North Pennine Walks
Roman Fell & Little Fell
Date: 3rd May 2014
Distance: 12.2 miles
Ascent: 2251 feet
Time: 6 hours
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: NY734207
A walk into the Warcop Range visiting a couple of tops and the valleys of Scordale and Swindale.
Route Summary: Hilton - Swindale Brow - Swindale Edge - Christy Bank - Roman Fell - Tinside Rigg - Little Fell - Scordale Head - Scordale - Hilton
Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Walk Detail: Anyone wanting to complete the lists of English Hewitts, Nuttalls and Deweys will at some point be faced with the dilemma of having to tackle a few hills to which public access is not always allowed. Three such hills are located in the large Warcop Army Range in the North Pennines - Mickle Fell, Little Fell and Roman Fell.
Although there are a couple of bridleways and a few public footpaths that cross parts of the range they are out of bounds for most of the year, access is generally only allowed on twelve weekends per year. The problem for hill baggers is that none of the three hill summits lie anywhere near these public routes. Whilst Mickle Fell can be reached on access weekends via a choice of two permissive routes there is no such way to reach Little Fell or Roman Fell without taking some quite large detours away from the paths.
To reach these hills is therefore something of a matter of conscience, not too dissimilar to the one faced by walkers prior to the Countryside Rights of Way Act (CRoW) when large areas of the North Pennines simply were not accessible via rights of way. The main difference here is that the Warcop Range is used for army training and is definitely out of bounds for most of the year. Matters are further complicated by the presence of unexploded ordnance lying about, particularly in the vicinity of Little Fell and Tinside Rigg. Therefore the risk of inadvertantly blowing oneself up also needs to be taken into account.
Obviously choosing one of the designated access days I started this walk from the small parking area at the far eastern end of Hilton. The initial track following Hilton Beck upstream was a lovely start to the walk with some great views ahead of Mell Fell, Little Fell and Roman Fell. Shortly after passing a large footbridge over the beck I took a path leaving the main valley to join the bridleway climbing up above Swindale Beck.
After half a mile the fine broad path narrowed to a thin trod with the occassional guide post marking the route. Shortly after crossing Siss Gill I looked back to see two other walkers, who had been about fifty yards behind me, turn off the path and make a beeline for Little Fell. Clearly I wasn't the only one with plans to stray from the path!
As I walked up the north side of Swindale I could make out what seemed to be a path of some sort contouring above the opposite side of the valley. After crossing Christy Bank Sike I left the bridleway and climbed up to join this path, unmarked on the map but fairly clear on the ground, which led me to the remains of a building, probably a sheepfold, in the col between Tinside Rigg and Roman Fell. Just before reaching the ruin I came across the first of about twenty odd shells that I was to pass over the next couple of miles.
The top of Roman Fell is adorned by a large sprawling cairn. It is not even marked on the map but has the feel of an ancient cairn. The forecast for the day had been sunny spells and very good visibility. Sadly while this was true of most of the country Cumbria on the other hand was covered in a thin layer of cloud that refused to break, it was also quite murky. Despite this it was clear that in better conditions Roman Fell would have a superb panorama including the north-west Yorkshire Dales, the Howgill Fells, the eastern and northern Lake District, the Eden Valley and the East Fellside of the North Pennines. Particularly impressive was the view down the trench-like Scordale.
From Roman Fell I walked east over Tinside Rigg. The map suggests that there are potentially three Nuttalls on Tinside Rigg though apparently, and somewhat surprisingly in the case of the 624m spot height, none of them actually are. However, whilst Tinside Rigg doesn't qualify as a mountain it did feature some ancient and heavily eroded sections of limestone pavement, some more ruined sheepfolds and, more impressively, a few species of flower including the mountain pansy.
From Tinside Rigg I crossed the bridleway to make a beeline for the trig point on Little Fell. The ground got a little rougher here and it became harder to see what was underfoot. The higher I got the ground gradually began to improve again and after passing a few lines of shake holes I arrived at the grassy plateau on the summit of Little Fell.
After visiting the stone shelter containing the trig point I followed a clear quad track heading north-east past the true summit of the fell. For well over a mile the track was fairly clear until it eventually disappeared in a peaty area. Somewhat surprisingly I was passed by some walkers heading in the opposite direction and I also gradually caught up a couple of others as I neared Scordale Head. Indeed I saw about ten people during the course of the walk making this the 'busiest' walk I've had in the North Pennines since I climbed Cross Fell in 2010.
Although the twin aims of the walk were Roman Fell and Little Fell the undoubted highlight for me was the two mile descent through Scordale from Scordale Head. Scordale has a long history of mining activity and I found it highly reminiscent of the much better known Gunnerside Gill in Swaledale. The good news for walkers is that a bridleway runs the entire length of the valley. It is just such a shame that the public can only access it on such a limited number of days. To be fair though the Ministry of Defence have erected a number of information boards in the valley.
Not just Scordale but much of the scenery on this walk was absolutely first rate, some of the finest to be found in the North Pennines. That it lies inside a military training range is a real shame. I'd certainly like to go back and explore Scordale in more detail - in addition to the bridleway there is a handy looking public footpath that climbs out of Scordale and over Mell Fell before dropping down to Murton. This would mean a decent circular walk could be planned without straying off public ways for those who want to explore Scordale with a clean conscience.