The 26 Hewitts of the Northern Pennines are dominated by mighty Cross Fell, a landmass just shy of 3000ft that dominates the view from the M6 and the West Coast Main Line south of Penrith. Crossed by the Pennine Way, it is, with its neighbours, by far the most frequently climbed of the group.

It is indeed fair to say that many hills of the northern Pennines have a poor reputation amongst hill walkers.

I’ve not, for the most part, found that well deserved; though with eight of the group still to climb, who knows what horrors I have yet so far missed?

Four of northern England’s greatest rivers, the Eden, Tees, Tyne and Wear, help structure the group.

Great Stony Hill, with the Cross Fell ridge beyond

Cross Fell and its three neighbours, over to the west, are essentially Tees / Eden watershed hills. Like many others, I climbed them on a Pennine Way day.

Five Hewitts lie north of Cross Fell, between the Eden and Tyne. I’ve not trod there yet, but plan a three-day backpack, hopefully for 2024.

Five others lie south of the Tees – two of these are on the Warcop ranges, a live firing area that needs special permission to enter; there are nine hills between Tees and Wear, and three north of the Wear.

One of my first wild country expeditions, in 1974, saw me pick up five of these; my 2015 cross-England walk deliberately sought out four more; and another five followed in August 2023. The two Warcop hills, and their neighbour Murton Fell, remain.

Cross Fell and its neighbours

I’m being quite restrictive in the definition here, by including only the four hills traversed by the Pennine Way on the memorable day from Dufton to Garrigill: Knock Fell (2605ft), Great Dun Fell (2782ft), Little Dun Fell (2762ft) and Cross Fell (2930ft).

For me, the memorable day was Tuesday 17 August 1976. I’d been on the top of Great Dun Fell (it’s the one with the weather station) five years previously, and rewalked the range in 1994. Details are on my High Pennines Pennine Way page, but here’s something else I found out, checking the back pages of my Wainwright guide.

I set off from Dufton at half past nine on a warm but breezy morning. Two hours later, I was on the top of Knock Fell, where I took a break. By 1 o’clock, I was on the top of Cross Fell. Time for lunch.

I was in Garrigill before 4. Again I hung around, but pressed on to Alston. I dawdled this a bit, getting there just after 6.

In all, just over 8½ hours; with breaks, just under 7½, for a little shy of 21 miles.

That’s pretty decent, but nearly 50 years on, I don’t think I’d be too much slower. Though I’m not likely to get back to find out.

The Cross Fell range, from Round Hill

South of the Tees

Monday 27 May 1974: Meldon Hill from Langdon Beck, 14 miles

The second day of my northern Pennines half-term holiday; it will crop up elsewhere below. I took the Pennine Way out from the hostel, went straight up the hill, and came back by the eastern edge of the still fairly new Cow Green reservoir – I still have the OS map that I used, in which I’d shaded its rough outline!

The map, like all the other ’74 maps that follow, is a ’23 reconstruction from my ancient notes. These mention a few salient points along the way but the detail is bound to be approximate rather than exact.

Wednesday 30 August 2023: Bink Moss from Hargill Bridge, three miles

This was the third of three short walks of the day; Great Stony Hill and Chapelfell Top had featured earlier (see below).

I’d met grouse shooters the day before, so wasn’t too surprised to hear guns on the track running north from the bridge. Indeed, just at the point where I was to leave the track for the hill, there was a beater by an army-style truck, ready for a chat.

Yes, there were guns on the hill. But he was a helpful guy. Contour round the hill, then approach the top from the back. You’ll see more beaters up there, but you should be able to get to the wellies.

And it worked very nicely. I found a couple of cairns that seemed to mark a way up, and as I tracked towards the top, there were indeed more beaters, but they weren’t too interested and indeed seemed to have finished their business and started moving off as I approached.

The wellies? A couple of famous markers that have been on the heathery summit for many years. The summit itself is a few yards north, not so nice.

I could clearly take a more direct line off the hill and indeed met the beater again back at the same spot. Dave, he was. “You can have a lift back to the road if you like,” he said. I reasoned with my conscience for, ooh, all of ten seconds, and hopped in. I found out that grouse shooting economics work like this: £2000 a day paid by the guys (mostly) with guns; £80 a day for the beaters.

The cairn that led me to the plateau

The wellies of Bink Moss

That leaves the two Warcop ranges hills, Little Fell and Mickle Fell, plus Murton Fell. I don’t want to leave them to the end of my Hewitt exploration, so will try to fit them in during 2024.

Between Tees and Wear

Viewing Hill (2129ft), Round Hill (2251ft) and Flinty Fell (2014ft) all featured on my 2015 cross-England walk.

Sunday 26 May 1974: Three Pikes and Westernhope Moor from Langdon Beck, 14 miles

‘Hot and sunny’, my notes said; I have a memory that the ground was firm underfoot all the way. Just as well.

A probably rather bemused YHA warden suggested I set off past the ski tow – it’s disappeared from maps since – on the way up to Three Pikes (2136ft). From here I skirted round Langdon Head, crossed a road at Harthope Head, and continued on to Fendrith Hill.

I was back here on my Chapelfell Top day in ’23, see below; there’s messy stuff around here, I will have been fortunate to have been here in reasonably decent conditions, twice.

Westernhope Moor (2215ft) followed after Swinside Head. From here I’m less certain about my route; all I know is I finished at High Force, presumably the hotel. Quite possibly, I cadged a lift back along the road, rather than walk it.

Friday 31 May 1974: Ninebanks to Langdon Beck by the head of Weardale, 19 miles.

Between the Meldon Hill day (above) and this, I’d walked and hitched, or maybe taken the train, to Knock YH, Alston and on to Ninebanks YH.

Today was all about a return to Langdon Beck. I guess, I’d left my motorbike there.

Ninebanks hostel is high up in Allendale, a tributary of the Tyne. I went straight up into the hills at Hard Rigg and continued south-east, crossing very close to the summit of The Dodd (see below). I crossed onto the Tees / Wear hills at Killhope Cross, the summit of the A689.

This itself is over the 2000ft contour so the two-and-a-bit miles to Dead Stones (2329ft) doesn’t involve much climbing, neither does the mile-and-a-half to Burnhope Seat (2451ft). Whether it’s easy walking is another matter – the depression between the two hills looks decidedly messy.

From here I know I dropped down Harwood Common to the B6277 and returned to Langdon Beck. That would have been an anticlimactic four mile road walk at the end of a long day, but there’s no record of me hitching – not that the road sees many vehicles, even today. Perhaps I detoured down through Harwood proper. It will never be known.

Wednesday 30 August 2023: Great Stony Hill (two miles) and Chapelfell Top (4½ miles)

Two separate walks.

First, I parked by the gate where a track from Burnhope meets the B6277.

Indeed, I’d been there 24 hours before, eyeing up possible showers, only to meet up with a guy setting up for that day’s grouse shoot just before I set off. I found i was likely to be in their way, and since lots of them have guns, and deferral by a day would be no loss to me, I scurried off to Allenheads (see below).

The next day happened to be even nicer. Great Stony Hill (2323ft) is easy from here, less than an hour’s round trip. I went out past the old mine workings of Blackway Hole until I could see a fence crossing the track, then veered up the hill. With cairn and trig point, and indeed a few stones, it’s one of the best viewpoints for the Cross Fell ridge, and indeed the northern Pennines in general.

From the summit I could see the top of the mine workings so I descended through them. I was back at the track in no time.

The old workings at Blackway Hole

The summit of Great Stony Hill

I then drove to Swinside Head for the climb of Chapelfell Top (2306ft). It can be done as an out-and-back but I never intended this – indeed I’d first planned to drive to Swinside Bridge and climb from there, until I realised it made no sense to drive to an iffy parking place when the Head had a very good one.

It did lead to an unusual downhill stretch at the start. Across on the Top, I could see what seemed to be mechanical diggers working. Surely not? Then I saw a team working beside a hut just off to my left. Wary by now of grouse shooters, I wandered over to find out what was going on. The diggers, they said, were some sort of peat restoration project.

They themselves were working at the Weardale Ski Club hut. The north-facing corrie below Fendrith Hill hosts some of the best snow conditions in England, and there are a couple of ski tows here and enthusiastic club volunteers to maintain them and the other facilities.

By now I could see that, rather then drop down to Swinside Bridge as planned, I might as well just continue on pretty much a direct line to Chapelfell Top. There was a bit of a drop down to Swinhope Burn but from there I set myself a compass bearing and began the trudge uphill. I was expecting boggy, peaty stuff but it was all pretty straightforward.

Until I got to the ‘ridge’. This was just a mess of peat hags, with the cairn thankfully close at hand. So were the diggers, but they were silent, with no sign of their presumably human operatives. Spooky.

The summit of Chapelfell Top …

… and the diggers

Running south from the summit, there’s a broad drain which gives the best route towards Fendrith Hill, though there’s still a bit of peat hopping. If it was wet this would be tough indeed. Things don’t really improve until you’re past the top of the ski tows, when a sturdy stone wall appears, indicative of firmer ground. Swinside Head is then not far away.

The gully running south from the Top

Top of the ski hoists

North of the Wear

I’d crossed the shoulder of The Dodd (2014ft) back in ’74, but not it seems the summit. However it did feature on my 2015 cross-England walk.

Tuesday 29 August 2023: Killhope Law and Middlehope Moor from Allenheads, nine miles.

This is quite a nice little round, with conditions on the long connecting ridge far better than I expected.

Allenheads itself is a fascinating little place, with a good café and plenty of explainers to the industrial history all around you. The village once processed all the lead from the mines on the surrounding hills.

After a short road section down to Dirt Pot, the ascent to Killhope Law (2208ft) is mostly by an old track leading to a decrepit shooting lodge. The stonework on the front looked as if it might collapse at any moment, so I didn’t venture in, but there were signs that some use it as an occasional howff.

The summit is only about 500 metres from here, with a bagger’s path. The cairn, not quite the high point, bears a helpful iron sign stating ‘Killhope Law’.

It was donning waterproofs in a short shower that three beaters came up the hill from the west. If I had planned to straight back to Allenheads, I would have been in their way, as they explained they were shooting on the slopes to the north of the ridge. I described my route, over Westend Moor, and there was no clash.

They did think though that it might be slow going. As it happened, there was a quad bike track more or less easy to follow all the way, and conditions to the Allenheads – Weardale road weren’t bad at all.

The cairn on Killhope Law

Westend Moor

Middlehope Moor (2008ft) doesn’t have anything like a good reputation, but the climb from the road is straightforward enough. Thankfully the summit is reached before the wettest ground, over to the east.

I’d planned to return to the road and walk down it back to Allenheads, but one of my sources recommended following the fence NNE through ‘wet moorland’ – indeed, from the map, it seemed to follow a drain. Not fancying either, there seemed to be a path by the wall roughly in between the fence and the road, and this proved to be a good way down, with great views along Allendale. Only one section, by a patch of forestry, was noticeably damp.

A cut-off path avoids a big zig-zag in a minor road, and Allenheads is then reached in no time.

The summit of Middlehope Moor

Looking over Allendale