North Pennine Walks
Pike Rigg & Whitfield Lough
Date: 18th April 2014
Distance: 10 miles
Ascent: 1146 feet
Time: 5 hours 30 minutes
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: NY741510
An interesting walk to the two rarely visited tops of Tarn Rigg and Pike Rigg before visiting the beautiful moorland tarn of Whitfield Lough.
Route Summary: A686 - Leipsic - Ayle - Kip Law - Ayle Common (Tarn Rigg) - Willyshaw Moss - Whitfield Law - Pike Rigg - Blind Lough - Whitfield Lough - Whitfield Law - Willyshaw Moss - Willyshaw Rigg - A686
Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Walk Detail: This was my first walk in the North Pennines since a tremendous trip out over Melmerby Fell and Cuns Fell ten months before. Since bagging Cuns Fell I only had four more Deweys to visit to complete the full set of 17 in the North Pennines and at the time I'd meant to push on and try and finish them off last year. The fact I didn't was partly due to the long drive to reach some of them and the fact that in all honesty I didn't think they looked like particularly interesting walks.
The purpose of this walk was to bag two of the four remaining tops, Tarn Rigg and Pike Rigg, whilst also visiting the remote moorland tarn of Whitfield Lough. All in all it proved to be a far more worthwhile expedition than I expected.
Pike Rigg and Tarn Rigg are the two highest points of a vast triangle of moorland to the north of Alston. When I first began planning a route that incorporated them both I was struck by an almost total absence of rights of way in the area. My original plan was to park up on the A686 and make directly for the two tops. It would have been a fairly short route with lots of retracing of steps so to make the drive up there more worthwhile I decided instead to extend the route westwards by creating a loop via the small hamlet of Ayle.
There was barely a cloud in the sky when I parked at the small layby on the Cumbria / Northumberland border next to a large plantation that had mostly been felled. Starting at about 470m above sea level the beginning of the walk was unusual as I actually descended about 150m in height via a heavily rutted track past the ruined house at Leipsic and then on to a minor road and the lowest point of the walk where the road crosses Ayle Burn.
There was no traffic on the road and there were nice views down the valley of Ayle Burn west towards Grey Nag. A bit further on Cross Fell also made an impressive appearance and I could clearly see large patches of snow still clinging to its upper slopes. Ayle itself contained some pretty cottages and the road verges had plenty of daffodils to provide extra colour.
Just past Ayle I took an old quarry track that took me all the way to the wall junction on the minor top of Kip Law. The most interesting feature of Kip Law was a large and very precarious looking cairn that was built on top of the wall itself. Also from Kip Law I got my first real view of Pike Rigg and much of the rest of the route I'd be walking.
Initially the track I'd climbed continued east across Ayle Common alongside the south side of the wall and then a fence as a lovely broad grassy trod. As the path swung south away from the direction I wanted to go in the ground began to deteriorate, but by crossing over a stile to the north side of the fence I came across a quad bike track that took me almost to the top of Tarn Rigg. To reach this required crossing back over the fence.
Tarn Rigg is somewhat bizarrely named as there is no tarn or even sign of a tarn having once existed. The summit itself is unmarked so I stomped about a bit in the heather trying to decide if I'd stood on the highest point. Once I'd satisfied myself that I returned to the fence to make my way to Pike Rigg.
Cutting around the top of Rowels Burn I made my way to the fence leading across Willyshaw Moss to the top of Whitfield Law. Up until this point the walk had been surprisingly easy underfoot but now things started to get much rougher. Along the way I passed a number of boggy pools, in some cases at least a couple of feet deep, which on closer inspection were full of plants and insects. These small self-contained eco systems were in their own way quite beautiful.
Whitfield Law is a subsidary of Pike Rigg and featured an unusually large rash of stones close to the top which was marked by Whitfield Law Currick next to a wall junction. From the currick a fairly clear path led me to the top of Pike Rigg which was marked by a large cairn, a trig point and a stone building. As I went to take a closer look at the latter I was briefly halted by some very mysterious noises coming from within. Then first one dove, then another, popped out of an opening just above the locked door. It seems the building is being used as a dovecote but why when it so far away from anywhere remains a mystery to me.
The view from the top of Pike Rigg was expansive, in addition to numerous North Pennine heights I could make out Deadwater Fell and Peel Fell above Kielder and away to the north-east the large silhouette of The Cheviot. However, my eyes were mainly drawn to the two tarns just north of the summit of Pike Rigg - Blind Lough and Whitfield Lough.
I first made for Blind Lough, the smaller of the two which turned out to be surrounded by two fences and some very moist ground. Having walked round Blind Lough I thus approached Whitfield Lough from the north. With rocky shores and surrounded by heather Whitfield Lough proved to be a lovely sheet of water. It was also clearly popular with geese and oystercatchers all of whom were initially a bit unsettled when I appeared in the vicinity. However, by the time I'd walked around the western side of the lough and eaten my lunch near the south shore they had accepted my presence.
Eventually it was time to drag myself away from this lovely spot and rather than returning to the top of Pike Rigg I instead made more directly for Whitfield Law. Along the way I made a couple of brief detours to view the remains of stone buildings that are not marked on the map. Once back on Whitfield Law it was then a simple case of following the fence all the way back over Willyshaw Moss to the A686.
This walk easily surpassed my expectations and I definitely hope to visit Pike Rigg and particularly Whitfield Lough again.