Ian Battersby wraps up against a bitter wind on a snowy day in the Dales

Snow highlighted the hills of the Northern Dales, but their tops were shrouded in cloud fraying under attack from an arctic roar that ripped through, unchecked from the Solway Firth. Up on the pass between Nine Standards Rigg and High Pike Hill I remained happy to trade cosy car for freezer, hurrying into extra layers and boots, before aiming for High Seat.

The car had done most of the climbing, leaving only a steep scamper along an unmarked track that skirts the steepest gradients to reach High Pike Hill. Lapwings practised aerial manoeuvres over waders and grouse that called unseen from ground cover. As I climbed I warmed while cloud let go its grip on the hill, fleeing over the brow, leaving me in dazzling snow, garnished with tiny prints pressed lightly into fresh powder. On top icicles hung like gleaming canines from the dark jaws of the hags, and delicate straws of yellow grass bore implausible burdens of rime ice feathered with snow.

I left the track for the edge that overlooks the Eden Valley, the scoured form of Wild Boar Fell stark alongside delicate folds of rounded Howgill hills, all embellished by glancing sunshine. Icy wind battered the edge, urging me on to High Seat, where the southern outlook unfurled to proclaim the symbolic outline of the Three Peaks of Yorkshire.

My plan was to create a circular route of High Seat and Nine Standards Rigg, so now I faced trackless tussock and heather down into Birk Dale, but with only occasional mire and the heather trim it was easy work and out of the wind. I picked a welcoming spot by a tinkling beck for lunch, a luxurious break with the sun warm on my face.

The direct approach to the Standards climbs via Coldbergh Edge (good name if pronounced: ‘cold brrrrrr’) but I chose the charms of Whitsun Dale. The path tacks alongside the beck, climbing and dropping, sometimes disappearing. Snow had fallen as rain here, cruel ammunition for a number of bogs waiting to welcome half a leg. Each coil of beck gnaws at the flanks of the valley, which tumble in, diverting its course, and so the valley broadens.

I turned and toiled up the longest climb, arriving at the final summit for dusk. Evening curlew melodies couldn’t sweeten the bitter bite of wind. Along the ridge, beneath blushing cloud, the silhouettes of tall standard cairns were set against the greatest of Pennine profiles. I stayed for over an hour, foregoing shelter for fiery sun slipping slowly behind a faraway Old Man. Behind me a rounded moon climbed into deepening blue, lighting my descent in the company of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.


[1] Follow unmarked quad bike track SSW climbing High Pike Hill.
[2] Once on high ground follow the edge for the best views, circling but eventually aiming SSW to spot height at 642m, then S to High Seat.
[3] Descend NE (no path) for 1km, then ENE keeping N of Great Lodge Gill, eventually meeting a shooting track that crosses Birkdale Beck to reach the B6270. L along road for 150m.
[4] Follow track E for 2.5km over moor and dropping into Ney Gill to junction of paths.
[5] Head N into Whitsun Dale and continue W on Coast to Coast path bending N to Davy Mea following marker posts where necessary.
[6] Path climbs W to junction at Rollinson Haggs. Continue NNW to trig point and beyond to standing cairns.
[7] Track SSW for 800m. Bridleway W then zigzagging generally SW to return.
Nine Standards and High Seat, Yorkshire Dales