LEJOG40: Dufton to Alston

Today was all about getting up and over Cross Fell. The weather was similar to the previous day – gorgeous – which meant I had nothing to worry about once I was up there. It would make a complete contrast from the wind, rain and mist of Great Shunner Fell only a few days before. This wasn’t pointless rambling across random fields, this was getting up high and bagging a peak.

I was pretty quickly ascending back up the hills. I think it took about 90 mins to get to Green Fell, the start of the ridge that led to Cross Fell. It was a completely knackering experience with a million fake summits that revealed another summit once reached. On the way I bumped into the group of scots I had last seen at the Langdale Hotel.

They were making steady progress and were stopping at the village before my final destination. I was a bit jealous of their more lesiurely pace and social atmosphere, and promised myself that if I ever do a long distance path again I’ll not try to pile on the miles.

It’s OK, if not essential, for LEJOG to keep moving, but a regular path should be savoured, otherwise you could be walking anywhere and you’re missing soaking in it’s unique characteristics. This sounds really obvious but it’s easy to become over-focused on mile-eating when you’re at the coal face.

I made my way over the ridges to Cross Fell. The views were ok but not fantastic-there wasn’t much to actually see apart from the peaks the Penine way way was traversing and a series of hills far away to the west. However this didn’t detract from the subtle elation that comes from being up high. I was happy to be there.

Coming down from Cross Fell I was confronted by a wide sweep of hilly moors. It felt like it took ages to get to Garigill, but this was as much due to my impatience. I was staying at Jenna’s in Gateshead that night and having a rest day there tomorrow (Sunday), and I was understandably looking forward to the end of the day.

The highlight of the descent was popping into a Mountain bothy for an afternoon snack. Although the weather was incredibly sunny it was also very windy up there and the shelter provided was much appreciated. It felt much calmer inside this still little white washed shack than outside in the violence of the wind. It seemed like such a brilliant idea-a little building that you could stay in for free when fell walking. I paid for membership of the mountain bothies association as part of my preparation and I will see about using this much more extensively in the future.

I finally made it to Gargill and flat land. I popped inside the local pub for a coke (honest) and had a chat with the locals about my quest.

They were all suitably impressed but one was a bit dismissive of how long it had taken me so far that day. I let him feel how heavy my bag was and he quickly changed his opinion.

The final stretch of 3-4 miles of river walking should have been pretty, simple and easy. It was for the main part, but then only 1 or

2 kilometers from Alston I misread my map (due mainly to my impatience) and ended up scrabbling around on faint and regularly disappearing paths on a small but steep wooded bank. It was almost an hours worth of beng squashed between trees and barbed wire with a variety of twigs constanty catching on my massive back-pack. This significantly slowed my speed down and stopped me getting to Alston until 5pm which meant I missed perusing both the outdoors shop and the second-hand cool antique-y shop. The former was irritating but only because of my obsession with these shops-it wasnt a great loss in reality. The latter was a real loss because I could tell from peering through the windows that there were some seriously cool stuff in there. Not that I could have bought anythig obviously, but these shops are each unique and draw on the communities around them to source the coolest bric-a-brac. I think that experiencing them is as worthwhile and spiritually uplifting as experiencing the landscape. In fact I would love to produce a guide to the best antique-y shops in the country. Any takers? Please! Maybe this could be my next challenge?

My ride from Alston to Gateshead was courtesy of Michael, a very kind friend of Jenna’s, who has a really nice convertable sports car. On the way back with the wind in my hair I was slowly being convinced that you could experience the landscape in a meaningful way in a car, as long as it was a cool one. I wondered whether this fact could form the basis of my next challange-maybe driving LEJOG via the most scenic route possible? Then I remembered that a far more real and immediate challenge would be learning to drive. Yeah, maybe I should be focusing on these much more practical things when I get back…


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