15th May 2010 – Middleton in-T to Dufton – 19.9 miles
“Anywhere is walking distance, if you’ve got the time.”
Stephen Wright (American writer)
This section was the best of the walk so far – and I doubt if anything still to come will surpass it! Superb scenery, water features galore, breathtaking views and some of the most fantastic paths. What a day! Things start gently as you leave Middleton, with increasingly more impressive waterfalls – Low Force is great, High Force is stunning and Cauldron Snout is absolutely incredible. The path linking all these water features is also majestic. Lovely riverside paths through fields become twisting tracks through gorse, crossing little tributaries on raised bridges and soon become wide rock strewn paths leading to a frenetic scramble up beside the most impressive water feature in England (surely!).
I kept up a good pace today, I had 20 miles to do and didn’t really want to be finishing too late. I was sort of hoping to finish in time to watch the FA Cup Final, but I would settle for the second half, which seemed a bit more achievable given the mileage. The headwind made progress difficult at times and I think bowing my head into the teeth of it all day has resulted in the sunburn on the back of my neck. I either took my hat off and burned all over my head, or bent my head into the wind to keep the hat on and suffered neck exposure – a no win situation.
I made the earliest start for a while. Tea and toast at 07:30 helped and I was out the door of the B&B at 07:50. My landlady insisted on providing a toasted bacon buttie to take with me for elevenses and I wasn’t going to complain – it was a little soggy by the time I came to eat it, but it was still a nice treat.
The riverside path beside the Tees was a treat and the weather was playing its part by being lovely and sunny, albeit cold and very windy. The river gets steadily more wild as you walk away from Middleton and from meandering slowly under the bridge beside the cattle market it soon becomes broken by white water and small drops before it arrives at Low Force, a large double-drop waterfall where the water is forced between craggy banks. High Force is soon upon you, a much higher, single drop fall, much more impressive and powerful.
The path between High Force and Cauldron Snout is magnificent, it follows the rive for much of the way, but also makes one or two high diversions; giving fantastic views along Teesdale. Here and there the river widens and slows and the path hugs the river’s bank and is populated by fishermen and lots of walkers. With it being a Saturday there were loads of day walkers cluttering up the paths, getting in the way and generally making the scenery look untidy 🙂
Cauldron Snout almost sneaks up on you. It’s hidden around a buttress of Widdybank Fell and you’ve just spent the last couple of hundred yards looking at the ground – very closely – in order not to break an ankle as you make your way over Falcon Clints. You look up to see what the noise is all about and there it is! A huge cascading torrent of water, crashing down a narrow craggy valley. It’s only about 130 feet – but it looks much higher. I climbed slowly up the improbable path beside the waterfall, passing a group of five as they lunched. At the top I stopped and had my own lunch and took a lot of photos. It’s hard to capture the feeling of the place and I eventually gave up trying.
The next section of the walk, from Cow Green Reservoir, is a glorious section of wild open country with rolling hills either side of the path and a real remote feel to it. I was passed here by half a dozen lads on scrambling bikes – I’ve no idea if they’re allowed to use this track or not, but they made a bloody awful noise for quite a while before they eventually pulled ahead far enough for the drone of their engines to become indistinct.
At the bridge across Maize Beck I saw my solo backpacker ahead. This is the guy I followed into Bowes and I think the same one I saw yesterday on the way into Middleton. He keeps up a good pace though and I didn’t make any progress catching him up, even with his much bigger pack. It wasn’t until he stopped at High Cup Nick that I finally caught him up. We were both goggling at the view, alone apart from two other walkers sitting quietly by the edge having some lunch. I said hello and we chatted for a minute or two. He’s doing the PW of course, as I assumed – he doesn’t book anything, just arrives in a village and tries the YH if there is one and knocks on B&Bs if there isn’t. His name is Tony and he’s from Bonn, his English is pretty good though and we had no problem talking together.
One photograph is not enough really….
I left him admiring the views and walked slowly along the lip of the Nick stopping to take plenty of photos. I passed a huge group of ramblers, blocking the path as they nattered their way into Dufton. It was a cruelly hard path to finish with after a long, tiring day and my feet were crying out for some springy turf or peat blanket. The views surrounding the path acted as an analgesic though and I was soon arriving in Dufton.
At the time I felt that my arrival at Brow Farm, my B&B for the evening, somewhat tarnished what had been an absolutely spectacular days walking. The two things should be mutually exclusive of course, but in terms of overall experience I was a bit pissed off. I arrived in Dufton at about 15:30 and chanced my arm by knocking on the door of the B&B – there was no answer, so I looked round the back – still no-one around, so I walked into the village and tried the pub. It was absolutely heaving! There were people 5 deep at the tiny bar and full occupancy at all the inside tables. A coach was parked outside, which sort of gave the game away, so I sat on a bench on the village green and finished my lunch.
I returned to the B&B at about 16:00 and there was still no answer, so I knocked as loud as I could without damaging the door, to no avail and then perched myself on a handy bench just across the road. Tony passed by as I sat there, he was on his way to the YHA and we chatted for a while. When he left I went back to the door and knocked again, knowing it was pointless as I would have seen anyone arrive from my vantage point on the bench.
As I was knocking, a man and woman arrived from the direction of the village and went into one of the B&B’s side doors and a minute later the guy came out and asked if I was staying here. He explained that he’d been let in earlier, by a neighbour, and the owners still weren’t back. I took an executive decision and followed him into the house and waited in the residents’ lounge. My bag was in the hall, but I had no idea which room I was in, so I had no choice but to wait. I watched the final 20 minutes of the FA Cup Final and the owners eventually turned up at 17:15.
I saw them from my seat in the lounge, as they carried dozens of shopping bags from the back of the car into the kitchen door. I waited for someone to ask me who I was, but I was either not noticed or just ignored. I eventually lost patience and walked into the kitchen and announced my arrival. They barely paused in the unloading activities and there was no word of an apology, just a “we’ve been out”. “So I see” was the politest response I could conjur, as they continued to empty shopping bags into the cupboards. I was shown to my room and asked what time I wanted breakfast and that was it, she was off, back to the kitchen.
Anyway, I’m calming down in the pub now. The coach has gone and I’ve managed to get a seat in the corner. I’m waiting for the dinner service to start so I can order some food. I’m beginning to mellow and think back over the excellent day I’ve just had. I shall not let the B&B Incident ruin my day.
My neck is a little sunburned, it’s buzzing nicely under my collar at the moment – the daft thing is I’ve been pretty cold all day. The biting northerly wind from a few days ago was today replaced by an equally cold westerley, and of course today is the only day when I’m walking mostly westward. I’m now used to walking into a headwind though! It just makes the day twice as hard!
I’ve now finished a superb Steak Pie in the Stag Inn in Dufton village and I’ll try and post this, with a photo as I wander back to the B&B. The O2 signal I’ve got doesn’t seem to last once I get inside a building, so I’ll set it up and hope it gets through on the 10 minute walk back.