A North Pennine Ramble

For a while I could almost have thought I was back on northern Dartmoor in the old days when, apart from the ancient tracks, there were fewer paths. In recent years, paths have sprung up on Dartmoor, from tor to tor and from antiquity to antiquity etc.

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High Cup

In those golden olden days we used to have to find our own way across pathless and rough countryside, navigating in good weather on distant landmarks, or in bad on compass bearings.

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High Cup

Anyway, a long way from Dartmoor as I thought back to those days. Though the geological roots are different, the long and peaty stretch of the North Pennines reminded me greatly of the plateau of North Dartmoor.

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Foxgloves on the Track from Dufton

We set out from Dufton intending only to walk up the old lead miners track into the Pennines to visit Great Rundale Tarn. A walk we’ve done a couple of times and which I’ve blogged in the past.

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Dufton Pike from the Miners Track

A lovely walk too, with grand views as you climb the miles up to Threlkeld Side, first along an enclosed lane and then out on to open fellside with increasing views across the Eden Valley to the mountains of the Lake District. The lane was lined with beautiful foxgloves by the stone walls separating the track from the distinctive height of Dufton Pike.

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Miners Track

We watched a hare as he shot up almost the entire height of the Pike in just a few seconds – oh that I had that energy!

It’s hard to imagine Threlkeld side as it must have been at the height of the lead mining. Noisy and dusty I suspect, as you look at the industrial disturbances that nature hasn’t yet healed.

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Threlkeld Side

Great Rundale Tarn is a broad sheet of water situated among the peat hags of the Pennine plateau. And it was here that we changed our plan for simply returning the same way.

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Bog Cotton

I’ve often visited the Whin Sill geological marvel that is High Cup Nick, usually going there in a circuit from Dufton. Now if you look at the OS map you won’t see any paths marked between Great Rundale Tarn and the Nick.

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Valley of Dereliction

But they are there, firstly a stalking track down the side of the beck (Tarn Sike) and then rougher paths between the beck and the peat hags as Tarn Sike becomes the Maize Beck, a deeper flow of water with some splendid little waterfalls. And it was on this black peaty stretch of the Pennines that I was reminded of Dartmoor.

Except for the wooden grouse butts, of course. And there were lots of them. The first stretch of path from the tarn (where there is a shooting box) was obviously created to cater for the grouse shooting industry, not something you ever see on Dartmoor. Now, whether these grouse butts are used these days I’m not sure. In all our long walk we didn’t put up a single grouse so perhaps not. I hope not.

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Great Rundale Tarn

But the Maize Beck is a delight. A lovely gurgling river that comes within a whisker of tumbling down into the great canyon of High Cup Nick, but in fact doesn’t – swinging eastwards at the last moment to cross the Pennines to add its waters to the wild River Tees hard by the great waterfall of Cauldron Snout.

We left the Maize Beck at a footbridge over a tiny and picturesque gorge and set out on to the open fellside.

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Maize Beck

It was sweltering hot as we walked the Pennine Way to High Cup Nick. And it was only here that we came across fellow walkers. In fact, being a hot Sunday afternoon, High Cup was positively crowded. We even had to socially distance as we passed walkers coming in the other direction from Dufton.

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Footbridge Over the Beck

I wondered how many intended to walk beyond the famous Nick to the wild peaty moorland beyond?

I suspect not many.

(c) Text and pictures J and A Bainbridge

Autumn Walk to Egglestone Abbey

England’s ruins are particularly wonderful when they’re set against the colours of Autumn. It’s a while since we’d visited Egglestone Abbey on the banks of the River Tees, so we returned last week on a gorgeous Autumnal day, walking out from Barnard Castle, once in Yorkshire but now in County Durham.

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Egglestone Abbey (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Walking not just in the steps of the Premonstratensian monks who lived there, but also following in the tread of Charles Dickens and JMW Turner, and many other Victorian luminaries.

Turner painted scenes on the River Tees here, as did other Victorian artists such as my great favourite Atkinson Grimshaw. Charles Dickens stayed at Barnard Castle while researching northern schools for his novel Nicholas Nickleby, the original for Wackford Squeers of Dotheboys Hall lived not far away. Thomas Humphrey who inspired Master Humphrey’s Clock had premises in the town. Oliver Cromwell also visited during the English Civil War.

The town was a favoured place of King Richard III, who even today is held in great affection by the locals. Ignore the Tudor propaganda – as medieval kings go he was positively enlightened, and beloved in the North of England.

Some of this walk was in the past in Yorkshire, but county boundary alteration has moved this area firmly into County Durham.

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By the Tees (c) John Bainbridge 2019

One of the best ways of visiting some ancient abbey is to walk to it – there’s something reminiscent of pilgrimages in such journeys. And undoubtedly the medieval monks of Egglestone Abbey would have used the very same paths we trod.

The path we took out is now part of the Teesdale Way, which follows the River Tees along its travels to the North Sea. Only a couple of miles out to the abbey, but well worth it.

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A Monks Path (c) John Bainbridge 2019

On the true left bank of the river (turn your back to the source) we wandered through water meadows. Absolute autumn colours are late coming, though the hints are there. On the way is the ruin of an old flax mill, called Low Mill, which probably made fibres for twine and thread for sewing shoes and gloves.

This is really beautiful pastoral countryside, the River Tees not far below. Some grand woodland and old pastures.

The folk of Barnard Castle, or Barney as the locals call it, are fortunate to have some fine paths going out from every part of their town. This one led to the impressive Abbey Bridge, which doesn’t date to the nearby monastery but only to 1773, when local landowner JS Morrit wanted better access to his country estate at nearby Rokeby.  Rokeby, by the way, inspired the long poem by Sir Walter Scott, who was much enthused by this part of Teesdale. This was still a toll bridge until well into the 20th century. It can be quite busy so cross with care.

On the far side of the bridge we found a path winding uphill across ploughed meadows, the footpath a trifle overgrown in a couple of places and the waymarking leaving something to be desired, but easy enough if you have a good map. We descended by Waterloo Plantation – which must surely get its name from the battle. We descended again by an ancient right of way, which must surely have been a path used by monks and medieval travellers.

Then to the abbey…

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Egglestone Abbey (c) John Bainbridge 2019

There were turbulent times in the years following: the Scots ravaged it in 1315 and on several other occasions. And of course it was put out if existence as a religious house following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1548, the site was granted to Robert Strelley by Henry VIII. He turned it into a farm, but over the following centuries it  gradually fell into ruin.

Today it is run by English Heritage and there’s free admission during daylight hours. Despite its troublesome past, there is an air of tranquility about the place. Apart from a couple of dog-walkers we were the only visitors, apart from some jackdaws who often nest in the heights of the old walls. There are a few ancient grave markers, and the tomb of local worthy Sir Ralph Bowes, who died in 1482.

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Bow Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A path took us down to the tiny tributary of the Tees, the Thorsgill Beck – now there’s a Norse name to conjure with: the Thor perhaps from the Norse god of thunder, though just possibly from thorpe, meaning a small settlement; the Gill, a narrow valley, from the Norse original gjel; the Beck, a small brook, from the Norse bekkr. You are certainly brushing with history on this walk.

 

Let’s have more militancy in the rambling movement in 2019

Best wishes for all who have followed the blog this year. I hope you all have a great Christmas and a peaceful new year.The_Compleat_Trespas_Cover_for_Kindle

We’ve had some splendid walks this year. I have no “walk of the year”, for we’ve enjoyed them all. But our first ascent of Cross Fell – the highest top in the Pennines – has to be up there on the list. A terrific ascent and we hope to do it again this coming year from a different direction.

But one of the joys this past year has been our exploration of the countryside of County Durham. County Durham doesn’t seem to score highly on destinations when you talk to walkers, which is a great pity. It offers a terrific variety of scenery, some excellent footpaths and bridleways and lots of good, remote countryside. Do look at some of the blogs to see where we’ve walked.

There have been some disasters for walkers this year, notably the de-registering of common land in the Pennines, where the MoD has snatched the fells above Murton and Hilton. If they think that’s going to deter yours truly from walking there, well, they’re in for a shock!

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From Kidsty Pike (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Time, this coming year, for a bit more militancy in the rambling movement. Where was the big rally on Murton Pike against the thieving of common land? I’ve been active in the rambling movement for over fifty years, but it seems to me that rambling organisations have become too much part of the Establishment…

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In the High Pennines (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Where has the fight gone?

I remember the happy days of Forbidden Britain campaigns and trespasses. Where did it all go wrong? With our wild countryside and national parks and AONBs under threat why aren’t they out there battling? Apart from the worthy Open Spaces Society, I hear very little about actual active campaigning.DSCF0344

So this coming year I intend to be far more critical of threats to our countryside and our right to walk across it. It’s important not just to walk but to put something back. Our great outdoors is not just some vast gymnasium, but a precious resource that needs protecting.

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The threatened Murton Fells (c) John Bainbridge 2018

I salute the good folk of Brighton who are fighting to stop building over their precious nature reserve. I applaud the farmers and villagers of Murton and Hilton who took on the MoD. Neither battle is over.

So lets get militant, folks…

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The threatened Whitehawk Nature Reserve.

Enjoy and celebrate our walks but stand up and be counted when our rights to walk and our countryside are threatened…

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

John B.

And do check out my writing blog at www.johnbainbridgewriter.wordpress.com if you are looking for something to read over the holiday.

Walking to England’s Highest Roman Fort

Epiacum, the Romans called it, a second-century fort built to guard the empire’s interests in Pennine lead mining, and probably to provide backup for Hadrian’s Wall. It’s unique in being the only lozenge-shaped fort in Britain – rather than the more familiar playing-card shape, and has the most complex defences of any Roman fort yet found. By coincidence, I’ve just finished reading Bernard Cornwell’s latest historical novel War of the Wolf, where he uses the fort fictionally in a climactic Viking battle several centuries after the Romans left our shores.

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The defensive ditches of Epiacum (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It’s a wonderfully lonely spot, high up on the fells with just isolated farms nearby and miles of wild countryside all around. You can drive there, but we preferred to walk from the market town of Alston, three miles away. The paths up there are pleasant too, the Pennine Way and Isaac’s Tea Trail.

Isaac’s Tea Trail? Isn’t that grand! But this isn’t an invented route linking up all the tea-shops in the vicinity. It’s named in honour of the legendary tea-seller, itinerant, jagger and well thought-of fundraiser Isaac Holden. Isaac began his working life as a lead miner in these hills. He travelled these hills, selling tea – then quite a pricey commodity – to isolated farming communities. The trail, thirty-six miles long, uses many of the ancient paths he would have taken.DSCF0849

We hope to walk much more of this path in time, but we very much enjoyed our first experience of it on the walk up to Epiacum – the Roman fort must have been quite a familiar sight to Isaac as he earned his hard living.

I’ve written before about the joys of Alston – high up in the North Pennines. Familiar if you’ve never been there as a film location. Productions of Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre and some of the Catherine Cookson films have used it as a setting. You can see why. Take away the cars and some minor infrastructure and you could easily be back a couple of centuries.

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Alston (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Memories of a war of a later time were evoked as we walked past Alston’s War Memorial. I write this as we near the centenary of the Armistice. My great uncle, Harry Howl Jeffs was killed in October 1918, just a fortnight before the end of the Great War, having served for much of the conflict. Fortunately my grandfather Joseph Bainbridge came home from the Trenches. My own father, another Joe Bainbridge, survived a great deal of fighting in World War Two. I read the names on all war memorials – men and women who lived in beautiful countryside like this never to come back. I wonder what the Romans stationed up at  Epiacum would think if they could know that two thousand years after their time we still haven’t found a way of weaning the human race away from war.

A lovely stretch of the Tea Trail and Pennine Way followed as we made our way uphill into wilder countryside. It reminded me of some parts of the Scottish Borders and, of course, it really is. The wild frontier of the Roman Empire. At least after the Romans had to withdraw from the line of the Antonine Wall.

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Epiacum

After Harbut Law, we climbed and then descended to the beautiful valley of the Gilderdale Burn, which we crossed on a footbridge. The Gilderdale Burn is the boundary between Cumberland and Northumberland. It must have been so familiar to the Romans marching this way along the nearby Roman road known as the Maiden Way.

A long but gradual ascent through sheep ranges brought us at last to Whitley Castle, Epiacum. Even though all that is left are the long mounds which were once the footage of walls and the defensive ditches it is still very impressive. Such was the confidence of its Roman defenders, that it’s actually overlooked by higher ground, itself covered by the mounds and scars of more recent lead mining activity.

We searched the molehills in vain for Roman artefacts – not that we ever have any luck. Some people do, however, and “molehill archaeology” events are occasionally held at the site. There’s a board with a useful illustration of what Epiacum might have looked like. The glory that was the Roman Empire might have left this spot, but the site is still magnificent.

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The heights above the fort, seen from its old wall. (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We followed the footpath down to Kirkhaugh Railway Station, on what is now the South Tynedale Railway heritage line. In fact, the station is a shelter and not much more but, in the season, you can catch an old train here from Alston and walk up to Epiacum – a thrilling way to get there.

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At Kirkhaugh Station (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The South Tynedale Railway was once part of the main railway line between Alston and Haltwhistle. In an act of folly by British Rail it was closed to passengers in 1976. Fortunately, enthusiasts replaced the line with a two foot narrow gauge railway – the highest in England and is now run as a charitable institution. The charity has several steam and diesel engines and is working on the restoration of more. We will certainly be seeking a ride in the future.

The South Tyne Trail runs alongside the railway line, fenced off for safety. A lovely level stretch of the trail, open for both walkers and cyclists. The scenery along the South Tyne river is very attractive. We crossed back from Northumberland into Cumberland along the way back to Alston.

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Where two counties meet (c) John Bainbridge 2018

As we wandered back, I thought a lot about Isaac Holden, the jagger in tea, who would have known every fell and valley in these wild hills. A tough life no doubt, but probably a healthier and safer one than lead mining. We hope to walk more of his Tea Trail in the future.

Despite the Tea Trail route and the Pennine Way, this is still countryside neglected by lots of walkers. So if you fancy a change from the fells of the Lake District why not give it a go?

 

 

Walking from Romaldkirk

It’s funny isn’t it? You see a placename on a map or a signpost. You have no idea what the place is like. Then you go there and wonder why you never made the journey before? So let me put it on record. Romaldkirk, high above the banks of the River Tees in County Durham is a beautiful village in an area blessed with stunning scenery.DSCF0818

County Durham has some great walks, though I suspect most British walkers don’t know that. But get up into those Durham Dales and I just know you’ll be impressed. We’ve been walking sections of the Teesdale Way this year. A great walking route, with – very often – alternative routes on both sides of the river. If it’s not on your walking to-do-list put it there today and elevate it to the top.

Now for Romaldkirk – a lot of English villages have a village green. But Romaldkirk has  three, with beautiful cottages, a couple of pubs and even a village stocks for ne’er do wells like me!

The village takes its name from St Rumwold, a Saxon prodigy who got his sainthood for preaching the gospel immediately after being baptised. He actually seems to have originated in far away Buckingham, and there seems to be only other one dedication in the country. Some parts of the church date back to Anglo-Saxon times. Inside is the tomb of Hugh Fitz Henry, who died of wounds in Edward I’s Scottish wars.

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The Tomb of High Fitz Henry (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The paths are beautiful too, especially on gorgeous autumn days when the colours are at their best. We followed the Teesdale Way down to the river. On the way we passed the derelict farm of Low Garth – a place that was, now sadly deserted and boarded up. I suspect its fate was sealed by the fact that it stands out in the fields with no access for motor vehicles. But what tales those old walls might tell – how families lived and died there for centuries, the laughter and the tears. Folk adding their own stories to the history of this place.

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On

Through woodland then, and down to the River Tees. And some of the finest riparian scenery I’ve seen in England for a very long time. The path rocky, some times close to the water, then high above it. The river sometimes still in deep pools, then the swirl of white water.

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On the Teesdale Way (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The path climbed and we came to a farm called Woden’s Croft – now there’s a name to conjure with, named for the Norse god Woden, the Anglo-Germanic version of Odin. Long before Christianity came to Teesdale, Saxons and Norse would have worshipped the old gods in this wild landscape, which probably wasn’t too different to the land we see today.

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Eggleston Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Below the village of Cotherstone (see blogs passim) we halted at the confluence, where the River Balder (another terrific Saxon name) meets the Tees, before crossing the footbridge over the Tees, to take the variation of the Teesdale Way to Eggleston Bridge.

This path runs high above the river, giving you a grand view over the whole of Teesdale, right up to Middleton. The wild countryside of the Pennine Fells in the distance, before coming back down to the river.

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The village stocks at Romaldkirk (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Eggleston Bridge probably dates to 1450, and once – as many bridges did – had a chapel built upon it. The present bridge was constructed in the 17th century, though there have been recent restorations.

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Romaldkirk Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We crossed the bridge and followed easy paths back into Romaldskirk, finishing our day by exploring the church and graveyard, visiting the tomb of Hugh Fitz Henry, and reading the inscriptions on many of the outside tombstones. People who would have known and walked the same paths that we had explored.