The Infamous Grouse

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Richard Tart

It's late June and I'm peed off not having done a walk or got to the top of anything since March. Generally feeling unfit I decide to visit the Northern Pennines instead of Scotland as it's not so far for a failure. Driving up with an early start I'm at Penrith before nine, and end up on the road to Great Dun Fell just north of Appleby. It's a 9.50am start and the first top of Great Dun Fell (848m) is the radar station, like a huge round laced up white football this is the place to be if you want to know there's a nuclear attack imminent. An easy walk to Little Dun Fell (842m) is comprised of 75% recycled flagstones to protect the bog. Here a noisy group of schoolkids with full packs is the only other walking company I'll see all day. More flagstones to Cross Fell (893m.) the highest point on the Pennine Way and also the highest in England outside the Lake District National Park. In the fog the tops are not obvious and the path not as distinct as one would expect on a long flat top. Finally in the fog something appears, then human forms. It's hard to make at first what's going on, I'm told that they're rebuilding the 'Cross Shelter' similar to the one on Helvellyn which in theory gives shelter no matter what the direction of the prevailing wind. The occasion ?'s to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Pennine Way. *

Start to descend and go east following the Pennine Way, it's been drizzling all morning with no views, stop at Greg's Hut for a bite. (possibly the highest bothy in the uk at 700m?) It's in memory of John Gregory, who died in 1968 in the Alps and it maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association in conjunction with a group who just maintain this hut.

Leave the Pennine Way after a mile, still around the 700m contour line towards Bulman Hills. It's a grouse moor, no path, within a 100m I've frightened a pair of grouse who fly a couple of hundred metres, leaving a big as the parents but can't fly, fluttering around in the lanky heather, this was to be repeated on at least thirty occasions often a family of ten or so being startled, after the first few the shock of them flying up from under one's feet subsided. Walking a bearing in limited visibility on very rough ground, falling over, avoiding obstacles is always likely to be tricky, I came to a path and a stream unexpectedly, I'd walked straight past the Bulman Hills without noticing and was back on the loop of the Pennine Way. Retracing I went back to the summit, best part of an hour wasted.

Apart from the Pennine Way there were no paths on this part of the grouse moor. Well there were paths, superb paths, recently made but they were only a 100yds long and led nowhere. I walked on one and found their purpose. At the side of the path spaced out were two-metre square wood-lined hides, numbered in this case 1 to 9. They were for grouse shooting, some of the old hides remained, stone built, moss topped in the shape of a staple. This seems like grouse shooting on an industrial scale, and the new square hides meant the grouse could be beaten towards the shooters in both directions. It occurred to me this was supposed to be a sport. However checking back through the history of Grouse Shooting it becomes clear that the Grouse have never won this contest. In fact their record is far worse than the England football team.

I now wearily trudged over the top of Longman Hill and Round Hill, just after the latter I came across a largish trunk across a small stream with a trap on it, a weasel or stoat, still alive had been caught. It's trunk had been squashed by the trap and was only a quarter of an inch wide, it was going to die a painful death. Had I tried to speed up this process it would probably have taken my finger off. I walked on. It had cleared a little now and the walk out was very long in the book, I tried a direct line to the 800m contour of Great Dun Fell, instead of the path to South Tyne at Garrigill, not my best idea, taking two hours and only a path for the last two hundred yards. My first proper walk in 3 months had taken me 8 hours for 18 miles and I was knackered.

I stayed the night at Alston Youth Hostel (now privately run but still bookable through the YHA) The following morning I did Fiends Fell and Melmerby Fell from by the Hartside Cafe, at 1900 feet probably the highest road cafe in England. Super views over the northern Lake District and the silvery line of the Solway Firth were visible from the walk and from the large windows of the cafe. I reflected on the Grouse which had abandoned their offspring so readily, and the concept of Grouse Shooting, in a strange way I reflected that somehow on this occasion the Infamous Grouse and the Inglorius 12th of August were well matched.

*The idea of the Pennine way was first mooted in the Daily Hearald in 1935, by journalist and rambler Tom Stephenson, based on American efforts like the Appalachian trail. It was 24th April 1965 that it was finally formally opened, the opening ceremony I understand performed by Tom Stephenson, then chairman of the ramblers. It starts at Edale, near the scene of the 1930's mass trespasses, and ends at Kirk Yetholm, though originally the final destination was intended to be Wooller.

The infamous grouse

The infamous grouse

The Great Dun Fell radar

The Great Dun Fell radar

This article was written by Richard Tart and published on this website on the 10th January 2015