SEARCH and rescue volunteers have issued a safety warning after they had to help 13 people who got caught out by bad weather whilst fell walking.

The party had split up during their trek on Cronkley Fell, in the Moor House Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve, in County Durham, yesterday.

With harsh weather condition and darkness descending, Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team was called out to help them to safety.

The team was contacted by Durham Police at about 4.30pm on Saturday, after officers in Manchester became concerned for the welfare of a party who had travelled from the North-West to hike along part of the Pennine Way.

An emergency alarm on one of the walker's smart watches had been activated and picked up by their mother in Manchester, who called 999 worried they were in danger.

The mountain rescue team was able to make contact with one of the walkers, when their mobile phone picked up a signal, who said the alarm had been activated by mistake.

Team leader Steve Owers said: "They said they were on Cronkley Fell trying to cross streams which had turned into rivers and the party had split up and those at the front didn't know where everyone else was.

"I sent one vehicle up to Bowlees car park where they were finishing.

"In the meantime we made contact with the second half of the party and they were having a bit of a rough day.

"They all managed to get themselves back to the car park, safe and well, within about an hour of each other but we were ready to go if needed."

Mr Owers said whilst the group of men and women, all thought to be aged in their 20s, had some experience of walking and were reasonably well prepared with equipment such as head torches the incident served as a warning.

"They'd walked before and had torches but the conditions possibly caught them out.

"The idea of big parties splitting up in bad weather is not a good one, stick together unless there is a real emergency.

"Groups usually have a leader who knows what they are doing, once split up you might have people without a map and compass or someone who knows how to use them.

"It is always best to have the whole group together.

"You can enjoy being out in the winter and in bad weather but be prepared for all conditions, the dark, have a back-up plan and tell someone where you are at."