Vivienne Crow explores part of the newly extended Pennine Bridleway, and spends a night below High Seat, on this Westmorland walk in Cumbria
I’m always looking for new ways to link up the stations on the Settle to Carlisle Railway: it seems the opportunities for linear walks along this iconic line are endless. The walk from Garsdale to Kirkby Stephen via Wild Boar Fell, for example, is a popular outing, but what about the other side of the valley? This walk, which is 27km/17 miles in length, involves 910m/2990ft of ascent, and takes about 8-9 hours to complete, explores part of the newly extended Pennine Bridleway.
The ground on the eastern side of Mallerstang Common rises to 709 metres at High Seat, just one metre higher than Wild Boar, and yet the hills on this side seem so much more ‘feral’: the paths are fewer, the ground boggier and the skies bigger.
The Pennine Bridleway
Setting out from Garsdale with my partner and a tent late one afternoon, we were surprised to discover the ‘path fairies’ had been hard at work. The relatively new Pennine Bridleway passes through this area, so we were able to take advantage of some solid trails from the station to the old bridge over the River Ure (destined for the North Sea). From there, a short climb took us on to Lady Anne’s Way, a rough track partway up the hillside that was supposedly used by Lady Anne Clifford in the 17th century to get from her castle in Skipton to the Westmorland estates she inherited when she was 60.
She must’ve been a tough one, and I’m not just talking about her physical ability to cross the bleak moorland here; no, Lady Anne, when denied the inheritance that was rightfully hers, was happy to tackle the king himself in her fight to get it back. She failed on that occasion, but patience paid off and she eventually, rather late in life, got her hands on her deceased father’s lands. She then set about renovating the estate’s castles and churches, a legacy that lives on today in the Eden Valley.
We left Lady Anne to her wanderings after crossing Hell Gill Bridge. It is here that a tiny beck comes tumbling from the peaty moorland and becomes the River Eden – destined, ultimately, for the Irish Sea. We’d crossed the watershed and hadn’t even noticed.
Interested in the ‘other’ High Seat? Check out the walk here!
Our route headed higher into the hills now. We made our way along the top of Hangingstone Scar and on to High Seat. If we’d been in any doubt as to the suitability of this flat, grassy area for pitching the tent, our minds were made up when we discovered a surprisingly clear spring issuing from the rocks just below the summit.
Lake District sunset
That evening we were treated to a fine spectacle: we watched as a blood-red sun dipped towards the Lake District fells, covered the Eden Valley in a dark pink wash and then disappeared. From Wild Boar Fell in the foreground across to the Howgills and the Lakes beyond, the layered mountains were nothing more than a hazy blue outline against the darkening sky. It boded well for the morning…
Needless to say, we woke to fog – and fog of the very dampest variety at that. Our trek north along the escarpment edge was miserable and horribly boggy. I didn’t remember having problems with peat the day before. Striding out in the warm sunshine, enjoying the magnificent views, had I just not noticed it? We pushed on, crossing the B6270 and climbing again in the hope that the murk would lift. It did. By the time we reached Nine Standards Rigg, it had all disappeared and we were able to enjoy a gentle, mostly dry descent into Kirkby Stephen.
-  Leave station, turn R and R again along Pennine Bridleway. Cross A684 and then B6259 to continue on surfaced track. Turn R at path junction. Go L immediately after River Ure. Beyond tributary beck, bear R, beside Cobbles Plantation. As fence swings away, go L, following posts to Johnston Gill. Turn sharp R to gate in wall.
-  Go through and turn L along Lady Anne’s Way.
-  After bridge over Hell Gill, turn R. Faint track follows Hell Gill Beck, later swinging N to cairn.
-  Follow escarpment edge NNE. Climb to Gregory Chapel and continue N along ridge over High Seat and High Pike Hill. On reaching grassy track near sinkholes, turn R. Head to fingerpost beside B6270.
-  Cross road to pick up Coast to Coast route. Bear R at fork.
-  Joining track at Dukerdale wall, ford beck, climb beside wall and then aim for stone structure on high ground (NE). Walk E to fingerpost. Go straight across (NE) to viewpoint on Nine Standards Rigg and then L to reach cairns.
-  Descend W and then turn R along miners’ track, later a surfaced lane.
-  Close to quarry entrance, turn L along railway path.
-  Just before passing under road bridge, cross footbridge over River Eden. Follow path to gate and turn L along road. Just before bridge, go through gate on R to access riverside path. After two stiles in quick succession, follow wall on R; go through gate to L of Halfpenny House.
-  Turn R along track and L along combined cycleway/footpath leading to Kirkby Stephen railway station.