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The Walk

Today’s walk is a challenging one. At 19½ miles it is not only the longest single section of the Pennine Way, but also the highest. It includes the traverse of the three highest summits of the Pennines; Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell (2930 ft). No other part of the entire End-to-End walk achieves this elevation. The walk takes us from the Eden valley to that of the South Tyne, but it is wholly within the county of Cumbria.

Although you’re in for plenty of effort, the walk is not difficult. The section along the high tops themselves is on grass, the initial approach along the Eden valley is by a succession of field paths and farm lanes, and the descent from Cross Fell to Garrigill is on a good track (reckoned to be the quickest and easiest section of the whole Pennine Way). It’s the long ascent of Knock Fell, and the potentially confusing series of footpaths between Garrigill and Alston at the end of the day, which are most likely to be tiring.

There are two opportunities for breaking the walk down into smaller sections if you wish. Some walkers opt to end the day at Garrigill rather than Alston, and there is an opt-out point at Great Dun Fell, where the private road to the Civil Aviation Authority’s air traffic control station reaches the summit.

Walk Statistics:
Length: 19.4 miles / 31.2 km
Total ascent: 3497 ft / 1066 m
Total descent: 3226 ft / 983 m
Estimated time: 7 hrs 23 mins

Maps: OS 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure 31 (North Pennines and Teesdale), 19 (Howgill Fells and Eden Valley)

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Coatsike farm lane:  nearing Halsteads

Our route leaves Dufton to the north from the village green. At the point where the road to Knock turns off to the left, go straight on along a lane which leads to Coatsike Farm. Pass immediately to the left of the farm buildings to follow a path alongside a substantial hedgerow, formerly the access drive to Halsteads farm a mile to the north. The conical height of Dufton Fell rises immediately to your right. 


HalsteadsSwindale Beck pathlooking back

At Halsteads, formerly a farmhouse but now just used as a store, the path dips to come alongside Great Rundale Beck for a short distance before crossing it by a clapper bridge. The succeeding lane runs northeastwards, with a stone wall to the left, through open pastures dotted with the occasional tree. You climb gradually uphill until, two and a half miles out of Dufton, you reach a stile giving access to open country.

Knock Fell

The Swindale Beck path

The pastoral beauty of the Eden Valley ends quite suddenly. Once across the stile you're back in the familiar country of Pennine moorland, rough grasses and peat bogs. Follow the path across the declivity of Swindale Beck and then onwards alongside its north bank.

The long climb of Knock Fell

The ascent of Knock Fell is long and tedious, and it's useless to pretend otherwise. If the sun is shining you will be rewarded by the exhilaration of the climb and the increasingly fine views back across the vale of Eden. Otherwise it can be a real slog. As Swindale Beck peters out the way becomes rougher, wetter and less well defined. Eventually, however, you arrive at the enormous cairn of Knock Old Man.

Knock Old Man

Wainwright notes that there are a good many cairns on Knock Fell. The biggest cairn is Knock Old Man, which is a good 200 metres short of the actual summit. It’s a local landmark and its bulk allows it to function as a small but welcome wind shelter. The summit cairn is unimpressive by comparison.

Knock Fell, at 2604 ft, is the highest point yet reached on the Pennine Way (and indeed the entire End to End Walk). At the summit turn half left to follow the ridge. Like most Pennine ridges it’s broad, flat and rather wet in parts. The path is virtually straight for the best part of a mile, and leads to the col between Knock Fell and Great Dun Fell.

At the col you reach a surfaced road coming up from Knock, four miles away. This is not part of the public road network, but a private road serving the air traffic control radar on the summit of Great Dun Fell. However, walkers can use it for access to or from the route. The road is the highest surfaced road in the UK, beating both the Applecross and Glenshee roads in the Scottish Highlands by some 700 ft, though these remain the highest points on the public road network.

Great Dun Fell

You have a choice of following either the road or the original path, which runs a couple of hundred metres to the northeast. The path heads for the top of Dunfell Hush, an artificial channel created by the mining industry. There are several examples of hushes nearby – their purpose was to wash away the topsoil to expose the bedrock and any mineral deposits it might contain. Turn right at the head of Dunfell Hush to follow the path northwards, heading to the right of the radar facility.

Approaching Great Dun FellThe CAA air traffic control radarthe path to Little Dun Fell

Great Dun Fell, at 2780 ft, establishes another altitude record for the Pennine Way, and is home to the Civil Aviation Authority’s air traffic control radar station. Many will see its presence in this otherwise wild environment as a desecration but it had to be built somewhere, and perhaps we should be thankful that it was sited here and not at the top of Cross Fell itself. The grounds of the radar station have expanded since Wainwright’s book was written, but the directions are the same – follow the eastern boundary fence around to the far side of the facility, and then resume your course along the ridgeline to the north west.

Little Dun Fell

Looking back to Great Dun FellThe summit of Little Dun Fell

Walk another half mile down to the slightly juicy col at 2750 ft, then commence the easy climb to Little Dun Fell at 2761 ft. This really is a wild place. Except for the radar station to your rear, little of the hand of man is visible. The vast emptiness of Stainmore Common lays to the east while the bulk of Cross Fell dominates the view just a mile to the northwest. If the day is clear you should be able to see the fells of the Lake District on the skyline to the southwest.

Cross Fell from Tees Head Col

It’s the best part of two miles to the top of Cross Fell and there are no intervening landmarks except for the odd sheep. The col between Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell is generally regarded as the source of the river Tees, and was on the boundary between Westmorland and Cumberland before these two ancient counties were amalgamated into Cumbria. It’s a steady climb to the top of Cross Fell itself.

Cross Fell

The Dun Fells from Cross Fella stone man on the summit plateauapproaching the summit

The summit plateau of Cross Fell is broad and almost flat, and is ringed by a circle of boulders at around 2800 ft. Continue to head northwest until you find the enormous, cross-shaped wind shelter. Unless the weather is inclement this is a favourite place to stop for lunch.

Cross Fell is the highest point of the Pennines and the summit of our walk, at 2930 ft. It’s also the highest point of the main watershed of England but there are eight higher summits in the Lake District, some forty miles to the southwest and visible on clear days. To the left is the drainage system of the river Eden, behind to our right is that of the Tees, and ahead to our right is that of the Tyne. The view from Cross Fell encompasses a substantial part of northern England and on the clearest days both coasts should be visible, but you will not see much in the way of habitation. You’re six miles from the nearest village.

Summit trig pillarthe descent path to the northjoining the Corpse Road

Leave Cross Fell to the north. You may wish to consult your compass here as the summit plateau is featureless and one cairned path tends to look like another. Go wrong here and you will find yourself descending into the trackless and empty country to the west, miles from anywhere. The Pennine Way route crosses the far side of the ring of boulders and then descends on grass until, at 2550 ft, you reach a good path heading east-west. Turn right and follow this path for eight miles to Garrigill.

Corpse Road

All the guidebooks tell us that the path is an old corpse road. Apparently these roads existed to link outlying villages with the nearest consecrated ground where the villagers would be able to bury their dead. This road linked Garrigill, in the south Tyne valley, with Kirkland. It doesn’t make sense to me that the good folk of Garrigill would transport their dead all the way over the Pennines to Kirkland rather than four miles down the valley to Alston, but perhaps a local historian might like to contact me and put me right.

Gregg's Hutthe corpse road

Half a mile along the path eastwards of the Cross Fell ridge you reach a former miner’s cottage, known nowadays as Gregg's Hut. It is maintained as a bothy or bad weather shelter for walkers, and is probably the UK’s highest inhabitable dwelling. It even has a rudimentary lawn, but don’t expect electricity or running water.

Further down from Gregg's Hut the track passes a number of former lead mine workings. There isn’t much to see apart from spoil heaps, but should you happen to chance upon a shaft or tunnel, avoid it. The old workings are dangerous.

Long Man Hill

Three miles beyond Cross fell the track bends to the left to head around Long Man Hill and Pikeman Hill. Over to the north the scene is one of desolation, a world empty of anything except undulating moorland. Somewhere out there is the Alston – Penrith road, a lonely ribbon of tarmac that features the Hartside Cross inn at its 1900 ft summit.

The Pennine Way near Long Man Hill

Beyond Pikeman Hill the track, more substantial now, converges with a stone wall on the right. Soon afterwards you reach a pasture boundary, and a second stone wall on the left. These twin walls enclose the lane for the three miles down into Garrigill in the South Tyne valley, said by Wainwright to be the fastest three miles of the entire Pennine Way.


Garrigill will seem like a throbbing metropolis after the last three days’ walk, but it’s still a small village and there are not a great many facilities. The village green is often strewn with the supine figures of resting walkers and cyclists and the village shop does good business supplying their immediate needs. Some walkers choose to stay here overnight but it’s a fair bet that the good majority of them will continue to the market town of Alston, four and a half miles further on.

Start off along the Alston road but after about 400 metres, where the road bends away from the riverbank, abandon it for the riverside track. There’s a pleasant riverside walk for the next mile and a bit, among scenery of river meadows and trees. Cross the footbridge to the northeast bank of the South Tyne. Now the route becomes intricate and you will need to follow the map carefully, keeping an eye on the field boundaries.

Follow the route past the farm of Sillyhall, which you leave to your right. A few pastures further on you reach another farm, Bleagate. The route is intricate here and there is ample opportunity to get lost. Go immediately to the right of the farm buildings and over two stiles, then left through a gate, then right again – you should be on the correct route. Another half mile of pastures brings you to a ribbon of woodland, which you pass immediately to the right. Behind it, the South Tyne meanders back again to run parallel with the path.


The final mile or so into Alston runs high above the riverbank, with various strips of wood, pasture and meadow laying alongside. Finally, a flight of steps runs down to the riverbank just beside the road bridge carrying the Penrith road out of Alston. The Pennine Way goes across this bridge to follow the west bank of the river, but we leave it here to walk acros the road for the remaining few hundred metres into Alston.

Alston is a handsome place, stone built and vying with Buxton as the highest market town in England. Historically it is a lead-mining centre. There are several hotels and guest houses in the town, and enough pubs and cafes to allow you a good choice of venues for your evening meal. Buses run to Penrith and Hexham though there are only a few per day. The town also has a preserved railway, built along part of the old South Tyne route, though it’s a tourist attraction rather than a passenger service and doesn’t go anywhere useful.

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This page last updated 27th July 2006