Pennine Way 2007

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 6 - Tan Hill to Langdon Beck

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Day 9 - Tuesday 12th June - 16.2 miles - 1,400 ft ascent

Tan Hill to Middleton-in-Teesdale - GPS 17.6 miles

There was mist outside when I got up, but that is probably not unusual up here. Breakfast was at 8.30, though nobody had said what time it was supposed to be, as everything seemed a bit disorganised. It looked like there were five of us for breakfast, as there was a table laid for five in the bar. I started mine and a foreign man in a safety helmet came to get me tea, milk and orange juice, whilst the landlady was cooking the breakfasts. The Dutchmen had taken a pot of tea down to the other room and were sitting chatting down there. When the cooked breakfasts were ready the landlady came out to serve them and wondered why nobody else was at the table, so she went down to the Dutchmen and shouted “Get your arses up here – when a good woman has gone to the trouble of cooking breakfast, don’t leave it waiting!” The Dutchmen then meekly followed her up to the table and joined me. Another chap who was also supposed to join us didn’t realise that he should have been on the same table as us, so sat somewhere else.

The landlady then started doing things to the pumps on the bar, cursing and swearing about others who had not done their jobs properly. Between all this, a pet lamb and two dogs were wandering in and out of the bar. The whole thing seemed rather surreal, but then if you were running the highest inn in Britain, it would all be rather mundane if it were just like any other pub, and a bit of eccentricity provides a good talking point for visitors.

I was quite amused a few weeks ago, when I read an article in the paper about KFC, who were threatening to take Tan Hill Inn to court because they were advertising their traditional Christmas Dinner as a Family Feast, which is a registered trademark of KFC. The Times newspaper and Times Online took up Tan Hill Inn’s cause, ridiculing KFC and eventually the resulting bad publicity made them back down, although I now had my suspicions that the real reason they backed down was that full might of KFC’s legal team would not be able to face a tongue lashing from the landlady if it went to court.

The breakfast was good, and I went back upstairs to pack my things ready for off. It was about 9.30 when I started out; the same time as the Dutchmen, but they were only going as far as Clove Lodge in Baldersdale, so had not got very far to go. Outside the front door was a rather scraggy sheep with half its winter fleece coming adrift. I suspect it was the mother of the lamb indoors, wondering why her offspring was allowed indoors but she wasn’t.

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Tan Hill Inn's Snowmobile
Tan Hill Inn's Snowmobile
Waiting for Opening Time - They get some odd customers at Tan Hill Inn
Waiting for Opening Time!
Bog Scar and Intake Bridge over Sleightholme Beck
Sleightholme Beck

By now the mist had lifted leaving a totally grey landscape. To the northwest the horizon was almost flat with empty moorland, and there were only some small, distant hills in the other directions. The path, however, was good and easy to follow with only occasional boggy patches. It seemed a lot better than I remembered, but then I realised that the route had been changed to the opposite side of Frumming Beck, where the ground was firmer with less peat bogs. It was also a bit more interesting, being a lot closer to the beck and keeping it in sight for much of the way. Working from an old guidebook, it is necessary to accept the fact that route changes may have taken place over the years and just go with the waymarked route, trusting that it will lead in the right direction.

After about three miles, the new route rejoined the old one on a firm track towards Sleightholme. Here the valley gets deeper, making the scenery more interesting, and there are more signs of habitation with a few farms around, and the busy A66 road over to the north. To the east were a number of small hills, which looked more like a series of spoil heaps from some old mining activity, but I am not sure whether they were natural, as they are marked as ‘Seven Hills’ on the map. Higher up on the moors there was hardly any sign of life, but further down I started to find oystercatchers, lapwings and a number of other birds that I couldn’t identify.

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God's Bridge over River Greta
God's Bridge

At Trough Heads, I found I was at the wrong side of a wall, the route having been a little vague in places causing me to miss the place a few hundred yards back where I should have crossed over. It was not a problem as I was able to climb over a gate to pick up the waymarked route to God’s Bridge, a natural limestone bridge over the River Greta, which I reached at 11.45, six and a half miles from Tan Hill. I stopped by the river for a rest and a snack and even had a few patches of sunshine, though the weather was generally rather cloudy. From here, the route climbs out of the valley up onto the moors, but first has to negotiate a tunnel under the A66. When the road was widened, it became necessary to create this crossing point to avoid the increasing volume of high-speed traffic, but it does involve a diversion of two hundred yards to the tubular corrugated iron tunnel, then the same distance back again at the other side.

The next few miles were again over open moorland, going up and down over a few ridges and not quite as bleak as some moorland, but still with not a great deal to see other than the birds, which were quite abundant, some of them being in huge flocks. The path was generally quite good and none of the hills very steep, though it was difficult to imagine from this rather thinly trodden path that this really was the great Pennine Way. This I suspect is due to the fact that not many people other than Pennine Way walkers come this way unless they like wild moorland or are birdwatchers. The other reason could be that since the closure of Baldersdale Youth Hostel, many more Pennine Way walkers take the Bowes Loop to find accommodation, so don’t actually walk over this stretch. Although the path runs over peaty moorland, there has been no necessity to do any path work, the path still being in good condition in most places.

As I came over into Baldersdale, the scenery changed from that of moorland to a green valley with three reservoirs. Dropping down, I passed Clove Lodge, where the Dutchmen were staying and at this point the rain that had been threatening started to come down more steadily, so I stopped for a lunch break, sheltering as best I could behind a wall, hoping that it would pass over. The drizzly rain lasted for quite a while, but it was only enough for me to need my waterproof jacket for a while, the first time I had needed it so far in the walk. The rain didn’t spoil the walk too much, as there was still reasonable visibility and the scenery was much more interesting with lots of reservoirs to see, meadows full of flowers, and a whole lot of birds including many lapwings.

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Nature Reserve at Head of Blackton Reservoir
Blackton Reservoir
Grassholme Reservoir
Grassholme Reservoir

The route goes past Birk Hat, the former home of Hannah Hauxwell, who came to television fame some years ago when she was discovered running the farm on her own with no running water or electricity and with severe weather conditions in winter. The land she farmed had never had any artificial fertilisers or herbicides, so had a wide diversity of plants that had not survived in most other places. Hannah’s Meadow, a little further on has been made into a nature reserve dedicated to her name.

From Grassholme, the route climbs quite a way up Harter Fell before dropping down into Middleton-in-Teesdale. Like yesterday’s walk, it was a bit of an effort right at the end of the day’s walk to have quite a bit of climbing to do, but at least it was cool, which made it easier. It had been very noticeable today just how much less fluid I had needed. I could easily have managed with one litre, though I drank a little more as I had plenty available, whereas yesterday I could have done with far more than the two litres that I drank.

I finally arrived at the hilltop overlooking Middleton and stopped for a short rest before making my way into the village, though I always tend to think of Middleton as a town because of its facilities such as pubs, shops and banks, which are a lot more than most rural villages have to offer. The waymarking had not been very good today, with Pennine Way signs only in strategic places and only ordinary footpath signs for much of the way, whereas the addition of a little acorn sign would have given that much more reassurance of being on the right route. Nevertheless, I didn’t really have too much trouble in finding the way.

I soon found my B&B and went in, being convinced that I would have a signal on my mobile to enable me to call home. I was quite surprised when there was none, so had to have a quick shower and go out to a phone box, as there was no signal outside either. I went down to the Bridge Inn and had some very good Adnam’s Broadside, then called at the chip shop for cod, chips and peas before returning to watch TV for the rest of the evening.

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Day 10 - Wednesday 13th June - 7.7 miles - 900 ft ascent

Middleton-in-Teesdale to Langdon Beck - GPS 10.1 miles (including detour to High Force Hotel)

I got up for a leisurely breakfast at 8.00, as I had only half a day’s walk ahead of me and the forecast was bad with rain predicted, and unsettled weather for the next few days. There was a couple in for breakfast with me, the lady being Canadian but living in Germany, with relatives around Teesside. They had done a lot of walking around the Dolomites and other mountainous areas in Europe, but not much recently because of knee problems. The breakfast was very good.

Outside it had dried up a little after some rainfall overnight, though it didn’t look too good. I was a little unsure whether to spend the morning in Middleton, where there was some shelter and a little, though not very much, to do, or to make my way to Langdon Beck Youth Hostel and hope I could take shelter there. As the rain had stopped at the moment, I decided on the latter so, after posting part 1 of my guidebook back home and picking up a few things from the supermarket, I went down to rejoin the Pennine Way. One of the things I picked up from the supermarket was a pack of sweeteners that I could add to my Kool-Aid drink to avoid needing large quantities of sugar.

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Low Force on River Tees
Low Force
Sculpture near River Tees, Teesdale's answer to the concrete cows of Milton Keynes
Sculpture near River Tees

I started walking along the Tees valley at 10.05. For the first couple of miles, the river is not in sight, the walk being though meadows with long grass still wet from earlier rain, so it was not very interesting, especially in the very dreary weather conditions. Once the riverside was joined, it was a lot better, even more so after another mile when various rapids and small waterfalls started to appear, followed by Low Force. At about this time, the rain returned, prompting me to put on my waterproof jacket, though I refrained from putting on my over-trousers, as the rain wasn’t very heavy and I dislike being cluttered up with them. I also dislike the difficulty in getting them on and off with boots that only just manage to squeeze through the bottom of the legs, so I try to wear them only when absolutely necessary. Wearing shorts, there is only a small part of the leg material that is exposed to the rain, and in light rain this evaporates off as quickly as it collects.

Low Force seemed a good place to stop for a rest, as there was shelter under some trees across the suspension footbridge with a good view of the falls. I had a drink and a few biscuits for a snack, but soon the rain started dripping through the trees. That wasn’t too bad, but I started to suffer an infestation of midges that tend to gather near trees, particularly coniferous ones, so it was time to leave. The rain came and went intermittently for the next mile towards High Force so, faced with what to do to pass the time in the wet, I decided to head for the High Force Hotel for a pint or two in the dry. It is all well and good planning rest days or half days into a walk, but when the weather is bad, it is difficult to find things to do to pass the time. There is a bridge a little way before High Force, so I was able to cross the river and reach the road to the hotel. I settled into the comfort of the bar and had a pint of High Force Forest XB, brewed at the back of the hotel. I have tried some of their beers before and am not too keen on the taste, though other people find them quite palatable, so I switched to Tetley’s cask for my next pint.

Having had the joy of being smoke free in Wales since 2nd April it was unpleasant to come back to the nauseous stench of cigarette smoke that would not be banned until 1st July in England. I chatted to a chap in the bar, who said that he could remember back to the time when a chap was running the Pennine Way, trying to beat his own record of three days. My only comment on this would be “Did he enjoy it?” There are always people who look at a walk as something that has to be the subject of a record breaking challenge, when in my opinion, the whole object is to enjoy the scenery and the walking, which is impossible if you are trying to break a record.

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High Force on River Tees from Above
High Force from Above
High Force from the Main Viewpoint
High Force

After about an hour, the weather looked a little brighter, the rain having just about stopped, so I returned to the bridge, this time using a path by the river to avoid the road. It wasn’t long before I reached High Force, with a constant stream of school parties passing by. High Force, with an unbroken fall of 21 metres, is not the highest fall in England, but the others that are higher, including Hardraw Force are mere trickles compared to the mighty torrent of brown water thundering over High Force. The classic view of the falls is from the end of a small path a little way downstream, but some feeling for the power of the water can be felt from just by the top of the falls, which is where I stopped to eat my sandwiches.

I can remember the times in the early 1960s when I used to come here with my parents before the dam of the Great Cow Green Reservoir was built upstream. The flow over the falls was then more variable, depending entirely on recent rainfall, and it was particularly impressive on occasions when the rain had been heavy. Now part of the flow is regulated by the output from the reservoir, though some of the water flows freely from tributaries below the dam.

I still had a lot of time to kill, but it was difficult to know what to do with it, so I continued on my way. The river above the falls is less interesting, but the surrounding landscape is more hilly and dotted with white painted houses and farms. There was a requirement from the local landowner that all houses had to be painted white, though I do not know whether this is still enforced today, being unduly restrictive and less likely to be tolerated in today’s world. I noticed that the white paint is badly faded now on many houses, so that makes me believe that tenants have more freedom to do as they choose, or possibly they have exercised the right to buy out their leases.

The riverbanks were rich in wild flowers, with several varieties of orchid in abundance. Much of the area is now a nature reserve, and farmers are given subsidies to grow meadows using traditional methods to encourage a wider variety of wild flowers. The rain started again, but this time with much larger drops, so it was time to make for the Youth Hostel to seek shelter. These days, most Youth Hostels allow access, or at least have a wet weather shelter that can be used before the official opening time of 17.00. The rain was getting heavier, so I was glad to reach the hostel at 15.30 and get into the dry, where I was able to get a cup of tea and sit in the warmth and dryness of the lounge. A few other people started to arrive; first one woman who arrived by car, then two other women who were walking the Pennine Way, and two chaps and a lady who were walking the Teesdale Way, having just come over from Dufton.

The warden opened up reception so that everyone could check in and it then emerged that they had had a fire in the warden’s kitchen, which had put it out of action and meant that hot meals were not available, only a cold breakfast buffet. I had paid for everything in advance, so was given a £10 refund. There was not much of a problem with this, as I intended to go to the pub for a drink, so it just meant that I would have a meal there as well, and I could manage with a cold breakfast once in a while. The warden even offered a lift to the pub, but I decided I would make my own way there unless the rain got very bad.

The rain eased off, so I set off up the road for the 10-minute walk or so to the Langdon Beck Hotel. The bar had changed dramatically since I was last here in 1994. They had knocked through from the old bar into what had been the downstairs part of the hotel, making a very cosy extended bar and dining area in place of the stark four walls of the old bar. It was still too early for food, which started at 19.00, so I had a pint of Golden Plover, which was very good, and chatted to some of the locals, who were all very friendly. Others from the hostel started to arrive by car, the Teesdale Way three having had a lift from the other woman with a car. One of the Pennine Way women arrived as well, the other one having decided not to bother. I sat with the other hostellers and had a chicken Rogan josh plus one of the other local beers, which was also very good. It was still drizzling when I made my way back, but not enough for me to get wet. The others had offered me a lift, but it was hardly worth it for half a mile or so. Back at the hostel, I sat with the others in the lounge until it was time for bed.

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