Grey Nag from Little Heaplaw

Grey Nag

Grey Nag is a high fell situated above South Tynedale and which separates the smaller valleys of Knarsdale and Gildersdale.

Height (m): 656
Height (ft): 2152
Prominence (m): 40
Classification: Hewitt, Nuttall
Hill No: 2747
Grid Ref: NY664476
OS Map OL31
No. of Visits 1, 2

Grey Nag is the highest point of a lengthy moorland ridge which is joined to the main Pennine watershed just below the subsidiary top of Tom Smith’s Stone Top. The fact that it stands to the east of the main range of fells makes Grey Nag stand out quite prominently in views up and down South Tynedale.

Grey Nag from the main watershed on Black Fell
Grey Nag from the main watershed on Black Fell

The fell is the second highest, after Killhope Law, of the North Pennine fells that fall within the county of Northumberland. The county boundary actually runs to the south of Grey Nag, along the valley of Gilderdale, its subsidiary Woldgill Burn and on up to Tom Smith’s Stone.

Following the fence over Great Heaplaw with Grey Nag in the distance
Following the fence over Great Heaplaw with Grey Nag in the distance

In addition to the south-west ridge leading over Tom Smith’s Stone Top, Grey Nag throws out two other long ridges. To the north-east a ridge descends over Great Heaplaw and Little Heaplaw, the latter a super little hill with enough prominence to be classed as summit in its own right. To the north is the long ridge of Thornhope Fell which drops down to Slaggyford. Between the two ridges is the valley of Thornhope Burn.

Grey Nag from the desolate upper reaches of Gilderdale
Grey Nag from the desolate upper reaches of Gilderdale

On both my visits to Grey Nag I’ve approached it from South Tynedale and the site of the Roman fort of Epiacum which is situated at the foot of Great Heaplaw. On the first occasion my friend and I kept more to the Gilderdale side of the ridge . It was a day of snow, ice and hill fog and we saw very little of the fell. On the second occasion I first paid a visit to Little Heaplaw before following the fence all the way over Great Heaplaw. Both routes were fairly easy underfoot despite the lack of paths. Indeed, as with a lot of the high fells in this part of the North Pennines there no real paths on Grey Nag.

The ruined sheep pens around the summit
The ruined sheep pens around the summit

Without doubt the most distinctive thing about Grey Nag is its summit. Built into the wall crossing over the highest point are a series of stone sheep pens. The summit itself is marked by a large currick which is built into the wall. On the western side of the wall, and somewhat dwarfed by the currick is an Ordnance Survey trig point.

The frozen summit of Grey Nag on my first visit in 2011
The frozen summit of Grey Nag on my first visit in 2011

If visibility is good then the panorama is excellent. The view stretches from Cold Fell in the north to Cross Fell in the south. The view also encompasses the likes of Burnhope Seat, Killhope Law, Alston Moor, Ayle Common and Pike Rigg. If it is particularly clear then the Cheviot hills can be seen beyond Hadrian’s Wall country.

The trig point and currick on my second visit in 2019

Grey Nag is definitely one of the North Pennine hills that I’d like to explore more. It looks like there is a viable route following a track up to High Shield at the head of Knars Burn. From there a series of grouse butts climb up to about the 580m contour line below the summit. This is certainly a route I’d like to try in the future.


Grey Nag Walks

18th February 2019 – Distance: 10.5 miles: Gilderdale Bridge – Epiacum – Little Heaplaw – Great Heaplaw – Grey Nag – Tom Smith’s Stone Top – Black Fell – Watcher’s Hilll – Gilderdale Burn – Gilderdale Bridge.
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21st February 2011 – Distance: 14 miles: Alston Youth Hostel – Pennine Way – Whitley Common – Grey Nag – Tom Smith’s Stone Top – Black Fell – Hartside Height – Benty Hill – Horse Edge – Park Fell – The Wardway – Alston Youth Hostel.
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