A super walk in the snow up on to Knock Fell, the fourth highest summit in the Pennines, with detours on to Flagdaw and the shapely Knock Pike on the return.
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A combination of family commitments and a run of bad weather on weekends has meant that I have not got out anywhere near as much I’d have liked to have done in 2018. For the second time this year therefore I took a day off so that I could escape into the hills.
It had been over 10 years since my first and only previous visit to the top of Knock Fell, the fourth highest summit in the Pennines. Whilst I’d already earmarked it for a return visit this year I decided to head up there on this particular occasion because I guessed it would be a good place to find some snow, remnants of the previous week’s so-called ‘Beast from the East’.
“Occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of a flagged section of path protruding from the snow. For the most part though it was a tramp through the snow. Great fun!”
Somewhat appropriately I started the walk from the small village of Knock. Situated a mile or so north of Dufton it was an interesting drive in its final stages with snow piled up high alongside some of the country roads. There is no car park in Knock, instead there was plenty of roadside parking in the village.
Leaving the village by a sharp bend in the road leading south out of the village I turned left up an enclosed lane. Whilst much of the snow had melted at lower levels there was still some deep snow where it had drifted. One such place was this enclosed lane. Thankfully at this stage I didn’t have to walk too far up it, soon taking a path to the right to cross a field and drop down to a bridge over Swindale Beck.
Across the bridge I struggled up through some more deep lying snow in the woods. Once I’d managed this I soon joined a broad track and the route of the Pennine Way. Initially climbing quite gently there were some great views already. To my left was the distinctive shape of Knock Pike and the less striking Flagdaw. Up to my right were Brownber Hill and Dufton Pike whilst to the west there was a sweeping view across the Eden valley to the snow topped summits of the Lake District.
Re-crossing Swindale Beck at a superbly sited footbridge the going suddenly got quite a bit steeper. Indeed, in the lovely sunshine it was quite warm work, at least at this relatively low elevation. Having not done too many sizeable hills recently my lack of ‘hill fitness’ became obvious fairly on. I kept going though and eventually reached the deep trench of Knock Hush. The gradients became somewhat easier at this point. This also coincided with a lot more snow underfoot. Knock Hush itself was full of deep wind sculpted snow.
From the top of Knock Hush it was only another 100m or so in height to reach the summit. Unsurprisingly this was where the snow was at its most extensive. Earlier on in the climb I’d been following a single pair of footprints. These had disappeared at about the 600m contour line. The absence of footprints from then on suggests I was probably the first person to visit the top of Knock Fell since the snowfall.
Before reaching the summit I first visited the large currick called the Knock Old Man. Situated at the western edge of the summit the view west from the Old Man is quite superb. Continuing on I soon reached the large cairn marking the summit and my first views east to the high moors above Teesdale.
From the summit I followed the line of the Pennine Way north. I was aiming for the road that services the weather station on neighbouring Great Dun Fell. Occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of a flagged section of path protruding from the snow. For the most part though it was a tramp through the snow. Great fun!
Dropping down to the road it soon became apparent that a snow plough had made it up this far on what is the highest tarmaced road in England. Turning left on the road I passed below the crags of Green Castle to begin an easy descent on the road with some great views down into Knock Ore Gill.
After a while I reached a bend in the road. Here a footpath sign sent me off across some reedy pastures. There was not much in the way of a path and the ground was very wet underfoot where the snow had melted. Approaching a wall I came across a wide strip of deep snow which rather strangely hadn’t been touched by the thaw. It was so deep that only the upper section of the stile was protruding through the snow. It was vaguely disconcerting to step off the top of the stile knowing the snow beneath my feet was at least five feet deep!
Upon reaching the next wall a firmer and more obvious path was joined. I didn’t stay on it long though as I wanted to visit the top of Flagdaw, a hill that is on the Database of British Hills as a 400m+ top. To do this I climbed steeply uphill with a wall on my right. Mercifully it wasn’t a long climb. The summit itself was unmarked apart from the wall I’d been following and some reeds. There was a good view though back up to Knock Fell, the Dun fells and Cross Fell.
Retracing my steps to the path I soon left it again to make a final detour, this time to the top of Knock Fell. Once again it was a steep climb but one which was worth it. As with Flagdaw the summit was unmarked by cairn or trig point. This was of little consequence though for a wonderful viewpoint which, thanks to the relatively small summit area and steep sides meant that there was a great deal of depth to the panorama.
Returning back to the path I was expecting a fairly easy return to Knock. Unfortunately upon reaching the enclosed path leading back to the village I found it full of drifted snow. Even worse the thorny trees lining the path were practically choking it. Trying to overcome these twin obstacles was virtually impossible and eventually I had to escape into a neighbouring field to avoid the worst of it.
Eventually though I made my way back into Knock to finish what had been a quite superb day. Not only had I found the snow I’d looked for (and then some!) but I’d also enjoyed a rare sunny day in one of my favourite areas of the North Pennines.