A walk from Dufton to High Cup Nick

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An eight mile walk from Dufton along the Pennine Way track to watch sunset at High Cup Nick in winter. And what a sunset it turned out to be!

Taking photos of High Cup Nick and High Cup Gill

The first time I walked along the Pennine Way from Dufton to High Cup Nick I managed to do so having never seen a photo of the place. I could have easily looked for a photo online but managed to resist. All I had to go on was Alfred Wainwright’s description: “a natural wonder, an unforgettable sight”. Intriguing. Needless to say I didn’t end up disappointed when I saw “The Nick” at the head of the High Cup Gill Valley for the first time. The way the ravine of High Cup Gill gradually reveals itself to the walker on this route is tantamount to teasing. It is well worth the miles of climbing.

At this point I ought to point out that this is my second blog about High Cup Nick, the original having been superseded by this one. A few years ago I did this same 8 mile walk in the summer. At that time of year High Cup Gill is in shadow from the late afternoon due to the angle of the setting sun. I realised that to see High Cup Nick at its best a visit in winter was required. My concluding comments in that blog entry said as much.

Well, it may have taken a few years but I finally got round to a second visit, this time on a glorious day in winter.

From Dufton to High Cup Nick along the Pennine Way

There is a small car park in the centre of Dufton. If this is full there is also plenty of parking available round the green or outside the church. And all parking is free.

As far as route finding goes it really is one of the most straightforward three and a half miles of walking you’ll find (seven miles if you include the return leg). I challenge anyone to go wrong. To play it safe I’ll include a brief description anyway.

Walking eastwards along the lane out of the village leads to Billysbeck Bridge at Town Head. On crossing the bridge turn left along minor lane that heads towards the grandly named Bow Hall. A helpful Pennine Way finger post points the way.

wooden pennine way finger post in dufton pointing to high cup nick
Pennine Way finger post in Dufton

The lane leads gradually uphill between farm fields to the farm at Bow Hall.

country lane leading through fields between dufton and bow hall
Country lane leading to Bow Hall

Every time I get to the farm and then end of the tarmac lane I think the same thing: oh, I forgot there is some space for parking here! And indeed there is for a small number of cars. However on the day I was here there was no spare room anyway so no need to kick myself.

Past Bow Hall the route changes to an unmade walled track.

country lane leading through fields between dufton and bow hall under blue skies
Country lane leading to Bow Hall

The way ahead is still straightforward though. In fact the only decision to be made on virtually the whole walk is where a second track leads off to the right. Here the Pennine Way track goes straight on. Stick with it.

I was keen to get to High Cup Nick for sunset but a glance over my shoulder near this junction convinced me I ought to take a break for a photo. This is the view back down to Dufton in the Eden Valley.

Getting to High Cup Nick

A bit further up, the track enters open land but the route finding is still easy. Following the well-trodden Pennine Way path High Cup Gill gradually comes into view, lined with its distinctive basalt columns.

edge of high cup gill on bright winter day from the pennine way path
The first view of the crags lining the High Cup Gill valley from the Pennine Way path

Soon the ‘nick’ at the head of the valley can be seen too: a pretty impressive sight!

high cup nick at the head of the high cup gill valley on bright winter day from the pennine way path
High Cup Nick from the Pennine Way path

The setting sun was already causing a the land to change colour so there was no time to linger.

From this point on the outward leg of the walk is along the northern rim of the valley on a path called Narrow Gate. At points on the path the valley bottom is well hidden from view, at others the view opens out. Its pretty hard to not take your eyes off it though. A panoramic photo of the line of basalt crags would have been great but, as time was limited, I made do with this one quick photo.

basalt columns of great whin sill above high cup gill valley
Basalt columns above the High Cup Gill valley

I was keen to get to High Cup Nick before the sun sank too low.

Sunset from High Cup Nick

On the climb up pretty much everyone I met had been heading back towards Dufton. This was hardly surprising as it would be dark soon. There were still a couple of people at High Cup Nick though, probably with the same idea as me.

I had chance for a quick scoot around to see what the best vantage point for a photo was given the angle of the setting sun. Soon enough I had set up my tripod and was snapping away. Sadly it wasn’t easy, thanks mainly due to shooting pretty much directly into the sun. I had wanted to get a photo looking along High Cup Gill with a bit of sky in the distance but that was a non starter as the contrast was way too great. Even without the sky in the frame I had problems with lens flare. In the end I managed to get a couple of photos minus flare but only by shielding the lens with my hands. It took a few attempts but was was worth all the silly postures though as the result proves.

The photo shows off the U-shape of the valley: one of the best examples of a glaciated valley in The Pennines.

On The Pennine Way to Dufton in the dark

Having bagged that photo I decided it was time to dash. Although I was only going to retrace my steps and had a torch I wanted to use the last of the light to get back to the main track.

Before leaving though I will point out that normally I wouldn’t do this route. From High Cup Nick there are a couple of other options that would make the walk circular. It is possible to walk along the other side of the valley above the basalt columns of High Cup Scar. Alternatively there is a scramble down the scree from High Cup Nick into the valley where the footpath contours the left hand side of the valley. Both routes lead to the farm of Harbour Flatt and the road back to Dufton. However there wasn’t enough light to do either today.

And so I retraced my steps back along the Pennine Way track above High Cup Gill. As I walked the landscape started to turn a rich shade of red, as it does during a clear sunset. Oh go on then, time for one last photo.

After quickly setting up my kit up and I took this picture of the view along the gill looking towards High Cup Nick.

And that was that. By the time I managed to get back to the track I was using my head torch to see my way. And by the time I reached the minor road leading down to Dufton it was pitch black (and all the cars had gone). Photography was definitely done for the day. But what a day!

To view more photos of the North Pennines feel free view my Eden Valley photo gallery.

A walk from Dufton to High Cup Nick was last modified: March 21st, 2021 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Wild camping on Wild Boar Fell
    May 2018 : A seven mile climb up Wild Boar Fell from Cotegill Bridge for a windy, sleepless night's wild camping. The dawn made it all worthwhile though!

  • Visiting Lacy’s Caves from Little Salkeld
    November 2017 : A walk along the River Eden near Little Salkeld in Cumbria to visit Lacy's Caves - a series of small caves carved into a sandstone cliff above the river

  • Gelt Woods walk in autumn
    October 2018 : A walk along the River Gelt in Gelt Woods in autumn, when the woods are at their colourful best

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