High Force always has its admirers but the area upstream too merits exploration, especially on a fine day when the views of the Pennines are well defined and there are few noises to disturb the tranquil landscape.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 4 hours
Conditions: field paths in good condition
Refreshments: High Force and Langdon Beck
OS Explorer Map OL31
Originally published: 16 November 2007
Our 8 mile route starts from the High Force Hotel. Go to the far end of the car park and take the path signed half left. In about 100 yards, go through a squeeze through stile, pass to the right of a barn and continue ahead to a gate. Then turn half left aiming uphill between two trees to reach a short ladder stile hidden from sight over the edge of the field. From here the path leads in about 150 yards to a tarred lane where it goes left.
The lane connects the farms of Etters Gill, the deep little valley away to your right. Inroads were made into the original forest in prehistoric and Saxon times but the first written record dates from the early medieval period and names Ethergilebec where land was given to Rievaulx Abbey for the winter pasturing of mares and their colts. We follow the lane past Low Gill, where a bird feeder hangs cheekily from a footpath sign, and then go left in another 250 yards at a junction.
Our lane now crosses open fields as it heads towards Wood Pits Hill Farm, set strikingly up on its hillside. Where the farm lane goes sharp right continue ahead through a gate on a slightly rising green track. In 400 yards a panoramic view opens up over the glacially formed landscape of upper Teesdale. As Arthur Mee says in the Durham volume of his series 'The King's England' , "Here is Durham at its wildest and grandest". Away to the left the Tees is visible as it emerges from behind the Whin Sill buttresses of Cronkley Scar before flowing across the broad basin of Cronkley pasture. The grey-green landscape which merges into the distant Pennines is enhanced by the scattering of the whitewashed farms of the Raby Estate.
Our track now heads for the crage of High Hurth Edge. Below them, after the path passes through a gate, go half left to a grey metal gate in the far wall which descends from the crags. Then again go half left to a stile. Our indistinct path passes below the spoil heap and entrance to a former lead mine before dropping down across rough grass to a wall close to a one storey white house. Continue along the wall side to the next gate from where a track leads down to Valence Lodge and a bridge over Langdon Beck.
From here the the soothing accompaniment of rushing water accompanies us for the rest of the walk. Follow the access track downstream to the B 6277. Go left past the Langdon Beck Hotel and then right on the lane to Cow Green Reservoir. After a quarter of a mile turn left using the concrete causeway over Harwood Beck to Intake Farm. (A nearby bridge can be used if the causeway is covered).
From the farm go downstream. The path soon leaves the water's edge and climbs on to Hunter's Close Bank. In another 300 yards, at Saur Hill Bridge, it joins the Pennine Way which we follow for the next three and a half miles.
Cross the bridge and go right. Soon the murmurings of the beck are replaced by the more strident rushing Tees coming in on the right from its Pennine sources. At its confluence you will notice a steep bank on the left. This is Haugh Hill, a good example of a drumlin formed by glacial deposits in the last ice age. Look out too on this section for wagtails and dippers.
In 200 yards you cross the Tees to enter the Moor House-Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve, renowned for its rare arctic and alpine plants in addition to its spectacular scenery.
Our route now climbs to Cronkley and continues over High Crag where there are striking views across the river to the basaltic Whin Sill columns of Dine Holm Scar. The Pennine Way is paved here for a quarter of a mile until you reach two prominent stone markers. From them our walk now descends to the riverside through the remains of an ancient juniper forest which established itself here shortly after the ice retreated at the end of the ice age. Look away too to the right for a green track heading over the nearby hillside. In the 18th and 19th centuries this was once a main droving route from Scotland to southern markets, its distinctive colour an effect of the natural manuring by the animals some 200 years ago.
We next pass a working quarry and crusher where the blue-black Whin Sill is being extracted for road building. In another quarter of a mile the roar of High Force can be heard, driving out the clatter of any industrial activity. There are several excellent though unprotected vantage points to watch the torrent crashing 70 feet over the Whin Sill rocks.
The final half mile of the walk is through more juniper scrub down to cross the river. On the far side turn sharp left across a meadow before a steep climb up a flight of steps returns you to the valley road.