Cross Fell and the adjoining fells are mainly a bed of hard, carboniferous limestone. Where this bed surfaces, there are steep rock faces. There are also strata of shale and gritstone that surface on the fell. On the south and west facing slopes of Cross Fell the rock faces have been broken up by frost action to give a scree slope made up of large boulders. The local terrain shows obvious evidence of recent glaciation and is covered by thin soil and acidic peat.
Cross Fell, Great Dun Fell and Little Dun Fell form a block of high terrain which is all over 800 metres (2,625 ft) in altitude. This is the largest block of high ground in England and tends to retain snow-cover longer than neighbouring areas. Snow can be found in gullies on the north side of Cross Fell as late as May in most years. In some years, lying snow has been known to persist until July and fresh snowfall in June (mid-summer in the Northern Hemisphere) is common.
Precipitation on Cross Fell averages around 280 centimetres (110 in) per year. Local flora includes a number of rare alpine plants such as the Starry Saxifrage and a mountain Forget-me-not. Cross Fell is covered by what is known as "siliceous alpine and boreal grassland". It is the southernmost outlier of this vegetation type, which is common to highlands in Scotland and Scandinavia. It is a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Local farmers are required to keep free-roaming sheep off the tops of the fells in order to avoid damaging the natural flora.
Cross Fell is a conspicuous feature in the landscape. It dominates the skyline on almost the entire 20 miles (32 km) length of the A66 trunk road between Penrith and Stainmore. It can also be seen from Helvellyn summit in the Lake District and from high ground throughout Dumfriesshire and Northumberland.
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