Mickle Fell

Mickle Fell

The historical county top of Yorkshire, Mickle Fell today resides in modern County Durham and unfortunately for access purposes, the Warcop Army Range.

Height (m): 790
Height (ft): 2592
Prominence (m): 212
Classification: Marilyn, Hewitt, Nuttall, County
Hill No: 2711
Grid Ref: NY806245
OS Map OL19
No. of Visits 1, 2

Access to Mickle Fell is only allowed on designated non-firing days on the range. There are usually about 12 weekends a year that are advertised in advance, these can be found on a government website. To further complicate things walkers are asked to remain on public rights of way. Unfortunately there are no such rights of way to the top of Mickle Fell.

Heading towards Mickle Fell from Arnside Rake
Heading towards Mickle Fell from Arnside Rake

Instead walkers are advised to use one of two permissive routes. One starts from the top of the B6276 between Brough and Middleton-in-Teesdale and basically follows the county boundary north all the way to the top of Mickle Fell. The other route starts from Cow Green Reservoir to the north. Following a bridleway from the reservoir to Maize Beck the boundary fence is then climbed in the opposite direction.

Approaching Mickle Fell from the south via the county boundary fence
Approaching Mickle Fell from the south via the county boundary fence

As a further deterrent walkers are supposed to then also apply for a permit to visit Mickle Fell. I found this quite a lengthy process the first time I visited Mickle Fell. It took so long in fact that I was worried it wouldn’t arrive in time for my friend and I to do the walk.

The final steep climb up alongside the fence
The final steep climb up alongside the fence

The route I took on my first visit was the one starting from the top of the B6276. It was a long and rather tedious tramp over the moor, a route we largely followed on the way back. It has to be said though that while the approach isn’t particularly inspiring it was worth it because Mickle Fell is a magnificent hill.

Mickle Fell from Murton Fell
Mickle Fell from Murton Fell

The fifth highest hill in the Pennine chain, Mickle Fell is a massive bow-shaped ridge rising above the surrounding moorland. Apparently its name originates from the Old Norse word mikill meaning great. This presumably distinguishes it from its closest neighbour Little Fell which itself is quite massive.

Mickle Fell from Little Fell
Mickle Fell from Little Fell

Mickle Fell is the highest point within the historic county of Yorkshire and 54m higher than Whernside, the county top of modern North Yorkshire. Mickle Fell was part of southern Teesdale, which was transferred from the North Riding of Yorkshire to County Durham for administrative and ceremonial purposes under the Local Government Act 1972. As a result it has supplanted Burnhope Seat as the county top of today’s County Durham. As a proud Yorkshireman Mickle Fell is still my county top and on a second visit I was rather amused to find a small Yorkshire flag planted in the summit cairn.

The small Yorkshire flag I found in the summit cairn on my second visit
The small Yorkshire flag I found in the summit cairn on my second visit

In complete contrast to the surrounding moorland the summit of Mickle Fell is largely short cropped grass and is a joy to walk on. The summit is marked by a huge cairn. According to the Database of British Hills a survey carried out in 2012 found that a smaller cairn 25m to the north-east is slightly higher. I think for most people though the large cairn is good enough as the summit.

The path leading to the cairn across the grassy summit of Mickle Fell
The path leading to the cairn across the grassy summit of Mickle Fell

The view from the cairn is quite simply superb. Looking north across the wilderness of Maize Beck moors and fells stretch away endlessly with the Cross Fell range to the west and the moors of the Tees-Wear watershed to the right. In the middle are the blue waters of Cow Green Reservoir.

The large cairn on the summit of Mickle Fell
The large cairn on the summit of Mickle Fell

Frustratingly for trig point baggers the Mickle Fell trig point is situated nearly a mile and a half away to the east. It can be reached by following a good path but of course it lies off the permitted routes. It is therefore up to one’s own matter of conscience whether or not to pay it a visit. I did on my second visit and just after arriving met a local gamekeeper who suddenly appeared on his quad bike. He seemed quite unconcerned by our presence and indeed we had quite a long chat with him before he went off looking for signs of foxes.

The Mickle Fell trig point is found almost a mile and a half to the east of the summit
The Mickle Fell trig point is found almost a mile and a half to the east of the summit

For botanists it is worth noting that on both my visits so far I have found the rare spring gentian on the slopes to the west of King’s Pot. These beautiful little purple flowers are largely only found in Teesdale. However, the only place that I’ve so far come across them is on Mickle Fell at a remarkable altitude of over 750m above sea level.

The rare Spring Gentian which I've twice found flowering on the western side of Mickle Fell
The rare Spring Gentian which I’ve twice found flowering on the western side of Mickle Fell

Mickle Fell is a magnificent hill and it is a real shame that access is so limited. I really do think more should and can be done to make it more accessible, especially as it lies well outside the main part of the range.


Mickle Fell Walks

23rd May 2015 – Distance: 14.2 miles: Murton – Hilton Beck – High Hause – Slape Stones – Roman Fell – Christy Bank Sike – Little Fell – Arnside Rake – Mickle Fell – Mickle Fell Trig Point – High Crag – Close House – Fish Lake – Stake Rigg.
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30th April 2011 – Distance 10.3 miles: County boundary on the B6276 – Hewits – Hanging Seal – King’s Pot – Mickle Fell – Arnside Rake – Little Fell – Force Beck – Hanging Seal – Hewits – County boundary on the B6276.
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