The North Pennines ---- Bowes to Greenhead ---- 68 miles ---- 6 days

 

  The next day took us through Baldersdale and Lunedale, somewhat similar valleys, both with reservoirs. Baldersdale is well known because Hannah Hauxwell lived there, at Low Birk Hatt Farm. The television shows about her life as a traditional Dales farmer brought Baldersdale to public attention. She and the generations before her farmed with centuries-old methods, and environmentalists are interested in her meadows and pastures. They're full of wildflowers and herbs, because no fertilisers have ever been used.
 

 

The sheep here had magnificent horns, the cows were eager to greet us when we crossed the wall, and the valley was beautiful.

 

Then, after a night in Middleton-in-Teesdale, we had the pleasant walk beside the Tees that many people cite as the prettiest part of the Pennine Way. As had been suggested, we scheduled a whole day for the eight miles, in order to be able to walk slowly and savor it. There were bluebells and other wildflowers by the path, and pretty river scenes. Wynch Bridge, built by miners in 1704, was supposedly the first suspension bridge in England.

 

We passed the well-known waterfalls, Low Force and High Force, and stopped to chat with a sculptor, Keith Alexander, at work on a stone sheep. His sheep will greet many walkers, since this area is a popular beauty spot.

The home where we spent the night is whitewashed, as is typical of houses in Teesdale. A large part of Teesdale is owned by Lord Barnard. The story has several variations, but the gist of it is that several centuries ago one of his forebears, a Duke of Cleveland, became lost in a storm while hunting on his estate. He decreed that all tenanted farmsteads on his estate be painted white in order to show up clearly. And so they still are. Our host said that every two years he's given the whitewash, and he has to put it on, as part of his lease agreement with Lord Barnard. (I don't have a picture, since it was raining when we arrived, and still raining when we left.)

The day from Langdon Beck to Dufton was hard, because of the tremendous amount of rain during the past week. We were soon back beside the Tees, and the path was frequently actually covered by the river. There were many awkward boulders to clamber over, before we turned a corner and came face to face with Cauldron Snout. This is an explosive 220 foot cascade of torrential water. One book says "the trail scrambles up rocky ledges beside the thrashing torrent"; another says "A little modest scrambling is needed to reach the top of the Cauldron Snout rocks, across which great care is needed." Easy to say, but difficult to do, when water is pouring over all the boulders. Fortunately, the hand holds were all solid, so it didn't feel as dangerous as it had looked.

But then the difficulties changed form. The rain was pouring down, and the dozens of little fords of tributaries became deep stream crossings. We spent considerable time walking up beside each of the streams, trying to find rocks to cross on, or a narrower channel that we could step over. This usually worked, but as the day wore on and the streams got deeper, we ended up wading through them. The river to our left was Maize Beck. Other walkers at our B&B that evening commented on what had shocked us, too, that something with such a benign sounding name could be such a major river. Apparently it's usually rocky and shallow, and the Pennine Way crosses it on stepping stones. But when "the beck is running high" (as our book says, and it certainly was!) there's an alternative route, continuing along the the north bank for another mile to a footbridge. We were happy when we found the bridge, and even happier when our compass got us to the major sight of the day, High Cup Nick.

It was spectacular, as our book said it would be. "The land falls away at your very feet, and you are standing on the brink of the spectacular hollow of High Cup Nick." The Pennine Way arrives at the head of the valley, with views all the way to the Lake District mountains. This picture was taken after it had finally stopped raining, looking back toward the head of the valley, hidden on the left.

There was one more unexpected stream wading, just after we took this photo, followed by an easy walk down to Dufton.

 
  Dufton is a picturesque village, with a stone fountain on its green. We first stopped at our B&B, cleaned up, and warmed up in front of the fire while talking with fellow walkers over tea and cookies. Then at dinner, at the Stag Inn, we were happy to find a couple, Judy and Rob, whom we had seen during the first week but not for the past five days. We checked our plans, and found that we'd be staying in the same towns or villages from then on to the end.

The next day's walk included the highest point on the Pennine Way, the top of Cross Fell. But before that came Great Dun Fell, with its radar station on top. Its "golf ball" complex is conspicuous for miles, if it's not in a cloud. We saw it early in the day, but before we got there the mist had enveloped it. We passed the head of Dunfell Hush, a deep gash. Hushes are caused by washing away the ground to expose the bedrock for mining. We had to use the compass to find our way off Great Dun Fell, never having seen the enormous "golf ball" while we were there. Then, after we descended, climbed Little Dun Fell, descended, and climbed Cross Fell, the cloud suddenly lifted! We could see back to the radar dome on Great Dun Fell, and in fact see views in all directions.

On top of Cross Fell we met a fellow doing a day walk. He had been here before, and we followed him as he took a shortcut down to Greg's Hut, which was in sight. It wasn't a good idea; there was a good reason why the book suggested a longer, more circuitous route. We got into very marshy ground, and at one point I suddenly sank in above my knees. A few quick floundering steps and I was out, but it did startle me!

Greg's Hut is an old mine building that has been rebuilt in memory of a walker, John Gregory, for people to use as shelter from the fierce weather on Cross Fell. We stopped in and enjoyed the relief from the wind while we ate lunch.

The walk down to Garrigill is six long miles of rocky track, probably another corpse road, but certainly used by 18th and 19th century lead miners. The area has been mined for lead since Roman times. Now there are a few ruins of buildings, as well as spoil heaps, air shafts and levels (access openings). Another relic is the brightly colored little fragments of fluorspar, a by-product of lead mining, sparkling blue along the path.

For many days we had been dive-bombed by lapwings, which are ground-nesting birds. We apparently worried them and they wanted us to leave. They never came TOO close to us... ..

 

  We enjoyed the George and Dragon, in Garrigill. The young couple had just bought it, and we and Judy and Rob were there on just their second night of running it. In the evening, Steve and Martin, a father and son whom we had seen a few times, came in for drinks and to say "good-bye", as they were planning on longer days from there on. We left our boots in front of the fireplace to dry, as we usually did. The next morning Thann found a shoelace almost burned through, apparently from an ember. Richard, the owner, was a little suspicious of the townspeople who had been at the bar, wondering whether they had been indulging in a bit of vandalism, but I don't think so.

The short walk to Alston was pleasant, mostly beside the South Tyne, over stiles and through farms. Flowers and trees were in bloom (like the hawthorn to Thann's right).

 

Alston is a wonderful town, with the streets in its old part cobbled and winding and interesting. The weather was beautiful. We had scheduled a"rest" afternoon, and we thoroughly enjoyed ambling aimlessly around town. For many days the weather forecasters had given their dire predictions ("flash floods", "travel advisories for motorists", "gale force winds"), but they had always ended by promising a beautiful day on Friday. This was the promised Friday, and they were right. In fact, according to our guidebook, we were phenomenally lucky to have good weather there: "On a bright sunny day Alston has the air of a hilltop village in Andalusia... Even on the other 364 days, of icy winds or misty drizzle..." The Market Square is in the center of the old town; the Turks Head Inn is where we ate dinner.

 

For the first few miles the next day we took an alternate route, beside a narrow-gauge excursion railway line that follows the bed of the former Haltwhistle to Alston Branch Railway. We didn't see any trains running but we did pass a diesel idling that was named "Old Hairy". Our entry into Northumberland was announced by a colorful sign on one of the railway bridges we crossed.

  Eventually we left the railway by going down the embankment just before one of the many viaducts, crossing a footbridge, and passing back under the viaduct. There we rejoined the Pennine Way proper, walking again for a while beside the South Tyne.
 

For several miles we were on the course of a Roman Road, the Maiden Way, but nothing remained of it. There were several featureless commons on which one had to take a compass bearing, and just walk for a mile or so in the right direction, until a wall and stile finally appeared.

 

We ended the day at Greenhead, on the threshold of Hadrian's Wall.

 

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