3 Counties and Dead Stones (March)

A strenuous ridge walk high in the North Pennine hills along the Cumbria/Durham border

Much of the open-access land surrounding Alston is wild open moorland a flavour of which can be experienced in this 10-mile walk visiting some of the high points along the border.  The terrain which is typical of the area can be boggy especially after wet weather.

The walk, which is taken from the Cicerone Guide WALKING IN THE NORTH PENNINES by Paddy Dillon, commences in the village of Nenthead, at  1500′ the highest village in England.  In its heyday, the lead mine there was the most productive in the country and parts of this will be seen during the latter stages of the walk.  Initially our route takes us back to the main A689 road, where we note the Miners Arms off to the left for a possible visit after the walk.  Crossing the road and taking the minor road climbing out of Nenthead followed by a track the route eventually reaches the Carrshield road close to the  border with Northumberland.  

DSC03119Here we take to the moorland heading first up to the Three Counties Stone at 648m.  This marks the meeting point of the counties of Cumbria, Northumberland and Durham.  From here the Northumberland/Cumbria border heads roughly North-West first to the Dodd and then to Hard Rigg.  The Nothumberland/Durham border heads roughly East to Killhope Law.  Our route follows the Durham/Cumbria border which soon reaches the main A689 road at Killhope Cross with its extremely useful Information Point.

Continuing along the border the first summit reached Knoutberry Hill at 668m – not to be confused with its cousin Great Knoutberry Hill in the Yorkshire Dales which is 4m higher. For summit baggers a slight diversion is required as the actual summit lies a few meters the other side of the fence.  Unfortunately Knoutberry Hill cannot claim to be a Nuttall but does feature in some lists of the Mountains of England.  It also begs the question “What is a knoutberry?”.   The knoutberry is better known as a cloudberry or knotberry, so called because of its knotted stems.

The next summit is Nag’s Head at 673m however it is worth making a slight detour roughly two thirds of the way between Knoutberry Hill and Nag’s Head  to see the three ancient stone crosses.  These lie roughly 150m from the boundary.


Back at the boundary there is a small sink hole which makes an excellent lunch stop being well sheltered from the wind.  From here it is only a short distance to Nag’s Head at which point it is possible to cut the walk short by following the fence/wall down to Perry’s Dam and from there the track to Nenthead.

The final summit,  Dead Stones, is not only the highest point of the walk but is also the only Nuttall visited.  The summit is easily recognisable with its magnificent cairn, stone hut and various stone shelters.  

In all directions from here there are extensive views.  To the North is the route we have come and beyond that lies West Allen Dale.  To the East is Burnhope Reservoir and Weardale.  To the South is the continuation of the ridge to Burnhope Seat and beyond that lies Mickle Fell.  To the West lies Cross Fell.  

The route back to Nenthead is roughly Westward heading for Hunter’s Cleugh and the bend in the road south of Priorsdale.  Although there is no path one can keep the wall/fence on the left in sight on the descent until the wall up ahead becomes visible then head for the wall corner at the head of Hunter’s Cleugh from which point a path leads down to the road/track.

The route back through Nenthead Mines gives some indication of the extent of the former mining activity.  One reminder of this is the aforementioned Miners Arms at which some well-earned refreshment may be obtained.

(Map and route details)