Cross Fell marks the highest point on the Pennine Way and it has a reputation for bad weather and poor visibility. It is also part of the longest distance to be covered in any one day, close on 20 miles. For many years, on numerous trips to the Lake District or Scotland, I had looked across the Eden valley towards Cross Fell, but had never walked on it. I was a bit apprehensive and since the weather forecast (misleading in the event) suggested low cloud cover after about 11am, we got up, broke camp and set off at 7am……..
Cross Fell hung over us like a cloud,
Obscuring the view, a distortion
Of distance and direction, dreadful
In an imagined darkness.
‘Till now it had been peripheral,
An object of curiosity
Viewed from afar, given due respect,
Acknowledgement but passed by.
Its ghost appeared as we climbed from Hawes,
Teasing us in the bright clear sunshine
With a pretence at proximity,
Mocking its reputation.
Now it stood over us as we planned
Our assault – it drew the sky closer
As if to growl a warning, dragging
Us from our beds to shiver.
The idea of 20 miles ahead,
The threat of low cloud and driving rain,
The stories of lost walkers, frightened
Wet and tired, pulled on our minds.
The start was pastoral, comforting,
Paths steeped in the past, secure, peopled,
Decorated by hedgerows, by flowers
By the soft flutters of living.
A pre-echo of the day’s ending
Through the sheltered farms of the South Tyne;
The bare homeliness of Garigill’s
Pub seeking resurrection
In the kindly hopefulness of youth
And the rough banter of old locals,
The bridal shower of May blossom
On the entry to Alston.
Between was wildness, the bitter winds,
The bog fields, the empty horizons
Shaped to deny personality
To erase humanity.
The day played with the meeting between
Man’s taming labours and Nature’s
Chaotic order – quarries reclaimed
Mines flooded and bogs tarmacced.
The golf balls of Great Dunn Fell assert
A denial of wilderness,
But stand nose to nose with the wasteland
Of Knock Fell’s featureless plain.
And so the weight of the day’s journey
Is borne by the Corpse Road, made by men
To carry the dead back to their earth
Where all join the emptiness.
The summit though was unexpected.
The sky clear, wind blasting in our face,
We came to a crowded cairn buzzing
With chatter, energy, fun.