Done on Great Dun Fell

great dun fell 1

THERE are certain things in this world on which you should never depend and one of them is the weather forecast. I’ll think of a few more before I’m through, but the weather forecast will suffice for now. The outlook for this morning in the northern Pennines is clear skies with a thin veil of cloud drifting in this evening. So my day has been organised around – and depends upon – this exceptionally fine winter weather . . .

The plan is to leave the van at Dufton, near Appleby, follow the Pennine Way long-distance footpath northwards to the summit of Great Dun Fell, double-back along a snowy Pennine escarpment to photograph the sunset in High Cup, then descend to Dufton in the fading light, using my headtorch if necessary.

This is a round trip of 14.5 miles (23km) and will reach an altitude of 847m (2,778ft) on Great Dun Fell – the second-highest peak in the Pennines after its neighbour, Cross Fell. There will be two highlights: the radar station on the summit of Great Dun Fell and the magnificent geological extravaganza that is High Cup. Descending snowy Pennine slopes in the golden embers of a winter’s evening might qualify as a third highlight, but that depends on the plan and weather working in harmony.

Here’s another thing on which you should never depend: old Ordnance Survey maps. My Sheet 91 (published in 1979) predates the Appleby bypass by a decade at least and I miss the Dufton turn-off. This sort of thing happens all the time but usually involves recently-planted forests and footbridges that were washed away twenty years ago. Old dogs, new maps . . . as they say. (Click pictures for high-res versions)

great dun fell 2 great dun fell 3 great dun fell 4Dufton is a beautiful old village on the edge of the Eden valley. It has a free car park and public toilet, a pub and a youth hostel. The last time I was here it also had a tea-shop, where I enjoyed a pot of Earl Grey and a slice of fruit cake after a pleasant day on the tops, but I read somewhere recently that it has closed its doors.

So in the crispest of February dawns, with a pale sun casting horizontal beams across the land, I set off along the Pennine Way and climb steadily above frozen fields to the pure white snow that cloaks the hilltops. In the west, the Lakeland mountains rise above a sea of grey-blue haze. It really is the most perfect morning. And already I can see my first target: the radar station on Great Dun Fell. Let’s talk about radar stations because they are sinister places and do not sit easily in the landscape.

great dun fell 5 great dun fell 6 great dun fell 8Unlike Fylingdales on the North York Moors, which exists to attract Russian missiles and divert them from more valuable targets in the US, the Great Dun Fell radar station was built for peaceful purposes. According to Wikipedia, it is operated by the National Air Traffic Service and plays a crucial role in air traffic control. Manchester University used to operate a weather station up here and still has access to the site. Apparently, Great Dun Fell spends two-thirds of the year immersed in cloud, so it’s a particularly useful place for studying weather. That makes it a rubbish place for spotting aeroplanes – but not if you’re the owner of “a randome containing primary surveillance radar (PSR) and secondary surveillance radar (SSR) antennae”. In plain English, a giant golf ball and some aerials.

Great Dun Fell possesses something else that’s pretty unique for a mountain – a road to its summit. The public aren’t allowed to drive up this road because that would cause a nuisance. It exists to service the radar station and to access a telecommunications mast at the old Silverband lead and barytes mine.

great dun fell 7So that’s where I’m going. I’m heading for a giant golf ball on the top of a hill. Incidentally, the giant golf balls at Fylingdales have been replaced by a giant segment of Toblerone chocolate. The Russians are confused but not sufficiently to prevent them wiping out Scarborough and Whitby after they’ve flattened Kiev. I just hope I’m back down at the van before Mr Obama decides to export arms to Ukraine.

great dun fell 9I veer off the Pennine Way and intercept the road at the 686m (2,250ft) contour. Cloud is gathering on Cross Fell. By the time I reach the saddle between Great Dun Fell and Knock Fell a world of greyness exists and visibility is reduced to 150 metres. This isn’t what my Microsoft Corporation weather app predicted.

great dun fell 10 great dun fell 11And with the greyness comes the most evil and consistent blast of northerly wind I have been forced to endure for many years. My beard freezes instantly. If you’ve never experienced a frozen beard you can’t begin to imagine what it feels like. Stick a pie crust to your face with wallpaper paste and put your head in the freezer for an hour and you’re about halfway there. It’s not particularly unpleasant, it just feels like you’ve got a pie crust stuck to your face.

great dun fell 12Spindrift stings eyes and cheeks. Horizontal icicles dangle precariously from roadside snow poles. Banks of snow have drifted across the road, revealing bare patches of tarmac caked in a lethal sheen of ice. Progress is slow and difficult. This is the north Pennines in the depths of winter. This is sub-zero temperatures with a dangerous helping of wind-chill factor thrown in to sap energy reserves and penetrate the warmest clothing. Walking becomes extremely unpleasant in these conditions.

great dun fell 13I reach the radar station at 1pm. It has taken me nearly four hours to climb the 5.5 miles (9km) from Dufton – twice as long as expected. As I huddle in a doorway drinking tea, I decide to abandon my plan to walk south along the escarpment to High Cup. It would be madness in this weather. And to achieve what? Pictures of a sunset that is not going to happen?

great dun fell 14 great dun fell 17 great dun fell 16 great dun fell 15great dun fell 19 great dun fell 20As I crouch there feeling sorry for myself, a shrew bounces across the snow as nonchalantly as you like, oblivious to the wind and Arctic temperatures. Who would have thought that such a delicate little mammal could exist in this hostile environment? Yet here it is, scampering about, conducting shrew business. What a marvellous little fellow.

great dun fell 18A new plan is hastily conceived as the north wind roars through gantries surrounding the giant golf ball. I shall head south-west down the fell to Silverband Mine and rejoin the road. High Cup and a glorious sunset will have to wait. There will be other opportunities.

Click map for full-size version

Click map for full-size version

I set a compass bearing and head off through drifting snow and howling wind towards the ruins of Silverband Mine. Beneath the mist, Cumbria stretches before my boots to the western mountains in pools of blue, grey and white. It’s a wonderful view, despite the cloud cover. All is not lost after all.

great dun fell 22great dun fell 21 great dun fell 23 great dun fell 24 great dun fell 25 great dun fell 26

Silverband Mine was worked by the London Lead Company for galena, the ore of lead, during the 19th Century, though in the middle of the 20th Century it was mined extensively by the Laporte company for the mineral barytes. As recently as 2011, Silverband was producing barytes as an opencast mine (see footnote for YouTube video).

Silverband Mine was worked by the London Lead Company for galena, the ore of lead, during the 19th Century, though in the middle of the 20th Century it was mined extensively by the Laporte company for the mineral barytes. As recently as 2011, Silverband was producing barytes as an opencast mine (see footnote for YouTube video).

great dun fell 28 great dun fell 29

The Laporte company installed an aerial ropeway for transporting barytes from the mine to the dressing plant near Dufton, several miles down the fell. This pylon is about all that remains . . .

The Laporte company installed an aerial ropeway for transporting barytes from the mine to the dressing plant near Dufton, several miles down the fell. This pylon is about all that remains . . .

great dun fell 31And finally, here’s a third thing on which you should never depend: the belief that a remote location on one of the highest points in the Pennines will be devoid of traffic cones. Silverband Mine is covered with them – traffic cones pinned to the ground with iron bars to prevent telecommunications mast people driving over the edge in mist. And to confuse the Russians.

great dun fell 32FOOTNOTE:

THERE’S a video on YouTube taken by Keith Bainbridge, who was manager at the mine in 2011, just before it closed. It shows the effort put into getting to work during blizzard conditions. It’s worth a look. Click: Getting to work at the highest workplace in the UK

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Environment, Geology, Hiking, History, Industrial archaeology, Mountains, Pennine Way, Ruins, Walking, Weather and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Done on Great Dun Fell

  1. Sitting here in a warm room listening to Children of Bodom it would have been nice to see that sunset after a struggle through the blizzard, but I suppose you’ve got to do what’s right. Some of the photos have an unearthly quality where it’s hard to tell what is cloud and what is distant mountain.

    In the past I’ve rarely been let down by the BBC’s weather forecasts, although they did get every day hopelessly wrong one week in October in Patterdale a few years ago. I’m not sure I’d put my life in Microsoft’s hands when it comes to weather: if their software’s anything to go by I suppose freezing is about the only thing they’d get right.
    Chris

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Chris. I think weather forecasts should be taken with a pinch of salt. I usually just give them a quick glance to see what the general picture is like, but this one was so far out it was ridiculous. I’d have been better off noting which was the sheep were facing or taking into account the fact there was an “R” in the month. I used to consult a very good website that gave mountaintop conditions for all the upland regions of Britain, but they brought a paywall in so I ditched it.
      Freezing. Very good that. Wish I’d thought of it.
      All the best, Alen

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  2. Hanna says:

    I smiled at your experience with the old Ordnance Survey maps. You may think that fenomenen is English but it is a Danish one too 🙂 …and so goes for the weather forecast too.
    Your pictures are absolutely stunning. What a great post. Thanks for sharing, Alen.
    Hanna

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    • McEff says:

      Hiya Hanna. Yes, I’ve been caught out several times by out-of-date maps. It’s surprising how much the countryside alters over a couple of decades. I’m glad to learn that it’s not just me it happens to.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great photos there Alen. Looked like a excellent walk.

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  4. Dave (B) says:

    I’m sure the weather forecasts get less reliable as the technology gets more sophisticated. Actually, I’m not ‘sure’ at all and it’s probably not true. But it feels true.

    Looking at some of the pictures, I swear I can actually hear the wind howling.

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    • McEff says:

      Dave, I can still feel the wind on my face – and hear it as well. What I’ve noticed about weather forecasts in recent years is they give you more information about the weather you’ve just had, and the weather you are having at the moment, than the weather that’s actually to come. I suppose it keeps people in jobs.
      Cheers, Alen

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  5. I love to visit radar stations and radio mast sites etc – I find them fascinating. We used to walk past Fylingdales a lot – I much preferred the old golf balls but, luckily, we have some near Harrogate. I’ve actually had a visit to Fylindales – the new one – I wish it had been to the old Golf-ball one.

    What on earth was that rabbit doing and why didn’t it run away? Was it inside a building or just cornered between walls?
    Carol.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Carol. I’m glad you mentioned the rabbit. It was running around inside the old mine office, poor little thing, and there was another shrew in there as well. I’m afraid I disturbed them and they shot out into the snow.
      I’ve been meaning to have a walk around Fylingdales. Interestingly, my Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure 27 1:25,000 map (1985-92) shows no sign of it at all, but I see it’s made it onto the internet version. I don’t know that side of the Moors so I shall elevate it to near the top of the list.
      Cheers, Alen

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      • I meant a visit inside Flyingdales 😉 I hope the rabbit and shrew went back inside when you’d gone – hope they put the kettle on too 😉

        BTW – you want to try having your face freeze when you HAVEN’T got a beard! Not nice I can assure you,
        Carol.

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        • McEff says:

          Ha ha. I shaved my beard off when I was 18 and my chin was so cold I haven’t shaved since. So you have my sympathies.
          A trip inside Fylingdales must be very interesting. It’s a weird place when you see it stuck up there on top of the moors.
          I don’t know what happened to the rabbit and the shrew. I should go back and check on them.

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  6. John says:

    I always enjoy your writing and musing on life,thank you ,Alen

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  7. tinkadventures says:

    Great article and photos – I’ve only ever been up there in horrendous fog, so its great to see the landscape in so much detail!

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Tinkadventures. It’s a wild place, but I’ve also been up there on a fine spring day and it was very pleasant. The scenery makes all the difference in places like that!
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Been up there a few times, but didn’t know about that mine. Looks a wonderful atmospheric spot and well worth a visit.
    It looks like the North Pennines and the Peak District both currently have huge amounts of snow. Ours is very, very slowly melting, but has gone on for weeks. Reminds me of being a teenager in the 70s and living in a remote farmhouse on the Dark Peak Moors. We used to get snowed up for some time every winter and feeding the few animals we had used to be a major expedition every day. Not to mention the year when the farm lane (1/2 mile long) stayed full of snow for 3 months one year, and all food, coal, animal feed etc had to be carried/sledged up for the duration…
    Great memories actually!

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Chrissie. Yes, there is still plenty of snow on the tops up here. I’m toying with the idea of venturing out again tomorrow because I’ve got to be in Richmond for 9am so I might as well make a day of it and carry on up Swaledale or somewhere like that.
      That sounds like a hard life in the Dark Peak. In one sense it sounds snug and comfortable to be snowed up in a nice warm farmhouse, but there’s the other side of the coin as well. Animals to feed, coal to haul, wood to chop. It’s a hard life.
      I’ve never done any walking in the Peak District. I don’t know why, it’s just never happened. I suppose it’s another thing that should go near the top of my to-do list.
      All the best, Alen

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  9. Jo Woolf says:

    Wow, Alen, what amazing photos! Beautiful, but I feel chilled just looking at them! You did well to get up there and back safely in those conditions. As for online forecasts, I have stopped looking at the Met Office site and I feel much happier for it! 🙂 I hope that your beard has thawed out now! Love the abandoned mine and that photo of the shrew is superb! 🙂

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Jo. I think it does a person good to get frozen to the bone every once in a while. It’s a long time since I’ve been that cold.
      And my beard’s fine now, thanks. I gave it a shampoo and blow-dry when I got home.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ash says:

    Another great tale Alen. You were lucky not to get stuck up there! I watched that YouTube clip; I would have thought he might have been safer living up there than commuting every day! Also, I don’t have a beard so tried your suggestion! It didn’t work as I didn’t have wallpaper paste to hand just some PritStik & the pie-crust was too tasty to waste on my face (Fray Bentos of course)!

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Ash. That gave me a laugh. Hope your missis didn’t mind the pastry crumbs everywhere.
      I thought that myself about the chaps up at the mine. The regular practice until quite recent times was for miners to spend the week in their “barracks” on site. Many of the bothy-type buildings that exist in the Lakes and Pennines were built as miners’ barracks.
      Cheers, Alen

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  11. Bill.S says:

    These mountain weather forcasts still seem to be free:–
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/mountain-forecast/#?tab=mountainHome

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  12. EchoohcE says:

    Hi Alen, great views from there, like the reflection in the window and the shrew pics! Nice place to be in good weather. Thanks for the post.
    Cheers, Mike

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