The Pennine Way

Walked in August - September 2007

Day 8 – Saturday 1st September

Mellwaters (Bowes) – Maize Beck
Pennine Way Distance: 27 miles. Cumulative: 153 miles


DANGER AREA!
Written in red ink near Maize Beck on the National Trail Guide Pennine Way Map

I woke several times before finally rousing myself at about a quarter to six. The cottage had been seriously warm during the night. At one point I had placed my hand on the carpet and could feel the heat rising through floor which seemed to be humming. I don’t know much about central heating systems, but the one in that building must have been state of the art. We washed, ate and dressed, feeling reluctant to leave, but knowing we couldn’t stay when there was so much walking to do. I wrote a ‘thank you’ note to the owners, and left a five pound note with it on the kitchen counter. I wanted to leave them more but I knew they were the sort of people who would be more upset than pleased with such a tip, not because it was too small, but because it was there at all. They were warm-hearted people, and as we stepped outside and closed the door of the cottage behind us, we felt so glad that the campsite symbol on the map had still been there, otherwise we would never have met them.

We walked across the cold, early-morning farmyard in relative quiet, save for birdsong and the occasional vehicle passing on the road half a mile away. As we passed the large barn and went through the open gate onto a muddy path that curved around to the right, we admired the glorious apricot sunrise that seemed to promise another day of favourable weather. Following the lane we crossed over a brook, and continued on until we reached the A66 road, where we crossed and turned left, following the road for half a mile until we reached Pasture End, and rejoined the Pennine Way as it continued North. We followed the route uphill alongside a wall, though thankfully this was one morning when we weren’t punished with a long climb almost immediately. The incline was steady, and the ground levelled out fairly soon, though we could see several more small hills ahead and into the distance. We passed several piles of stones and cairns as we walked over Ravock, then tramped across the footbridge at Deep Dale Beck and kept on over an undulating, heather-strewn landscape all the way to Race Yate Rigg. The wind picked up considerably on Cotherstone Moor, and when we stopped for a break we had to find the right side of a small hillock to shield ourselves from the wind so we could light the stove and make hot chocolate without the flame blowing out.

We were soon back up and into the strong wind, my feet beginning to hurt with the constant up and down of the landscape, though the Sun was asserting itself more and more and making things a little more pleasant and bearable. We reached Clove Lodge Farm and crossed the yard, heading downhill toward Blackton Bridge, and Blackton Youth Hostel where walkers who have started out at Keld sometimes spend the night. We passed the pretty Blackton Reservoir, the waters sparkling and actually looking quite inviting in the Sun, then headed past Hannah’s Meadow Nature Reserve and off in the direction of Grassholme Reservoir.

It was only when we reached Grassholme that we realised we were in county Durham, and no longer in the Yorkshire Dales. Better late than never. We had a rest and took a few photographs. I took one of my favourite photographs of the whole trip here, of the bridge spanning the reservoir, with deep blue water, green hills nearby, an old stone wall and an almost unblemished blue sky overhead.

Grassholme Reservoir

Grassholme Reservoir

Grassholme Reservoir

It really was a beautiful place to stop, and somewhere I would love to revisit. We refuelled ourselves, then climbed over the wall an d staggered down the steep, narrow path to the bridge where we crossed, admiring views of the reservoir in both directions. We walked up past Grassholme farm, across a patchwork of meadows, all vacant expect for the odd, distant walker or bird, and past several farm buildings before climbing a steep, grassy hill where the route became a little indistinct, but generally easy on the feet. Before long, we crested another hill, seeing in the valley at the end of the grassy trail, the wonderful sight of Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Middleton-in-Teesdale
Middleton-in-Teesdale

By now we were genuinely exhausted, more from the accumulation of physical effort over the past week than the morning’s activity. The Pennine Way had actually been good to us that morning, but we’d still covered a lot of miles so far and were in need of a proper rest and feed. We plodded down the hill, wishing the town would come up to meet us rather than the other way around, and nearly a quarter of an hour later, we were crossing the bridge over the River Tees, then walking up the road toward the high street, on the lookout for a café where we could order ourselves a large, offensive breakfast.

The top of the road met the high street at a T-junction, but just before this, on our left, was a café, and after finding a table outside and looking at the menu, we decided to settle for a coffee, since they didn’t serve the kind of filthy great breakfast matter we were hankering after. The coffee was great however, and we chatted to the waitress who said she met a lot of people passing through the town who were walking the Pennine Way. A friend of hers lived in Dufton and she said it would take us a good while to get there if we intended to do it before the end of the day. We picked up our bags and investigated the town further, finding a tourist information centre where Darryl went inside to ask about accommodation further along the route. We then chose another café nearby to sit and have breakfast. It was a nice big fried breakfast and we had tea cakes with it as well, just to make sure we were completely stuffed. The whole moment is now a hazy blur of bacon, sausage, egg, tea and noisy eating. We were rapacious, but once we’d finished our loud repast, we did the decent thing and left the locals in peace, walking down the road, turning left and along to the Co-op, where once again we spent a small fortune stocking up on malt loaves, cakes, biscuits, fruit, energy drinks and water.

Our bags were ludicrously heavy when we once again hoisted them up onto our backs, but somehow we moved ourselves away from the shop, now tucking into ice creams, and back down the road we’d climbed earlier, over the bridge, and turning immediately right to join the path that runs close to the River Tees. Back on the Pennine Way now, we were determined to get a good pace going, especially since all the food we’d just eaten should have given us the energy to push all the way through to Dufton, our planned stop for the night. On our original schedule, we would have stopped at Middleton the night before, so we had to push on past it, making up the miles. Miserable.

The path kept a distance from the river to begin with, then later ran closer to it. It was narrow in some places, rocky in others and almost overgrown in others, but generally the going was good. We passed a large campsite on our left at one point, more temptation, and met a lot of people as we walked along. At a quiet stretch we stepped down onto some rocks and had a break, practically in the middle of the river, again resisting the temptation to dip our feet in the water. I took a picture of the river in both directions. It really was a beautiful spot, and on looking at the photographs after we’d finished the walk, I was reminded more of Canada than Britain.

On the River Tees
On the River Tees

This would be a good time to mention the Whin Sill, which is a tabular layer of igneous rock, or sill, formed two hundred and ninety-five million years ago, that runs east-west along the North Pennines. It’s part of a sheet of rock that stretches from the waterfalls of Teesdale, along a northerly line that takes in Hadrian’s Wall and other landmarks, to Berwick-upon-Tweed. The odd stepped, layered rock that we’d clambered onto to have our break on the river, was a part of the Whin Sill, and once we’d pushed on along the river, and eventually reached the Wynch Bridge, a small suspension bridge, we found the first of three famous waterfalls along the River Tees, called Low Force.

Low Force
Low Force

This too showed off the pattern of multi-layered rock, and several groups of people were gathered nearby, admiring the natural feature. We took photographs of the waterfall, and of the stone sheep nearby that a local sculptor had carved, before heading off again, and about half an hour later we came to Low Force’s much bigger brother, High Force.

High Force
High Force

High Force is huge, and awesome. We just had to sit and admire it for a few minutes. Waterfalls like fires can absorb the attention for long stretches of time. They are almost mesmeric, perhaps tapping into our primal fascination with forces of nature. Perhaps I’m talking nonsense. High Force is certainly eye-catching though, and we saw many people stopping to take a good look, including many down on the rocks far below us. We were actually quite high above the River Tees now, though once past the top of High Force we would be walking alongside it again toward Forest-in-Teesdale.

Passing through the woodland close to High Force, we found the river to be a little calmer as it snaked its way West. Although it was only four in the afternoon, there were less people around now, perhaps indicating that High Force was generally as far along the river as most tourists liked to go. On the opposite bank to us was a huge quarry, which had already taken an enormous chunk out of the hillside, though it seemed quiet at the moment. People seemed to have been replaced by birds, and I fancied there were birds of prey above us, though if they were watching us they would have a long wait for any bones to pick at.

All the energy our breakfast at Middleton and subsequent breaks had given us, seemed to be dissipating rapidly now, and our feet were killing us. We didn’t want to cheat, but considering we still had a long way to go before nightfall, any corners we could cut, would have to be seriously considered if we wanted to avoid wild-camping. At Bracken Rigg we climbed up the steep bank, still following the way, but scanning the area and re-examining the map to see if we could cut straight across the Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve, instead of following the circuitous route through Forest-in-Teesdale. Unfortunately the area was very well fenced, and even if we had dared climb over, there was a lot of undergrowth and little in the way of paths, so the going wouldn’t have been easy, and we weren’t keen on getting lost. So we kept on the route, still following the now flat, wide Tees, through a pretty landscape, mostly wild, yet dotted with the odd farm. At Cronkley we descended a very steep bank, and wandered into a large farmyard. At first all seemed quiet, then as we took to the road leading away from it, a very expensive car drove toward and past us containing what looked like guests dressed smartly for a dinner party. Heaven knows what they must have thought of the sight of us. I can easily imagine a voice from the passenger seat saying ‘put your foot down darling and don’t make eye contact.’

Reconciling ourselves once more with our traveller status, we pressed on and there was a point nearby where we had another chance to cut a few miles out. The official route crossed over a nearby bridge, where the Tees split in two, and followed the right branch of the river past Haugh Hill and up toward Saur Hill Bridge, but another footpath marked on the map headed left before the bridge and followed the left branch of the river past a disused quarry and along the opposite bank to that of the route. The second path should be much quicker, but as Darryl pointed out, there didn’t seem to be any bridge or crossing marked on the map where we could get back across the river to rejoin the Pennine Way. Assuming there would be a crossing that wasn’t on the map, or that the river might be shallow enough to walk across, was too much of a risk, so again, we had no choice but to stick to the official route to avoid coming unstuck. Cursing our bad luck, we put one foot in front of the other again, as fast as we could and marched ever onward, up to and across Saur Hill Bridge, along the path to rejoin the left branch of the river, and on to Widdy Bank, a truly beautiful spot where, very aptly, someone had erected a park bench, making a perfect spot for us to take a break.

Widdy Bank
Widdy Bank

It was now five-thirty exactly. I know this because the photo Darryl took of me sitting on the bench eating my malt loaf is stamped indelibly with the time and date it was taken. Judging by the time of the next photograph, we stayed at least ten to fifteen minutes before wrestling our bags (which were now a malt loaf, several iced buns and a few biscuits lighter) onto our tired bodies and moving on in the direction of Falcon Clints (aptly named as I saw at least one bird of prey circling hungrily above us again).

The path alongside the river grew more and more precarious and slippery, until it was no longer a path, but a long pile of rocks, no more than half a mile, but a disheartening and scary sight for the eyes. I had read about people twisting ankles and breaking bones on these rocks, even of some poor walkers blacking out from the pain of the injuries. The dolerite rocks are of various sizes, some smooth, some jagged, and are slippery a lot of the time, which even for someone wide awake and alert, and without a heavy pack on their back would be quite a challenge. I’m not sure which of us swore first, possibly both at the same time, but after taking a deep breath we climbed onto the first rock and began what would be a very long half hour of stepping, climbing, jumping and crawling over a treacherous, murderous landslide that was the last thing we had hoped for considering how dark it was getting, and how eager we had been to make good progress toward Dufton in the failing light. Anyone tackling this stretch of the route should seriously be on their guard. If we had reached Falcon Clints earlier in the day, which indeed we would have if we’d been able to stick to our original schedule, we could have taken our time negotiating them, instead of leaping across them on blind faith.

Cauldron Snout
Cauldron Snout

By the time we had negotiated the rocks, we had made up our minds to wild camp. It wasn’t a difficult decision as it was born of necessity. We would never have reached Dufton before it got dark, it was already six thirty, and we still had a long way to go. But we did have to find a suitable place to camp, and as we walked on, we began to take serious note of the landscape around us, looking for somewhere flat and dry to pitch our tents. By the time we reached the roaring Cauldron Snout, we still hadn’t found anywhere, so we took a few photographs of the loud, frothing waterfall, then climbed the awkward, rocky path up the side of it. We could still hear it several minutes later, such was its volume, but the sound died as we pressed on away from Cow Green Dam and along the road to Birkdale where we turned left and passed through a farmyard which also contained a small Mountain Rescue station. We could see one or two lights on, but no clear signs of life, and wondered if anyone in there had seen us. If they had they might well have come out to dissuade us from going any further since the land was boggy and definitely not ideal for camping. But there was a chance they’d be keeping an eye on us, which made us feel a little safer, but didn’t take away the impression that we were wandering into the unknown, as well as the sunset.

After crossing Grain Beck we set our sights on Moss Shop, which according to the guide book we were using, was a ruined bunkhouse that was used by miners on the fells. This must have been some considerable time ago, as when we found it, it was just rocks and rubble, and nowhere near the kind of shelter we’d been hoping for. So once more we resigned ourselves to camping out in the open, and as the light dwindled and it began raining, we knew this would have to happen sooner rather than later. But all around us were boggy lumps and patches of wet, squelchy ground, nothing the like the flat surface we needed, which only fuelled our apprehension. I thought about turning around and heading back to the Mountain Rescue station to ask if we could camp outside their building (I’d noticed a nice patch of grass there, just big enough for two tents) but this just seemed too defeatist. I was leading the way at that point, and I could tell Darryl was just as tired as I was, but the way he had started singing to himself made me a little worried. In my tired state I overreacted and thought Oh God, he’s delirious. I looked around us and noticed that the way was now running close to Maize Beck, I wandered off the track to take a look, and saw that at the bottom of the bank there was a patch of flat ground. There were thistles and bumps making it a less than perfect spot, but it wasn’t boggy, and it looked a lot more promising than anything we’d seen so far. It was now very dark, and as I turned to Darryl to suggest we pitch our tents, it seemed as though I could actually see the light dwindling before me.

Darryl looked at the ground I’d designated for our campsite and shook his head. He thought it was no good being so close to the beck, which had a tendency to flood considerably after bad weather. I agreed it wasn’t ideal, especially as I’d just noticed red warning signs along the opposite bank, which we were unable to read in the dark. Nevertheless, we slid our way down the bank and stomped on the ground near the beck to check its firmness. Despite Darryl’s continued (and understandable) doubts, we started putting the tents up, knowing that there really wasn’t enough daylight left to find another spot.

The light rain continued as I tried to trample and crush enough thistles to have an area to pitch up. We tried to arrange the tents so that the entrances were next to each other (purely to be sociable), and despite some delay from losing tent pegs and having to re-peg some of the guy ropes, we finally got them up and chucked our packs in. Once I’d inflated my mattress and laid out my sleeping bag, I took the stove and some food over to Darryl’s tent where we had some more malt loaf and brewed some hot chocolate. Darryl was still concerned about the fact that the beck could flood during the night, especially as it seemed the rain wasn’t dying down any time soon. I wasn’t so worried, just intent on getting some sleep, and rising early in the morning so we could get away from our dismal location as soon as possible. When we’d finished eating, I went back to my tent and tried to get comfortable. Somehow I’d managed to pitch my tent on a slope, so that despite my best efforts to stop it, I was constantly sliding backwards. Nevertheless, I managed to sleep even though I woke several times in the night and wrestled with my sleeping mat that refused to stay in one place. 

 

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