Day 11 - September 12th 2004

Middleton-in -Teesdale to Dufton - 20 miles


Not the best night’s sleep as some of the guests had dinner and drinks at the B&B and did not go to bed until eleven. They were over our heads and let us know they were there with lots of thumping around. As a result of the less than optimum sleep time, I awoke a bit grumpy which is not a good thing as it can make me impatient. Not a wise way to be as impatience can make for danger in walking the hills.

I got my gear from the drying room and had a chat with a couple who had just finished the Way, doing it in many stages with yesterday’s being the last, Middleton to Dufton. They gave me some words of wisdom; unless Maize Beck is really roaring, cross and keep to the regular route. They had done the alternate yesterday and found it to be very boggy and difficult.

After a quick breakfast Connie drove me back to yesterday’s finish and I set out on what would turn out to be the most difficult day of my walk up the Way. At first the weather was fine with the occasional shower. However, I could see very dark clouds ahead of me, directly in the path of my walk. The first four miles up the Tees were pleasant with nice scenery and quite a few people about, it being a Sunday and all. When I reached Langdon Beck things changed dramatically for the worse. Rain started coming down in sheets with wind directing it in my face. There were a few people ahead of me but they were all coming toward me, day walkers escaping the storm.

Given the weather and what it looked like ahead of me, I decided that I should pack everything tightly and just head out into the weather. I really had no choice. My camera went into my pack and my map book was zipped up in my rain pants. From that time on until I reached Dufton, I did not stop except for nature’s call and a one shot photo op at Cauldron Snout.

At first, it was just heavy rain and wind. The warning about crossing Falcon Clints in wet weather caused some concern but that is where the path went. I also kept thinking about the advice of not crossing Maize Beck if it was too high. Of course there was no description of what “too high” meant. Anyway, after making it across the Clints, I heard this roar around a bluff ahead of me and it was Cauldron Snout. What a surprise. I could not resist stopping to take one photo but then had to consider how to get up to the top, there not being a trail and all. Well, it was up the slick rocks to the top only to be confronted with the unlovely sight of the dam at Cow Green.

From there it was a left turn and off on a rough track, coming across a sign warning about bad weather. However, it did not say what to do, which did cause me some worry since I was walking in what could only be considered bad weather. Also there was the the issue of crossing Maize Beck. After passing through Birkdale it was up and up with the wind and rain in my face. Once I dropped down to the beck, I kept looking for the place to cross as described to me by the people at the B&B who had walked there yesterday.

Unfortunately I could not see any way marker (what else is new) so I finally decided on a spot to cross and made it with just a little water getting in one boot. My many trips crossing streams in the High Sierras years ago stood me in good stead. Just before I crossed the beck the mist started coming lower and lower and it finally reduced visibility to perhaps twenty five yards. I kept out the compass and tried not to lose sight of a cairn behind me before seeing one ahead, something not always possible.

From the crossing until I reached what must have been High Cup Nick, it was a matter of perseverance. The wind was very strong with the rain coming in sheets. Both wind and rain were in my face. The visibility was very bad with the mist. Of course, having my glasses covered with rain did not help the situation. I kept my head down as much as possible to avoid the tattoo like impact from the rain on my face. The one guiding light in this entire mess was that, occasionally, I would see a boot print in the mud on the “path.” Because of the rain and wind, I could tell this was not an old print so I knew there was someone up ahead, as foolish as me, trying to make it “over the top” to Dufton.

I finally came to what apparently was High Cup Nick. I could not see anything of the valley, just some rocks through the swirling mist and the sense of a void beyond. The wind was so strong at this point that I had to brace myself with my trekking poles to stay upright. Obviously I did not get too close to the rocks and void. I knew the path led around High Cup on the north so I kept on trudging in that direction, trying to keep myself oriented with the steep down slope to my left. After what seemed like an eternity, I came to a sheep corral with an acorn sign on it. At that point I knew, for the first time in what seemed like hours, I was heading in the right direction. The mist had cleared a bit but I never did see High Cup Nick.

Shortly after climbing over the sheep corral I could see a village in the valley below. It had stopped raining and either the mist had lifted or I had gotten below it. In any case, I could see a village down there and whether or not it was Dufton, I decided it had better be. Fortunately for me, it was. After descending the long down hill, I walked the “main” street by the green and found our car parked in front of a B&B so I knew I had arrived. Just as I started to knock on the door, Connie opened it as she was coming out to start looking for me. It was an eight hour walk for the twenty miles and a very difficult one at that.

At the B&B I cleaned up, had some tea and cookies and set about drying my gear, particularly my boots. Although they had not leaked, water had gotten in them from the top as I foolishly had not put on my gaiters. Once I had semi recovered, it was next door to the very welcoming pub. When the weather had turned horrible on the walk, I had promised myself a glass of single malt whisky when, or if, I made the pub. The publican had McAllen 12 available and it was just lovely. A pint of Black Sheep followed the whisky and then we went in to the carvery. Connie had lunch there and had given me a briefing. It was just what I needed after that twenty miles with no lunch. The meal was good and filling and afterward it was back to the B&B, read for a bit and to sleep at 9:20.

This was a very tough day. I now know how people can die up on those hills. When the wind blows, the rain comes down in sheets and the mist cuts visibility to a few yards, it is easy to get lost. The owner of the B&B is a trekker and mountaineer and he told me the problem is people get off the path, becoming lost and with the weather they cannot be found. After this day, I know what he means.  

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