Wow, what a day! I’m absolutely knackered. I struggled up the gentle incline of East Underhurth Farm’s drive and felt sure I couldn’t have walked another 100 yards. My boots felt like blocks of lead (wet and muddy lead) and every step was hard work. I think it was the wind that did me in. The last 8 miles, after turning sharp left (west) at Middleton, the wind had been in my face and it’s been quite stiff and unrelenting, sapping my energy. Fortunately most of the afternoon has been fairly flat, just gentle undulations here and there with only one proper climb and I’ve been thankful for that.
I left Clove Lodge after a very enjoyable stay, a quick breakfast shared with my host, Chris and I was out into the fields around Baldersdale. The wet fields, the muddy fields, the fields churned to shitty brown custard by cattle, the fields that had 3 inches of standing water at times. Within a mile of leaving the house my boots were soaked, caked in mud and my socks were also wet. I’m convinced that some farmers put cattle in fields deliberately, just to annoy walkers. The bloody things cut up a wet pasture really badly and to add insult they all bloody congregate at the stiles and gates, making entry and exit a complete nightmare. I cursed my way across about 5 miles of soggy terrain, not particularly inspiring terrain at the best of times, but certainly not somewhere to be walking in early winter. The section between Baldersdale and Harter Fell is what I would call a ‘transition’ stage; it takes you from one scenic location to another as best it can, making the best of a bad job if possible.
Once I actually reached Harter Fell, I cheered up immensely, this is a lovely track, on mostly firm grass and stony tracks, skirting the base of a pretty little hill with a trig point I remember bagging on my last Pennine Way journey in 2010. I couldn’t visit it again, as I had to confirm the map sections around the base of the hill, which is my primary purpose at this point of course.
I met a couple of old guys walking up from Middleton and we had a good old natter for 10 mins, discussing all sorts of walking topics from Wainwright bagging to bloody farmers who leave cattle in footpath fields (funnily enough raised by one of the guys and not me!) In the end I had to push on, the wind on the path was nithering and I was getting very cold stood there. I dropped down into Middleton, just off the path, but I wanted to get some lunch and buy some supplies for tonight and for lunch tomorrow. In the town it was surprisingly warm, once the wind was shielded and I sat in the sun, I was quite warm. I bought some hot potato wedges from the Coop and a pint of milkshake and sat in the bus shelter. An old dear was already in there and I nodded hello and emptied the contents of my shopping onto the seat beside me. “You’re on the hard stuff then” she said, pointing to the milkshake, “that should put hairs on your chest”. We chatted for a while until her bus arrived and she said farewell and I moved on, out of the town and along the river.
The Pennine Way diverts after Middleton, rather than heading generally north as it has been for the past 130 miles or so, it now heads west, to follow the River Tees and visit the waterfalls of Low Force, High Force and Cauldron Snout, followed by the highlight of them all; High Cup Nick. The diversion is justified in my opinion, these sights are well worth a day’s long diversion, especially as they bring you out at the foot of the Cross Fell range, the mountain highpoint of the Way. Unfortunately, today, the wind was coming out of the South West and was mostly in my face all afternoon, making for a tiring day, especially dragging wet boots with me.
The first three miles out of Middleton is like a very long steeplechase route, as you climb an endless series of stiles, all with annoying metal bars at the top, so you end up climbing about 10 feet for every one. 30 or 40 of these on the run and you’ve totted up some serious height gain, without ever gaining any height. The River Tees is a constant companion of course and it shows a very varied series of faces to the walkers who travel beside it. From a slow, wide, dark flow, to fast, impressive white water rapids that wouldn’t be out of place with a clutch of settlers rafts crashing over them and Inus Rawlings telling everyone to hold onto something that floats. These are mere warm up acts though, the main attractions are still to come. 3.5 miles from Middleton and you reach Low Force. If it’s been raining recently (and the state of the local fields and moors suggest that may be a possibility) then you’re in for a treat. The double falls were in torrent today and the sound of the water was deafening, but there isn’t a great view point for these falls and you have to make do with a long shot from a little platform hidden beside the path.
I soon reached another set of double falls further up river, these would, situated anywhere else, be named and much photographed, but here they are just called “waterfalls” on the OS map, a thorn between two roses. I stopped for a short break, I found a sheltered step of rock that was in the sun but out of the wind and I watched the water flowing by as I killed some time and tried to muster some energy. I couldn’t arrive at the B&B too early, I’d told them about 3pm and I was about on track for that if I plodded slowly for the next 5 miles, which was perfect because plodding slowly was about all I could manage at this point.
High Force comes next and the sound of this waterfall is heard for 1/2 a mile before you reach it. Again there aren’t great photo opportunities from the Pennine Way path and as the guide book says, it’s not worth dying to get that great shot. Which you easily could. I found the viewing platform, now surrounded by health and safety notices, for all the people who don’t know that there are steep drops and rocks can be slippery when wet, etc. I took what photos I could, but the sun wasn’t right and I don’t think they’ll be as good as the ones I got last time I was here.
The river widens after High Force and I passed the quarry that seems to be the only blight on this whole section. A noisy, grumbling, acre of buildings designed to reduce big stones to little ones, so we can build more roads or enhance more driveways. Beyond the quarry is the only proper climb of the afternoon, up onto Bracken Rigg, a truly beautiful spot, with the most incredible views of the whole day.
It looks like a Scottish glen, with open moorland to the left, high mountains beyond and the river far below in the valley to the right. The scene changes all too soon though and I had to negotiate the steep descent down to Conkley farm. I remember from last time how much I hated this descent, and it wasn’t any better this time, the rocks all wet and running water in places. I could almost see journey’s end now though and a final section beside Langdon Beck saw me at Saur Hill Bridge, where I turned away from the Pennine Way and up to East Underhurth farm.
I got a fantastic reception from Emma, who made a big pot of tea and pointed me towards the shower. We sat chatting in the kitchen for a while, mostly about the dreadful winters they’ve had up here for the past few years and some of the more difficult guests she’s had staying. It sounds like the nearby YHA cancel a lot of bookings if they get a block book for the whole hostel and individual bookings are just bounced, and Emma gets them by default. Some folk are not ready for a working farm B&B when they were expecting a hostel and it’s these folk that can be quite difficult.
Anyway, I’ve had my tea, booked an early start for breakfast tomorrow and I think I’ll be having an early night. There’s no phone signal and although I’ve found a good strong WiFi source, I don’t like to ask to borrow it. I can wait until tomorrow.