspected, was Bobby and Toke. Richard disappeared off for a mountain bike-cum-walking ascent of Dufton Pike G/NP-027. Jimmy and I waited in the hostel lounge, and sure enough the radio eventually sprang into life with his voice. We both worked him on 2m FM with our handheld radios before Richard turned to his more usual mode of 40m CW. We adjourned over to the Stag Inn opposite the hostel, where Richard was eating, although he would have a long wait with the pub extremely busy. Another SOTA friend John G3WGV arrived for a beer and a chat, although he hadn't put in the same distance as Richard, living just up the road in Eastern Cumbria. Pints of Black Sheep Bitter suitably lubricated the conversation, before returning to the hostel for some sleep. For the first time in many nights, I did not find it easy to drop off into slumber, especially with Richard in the bunk above beating even Don's decibel record for snoring!