Friday, 3 July 2015

The Pennine Way - 3rd July 2015 - Middleton in Teesdale to Dufton - The Jewels in the Crown

River Tees

Alan’s decision to pull out of the walk, while sad, was not a total surprise to me in some ways. I had felt a discontent building up during the previous few days and although I don’t believe he would have pulled out had it not been for the injury, he seemed to be becoming more unhappy as the walk progressed. One of his main issues was the midge bites, from which he suffered terribly. Whereas I could feel them nibbling away at me and would develop small red spots on my skin, their bites never really had much effect on me whereas Alan would break out in a rash of lumps and bumps that would drive him mad with itching. Inevitably, the scratching caused the bites to break and bleed, which only made the situation worse. From my point of view, his dissatisfaction with the walk had begun on the day from Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale, where he had seemed to struggle on the hills but I had put this down to general tiredness. The day from Horton to Hawes had passed without incident but this was not surprising as it is a fairly easy day and we were finished at lunchtime. The following day from Hawes to Keld over Great Shunner Fell, I had noticed little things in Alan’s mood, odd things such as negative comments about the scenery and the amount of ascent whenever we encountered a hill. The incident that turned everything on it’s head was the night in the campsite at Keld. It had started well as we arrived from Hawes in the tiny village at the head of the Swaledale valley and headed for the campsite cafe where we purchased drinks and sat outside in the sunshine on the lawn. We chatted amicably with a couple on a nearby table who were interested in our walk before returning to the shop to buy more snacks and some cans of beer. The night in the campsite was a fraught one, not only did we have to endure a spectacular thunderstorm and a campsite full of teenage schoolchildren but the midges were legion. I combatted this by staying in my tent but Alan got out of his to visit the toilet block and was immediately savaged. Worse still, when he returned to his tent, hundreds followed him in so he spent the next hour trying to kill them by swatting them with a teeshirt. At some point, I somehow in amongst all of this dozed off to sleep and apart from a brief interruption in the early hours when some of the schoolchildren passed the tents talking quite loudly, slept through until morning. Had Alan, after the awful encounter with the midges retired from the walk in the morning, I would not have been surprised. 
We rose early in the hotel and I packed my rucksack and readied myself for the day ahead. We had breakfast, which had been laid out in the kitchen for us because of the early start and were soon out on the street heading for the newsagents where I needed to pick up some snacks and drinks for the day ahead. Soon, it was time for going our separate ways and we said our farewells before I headed back out of the town to the river and Alan headed back to the hotel to prepare for his trip back home. It was sad in many ways that it was over for Alan as we had spent a lot of time looking forward to the trip and we had walked over halfway together, but as in the previous year, I was once again alone on the trail.

River Tees

Low Force

 Ironically, the weather was the best since the first day out of Edale and I mentally prepared myself for another 20 plus miles as I enjoyed the stroll along the park-like path alongside the River Tees. I settled into a fairly brisk rhythm with the hiking poles helping me maintain the pace as I enjoyed the scenery on the gentle introduction to the day’s march. Of all of the days on the Pennine Way I had looked forward to, this was the one I had anticipated most and had prayed for good weather and it appeared my prayers had been answered. I fell into a short conversation with a woman from a nearby outdoor centre out walking her dog before leaving her behind and entering a field of long, wet grass, which immediately soaked my socks. I suddenly realised that I was on the wrong side of a wall to my right and I removed and lowered my rucksack over to the other side before climbing it and following the path running through the trees alongside the river. The River Tees is quite a wide, shallow river that looked splendid with the morning sun dancing on it and I was already enjoying myself in the warmth of the early morning. One of the things I had enjoyed most about the walk so far was the early starts, which are easy to attain when camping as the dawn and early birdsong ensure that you wake around five o’clock, making it quite easy to be on the trail by seven o’clock. This enabled me to get a good five hours of walking before midday giving me a feeling of control that I found really empowering. I would often have ten or eleven miles under my belt by midday so even if the walk was twenty miles or more, I felt I could easily complete them and still have time for carrying out tasks such as showering and washing clothes when I reached the campsite before heading out to get a meal and a beer in a relaxed mood. As I proceeded along the riverbank, I looked around at the Teesdale Valley, which looked really attractive in the bright sunshine and it wasn't long before the sound of Low Force, the first of a series of waterfalls on today's route came within earshot. I crossed to the centre of a bridge over the river to get some photos of the falls before continuing along the riverbank towards High Force. I had anticipated a superb day’s walking and so it proved with the scenery becoming more remote and wild the further into Upper Teedale I progressed. Soon, I could hear the thundering sound of High Force and I left the trail to a viewpoint looking to this mighty waterfall. I enjoyed having the whole place to myself and spent quite a long time exploring different vantage points of the falls and taking pictures from different angles. This was proving to be a fantastic day but for me, the best was yet to come. 

High Force

Leaving High Force, I followed the route as it climbed away from the river quite steeply before descending past a farm to Cronkley Bridge. Here, the river had taken on a much more remote feel and as the way followed the right hand riverbank, it briefly left the Tees to follow Langdon Beck for a short distance before crossing another bridge back over the river and meeting up with the Tees once again. Here, I found a handily placed bench on the riverbank and I stopped for a break. The scenery here had a beautiful, haunting quality and I sat for some time drying my socks in the sun and having a snack and a drink while I took numerous photographs of the broad, sun dappled river and surrounding crags of Cronkley Scar. I reluctantly left the bench on the riverbank and headed north following the river, passing two fly fishermen standing in the river, tempting the fish with their hypnotic casting action. 

River Tees, near to the junction with Langdon Beck

Wheysike House (abandoned)

The path began to deteriorate, becoming peppered with embedded rocks protruding at various angles from the path below the crags of Falcon Clints, making the walking difficult, and the path was so narrow and tricky that there were times when I was almost stepping into the water to get around larger rocks blocking the way. The river entered a more enclosed area as the rocks underfoot gave way to mud and the valley narrowed and it was here that I passed a handful of walkers out enjoying the sunshine, the first I had seen since the woman walking her dog near the start in Middleton. Approaching a bend in the path, I became aware of a loud, roaring noise and rounded a corner to be faced by the most spectacular scene of the day so far, the Cauldron Snout waterfall. I stood for a moment looking in awe at the power of the water thundering into the river and as I gazed higher, I could see the top of the falls high above the rock face with dam of the Cow Green reservoir beyond. This really was an awesome sight of nature in the raw and I stood silently absorbing the sights and sounds for a while before tackling the next section of the walk. This proved to be quite tricky as there was no real path, just a scramble up the rocks alongside the falls, which required the use of hands as well as feet in places, which I found quite difficult carrying my two trekking poles. I stopped halfway up to take more photos before I eventually arrived at the top of this magnificent scene. Behind the falls loomed the dam wall of the Cow Green Reservoir, from where the Tees issued forth before tumbling down the rocky cliff face and I wondered how much the damming of the river had affected the flow of this wonderful cascade. 

Cauldron Snout

On top of Cauldron Snout

River Tees, near Cronkley Scar

Reluctantly, I left the top of the falls and headed along a track, which afforded superb retrospective views of the Tees winding through the valley I had just traversed. After Birkdale Farm, I joined a track, that looked as though it had recently been surfaced with a layer of large, rough, stone chippings and this turned out to be one of my least favourite sections of the entire walk. The uphill slog on this awful surface seemed interminable and it was with a feeling of immense relief that I left it for the more pleasant walking alongside Maize Beck, where I crossed it via a high bridge and climbed steadily across the moor to the days last highlight and probably the best of the entire walk. For anyone lucky enough to approach High Cup with no prior knowledge of it, this must be an astounding sight, simply because there is no prior warning of it’s arrival. One minute you are walking over fairly unremarkable moorland and the next, the ground just falls away in front of you in the form of a vast, U-shaped glacial valley.

Looking back to Falcon Clints

Even though I was expecting it, it’s arrival ahead of me was still a jaw-dropping moment. I stood for a while before finding somewhere to sit and drink in this awesome spectacle and as I sat, I was joined by a walker I had passed earlier on the path. We chatted as we sat looking at the view and he told me that he often climbed up and spent the night camping in the vicinity and enjoyed the night sky as light pollution in the area was minimal and the sight of the stars and the Milky Way were something to behold. After we had chatted for a while, he said goodbye and told me he was off to find a spot for a nap and sure enough, he walked a little further along before dropping down off of the path into a more sheltered hollow, zipped up his fleece jacket before laying down in the grass. I continued to enjoy the scene for a little longer before I too climbed back on my feet and spent sometime taking numerous photographs.

High Cup

Slowly, with many glances behind, I passed a group of wild horses before beginning the descent to Dufton, the fells of the Lake District off in the distance creating a fine background and the prominent pyramid of Dufton Pike adding interest in the foreground. The track descended to a road, which I followed into the village where I met up Rowan and Gordon and we pitched our tents next to each other in the campsite. After a dinner of soup and pasta outside my tent, I met up with them in the nearby pub where we had a few drinks as the sky grew cloudy and the wind increased. It looked as though the day’s superb weather had passed and more unsettled conditions loomed as according to one person in the pub there was a storm on it’s way.

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