Film buffs may remember the 1995 movie called The Man Who Went up a Hill and Came down a Mountain.
Notable for its lengthy title and its leading man, Hugh Grant, it was about an English cartographer who gets inveigled into conceding a Welsh hill is actually the 1,000 feet high needed to qualify as a “mountain”, local people having added a mound to its summit.
I sometimes wonder if we need a similar sleight of hand for Cross Fell. Its official height is 893 metres, which translates into 2,930 feet in old money. That's just short of the 3,000 feet needed to qualify as a “Munro”, were it north of the border in Scotland.
Only six Lakeland peaks are actually loftier, and Cross Fell actually has the seventh highest summit in England. Yet while many people can reel off the names of Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, Skiddaw etc., Cross Fell retains the lofty isolation which is such a quality of the North Pennines.
Compare that with the summer crowds and traffic jams of the Lake District and reflect that perhaps it’s a good thing that plans to make the area a national park some decades ago were scuppered by unrealised plans for a second Kielder Forest.
National parks, of course, have a duty to promote leisure, while areas of outstanding natural beauty like the North Pennines do not. And that sense of solitude is what so many of us value about the AONB.
“Much of the North Pennines is remote, ‘wild’ countryside and it is precisely this sense of wildness and remoteness which gives much of the area its character,” says the North Pennines AONB Management Plan 2019-24.
“There are still truly dark skies here, and a relative freedom in places from human noise and modern visual intrusions; it has been recognised by CPRE as one of England’s most tranquil places.”
Amen to all of that. But increasingly the area’s economy depends on visitors and one of the objectives of the ALATI project is to attract people to come and record the beauties of Alston Moor in paint, on film etc..
Obviously, given the current health emergency, thoughts of attracting visitors are not at the front of peoples’ minds. But the pandemic will pass and the visitor economy will be important.
No-one wants to subject the North Pennines to the type of seasonal invasion Lakeland suffers from. Our vision is of a less seasonally based visitor economy where visitors are as likely to come to record Alston Moor’s winter landscape as the summer aspect of the fells.
Such visitors are likely to contribute more economically - but less in terms of negative impacts - than the mass tourism we see elsewhere.
So Cross Fell can retain its majestic splendour and its relative wildness, secure in the knowledge that photographers and artists won’t be contributing to jamming our local roads solid every August.