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Friday, 11 September 2009

North Pennines Night Walking











And now for something completely different…. A man with a doorbell up his nose.

Actually, nothing to do with nasal doorbells – as winter draws on and the nights are getting longer, there comes a time when all good walks either start or end in the dark.
Theres also always the possibility that due to some misfortune, it will go dark in the middle of a walk.
So, I decided to have a walk in the dark – to sort of, get accustomed to the idea and, frankly, to do something different.
I parked up at Cowshill in Upper Weardale at 9:00 pm and crept passed one or two farms and a keeper’s house quietly so as not to disturb any dogs (unsuccessful) and arouse any suspicions as to where I might be going dressed like a hillwalker at that time of night.
After passing over the dam at Burhope Reservoir, I plodded up the long road on to the high Weardale/Teesdale ridge. For this, I didn’t need a light, but once off the road, I switched it on and bagged the first top – High Field – a stony place at 708 metres
Navigation along this ridge is specially easy because there’s a fence to follow, which goes all the way to Killhope Cross. Parts of the fence are new, though, and don’t appear on my map, so it’s a bit of a leap of faith to follow the thing at first.
I soon hit some very deep and squelchy bogs and, after the first dunking, I decided to try my bootless walking theory and removed my boots and socks.
This was a cold shock at first, buit once you stop worrying about wet socks (no socks), the peaty bogs are actually quite pleasant and even knee-deep sucking slutch was no hindrance – I just battered on through. Soft peat, hard peat, sand and stones, grass and heather.... but nothing painful!
A yellow half-moon appeared just after High Field and when it broke through a cloud, I could turn off my light and walk by moonlight.
The thing I noticed the most was the absolute and total silence. It was a windless night and would have been frosty if it happened in just a few more weeks time. A really cold, frosty, moonlit night up here would be absolute magic.
I could see the orange glow from Durham/Tyneside, and the occasional light in the sky, but apart from that, it was just me and the stars and the moonshadow.
I pressed on to Burnhope Seat , at 746 metres, tonight's high point, and, further to Dead Stones 710 metres, where I spent an hour or so hunkered down inside the howf.
Rebooted, the next part, over Lambs Head was tough. Here, I met a maze of bogs and hags and at one point I seemed to have lost the ability to balance. I teetered from tussock to bog hole. It took an age to get to the trig point on Highwatch Currick. I began to be very late and I couldn’t get a mobile signal to send a message home that I would be late.
Dawn dawned as I reached Cowshill and, after driving a little way down Weardale, my text message was sent. I got three in return – a missed call from home, a “if you don’t reply to this, I’ll come and get you” message and an acknowledgement of my text.
Next time, I should give these things more time. It’s a lot slower in the dark.
This walk would be absolutely cracking on a fine, clear, cold and frosty January night with a big moon. But not an experience to have with the chatter of companions.

14 Miles and 1800 feet of climbing

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