Teesdale Way to Whorlton

After rain in the night, we set out on a clearing morning from Barnard Castle, following the River Tees downstream to Abbey Bridge and then following the Teesdale Way. A strong scent of wild garlic as we wandered down the river bank.

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River Tees near to Whorlton

A very pleasant stretch of woodland walking, then out on to more open country as we entered Rokeby Park, although the house – the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s famous poem – is not in view.

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The Meeting of the Waters

But below the house is The Meeting of the Waters, where the River Greta meets the Tees. A delightful spot. If there was a road anywhere near it’d be a honeypot for tourists. Fortunately there isn’t. You have to walk and make an effort to see it – and all the better for that. Above is Dairy Bridge which crosses a deep gorge of the Greta – a place that was painted by both Turner and Cotman.

Mortham Tower

On then through the estate parkland of Mortham Tower – the house a very attractive stately home, complete with Peel Tower. The path winds across fine and airy country, looking across fields to the River Tees. I find it quite interesting that many of the grand houses of the north preserved public rights of way. In some parts of Britain the landed gentry did all they could to keep the peasants (most of us!) out. Not here, happily.

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Whorlton Suspension Bridge

We crossed the River Tees on the Whorlton Suspension Bridge, which was opened on the 7th July 1831 – a toll bridge until 1914. We stood where, during World War Two, Winston Churchill stood to inspect troops training on an assault course on the steep cliffs of the northern bank, in those days when we fought fascism. The original toll house, still displaying its original charge board, stands empty on the far side.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Up a stretch of steep steps to Whorlton village, originally Querington, a very peaceful and attractive place, though the church only dates to 1853, when it replaced a chapel of ease, which dated back to Norman times.

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The Old Toll House

We returned to Barnard Castle, following the Tees upstream along the opposite bank to our journey out, though mostly high above the river, following the headland paths of fields. There were lots of sheep lazing in the sunshine and very long views across the dale.

On the Teesdale Way

At one point, the path crosses the Sledwich Gill, where the waters of a tiny beck have carved a very deep gorge through the limestone, making the parish boundary between Whorlton and Westwick, with impressive parish boundary markers made by the artist Richard Wentworth.

After several fields the Teesdale Way plunges back into woodland on the northern side of the Tees at Tees Bank Plantation.

Detail from a tomb in Barnard Castle Churchyard

A stretch of garlic smelling woodland brought us back to Abbey Bridge – another toll crossing in its day, where we crossed the road and took our original path back to Barnard Castle. At the Demesne, at the start of the town, we cut up through the churchyard, reading some of the ancient gravestones – the last resting place of men and women who would have known so well these same fields, woodlands and river banks.

Text and pictures copyright A and J Bainbridge



The Case of the Vanishing Waterfall

No, this is not another plug for one of my mystery novels, but a notice that – at present – the lovely little waterfall by the old mill at Rutter Force no longer exists. Where the waters used to tumble there is now just bare and very dry rock.

Rutter Force dry (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The reason, of course, is the current heatwave and drought, which is really effecting the lakes, rivers and becks of Cumbria.

Back in the winter I undertook several walks from the town of Appleby to the village of Ormside via Rutter Force. Days of lying snow with the ground frozen hard with ice and snow – just a memory now.

On the Hoff Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2018

But yesterday, we did the same walk in very hot and sticky weather, following the path to Bandley Bridge, the footbridge over the Hoff Beck (there’s two grand Viking words for you). Not that there was much water in the beck. If you’ve ever read Arthur Ransome’s wonderful book Pigeon Post, you’ll get the kind of landscape we were wandering through.

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Ormside Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

As we followed it up, the Hoff Beck got drier and drier. Even the deep pools were shallow, and the once-shallower areas completely dry. We did see a red squirrel, carrying a nut – he walked within a yard of us, not bothered by our presence. Like us, he was no doubt feeling the heat.

Then we came to Rutter Force. Such a picturesque spot – I wrote an account of my first visit to it, many years ago, in my walking book Wayfarer’s Dole. That was on a day of torrential rain.

But now – no waterfall at all. Just the slab of rock. Almost as though it had never been. You could almost have crossed the nearby ford without getting your feet wet.

We wandered on up the fields to Donkey’s Nest Cottage and down into Ormside. Some road-menders were patching the lane – a thankless task, as the tar certainly didn’t seem to be setting in this ferocious heat.

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Rutter Force as it usually is (c) John Bainbridge 2018

There was some coolness in the old church, built on a defensive mound that was used by both Saxons and Vikings. But even here there was some evidence of the dry climate. Great cracks in the church tower, subsidence. A note inside the church said that repairs of this lovely old building might cost £75000. If you’ve any spare cash I’m sure they’d appreciate it. It’d be a shame to lose this historic old building.

We followed the River Eden back to Appleby, the woodlands feeling as hot as rain forest.

There was a thunderstorm last night and a brief interlude of heavy rain. I doubt it made any difference to the dried-up Rutter Force.


Penrith Beacon, Barbed Wire and hemmed out of the woods

For some reason we’d never walked up to Penrith Beacon (937 feet) until last Sunday, when our little ramble – a short distance after our recent expedition to Cross Fell – was accompanied by the sound of church bells.

The Monument (c) John Bainbridge 2018

This was the place where beacon fires were lit throughout history, to warn of the possibility of invasion. The beacon dates back to at least 1296,  and there was a watching house there for centuries. The present monument dates back to 1719.

No Freedom to explore the woods (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The views over Penrith towards the Lakeland fells are very impressive. You can imagine how good beacon fires were as warnings on clear days. The views the other way, towards the Pennines are blocked by tree growth.

A steep path leads up to the beacon from Penrith, but we got the feeling that our presence was just tolerated. Much of the path through the woodland is hemmed in by barbed wire fencing.

At the Beacon (c) John Bainbridge 2018


Surely it would do no harm whatsoever if the Lowther family let the people of Penrith roam freely through these woods?

Even worse, there are attempts to get the draft Penrith Local Plan altered so that houses might be built across this precious woodland. I’m pleased to see there is considerable resistance to this outrage and desecration of an historical site by the residents of Penrith.

They should light the beacon – the heritage of Penrith is under attack!

I hope to bring you more on this…

Other news:

My new novel, Dark Shadow, set in Victorian York, is published on Thursday in paperback and on Kindle. But order online before the end of Publication Day and you can get it cheaper. Just click on the link below to find out more… https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Shadow-William-Victorian-Thriller/dp/1722416890/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1532426261&sr=1-2&keywords=Dark+Shadow

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John Lardiner runs down a street in the ancient city of York and vanishes off the face of the earth. In a dangerous race against time, Victorian adventurer William Quest is summoned to York to solve the mystery – what has happened to John Lardiner? Forced into an uneasy alliance with the city police, William Quest finds his own life in peril. Men who pry into the disappearance of John Lardiner end up dead. In York’s jumble of alleys and narrow medieval streets, William Quest finds himself pursued by a sinister organisation. Can he solve the mystery of John Lardiner’s vanishing before his enemies bring his adventurous career to an end? By the author of The Shadow of William Quest and Deadly Quest.


On Cross Fell – and the Fiends Fell was friendly…

For a walk including the three highest summits in the Pennines you need a good clear day. Because the long ridge of tops on the western edge of the north Pennines offer magnificent views across the Eden Valley to the Lake District in one direction, and over the wild fells of the Pennines in the other.

The Summit Shelter

Cross Fell (2,930 feet) is not only the highest point of the Pennines, but – if you exclude the Lake District mountains – the highest summit in England.

It’s a fell that lives in myth as well as history. In its past history it was known locally as Fiends Fell, the abode of demons. It’s the home of the ferocious Helm Wind, the only named wind in Britain, which has been known to sweep down from its heights and devastate the Eden valley below. St Augustine is said to have blessed the hill to take away its curse, hence the word Cross – though some point out it means cross as in angry.

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On the Pennine Way

Seeing it most days in the distance, in all its moods, I can well imagine it as the sort of place where trolls might live. Cross Fell has an average of 110 inches of rain every year, and the snow has been known to deck its long ridgy top for 140 days a year.

But it was in a benevolent mood when we climbed it the other day, offering no more than a pleasant breeze to take away the heat of a scorching day. We were glad of the slight wind, for we notched up twenty miles through some of the loneliest country in England.

We left the village of Dufton in a blazing heatwave, following the Pennine Way as it wound around Dufton Pike to Cosca Hill.  The walk up to Knock Old Man is the steep bit of the walk, but the views over the Eden valley and its guardian pikes – Murton Pike, Dufton Pike and Knock Pike – were stunning. Not as green as usual, for the heatwave has seared them an almost autumnal brown.

The Golfball

This is wonderful walking country. It’s true what they say – if the nearby Lake District didn’t exist, these north Pennines would be thronging with fellwalkers. We did see a few people doing the Pennine Way, but nowhere near as many as would have been there once upon a time.

Until Knock Old Man is passed, the secrets of the high Pennines remain hidden from view. Then, as the ridge is achieved, the vista over remote country to Teesdale comes into view. Like Dartmoor on a grander scale, I thought. Miles and miles and miles of wild mountainous land.

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Summit Fever

The only thing to remind you that you are in the 21st century is the golf ball radar station – air traffic control – on Great Dun Fell, which looks like it has wandered in from a science fiction film. The private road leading up to it is the highest bit of tarmacced road in England. We followed the ridge towards it, seeing nothing alive but the odd moorland bird, and a stoat scampering along the path as we went.

On then over Little Dun Fell to the head of the Crowdundle beck, which I know quite well in its lower stages. Once you’re up on the ridge, there’s little climbing left to do – just a gentle ascent through a rocky band and then a stroll along the ridge to the top of Cross Fell, with its rocky cairn and shelter in the shape of a cross.

It’s worth the climb – so much to see, right across to Ullswater and distant Derwent Water, Blencathra, Helvellyn – too many summits to name.

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On the top

If the Fiends Fell could talk, what stories it might tell. Of the Romans who marched from fort to fort in the valley below, the Vikings who settled the pastoral landscape beneath, probably scaring their children to sleep with their tales of trolls on this great height. And of the many walkers who’ve come along the Pennine Way, making their own memories of the long and high range of hills along the way.

We took a long and circuitous route back to Dufton through Knock, stopping all the while to gaze back at where we had been – past the golfball radar station, up to the top of Cross Fell’s long plateau. After even a brief moment, it seems almost unbelievable that you were ever up there.

A wonderful day’s walking.

And a big thank you to the Trolls of the Fiends Fell, for granting us a special dispensation of good weather and clear views.

Pictures (c) J and A Bainbridge


Walking the Tees at Barnard Castle

When I was a boy, growing up in the industrial Black Country of the English Midlands, I remember school geography lessons which presented the River Tees in the North of England only as a river flowing through similarly industrial towns and cities.

Barnard Castle (c) John Bainbridge 2018

And so it still does – though callous governments have destroyed much of the traditional industries of County Durham.

But there’s the other River Tees – the wild river which flows down from the lonely Pennines through some stunningly beautiful and deep woodland valleys. And we’ve been exploring the river’s upper reaches along the Teesdale Way – a quite splendid long-distance path.

If you look at my blog for May 11th, you’ll see the first walk we did – to the atmospheric ruins of Egglestone Abbey.

We’ve based our first few walks on the town of Barnard Castle – a place renowned as a stronghold of King Richard III, visited by Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War, and the base for Charles Dickens’ explorations for his novel Nicholas Nickleby.

This walk used but a brief section of the Teesdale Way along the Tees. Unspoiled and dramatic it is as we followed the river upstream through a wooded and rocky gorge. This is a beautiful stretch of river, through wild countryside – the haunt of a variety of birdlife and the kind of place where you might glimpse an otter if you linger for long enough. Within yards of leaving the town you are in the peace and quiet of this lovely valley.

The Path above the Tees (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Our time right by the Tees was short. A steep path took us up above the woodland to another public right of way leading back towards the town, running along the top edge of the trees alongside very pleasant pastures. There is almost an airy downland feeling to this countryside – you feel higher than you are. It feels fresh and pastoral.

Railway lines once crossed the valley here, and the remains of the viaducts may still be seen. Some of the old tracks are now walkable, though what a pity that the trains have gone. The short-sighted twentieth-century destruction of so many branch lines was a colossal disaster for the countryside. Some, at least, should be brought back.

Shelter near the Red Well (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Our path descended steeply back into the valley, to the Percy Beck (now there’s a name to conjure with – the Percy family certainly left their mark of England’s history.) The beck itself, almost on the edge of Barnard Castle, is very attractive – the paths on its banks much used by local people.

Then, as we emerged from the tight valley, we found ourselves alongside one industrial complex which has survived and clearly employs a lot of people. The huge manufactory buildings of GSK – a massive pharmaceutical undertaking, surrounded by tall high fences, topped with razor wire – a boundary fitted with trembler alarms.

(c) John Bainbridge 2018

So forbidding, I had to fight hard not to try to test their security by breaking in…

At Harmire Bridge, a footpath leads through an overgrown field to the Red Well, which stands rather forlornly facing this giant commercial enterprise. The Red Well takes its name from the colour of its waters and was recommended by the Victorians for its laxative qualities. We weren’t tempted to give it a try.

The place has an air of neglect. It would be grand if the good folk of Barnard Castle could do more to care for it – and the grass on the public footpath could do with cutting back as well.

Our way lead back alongside the GSK fence, where I suspect every step of our way was monitored by the surveillance cameras of its security department.

Under another old viaduct and past the school. We could hear the kids and smell the school dinners cooking – it reminded me of just why I so often bunked off school to go walking…

We followed the streets back into the heart of the town. An interesting short walk. The stretches by the Tees quite splendid, though the Red Well needs tending.

Next time, we walk a more remote section of the Teesdale Way.




A Roman Milestone

Just outside Temple Sowerby, on the route of the old A66, is a Roman Milestone, one of possibly two thought to be in its original position. No inscription survives, but it’s still worth a visit.DSCF0438

I’ve written in the past about the importance of the line of the A66 between Penrith and Scotch Corner as an important Roman road. Just look at the Ordnance Survey map to see the profusion of Roman forts, etc. on the road.DSCF0444

Obviously the line of the road has been changed in two thousand years, so ignore modern dualling and bypassing – seek out the original line and you’ll discover Roman remnants. There are stretches of the Roman road which are now just pleasant bridleways and footpaths or quiet country lanes, particularly the stretch immediately east of Appleby.

So, avoid the modern stretches of busy roads and you can still walk in the steps of the legions.

But my personal view is that the courses of many of the Roman roads predate the Roman occupation. The Romans simply used and improved the paths used by Iron Age dwellers and their ancestors.


On St. Sunday Crag

On a fresher day in this long heatwave, we left Patterdale for the dramatic height of St. Sunday Crag (and does anyone know how it acquired such a lovely name?)

Deepdale Hause and Grisedale Tarn (c) John Bainbridge 2018

There was an absence of the now familiar blue skies, but clear views across the Lake District as far as Morecambe Bay.

In fact, as we ascended Arnison Crag, there were about twenty intermittent – and very welcome – drops of rain. These soon vanished like a sorceror’s illusion, though a pleasant light breeze was very welcome.

Summit Fever (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Arnison Crag’s a modest height, and easily attained from Patterdale, but it does offer some splendid views over Ullswater. It must be a couple of years since we were last up there – and I must be a lot fitter for we made the little height in half the time.

Then on to Trough Head, where we followed the ruined wall up to the top of Birks, admiring the scene over Deepdale and Hartsop. So many fells – so many memories.

Onwards up the steep and rocky path to the top of St Sunday Crag.

St Sunday Crag from Birks (c) John Bainbridge 2018

There were just a couple of fellwalkers about – surprisingly few given that we’d seen hordes on the road between Glenridding and Patterdale.

St Sunday Crag doesn’t have the most dramatic of Lake District summits, but the views from the top are wonderful, particularly towards Fairfield and Helvellyn, with its rocky cliffs.

We wandered a little way down the narrowing ridge to Deepdale Hause, so that we might drink tea with a view over Grisedale Tarn. This tarn was supposedly where King Dunmail threw his sword and treasure before his battle death and burial on what is now Dunmail Raise.

A Terrific story, though old Dunmail probably died in his bed in Rome…

Ullswater from the ridge path (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Deepdale Hause is very dramatic – indeed it was a popular ascent for Victorian travellers in the Lakes. My 1872 guidebook, Jenkinson’s Practical Guide to the English Lakes, suggests that this ridge between St. Sunday Crag and Fairfield “is in places very narrow, but not dangerous to one accustomed to mountain work.”

We strolled back to the summit, then to the more dramatic subsidiary height of Gavel Pike, which offers good views down into Deepdale.

We descended by the path leading around the flanks of Birks to Thornhow End, passing several fellwalkers coming up for the afternoon. We usually start early in the mornings, and find that we get the fells more or less to ourselves. I commend the practice to you if you don’t like crowds.

An easy path, with views down into Grisedale, and then Patterdale. It steepens as it descends to Glemara Park, where we encountered our first larger group of walkers – young people out for a day on the fells.

I sometimes look at the young and wonder what their lives will be like when they get to my age? I’m glad I had the youth I did in the times I’ve lived through. I’m glad I’m not young any more.

Young ramblers never seem anywhere like as militant about the countryside and access as my generation did…

And yet these lovely wild places are under more threat than ever…