Cross Fell

Cross Fell

At 893m Cross Fell is the highest mountain, not only in the North Pennines but also in the entire range of Pennine hills.

Height (m): 893
Height (ft): 2930
Prominence (m): 651
Classification: Marilyn, Hewitt, Nuttall
Hill No: 2707
Grid Ref: NY687343
OS Map OL31
No. of Visits 1, 2

Together with the closely adjoining Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell, Cross Fell forms an escarpment of high terrain which is all over 770m in height, one of the largest such areas at that height in the country. The range rises steeply above the Eden Valley to the west but tends to decline more gently to the upper reaches of Teesdale and South Tynedale to the east. The three fells together form an immediately identifiable triumvirate of the three highest mountains in the Pennines.

The triumvirate of Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell
The triumvirate of Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell

As the highest English mountain outside of the Lake District Cross Fell is a true giant. Its combination of height and position make it more exposed than most to the vagaries of British weather. The wind speeds on Cross Fell are often quoted on weather forecasts, usually when they reach the heights of 90mph or more!

A snow covered Cross Fell as seen from Knock Fell
A snow covered Cross Fell as seen from Knock Fell

Indeed, not only can the wind be particularly brutal on Cross Fell, it also has its own unique weather phenomenon – the Helm Wind. The strong winds on Cross Fell may well have contributed to its previous name of Fiend’s Fell. Legends say that an exorcism (sometimes credited to St Augustine) was carried out on the summit and a cross planted on the summit. Presumably the evil spirits didn’t go too far as Fiend’s Fell is now the name of a much lesser summit to the north above the Hartside Pass.

Cross Fell from Blencarn
Cross Fell from Blencarn

My own experiences of weather on Cross Fell include a roasting hot day in May where I used the snow still surrounding the summit to cool down. On another occasion in April, again when snow was on the ground, the wind was so cold that even with the protection of gloves and mittens I could barely feel the tips of my fingers. It is worth noting that my hands are unusually warm and I can often head into the hills in winter without needing gloves.

Snow just below the summit on a hot day in May
Snow just below the summit on a hot day in May

Cross Fell is situated on the main Pennine watershed. On the western side of the fell there are a series of small valleys, including Greatdale, Littledale, Kirkdale and Ardale whose streams find their way into the River Eden. To the south-east of the summit, in the saddle with Little Dun Fell, is the source of the River Tees. Other streams, such as Black Burn, Cash Burn and Cross Gill, are to be found in the wilderness on the eastern side of the fell and which all feed the River South Tyne.

Cross Fell from Little Dun Fell
Cross Fell from Little Dun Fell

Apart from a very long walk from Garrigill in South Tynedale on the Pennine Way most approaches to Cross Fell tend to come from the west. There are three main options. The first is the bridleway climbing out from Kirkland on a good track up below High Cap and then above the valley of Ardale. Along the way there are great views of the head of Ardale known as Black Door. After the path levels out and then begins to drop down again a path turns south to climb up to the summit.

Looking towards Black Door at the head of Ardale
Looking towards Black Door at the head of Ardale

A second option is to leave Blencarn on a bridleway that initially crosses Stubmire Moor before heading up Littledale to climb over Wildboar Scar. The path then slants gradually up the fellside to just above Crowdundle Head. From there a path turns left to head up to the summit. This route features some fine views across Greatdale towards Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell.

The path climbing up the side of Littledale towards Wildboar Scar
The path climbing up the side of Littledale towards Wildboar Scar

A third route from the west is to take the bridleway from Milburn up on to Great Dun Fell to join the Pennine Way. The latter can then be followed on an excellent high level route over Little Dun Fell, on to Crowdundle Head, and then finally on to Cross Fell. As the Pennine Way reaches the southern end of Cross Fell’s summit plateau there is a tall currick which is a great viewpoint, particularly to the south-east into the remote upper reaches of Teesdale.

The tall currick at the southern end of Cross Fell's summit plateau
The tall currick at the southern end of Cross Fell’s summit plateau

Rather aptly the summit of Cross Fell is marked by a large cross shaped shelter. This provides welcome respite from the often harsh weather that seems to be drawn to the summit. Stood close to the shelter is an Ordnance Survey trig point.

The huge cross-shaped shelter on the summit of Cross Fell
The huge cross-shaped shelter on the summit of Cross Fell

If you are lucky enough to visit Cross Fell on a clear day with good visibility then the panorama from the summit is superb. In addition to an extensive view of the North Pennine hills there is a tremendous view west towards the Lake District skyline. In very clear conditions the view extends north-east to The Cheviot whilst to the north the hills of Southern Uplands of Scotland can also be faintly seen.

The Ordnance Survey trig point with the Lake District fells in the distance
The Ordnance Survey trig point with the Lake District fells in the distance

Two-thirds of a mile north of the summit, on the Kirkand to Garrigill bridleway is Greg’s Hut. Greg’s Hut was originally a mine ‘shop’, a term for temporary accommodation for miners working high up in the fells. Once a ruin the hut was subsequently restored by the Mountain Bothies Association to give two rooms one of which has a stove and a sleeping platform. The hut is named after John Gregory who was born in 1928 and who died in a climbing accident in the Alps in 1968. Today it provides high level accommodation and is an option for Pennine wayfarers on the long leg between Dufton and Garrigill. I’ve yet to visit Greg’s Hut but an overnight stay is on my to-do list.


Cross Fell Walks

11th April 2015 – Distance: 10.4 miles: Blencarn – The Rigg – Cringle Moor – Littledale – Wildboar Scar – Pennine Way – Cross Fell – Stoop Band – Kirkland – Blencarn Lake – Blencarn.
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22nd May 2010 – Distance 13.8 miles: Milburn – Wythwaite – Kirkland Hall – Stoop Band – Cross Fell – Little Dun Fell – Great Dun Fell – Silver Band – Mudgill Sike – Milburn.
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