High Cup Nick

Date: 19 July 2020 Weather: 16’C, cloudy
Height gain: 1,654 ft Distance: 8.2 miles
Time taken: 4 h 50 mins Wainwrights: n/a

Route:  From Murton following footpath up past Burnt Crag up to High Cup Nick then taking a path along its edge below Middeltongue Crag crossing Trundale Gill and swinging back round to Murton.


We have been doing shorter local walks since our trip to Claife Heights as the weather has got wetter in the first half of the month.  We’ve been waiting for a nice day to re-visit High Cup Nick and today is forecast to be clear with sunny spells and, as it’s a Sunday in July (although with no normal break up of schools this year due to the virus) staying out of the Central Lakes seems to be a good plan.  We’re a little nervous about heading to such an iconic spot in the Yorkshire Dales but we’ll take our chances.

We first visited High Cup Nick while walking the Pennine Way, in June 2007.  We reached it towards the end of a section and we had no idea that it existed.  That particular day had started badly when, about a mile into the walk, S slipped on very greasy riverside rocks and fell face down into the River Tees – only his rucksack stuck out of the water and there was stillness for what felt like the longest time while I panicked about how I was going to lift a large man out of the water.  Thankfully his head then popped up and out he climbed – very wet but otherwise unscathed.  It was a rather grey and cool day for June, about 10’C, and to be honest I would have turned round and gone home if it had been me.  But no, after five minutes sitting on a rock to steady himself and dry off his glasses we set off again.

It was a good walk passing waterfalls and lots of changes of terrain.  We were getting weary as we approached the final climb of the day and when we crested the ridge England’s answer to the Grand Canyon was laid out before us.  It was amazing, but the experience did lose something from the lack of anticipation as we had never heard of it and weren’t expecting to see it (which seems weird in retrospect).

So – we’ve always said we would go and see it again on a nice day full of lots of anticipation.  S had scoped out a route from Murton soon after we made the move up here and we waited for the right conditions.  On a cold, crisp day at the end of November last year we decided that was our day.  Throughout our journey we had seen the only cloud around sitting just where we hoped High Cup Nick wasn’t and when we arrived in Murton to find it bathed in sunshine we breathed a sigh of relief. 

We drove all the way through the village before finally finding a lovely big car park at the start of the walk.  We huffed and puffed our way up 1,00ft on the footpath with a cold wind blowing towards us.  As we reached the top of the path and got onto the ridge we walked into cloud – in fact it was filling the scars to our left, including High Cup Nick.  We couldn’t see a thing so we decided today was not our day after all and turned around and went home.

It’s now nearly eight months later and good weather is forecast for the first and last time for a couple of weeks but it’s a Sunday in peak season.  We decide today is our day for a revisit of High Cup Nick.

We repeat our journey from November and stop off at Bryson’s in Appleby for our lunchtime pasties.  We now know where the car park is so don’t worry when we haven’t seen it as we near the end of the village.  There are more cars parked than there were in November but still plenty of spaces left.

We get our boots on and pack the rucksacks and set off up the familiar and distinct footpath towards Murton Pike: 

It’s still a long slog up those 1,000ft but doesn’t seem quite as hard as it did in November. The views around us are stunning as we gain height. Looking back over our right shoulders we can see Mell Fell (not either of the puddings in the Northern Fells) with Roman Fell behind it:

These are difficult to access as the area is used for military training – we can hear gunfire today, even on a Sunday.

We reach the ridge and the gradient becomes gentler although we’re still heading upwards. We’re now on grass and it’s muddy in places. Happily, though, there is no low cloud today and the view across Trundale Gill to Middle Tongue on the other side is crystal clear:

All we could see up here in November was the thick swirling cloud. We head down into the gill and up the other side then carry on walking northwards up to a large cairn which marks the highest point of today’s walk:

The sky has started to cloud over and there’s a chilly wind up here. It’s now 1.15pm and we decide to find somewhere to stop for lunch before reaching the main attraction where we expect to see lots more people. We’ve seen one or two couples on the way up but no crowds thank goodness.

We drop down into some sheltered rocks and get our lunch out. We threw lightweight waterproofs into the rucksack because it was forecast to be fairly windy. I also came across my gloves languishing at the bottom and decided they were so light they could stay in so I’d know where they were come winter. However we cool down fast as we eat and I’m surprised to find I need both my waterproof and gloves and am very glad to have them both with us.

We’re quite chilly by the time we set off again, heading downwards towards the head of High Cup Nick. And then we’re there, and it is as amazing as we remembered:

And this time it looks familiar from all the pictures of it we’ve spotted since our last trip here 13 years ago. I take loads of photos not knowing which will be the “classic” shot – of course the one I think is the best is one of the first. In fact the canyon is too wide to be fully appreciated by my unsophisticated ordinary camera lens.

The rock formations around its edges are stunning and I spend a long time gazing at them, and photographing them as best I can:

I try for another shot a little further back so the rocky edges are more in view:

We spend a good half hour walking from one side to the other, taking in the view and snapping a squillion photos. There are quite a few people around here at the top but most are arriving from the south on the Pennine Way route and head down the eastern edge towards Dufton. This means that our route from Murton is nice and quiet.

Eventually we decide to drag ourselves away and turn south to start the walk back. We stick close to the eastern edge of High Cup Nick with Middletongue Crag to our left. The rocky edges look impressive as we walk the length of them:

After a while I look back towards the High Cupgill Head where we’ve come from:

We reach the far end of the nick and the path starts its descent into a pretty valley:

We know we have to cross over the wall to the other side of the valley at some point and it isn’t clear where that point should be. S thinks we’re heading too far south so, although we can’t see any gates or stiles below us, we come off the path and start heading down towards the wall.

When we reach it its about waist height and has no obvious breaks or ways through. There are places where the stones stick out and can be climbed, but not where there are similar useful stones on the other side. I find a spot which minimises the drop on the other side and go for it, and land in the long grass on the other side without too many problems.

S, however, is finding it more difficult to negotiate. Finally he finds his spot and launches himself over – but sadly its the death knell for his boots, which we’d noticed were getting quite worn. One boot is nearly split in two between sole and boot and we know they will need replacing before the next walk.

Now we’re both safely across it’s a short hop across the beck in the bottom and a quick scramble up the other side to reach another very distinct footpath. This one will take us round the bottom of Murton Crag and back to Murton itself. But is seems to be taking ages …… the path gains a little height and then becomes narrower and narrower – we keep looking for ways down towards the road below us, but no such luck. The photo below doesn’t do justice to how tricky it got in some sections:

Finally we reach a wall and the path widens out and we can see the car park ahead of us. We’re above it and strangely I can’t see our car – although I know we parked it close to the gate in the car park wall. I assume the angle of the wall must be hiding it. We get closer and closer and still we can’t see the car – this is starting to get just a little worrying – we’re looking at the exact spot it should be. Surely it hasn’t been stolen or towed away – either scenario seems very unlikely in this out of the way village when we were properly parked in a free car-park.

We’re almost back at the gate before finally the broad blue roof of the car becomes visbile exactly where we left it. That’s some very odd perspective at work!

This is the longest walk we’ve done for quite some time – we haven’t broken 8 miles since the pre-lockdown Coast to Coast sections in March. It felt good to have such a good length walk and High Cup Nick was definitely worth the wait …… and much better with that all important sense of anticipation.