The 76-year-old in this case was my dad, and the mountain, well, it was more of a big hill at 455m; it was High Cup Nick, North Pennines.

It was June, and I’d promised to take my dad for a walk for his birthday; his birthday was in February, but I’d was thinking at the time that I’d wait for some nicer weather. And we certainly got it, it’s hadn’t rained for….well I can’t remember the last time it rained; the grass was brown and temperatures had been +25C for weeks. Perfect timing to take the old man up a strenuous hill, right? It also fell at the right timing for a Quality Hill and Moorland Day – I was starting my training to become a walking guide and I needed to log over 40 walks for practice and experience. I was looking forward to this, I’d given a range of hills for my dad to choose from, but with his dithering and then him looking for more hilly walks, I just choose this one;

1) because I hadn’t been up High Cup Nick before,

2) it was only an hours drive from my parents house in Darlington

3) it was total geology porn – the U-shaped valley of High Cup Hick cut into Carboniferous limestone with the Whin Sill dolerite cross-cutting through it – geek, I know.

It was good practice for risk assessment too. Before even leaving the house, I’d made sure we had extra sun cream, sun hat, plenty of water and spare food, my phone was charged and I’d checked the map for ‘escape routes’ if dad was feeling tired, the terrain was too steep or it was too hot.

Dufton and a curious owl

We parked at Dufton, a gorgeous little village with red sandstone buildings. The small village car park was free with clean loos. To me, this is always a good sign that the area is sound and well kept. We set off through a small wooded glade before our path would take us across farmers fields and onto the fells. 

Not 5 minutes into our walk, a flurry of feathers landed no more than 10m from us, it was an owl! After a few moments, it took off, flew a few meters past us both to land in the stoney, mossy covering of the woodland. And there is stayed for us to take some photos.

Temperatures rising

Across the fields and the temperatures were rising, I knew it would be ok, but I just kept making sure we were going a steady pace. I created little rest stops for taking photos, having a drink, taking a layer of clothing off, asking if he knew where we were on his GPS (dad likes gadgets, but never really knows how to use any of them to there full capacity). ‘Faff stops’ we call them – if someone needs to do something e.g. go for a wee, then everyone else should make use of the time whether it’s to take a picture or have a snack or drink.

Old people and technology

Dad’s GPS was telling us that we needed to turn left, so we did, which ended us clambering over a dry stone wall. Note: know which part of the arrow on your screen is your actual location (one would assume the point, dad assumed the middle!). After a slight detour from the footpath, we were back on it and at the base of the U-shaped valley. We ate a small snack to keep us going and started following a path on the right hand side of the valley. I think most people would have followed the bottom of the valley, however we chose a ‘path’ which cambered on the right. I was glad we ended up doing this because;

1) it took away the hazard of trying to negotiate my dad up the scramble of rock debris at the top of the valley

2) this option gave us more escape routes.  

Gradient rising

Once the path ran out and we were following the ever steepening terrain, we slowed down and had plenty of breaks. I explained we could go down and back, or up and back if we needed to, but this was going to be the hardest bit. We took a route that when as gentle as possible up the side of the valley to reach a footpath at the top. If my dad could reach that, it would all be plain sailing from there. However, this was a U-shaped valley, carved out by tonnes of ice from the last Ice Age; U-shaped valleys, are by nature, well, just steep. I used hawthorn bushes and trees as markers to aim for to have rest breaks at; all the time, looking at the big picture of where we needed to be. It seemed to take an age, stopping every few hundred yards for my dad to catch his breath.

I always carry Haribo

Finally,the ground started to ease up, I got one of my many packets of Haribo out and gave it to my dad, more as a reward than the need for a sugar boost. Once at the top and at High Cup Nick, a selfie of us both to send to my mum to show that we were still alive, another bite to eat and just a little time to appreciate the awesome-ness of the countryside we live in.

The temperature was starting to fall a little and it was a gentle slope all the way back, starting along the top of the valley edge and gently dropping down through farmlands and eventually to the village.

It’s always a relief to get back;

1) that you still have your car keys,

2) you still have a car to put them in

3) that wonderful feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment

4) you are now allowed to take off your walking boots.

It had been a great chance for just me and dad to do something together and I’m sure we’ll do another walk again, maybe not so epic for my dad; maybe even a shorter, flatter one so mam can join.

If you want to have your own family adventure or take someone out for a special birthday or anniversary but don’t want the hassle of route planning and navigation, you can hire me and I create a bespoke walk tailored for you. Check out my Private Guided Walks and start planning your next adventure!