One of ‘the’ most remote tracks of the North Pennines must be Cronkley Fell that guards the higher reaches of the upper Tees.
A world detached from the suburban lamp-lit, streets, and safety of our homes, Cronkley Fell is wild and baron place, a miniature planet home to dozens of micro climates defended by enclaves of rocks and ridges, where wild alpines hide among the sugar limestone. You need a specific reason to climb Cronkley Fell, even though an ancient drovers route traverses the summit in the way of ‘Green Trod’, this area is so off the beaten track, that finding a fellow walker on its shoulders is about as likely as finding a bank lending money to a first time buyer.
Cronkley Fell is a beautiful and unique place, made more so by the remote situation of its plateau. A fell that quickly reminds you how alien we’ve become to the natural world were we once hunted, foraged and lived our lives. Reminders of the past are still visible below the crags in the shape of Force Garth and Bracken Rigg, with countless other nameless sites along the Pennine Way. Some are now sadly fenced off by Natural England in the way of preservation against rabbits. I saw dozens of rabbits enjoying their time having breached the fences.
I watched blue sky turn to rain, as freezing hail suddenly blinded the route to ‘White Well’, a sugar limestone pool hidden on the fell’s summit. Dark bars of rain rose up in every direction, stretching across the horizon, imprisoning my fear. I was anxious, common sense tugged at my lapels, yet I recklessly walked on in search of ‘Main Gate’ and the view I so desperately craved.
Yet another false summit thwarted, before the view suddenly revealed the river below. Purple heather on Widdybank changed the colour of my mood, and as I gazed down upon the winding reaches of the upper Tees, I thought how my head is always stuck in the wrong place, but here on this day, my heart was at home. Peace descended. Transfixed in my own world, time quickly slipped away until I realised the light was fading and I still had many miles to cover before I would be back at the car.
I checked the map, realising it would be impossible to complete the original route without the need for walking in the dark.
I decided the best option would be to retrace my steps and follow the sketchy path back across the summit, rather than try to descend down to the River Tees in search of the route back over to Green Trod and Holwick.
Seldom do I find myself lost, but shifting light and persistent rain,
was making it difficult to locate the path.
I stumbled in the mist looking for Green Trod. Without realising, I’d followed one of the enclosure fences too far, becoming lost on the moon like surface. The wind blew just enough holes through the mist, for me to see my mistake. I turned heading south, until I saw the welcome site of ‘White Well’. It was a brief flirt with danger, yet a reminder how one can never take the North Pennines for granted. Soon I was back on familiar ground and making my way back along the Pennine Way. It started to rain again, and by the time I was back at the car, the last of the light had slipped into dusk.