Walk of the Week: Up where you can touch the sky

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The Independent Travel

Cross Fell feels like the roof of England. It isn't, of course, England's highest hill. That honour goes to Scafell Pike in the nearby Lake District. But Cross Fell, in the North Pennines, has that "touch-the-sky" feel, and a commanding view of much of northern England.

Cross Fell feels like the roof of England. It isn't, of course, England's highest hill. That honour goes to Scafell Pike in the nearby Lake District. But Cross Fell, in the North Pennines, has that "touch-the-sky" feel, and a commanding view of much of northern England.

Boundary changes may have meddled with the boast that you can see "six shires" from its 2,930ft summit, and I have yet to verify that both the North and Irish seas are visible on a clear day. On my last visit, the hills of southern Scotland were plain enough, as well as the Irish Sea, but cloud hung over the east coast.

Cross Fell can be a wild place. Shaped like an upturned boat hull when viewed from the west, it is archetypal Pennines on top - flattish with a dearth of physical features to aid navigation. Cloud often wreaths the summit plateau, and a map and compass are essential for this walk. The moorland approaches are often boggy, so wear boots and carry full waterproofs, warm clothing, food and drink.

The shortest approach is from the hamlet of Kirkland, two miles east of the village of Skirwith, east Cumbria. Park by the simple church of St Lawrence, cross the old stone bridge, turn left and follow the lane upstream by Kirkland Beck. The Tarmac soon ceases, and a good farm track curves northwards on to the fellside. It is a corpse road, once used to carry bodies over the Pennines for burial in the consecrated ground of St Lawrence's.

Climbing steadily, the track passes beneath the rocky scar of High Cap and swings more eastward. At around the 2,297ft contour, a track turns left. Go straight on here, up a cairned and rather boggy path. Cross Fell appears ringed with bouldery scree, but, by continuing just over the shoulder of the hill - the Pennine watershed - before heading for the top, the awkward scree is pretty well avoided.

Once on the summit plateau, continue south-south-east to the crowning survey column and tumbled wind-break. The fell, legend has it, takes its modern name from a cross that was erected here by St Augustine, after he drove out the resident demons and evil spirits. Until then, it was known as Fiends' Fell.

Fiendish to behold is the unearthly white globe of the radar station on Great Dun Fell, two miles to the south-east. But this surreal sphere makes an excellent marker. By walking off the plateau in its direction the scree is once again avoided. Below the scree, at Tees Head, a path branches south-west towards Wildboar Scar. Often, this way is merely a shadow in the coarse grass, but there are occasional cairns.

Dropping over the rim of Wildboar Scar, the path picks up a superb grassy ramp, which swings down above a stream and then fords it to descend gently between gorse bushes and over rough pasture to Blencarn. Turn right into the village and follow a lane, crossing Blencarn Beck, for a mile back to Kirkland.

Allow at least six hours for the walk. Map: Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure 31, North Pennines, scale 1:25,000 (£6.50).

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