High Cup Nick is a famous and dramatic geological formation in the Pennines of the Eden Valley, Cumbria. A classic, virtually perfect deep U-shaped chasm that cuts into the Whin Sill at High Cup Gill.
This 8 mile walk is stunning from beginning to end and includes the walk up and along the side of it, looking down and then coming back straight down the middle at the bottom.
A fantastic walk for hikers and geologists alike, the unique look of the valley is not restricted to the shape and depth but also the crags that line the top of High Cup Nick all the way around. Let’s walk and find out more.
The Whin Sill
The rock that helps give High Cup Nick its unique look is the Whin Sill. 295 million years ago the earth’s crust stretched. This brought molten rock to rise up from deep within the planet and enter the cracks of the limestone, sandstone, etc. above.
As it cooled it formed an 80 m thick layer of this dark grey/blue crystalised dolerite rock. It is spread throughout the North Pennines and has now, over time, become exposed in many famous spots. High Force is a great example of this, as is Hadrian’s Wall near Steel Rigg, and Bamburgh Castle.
In more recent times, quarry workers gave this rock the name Whin Sill. In local Cumbrian dialect a ‘whin’ was a rock that was hard and dark, and a ‘sill’ was a flat layer of rock.
It was Britain that was at the centre for starting the world of geology study in the 19th century and Whin Sill, being the first recognised version of this kind of molten rock, is the reason all these kinds of old molten rocks around the planet are named a ‘sill’. Whin Sill is the original is the original sill.
High Cup Nick Formed
In the last ice age a huge glacier formed what is now the wide and beautiful Eden Valley. A part of the glacier cut into the Whin Sill of the Pennine hills and caused a ‘nick’ – this U-shaped valley that formed as the ice melted.
Parking For The Walk
Dufton is a lovely little village in the Eden Valley close to Appleby. In its centre is a small car park on the left hand side if coming from Appleby itself. Postcode for parking is CA16 6DB.
The Walk Up
If not using the GPX I provide below then I will explain the best way to get along here. Set off back through the village in the direction of Appleby. As you leave Dufton down a little slope you will see a lane heading left with a sign saying Pennine Way. Take the left turn and follow the lane straight ahead.
It feels like a long and winding road but the views all around are lovely.
Over to your left you see the unmistakeable Dufton Pike with its conical shape.
The lane starts to turn to track and steadily climbs onwards and upwards.
It is as you are walking up here that you should really take the time to look back. You get some amazing views all the way across the Eden Valley. The Lake District mountains as the backdrop.
The climb up this way gives the walk plenty of variety. It is not until you reach the top section that you get to see any of High Cup Nick. It gets its own grand entrance later.
The way up lets you get some of the miles and height in within some glorious Cumbrian and Pennine countryside.
After passing through a kissing gate, the stone track turns to more pathway and as it is a popular well known route you just follow the way.
Then, suddenly, the vast High Cup Nick appears in front of and below you.
Its uniformity and size really does captivate you. You soon forget about the steady heart and lung work to get up here.
The path follows the rim along the top, giving you views not just ahead but down into the carved valley below too.
The destination for the top of the walk was High Cup Gill Head. At the centre of the top of the valley you can stand and look down and right down the centre and out into the landscape beyond. The view is framed perfectly by the crags and the valley sides.
The Scramble Down
A lot people look down from here and choose to go back the way they came. Of course that is fine but I myself love a circular to help experience it all. So yes, it was time to go straight down and through the middle of High Cup Nick.
Be careful at this point as the way down is quite direct and you will need to use your hands. It is steep; at first rocky and then turns to a steep grassy path to the bottom. Lots of bum shuffling if needs be! Looking back up when halfway down gives the perspective.
Walking Through The Valley Bottom
The walk starts to now feel like a sort of natural obstacle course. You will have made it down to the bottom of the valley and, in absolutely no time at all, you have lost all the height you gained in the climb.
What next? Oh yes, with high crag rock formations come rockfalls, and right in the valley bottom is a boulder field to navigate. Be careful of your ankles.
From here the path takes you straight down the middle with the valley walls rising high up on either side of you. Being down here gives you a whole new perspective on the scale of it all. Imagining what it must have been like as the massive glacier was here.
As you head down the path it starts to get boggy in parts so be prepared with good footwear.
It is worth every step as you look forwards and backwards in awe.
At the bottom end of the valley you will come out at Harbour Flatt, a farm to pass through. Here you get some views across to Murton Pike on your left.
After the farm you will eventually come to a quiet narrow road. Turn right along it and it takes you the mile and a half back to Dufton.
A great and memorable walk done.
Route Details and GPX
Distance: 8 miles
Time needed: 4 hours
Download the GPX for High Cup Nick Circular Walk
Enjoy every step.