Cross Fell (G/NP-001) and Burnhope Seat (G/NP-003) by bicycle

All of my activations so far have been in the Lake District (G/LD), so with a holiday already planned in the north pennines, I thought I woould cycle across a day ahead and get a couple of G/NP activations under the belt. The plan was to cycle from home, to the top of Geat Dun Fell and camp. A morning actvation of Cross Fell would follow, followed by a ride across to Burnhope Seat. I would be using a road touring bike, so rather than cycling across the South Tyne Valley, I would have to backrack into the Eden Valley, and then ride over Hartside pass.

I set off at about 1100hrs BST on Friday 20 August. With radio equipment, camping equipment cycle spares and various holiday essentials to carry with me, I needed panniers front-and-back. I quite prefer this setup, compared to touring with only rear panniers, as the more even weight distributions avoids the tendency of the bike to perform wheelies when going up steep hills.

The weather was overcast, with the threat of rain later, but the wind forecast was good with slack winds forecast for most of the weekend, rising only to around 20-30mph on the summits. The first stage of the outing was to get across to the foot of the Pennines, whch requires a cyce transect of the Lake District.

The journey out of West Cumbria was uneventful, passing across the front of Ennerdale I could see the base of High Stile (G/LD-012) and Pillar (G/LD-006), the summits were coveered in mist from around 500m and up. I was soon gliding down Fang’s Brow into the Lowesater valley, with Melbreak (G/LD-036) ahead. I passed by Low Fell (G/LD-042) at some point I really will climb it, but not today.

The rain was holding off, it was warm but overcast - perfect weather for cycling. Buttermere valley came into view in the distance, with Grasmoor (G/LD-009) towering above, and Robinson (G/LD-021) in the distance. I turned off the main C2C route in the Lorton valley, to take a less used road onto Winlatter. This gated road ascends steeply at first and provides views across the vale of Lorton, and down onto the Winlatter pass road.

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Cycling up to Winlatter - Grasmoor at Left, Melbreak in distance

Another cyclist drew alongside me, and we chatted for a while. He was looking to get into cycle touring and recognised my distinctive bike - an Airborne Titanium framed Carpe Diem - now 20 years old. We discussed tents, sleeping bags and potential touring routes.

The touring bike I used was ourchased as a cyclo-cross bike in around 2005, and was converted to touring duties a years later. The bike is fitted with Tubus racks front and rear, Shimanno 9sp XT gears and bar-end shifters. The trend of 11sp and 12sp groupsets, with few intercahageable parts between MTB and road, has made constructing a drop-bar touring bike increasongly difficult in recent years. I stick to good old 9sp components for touring. Pedals are cran-brothers eggbeaters, and shoes are Sidi carbon soles.

The chat with a fellow touring cyclist was a pleasant diversion as we climbed to the summit of Winlatter pass. With Grisdale Pike (G/LD-015) somwhere above us in the mist, the fellow bade goodbye and sped off down the hill; I took the descent more steadily. I was pleased to arrive in Branthwaite where the well stocked shop provided a good mixture of food for lunch and was selling off Jelly Baby packs as 2-for-1.

The C2C route from here to Penrith is a pleasant excursion; however, for getting to Penrith in good time the A66 is a far better option. I used to cycle the route to Penrith every couple of weeks, as the A66 is fantaastic ride - long sweeping decents and great scenary.

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Joining the A66 - Skiddaw in the mist behind

Joining the A66 at Brathwaite, the sign indicates 20 miles to Penrith, I was aiming to be there by 1500hrs at the latest. Skiddaw (G/LD-004) dominates the skyline at this point, although only the lower reaches were visible as I settled into the rythym of maintaining a steady pace. I paused a litte further on, to capture a snap of Blencathra (G/LD-008), and then it was head down and pedal, pedal, pedal.

As I passed Thelkeld I noted the point where I had crossed the A66 earlier in the year, on a round of 11 SOTA summits - heading from Blencathra to Helvellyn (G/LD-003). The climb, to Troutbeck followed, where I paused again to photograph Great Mell Fell (G/LD-035). I have yet to activate either of the Mell fells - saving them untiil Winter bonus season makes them more attractive. The sweeping descent beyond Troutbeck means that once the watershed is reached, you are basically at Penrith with no further pedalling required. At this point, the Pennines first come into view - visble only as a shadow on the skyline today. On finer days, the radar station on Great Dun Fell is clearly visible, but not today. Perhaps that is for the best - it might have been a discouraging sight.

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Great Mell Fell viewed from A66

I sped down the road towards Penrith, and stopped to stock up on food at Rheged service, selecting a range of samosa style patties to save for my supper (and lots of giant cookies). Fully stocked with provisions, it was back to the saddle and on to Penrith.

The road was very busy here, with queues tailing back a good kilometer. I smugly sailed past on my bike, and navigated the large roundabouts on the outskirts of the town. Boosted by a clearer view of the Peninnes I pedalled onwards on the A66. The road is always busy here, and evetually narrows to a single lane in each direction, with lots of articulated lorries heading into the north-east of England. Another cycle tourist passed in the opposite direction and we exchanged nods; each of us cycling with a large lorry shadowing behind.

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Rest stop in Temple Sowerby

I was pleased to reach the leafy village of Temple Soewerby and get off the road, this was also an opportunity to stop for a rest. I sat here for some time, studying maps of Great Dun Fell to consider potential campoing spots and confirm that water sources would be available. An abundance of water was never going to be a problem on this outing though! Planning not to stop again until I reached camp, I mounted the saddle.

At 1600hrs I pushed off, heading through Kirby Thore and past the Biritsh Gypsum plant - the smoke is a useful landmark from the Howgills and Peninnes. The road starts to climb here, and I noted my elevation as 150m - only 700m of climbing remained to the summit of Great Dun Fell, where the road ends.

Easing off the pace now, to ensure I preserved energy for later I ambled through the hamlet of Knock, munching Jelly Babies to give me a sugar rush for the climb ahead. Shoe buckles were tightened, jersey zip adjusted and cycling mitts bound tightly to wrists, the crux of the ride approached. I passed Dufton Pike (G/NP-027) to my right -a 1 point SOTA summit, with distinctive pointed shape; somewhere in the thick mist above was Cross Fell (G/NP-001) my main objective. In between was the 700m or so of cycling to the top of Great Dunn fell.

As I left the public road, the surface turned from rather rough, to perfectly smooth - the best tarmac I’ve ever seen in Cumbria! The road kicked up steeply and I soon found my lowest gear. I was cycling as slow as possibe in order to ensure I didn’t blow up.

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End of the public road at 300m elevation

A gentle drissle was helpfully cooling, and the wind was slack. The road, however, was covered in flying ants - providing the perfect discouragement to any thoughts of pausing for a rest. I marked the end of the publlic road as being at 300m elevation, followed by a gated cattle grid at 400m. Above the cattle grid the snow poles began, numbered from 400 and counting down.

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View across Eden Valley from 500m

I admit I was starting to struggle a little, I kept tweaking the gear lever hoping it might fall into an even lower gear. The 60 hilly miles already in my legs, and the loaded panniers were becoming somewhat of a burden. At 500m elevation I relented and stopped to take some photographs. I stoped again at 600m to admire the view. The next 150m of ascent were brutal, as the road passes though a cutting and the road builders had no option other than straight up. I hung on, and jept the pedals turning, my heart was pounding and sweat dripping onto the road, At 750m elevation the road reaches a col, and after recvoning some composure I started to scout for camping spots as I ccycled slowly along the road.

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From about 600m elevation - the Radar station is just visible on ridgeline, left of centre.

Facing southeasterly, the col was not the ideal camping spot, as it would tend to accelerate any winds. I cycled a biit further, until an old mining track leaves the road, heading NE towards Garrigill. About 50m along this track I found the ideal spot for the tent. It was now starting to rain more heavily and so i rushed to get the tent erected. Before searching for water (easily found in this bogland).

I changed into my dry cloithes, and munched on my supper before setting up the sleeping bag and mat. Now comfortable, I tuned arond the VHF hanndlheld looking for repeaters. I picked up GB3EV and Crook, but couldn’t open them using a rubber duck, and it was too wet to bother going outside in my dry clothes to set up the flowerpot antenna.

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Camping 100m from summit of Great Dun Fell

Just as darkness closed in at around 2100hrs BST, I realised my toothbrush was inside the one pannier I had left attached to the bike, so I dashed outside in my pants to bring it into my tent. It was quie an unpleasant night now, with heacy rain and wind at about 25mph.

Settling doown into the sleeping bag, the rain was beeating down onto the tent canvas. I was using a 3 season tent, wiith quite thin fabric - it did not instill quite the level of confidence desirable for a good night’s sleep!

I drifted off to sleep, waking several times in the night, and once to the sound of squeeling bicycle brakes, the weather must have been bad as I didn’t even bother to poke my head out of the tent to see if someone was stealing my bike.

At 0615hrs BST I begain preparationd for the final push. Radio gear was decanted into a 15 litre backpack, and Walsh felrunners extracted from a pannier. I was wearing cycle shorts under thermal tights - to allow a quick change to cycle mode after the walk in. At 0700hrs BST I started the final 100m of cycle ascent to the summit of Great Dun Fell.

Atop the summit I was disappointed to see that even from 20m away, the radar dome was invisible - the mist was that thick. Hoping that the radar operators had done there EMF assessment, I entered the compound and took a photo next to the sign. The cycle was then locked to the compound fence (noting that there were chunky earth cables at regular intervals).

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The radar station is in the mist behind - somewhere

I changed into fell runners and started the jog to Cross Fell (G/NP-001). The wind was fairly low at around 15 to 20mph, and there was a steady rain falling. The route follows the Peninne way, and is paved for much of the distance. The paving was slippery, and the boggy ground either side also uninviting, so I was frequently switching between both options. Visibility remained at 20m or lower, but there was no chance of losing the way on the well paved route.

The summit shelter of Cross Fell (G/NP-001) appeared suddenly out of the mist, looking like a stone igloo. Unfortunately, there is no “inside” - it is just giant cairn. I sat out of the wind on the leewrad side of the shelter preparing the antenna. I was using a homemade flowerpot antenna on a 5m fibreglass telescopic pole. Once ready, I moved away from the shelter and erected it on the hill. It would have been lovely to operate from the shelter, but that would have meant the antenana was shieleded from a westerly view. I found a clear patch of ground between shelter and trig point, and guyed-out the antenna.

A dash back to the shelter was the made in order to raise a spot on my 'phone, a good 4G signal was available. Back at the antenna I called CQ, while lying flat on the ground to shelter from the wind. The rain was heavy now and my waterprooof notepad and write-when-wet pens would be put to the test,

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Operating from a misty Cross Fell (G/NP-001)

It was now around 0845hrs BST, and after having invested considerable effort to get here, I was reallly rather hoping that I would qualify the summit. G0TDM was first to respond followed by G1FUA, G6AEK and then GM4WHA to qualify. I frequently catch GM4WHA on my outings, and paused for a chat. It was his 100th chase of Cross Fell; he was one of the strongest stations I heard during the activation. 2E0XUP then called in, also a good strong signal from West Cumbria. I was pleased to hear mobile station MM0LGR/M calling from the Mull of Galloway lighthouse, he was setting up for the lighthouses weekend and experiening similar weather to myself. It really was very wet by now, the time was 0900hrs BST and I was getting drenched. I made a few more contacts over the next 10 or 15 minutes, including across to Morpeth and Redcar, and down to Birkenhead.

Pleased with a haul of 12 QSOs I packed away the antenna as quickly as possible and headed back to the bike. The fell running shoes, tiny backpack and waterproof shorts (rather than full length trousers) must have given the look of a fell runner, but turned out to be a practical choice for the short distance on foot - it was about 3km from Dun Fell to Cross Fell.

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Back at the bike

Back at the bike I tried to take another photo of the radar dome - but not very successful in the thick mist. Later that day I got a better shot from about 10km away. A quick rearangement of luggage, and it was time to get back into the saddle for the descent.

I stopped a couple of times on the way down to admire the view, and to watch another cyclist making his way up the climb. Back at the foot of the climb I started to wake-up my legs again, for the cycle across to Hartside pass. It was a pleasant ride through the Eden valley, with occasional rain showers and the odd sunny interval. The Pennines remained covered in mist.

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Back down again!

It was about 1300hrs BST when I arrived at the village of Melmerby, at the foot of the Hartside Pass climb. I decided to take a break for lunch inside a wooden bus shelter, and the rain tured torrential as I sat there eating some pitta bread, cheese and Jelly babies. At about 1400hrs BST I emerged from the shelter and began stripping down to just shorts and cycling jersey, ready for the climb. The rain had stopped, and I was ready for the next stage.

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Summit of Hartside pass

Starting out from Melmerby I maintained a steady pace. Hartside is a glorious climb on a bicycle as the gradient is so steady, and the views out across the Eden valley provide plenty to look at. I arrived at the top of the pass; as always, the carpark was busy, although the cafe burnt down several years ago. I sat on a bench and put a call out on 2m. GM4WHA returned my call straight away, and we had a very pleasant chat for 10 minuites. I was not sure what route to take onto Burnhope Seat (G/NP-003), and after disussing the matter decided I would follow the route of the Yad Moss ski tow - it was sure to be well cultivated ski piste (surely?) At around 1500hrs BST it bagan to rain, and so I got back in the saddle and headed off. Next target was the village of Garigill, where I hoped to stock up on some food to see me through the night. Unfortuantely, all shops/tea rooms/pubs etc appear to have shut-up-shop and so I was resigned to live off the remaining food in my panniers.

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A rest on Hartside and QSO with GM4WHA

The climb out of Garrigill is highlighted with double chevrons on OSmaps, indicating vicious gradients. I had a revving car behind me, and a cyclist in pro-team colours ahead; a carrot and stick to provide encouragement to push hard. It was now a matter of following the Middleton-in-Teasdalle road until near the ski tow. I cyced a little beyond the ski tow, to scout out a spot for the tent, but found the quarry I had marked on the OS map (NY 774372) was already occupied by a cycle tourist. I decided to pitch the tent on the traaced hill side below the ski tow (NY 773378), near to a gushing stream.

With the tent pitched, and radio gear transferred to backpack, it was on with the Walsh fellrunners, and back to scampering up hill sides. Surprisingly, there was no vehicle track to the ski tow, just a steep walk up a grassy slope. The collection of stone and tin buildings at the base of the tow were surruded by patches of short grass, providing further options for camping.

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Bogholes and Ski Tows

Activation reports on SOTLAS suggested the going would be diffiicult; however, the ski tow provided good footing, and the line of the tow cables was the clearest navigational guide I’ve ever had on a hill. The tow ends at an elevation of 720m, and since the summit itself is only 746m the activation zone begins a short distance beyond the tow. Activators not wanting to trudge across the boggy ground beyond might end their journey here. I wanted to reach the trig point, so trudged onwards.
The fence line was reached at about 740m elevation, and I set a visual bearing on the compass back to the ski-tow - in case the mist closed-in on the descent. The next 300m of horizontal distance were rather tricky, requiring leaps and jumps across pools of bog water.

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Working from summit of Burnhope Seat (G/NP-003)

The trig point is placed on a concrete slab, and appears to be rising out of the peat; goodness knows what sort of foundation was required to avoid it disappearing into the mire. It was raining again, so I quickly attached an RH770 antenna to the handheld and called CQ;, it was 1725hrs BST. No response came. I raised a spot by SMS, and called again. M0JQQ responded, and I was vocally thankful that the summit was not activated, if not fully qualified. No further calls followed this first QSO, so I attached the flowerpot antenna to my fibreglass pole and then climbed up the trig point to slot the pole in the central hole of the monolith. Another call on 145.500 yielded better results. G0PMJ called in from Darlington, followed by G0MBV, and G4LIA as my fourth contact. A further four calls followed, including GM6LJE on the Scottish border. With seven QSOs acheived over 20 minutes, and getting rather wet again, I dismantled the antenna and headed off the summit.

On reaching the turn-off point from the fence line that I had noted earlier, I heard GM4WHA calling for me; initially he couldn’t hear my repsonse from the rubber duck so I swapped back to the RH770 which was much better. I was pleased to speak with GM4WHA for the third time and as my final QSO of the day, it was now 1812hrs BST.

The ski-tow provided the ideal guide back to my tent, and the ground underfoot remained good - I would highly reccommend this route to the summit.

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Not sure if its broken or meant to be like that. Might make a good antenna too?

It was great day out, and I was pleased to have activated my first NP summits. An MTB would have been a better choice of steed for the ride from Cross Fell to Burnhope Seat, and would have avoided the need to backtrack down into the Eden valley - but a MTB would have made the ride across from West Cumbria tiresome.

Thanks to all the chasers I spoke with, all of the QSOs were most appreciated, and it was good to have more lengthy chat with several chasers.

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Camping above South Tyne Dale. Red spot is the tent.


Thanks for another great report and photos. Inspirational stuff!

Great report and photos. An Inspiration. I haven’t ridden a bike for 60 years though. :grinning:

73 de Geoff vk3sq

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Dedication to the cause that! Thanks for the great report.