Saturday 14 July 2012

Little Fell - Exploits on a Forbidden Mountain

Saturday 14th July

Distance: 17km; Ascent:580m; Overcast, little wind with occasional rain; with Laura and many others

Little Fell is one of two forbidden 2000ft mountains in England, the other one being Mickle Fell, and there both lie on the MoD Warcop firing range in the North Pennines.  Access to the area is extremely restricted and only available for around 12 weekends a year and only then along rights of way as it is exempted from being access land under CRoW.

Unfortunately there are no public rights of way to the summits of either peaks, but I believe that access to Mickle Fell is relatively easy by way of a permit system (which I will find out for myself at some point, hopefully later this year).  Little Fell however is a different kettle of fish as there is technically no unaccompanied access allowed to it!  Luckily the kind people at North Pennines AONB arrange with the MoD to have an annual access walk to its summit and this year I had actually been organised far enough in advance to bag a space on it :)

And so early this morning Laura and I left the south Manchester area and drove northwards to the agreed meeting place in the small village of Hilton, where the popularity of the walk became evident as the tiny car park was completely overwhelmed.  After finding somewhere else to park, we joined the group for a brief introduction to the area.  At around 10:15am we set off walking and soon entered the firing range, marked by Danger signs. 

Danger Area!
Our route initially lay along a permissive bridleway / vehicle track, which took us around the western slopes of the shapely Roman Fell, whose summit seemed to be trying hard to lose its cloud cap.  It seemed somewhat strange initially to be setting out for a walk in the hills with no idea of the actual planned route, with the exception that we would be going up Little Fell!  I guess it's because I'm so used to actually planning my own routes so it was odd to be being guided today but it was through necessity (although I doubt I would have done that much of a different walk myself anyway!)

Roman Fell
Looking SW out over the firing range
There were good views south-westwards over the lower parts of the firing range and on over the Eden Valley towards the northern Yorkshire Dales and the Lakes in the distance.  Soon we began to ascend to traverse the flank of Roman Fell and around here we spotted our first shell.

One of the many shells
We zig-zagged up past the remains of a barytes mine to reach the end of the track.  Here the route onwards went through surprisingly stony ground for the North Pennines, past further mining remains some of which appeared to be held together by lots of old bits of timber.

Mining RemainsMining Remains
Soon we reached the open moorland, with good views northwards towards Cross Fell.  Given the large quantity of rain recently, the moorland was surprisingly dry - it had that look about it that suggested it was normally much wetter!  We came across the remains of a pretty looking egg amongst the grass and moss, but unfortunately I have no idea what sort of egg it is.

An egg on Long Fell
Ascending Tinside Rigg
Looking north over the moorland towards Cross Fell
We soon reached the small summit cairn on Tinside Rigg before heading north-east across the moorland, sometimes on a faint path, to reach the scree slopes at around 700m on south-west flank of Little Fell.  Here we spotted yet more shells amongst the rocks.

Shells high up on Little Fell
We soon reached Little Fell's trig point, surrounded by a stone windshelter; however strangely this did not actually mark the summit, which lay around half a kilometre away to the NNW.  But as it was now well past 1pm, we stopped here for a spot of lunch with good views across to Mickle Fell (another forbidden mountain) and northwards towards the giant golf ball on Great Dun Fell.

Lunch near the trig point on Little Fell
After suitable refreshment we set off to find the true summit, which is described as a large flat area of grass and heather with no cairn.  Upon reaching the approximate location, several people got out GPS units to track down the actual location of the true summit.  There was some disagreement as to it's location, presumably either due to differences between their GPS units or the grid references they had for the summit.  To be certain I visited three locations all within 50m of each other, including the location quoted by at NY 78092 22291, and therefore concluded that I had now definitely bagged Little Fell (Nuttall).

The featureless summit of Little Fell (NY 78092 22291)
The group gathered around the area that most people had concluded was actually the summit, where there was a small celebration as two gentlemen had brought a small bottle of champagne up with them to celebrate their completion of the English 2000ft peaks.  This was also Laura's last English 2000ft peak and so we joined in the celebration with a cream tea minus the tea (i.e. scone, jam and cream!).

We didn't hang around for too long on the summit as the weather looked to be about to make a turn for the worse, and headed north-westwards down the moorland towards Scordale Head.  There were good views across the open expanse of the moors towards Mickle Fell and down into Scordale.

Mickle Fell from near Scordale Head
Around now it began to rain, and with no sign that it was likely to stop any time soon we donned our waterproofs and made our down into the narrow gap that formed the head of Scordale.  After a while the valley opened out, the rain stopped and some blue sky even appeared!  A reasonably large waterfall seemed to appear directly out of the hillside with no stream apparent above it; we were clearly in a bit of limestone country.

Descending upper Scordale
Upper Scordale
Lower down in the valley, the industrial past of the area became more obvious with more mining remains and some handy information signs.  Apparently it used to be a major site for lead mining, especially after the mineral rights were acquired by the London Lead Company in 1824.  There were also plenty of wild flowers around, including lots of a purple flower that I think is a form of Thyme (well that's certainly what it smelled like!)

We continued down beside the stream on an ever improving path as the sun began to poke its way out from the grey clouds; we we soon stopping to remove layers due to the heat!  There were good views back up Scordale towards the moors.  The last couple of kilometres were along a vehicle track and we were soon back at Hilton at around 4:30pm.  Many thanks to North Pennines AONB for organising the walk; it was a good day :)

I also tracked our route using Viewranger Buddy Beacon and Social Hiking, and you can see the resulting map complete with photos here.

N.B. 30/10/12 - Post date updated to actual date of walk, i.e. 14/07/12, (from 20/07/12)


  1. Wild Thyme (Thymus drucei)
    An interesting little excursion, Alistair!

    1. Thanks. I really should improve my knowledge of wild flowers found on the hills!

      It was indeed a good excursion, it's just a shame it's only possible once a year; although I suppose that makes it a bit more special :)