North Pennines Gravel Bothy Overnighter
WRITTEN BY:Luke Douglas
Outdoor Provisions co-founder
2020 reminded us that exploring local was no bad thing, but you still can't beat a ride that takes in new trails, roads and places. I grew up in Cumbria and thought I knew well but since I got into exploring off-road, I realised there was a whole other side to it. The North Pennines in particular has some amazing tracks across it, hence why it features heavily in the Second City Divide route Christian and I put together. This overnighter was quite spontaneous, which usually makes them all the better, and had the excitement of covering new ground, mixed in with some familiar good bits.
Great Dun Fell
The road up to the Golf Ball shaped weather station on top of Great Dun Fell is well known now, especially by roadies. Revered as the highest paved road in England it tops out at 848m after some 20%+ inclines. It's closed to traffic too, so you can weave left to right as much as you like and it's a very peaceful place. If you're lucky, the helm wind will be having a quiet day and you'll get clear views across to the Lake District before heading back down the way you came...
...unless you take the bridleway that leads off the top and into the wilderness beyond; this track had been on the to-do list for ages. A quick look on Google Satellite shows the double-track quickly peters out into a breadcrumb trail and the heart of the Pennines.
With an opportune weather window approaching, I messaged a friend, Tom, to see if he fancied checking out this track and a night in Greg's Hut bothy on the way back over. I also had some early nut butter samples that I was keen to test in the wild. Two days later we met in Penrith in the late afternoon and headed out of town towards the hills.
I love watching the weather move over any landscape. It's extra pleasing when you can see it dump rain somewhere that isn't where you are. It was currently raining somewhere over Kirkby Stephen... suckers! Clouds cast high contract shadows on the otherwise brightly lit moorland around us as we began the climb. It starts at Knock where you hang a left off the fellside road towards Dufton. Here the climbers in lycra might hit the afterburners in pursuit of KOM glory, but we did the opposite. Engaged winching gears, headed up slowly, listening to the curlews and stopping for pictures.
The pub at Garrigill
Another reason for wanting to check out this crossing was being able to make it into a loop with the more well known Pennine Way crossing just to the north. This desire was enhanced by seeing snippets of it features in the 2019 GBDuro film, where an exhausted Lachlan Morton is particularly exasperated by it. He had just ridden non stop from Lands Ends to be fair.
We were not going at Morton pace, the bit he was miffed at was indeed a walk; the upland stream, a tributary of the South Tyne in the valley below, has eaten away the track. Pink and purple flowers cling to the dark rocks and peaty water tumbles from pool to pool. It was very, very quiet. Noted for a future wild camping spot. In the distance, you can see the old ski tow at Yad Moss. Eventually, a gravel track appears and suddenly you're moving quickly towards a delicious pint at the Pub in Garrigill...
...except the Pub in Garrigill is closed. And has been for a while it seems. This disappointment took some time to shift and made the beginning of the climb back up onto the moor towards the bothy extra hard. This way over is the route the Second City Divide takes and up until about 2km before the bothy is a proper dreamy gravel road, albeit quite punchy.
In the final throws of golden hour we stopped at a stream to fill bottles before the last little push to the hut. I'd been up here in some pretty awful weather and hanging around was not a desirable option, but tonight was incredible. No rush to go anywhere. Just enjoying the space and sense of wilderness.
Whilst I was banking somewhat on at least a portion of chips in Garrigill, luckily Tom had come more prepared and once we'd made it to the bothy, began pulling out a full evening meal from his frame bags, Mary Poppins style. There were even two tins of beers in there.
Make it a loop
We shared the sleeping platform with a weary Pennine Way hiker who kept his distance and left very early. Greg's Hut must have hosted so many worn-out walkers and riders over time and was nowhere near at full capacity tonight. It was pitch black and wonderfully quiet overnight and sleep came easily.
Nut butter prototypes on porridge were on the breakfast menu... seriously good. Obviously, by the time we'd published this write up, we'd launched our Nut Butters to the world but at this time we were still nervous about how they'd be received.
We left the hut and pushed up the rocky bit out the back - the track all but disappears here and over the top, which is always boggy. In daylight navigation is pretty easy though, just head for the Lake District fells ahead of you until the grassy path reforms and you rip down off the Pennines and into the Eden Valley that's just waking up below. Back home for second breakfast.
In summary: Spontaneous overnighters are excellent for resetting. The North Pennines are lovely. Untried tracks are worth seeking. Pubs are not always open. Take a friend that brings enough food for two.
We're looking at extending this route into a bigger Pennines / Eden Valley / Eastern Lakes loop so stand by for that. The route we did is below and would make an excellent #12hoursofMay attempt...