ROUND & ABOUT
High Ashgill is close to Ashgill Force, a dramatic waterfall dropping 50 ft into a gorge, and spanned by the road bridge. You can walk behind the waterfall and stay dry, and see the sedimentary rocks laid down when the area was covered by the "Midlands Sea" during the Ordovician Period. (Geologists across the world refer to this type of rock formation as the Ashgill Event.) The gorge was at one time a busy area for screening mineral ore taken from the surrounding drift mines, before being transported by ponies to be smelted. It has now been re-colonised by nature with some rare and beautiful wild plants, and by adventure-groups experiencing gorge-walking and abseiling. There's a footpath which follows Ashgill downstream to its confluence with the River South Tyne. The footpath continues past the confluence of Cross Gill, then across the river at Windshaw Bridge to join the Tynehead road to Garrigill.
From its source on Tynehead Fell, a couple of miles south of High Ashgill and marked by a sculpture by Gilbert Ward, the River South Tyne begins its descent, passing through Garrigill, on to Alston, then Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge where it runs parallel to Hadrian's Wall before joining with the North Tyne. You can walk the full length on the South Tyne Trail, sharing a few miles north of Alston with the narrow-guage South Tyne Railway.
The South Tyne Trail meets The Pennine Way at Garrigill as it descends from Cross Fell, which, at just below 3,000 ft, is the highest point in England outside of the Lake District. The descent is an old sheep drove-road called the Black Band, and its zig-zag track can be seen easily from Cloud Nine. Some say it was so-called because of the peat that was brought down; others say it was because miners who died on Alston moor were carried back along this route to the Eden Valley over Cross Fell to be buried. Cross Fell's escarpment takes the full force of prevailing westerlies, often creating tumultuous local weather, especially the Helm Wind on its western slopes. Greg's Hut is a restored mineshop on the Pennine Way not far below Cross Fell's summit, affording shelter to walkers.
Tynehead was once a small but thriving lead-mining settlement. Now it's a single remote farm. Continuing south-east from the source, you cross the watershed into the upper Tees valley. The roar of the River Tees can be heard soon after the Tyne source, from the important Moor House Nature Reserve. It's here that scientists have been monitoring climate change for more than fifty years.
Across on Yad Moss, on the slopes of Burnhope Seat, is Carlisle Ski Club's ski tow, a 500m button tow to which skiers and snowboarders flock from all over southern Scotland and northern England. This usually means that if the B6277 is closed by snow, it's soon cleared and re-opened from the west. Cloud Nine is the nearest accommodation to it, and within easy walking distance (one mile). Skis and boots can be hired locally.
Back from the ski tow along from the aptly-named Windy Brow, the Ridges Plantation is home to buzzards, red squirrels and fallow deer. Up beyond Litttle Gill is a rare colony of water voles. The C2C route crosses here, past Priorsdale and down into the Nent Valley at Nenthead Mines. The site is managed by the North Pennines Heritage Trust, and some of the hundred miles of mine are open as part of the museum to lead mining and silver extraction. There's a small hydro generation scheme here, and a display of water wheels and devices similar to those that drove the machinery and ventilation systems for the mines from the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. From Nenthead you can take the road across Killhope into the very top of the Wear Valley, eventually leading to Durham and on to Sunderland. Killhope Mining Museum is close by.
Alongside the steep bank that brings the road back over Flinty Fell from Nenthead to the B6277 (Fiddler Street) is Dowgang Hush. Its precipitous sides were created by early prospectors who dammed a small gill, then released it, flushing out the loose rock to reveal the mineral seams.
Paradoxically, High Ashgill is not as remote as people assume. It is slap bang in the middle of northern England between west and east. Penrith, the West Coast Mainline railway and the M6 are 45 minutes away. The Settle-Carlisle railway is even closer, at Langwathby. Ullswater and the Lake District is less than an hour, as is the border city of Carlisle. Barnard Castle, Scotch Corner with the A1(M) and Richmond are within easy reach to the south-east. Glasgow, Edinburgh and York are easy day-trip destinations. Newcastle, Durham and Teesside are a little over an hour away. The ferry port at North Shield is an hour-and-a-half, as are the airports at Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley.
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