North Pennine Walks
Date: 30th April 2011
Distance: 10.3 miles
Ascent: 1785 feet
Time: 6 hours 10 minutes
Start Grid Ref: NY831199
A sometimes rough walk in the Warcop Army Range up on to the summit of Mickle Fell, once the highest point in Yorkshire.
Route Summary: County boundary on the B6276 - Hewits - Hanging Seal - King's Pot - Mickle Fell - Arnside Rake - Little Fell - Force Beck - Hanging Seal - Hewits - County boundary on the B6276
1. Little Fell and boundary stone number 54
2. Matt on the bridge over Connypot Beck
3. Approaching Mickle Fell
4. The steep south-eastern slopes of Mickle Fell
5. Matt on the final climb up on to Mickle Fell
6. On Mickle Fell
7. Matt looking towards Knock Fell and the Dun Fells
8. Cow Green Reservoir
9. Spring Gentian
10. Matt descending Mickle Fell
11. Mickle Fell from Arnside Rake
12. Murton Pike and the distant Northern Fells of the Lake District
13. The trig point and shelter on Little Fell
14. A spent shell case on Little Fell
15. Mickle Fell from one of the small tarns near Force Beck
16. What seemed to be a small bomb attached to a parachute
17. The Force waterfall was barely a trickle in the dry conditions
18. Force Beck
Walk Detail: Mickle Fell was, until it was purloined by County Durham during the boundary changes in 1974, the highest point in Yorkshire. As the historical summit of my native county Mickle Fell has always been high on my list of hills to climb, unfortunately though it also happens to reside in the Ministry of Defence's Warcop Range.
I don't want to use this page to go into too much detail about the access situation to Mickle Fell but basically access is only allowed following application for a permit, and only then on a limited number of days each year. Only two routes are officially allowed and the advice is to leave by the same route you entered the Range. More details on access arrangements can be found on the MOD website.
Applying for the permit proved to be a lengthy process and I was worried we wouldn't receive the permits in time as we were nearing the double bank holiday weekend in April. Fortunately the lady at the Range office was very helpful and emailed the permits to me in time.
Of the two routes allowed Matt and I chose the one from the south starting by the county boundary at the summit of the B6276. There was still a problem though. In addition to Mickle Fell there is another 2000fter, Little Fell, on the range. It lies well away from any rights of way and was also not on the routes specified by the MOD. This is a problem for those, like myself, who are aiming to try and complete all the Nuttall tops in England.
The outward route was, in terms of navigation, very simple as we followed the boundary fence over 3 miles almost to the summit of Mickle Fell. For most of the route there was no path and there were sections, particularly around Hanging Seal, which had it not been so dry would have been extremely rough going.
Mickle Fell itself proved to be a worthy objective. In terms of its profile it completely dominated much of the walk (from certain angles it bore a similarity to Pen-y-Ghent). The final climb up via King's Pot was steep which made reaching the top all the more satisfying. The views from the summit were excellent amd thankfully the haze was much less in evidence than it had been for much of April. It was however rather windy but fortunately the summit cairn was large enough to provide us with enough cover to eat our lunch.
By this point we'd only seen two other walkers who, as it turned out, also made the decision we made to walk the obvious ridge round to the south-west in order to visit Little Fell. The decision on whether to head for Little Fell was one I'd agonised over before the walk but was one that we ultimately made quite easily once we had started the walk.
Ironically the moorland ridge between Mickle Fell and Little Fell provided the easiest walking underfoot of the whole walk, following as we did a faint path. The immediate benefit of heading 'off route' was the area of limestone on the descent from Mickle Fell. Here we found a number of flowers including the beautiful but rare Spring Gentian, the Upper Tees valley being the only place it is to be found in England.
The highest point of Little Fell was unmarked and so the trig point to the south, and a few metres lower in height, made a more satisfactory spot for some photos. The trig point itself, enclosed within a stone shelter, looked decidedly worse for wear. The view was good though with the profile of Murton Pike looking particularly striking. The wind though was even stronger than on Mickle Fell so we didn't hang around long.
Up until this point we had, rather disappointingly, not seen anything - other than warning signs - to denote we were on an army range. However, a short distance after heading east from the trig point we came across the first of several old rusty shell casings. By all accounts these are much more numerous on the southern flanks of the fell and in the region of Tinside Rigg, well away from our own route. Still it was a reminder to keep an eye on where to put our feet and a warning that anyone who decides to visit Little Fell does so at their own risk.
From Little Fell we descended towards a couple of small tarns before picking up the course of Force Beck, which we followed all the way back to Hanging Seal. Force Beck was an attractive water course though the Force waterfall itself was reduced to barely a trickle following what was a very dry April in terms of rainfall. From Hanging Seal it was then a 2¼ mile plod back along our outward route.
Mickle Fell proved to be a grand hill and was definitely worth the effort and I certainly hope to go there again in the future. There are other interesting walks I'd also like to do within the Warcop Range - the steep sided valley of Scordale looks worth a visit some time in the future and that, at least, can be accessed using a public right of way.