The growth of Middlesbrough, Stockton and Darlington in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought an increasing demand for a constant supply of clean water. This led to the building of the large reservoirs in Baldersdale and Lunedale, both tributary valleys of the Tees. These huge sheets of water transformed the local landscape. Today they are popular for fishing and boating and of course are attractive to walkers.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well signed, gradual climb from Grassholme on to Harter Fell
Refreshments: Middleton, reservoir visitor centre (closed Nov-March)
OS Map: OL31
Originally published: 11 September 2015
Our 8 mile walk starts in Middleton-in-Teesdale, the tiny town which became prosperous in the 19th century as the centre for the valley's lead mining and quarrying industries. From the town centre road junction (GR 947254), by the pretty cast iron fountain erected in 1875 in honour of Robert Bainbridge, superintendent of the London Lead Mining Company, follow the B 6277 to Romaldkirk. This drops to the County Bridge which once separated Durham and Yorkshire. It was built in 1853, replacing an earlier one which collapsed whilst under construction, killing two bystanders.
On the far side turn left down a flight of steps on to the riverbank and follow the path which soon joins up with the lane to the 18th century Step Ends Farm. Beyond the buildings the lane becomes a path which climbs away from the river and crosses three fields to the B 6277. Turn left and in a few paces go right on a path which skirts South Lonton Farm to a concrete ladder stile. This gives access to the Tees Railway Path or Railway Walk. Go left.
This was once part of the railway from Barnard Castle to Middleton. Opened in 1868 it took over the role of packhorses in transporting lead from the mines. After the mines closed before the First World War it continued to carry agricultural produce and roadstone from the many quarries near Middleton but then fell to Beeching's axe in 1964. Today it's a popular and easy walking route to Romaldkirk and Cotherstone.
We follow it for half a mile to the handsome stone viaduct with brick arches over the River Lune. On the far side go right along a narrow tarred lane for about 200 yards. Then turn left up the drive of The Acres and continue ahead on a well signed path. If you look back at this point there's a view of the little hillside church of Laithkirk. The path now drops to cross the little valley of Eller Beck.
On the far side bear right, keeping close to a wall on the right as it climbs across rough grazing land. When, after some 300 yards, it reaches a large reedy patch, look out for a wall stile. In the next field bear left and keep fairly close to the wall on the left to find another stile in about 300 yards which gives access to the lane from Mickleton to Kelton. Turn right to reach the Grassholme Reservoir Visitor Centre in about a quarter of a mile.
Northumbria Water's notice boards give the reservoir's dimensions = it covers 140 acres, is more than 2 miles long and contains 135 million gallons. There are picnic facilities too and drinks are sold in the shop. Footpaths encircle the reservoir. The easier follows the southern shore. I crossed the dam head and the River Lune where it leaves the reservoir and took the slightly longer northern shore. There are some elaborate, well placed wooden seats at the half way point and a flight of wooden steps before the path continues to the car park at the far end.
Here we join the 267 mile long Pennine Way, one of Britain's long distance trails, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. We follow it for 3 miles back to Middleton.
Turn right along the lane leading away from Grassholme Bridge which crosses the end of the reservoir. In about 250 yards turn right between the buildings of Grassholme Farm. The right of way climbs over a hummocky landscape created by glacial action in the last Ice Age. In half a mile cross the B 6276, the road from Middleton to Brough.
As you walk up the drive to Wythes Hill you will be following northwards a major drove road which came down from Scotland via Alston. In the 18th and 19th centuries thousands of cattle were driven along this route to southern markets and cattle fairs. It turns left as a bridleway just after the farm and the adjacent North Wythes cottage and is traceable as a memorable 4 mile walk over the moors to Holwick in upper Teesdale.
After this junction the Pennine Way continues down to a ford over Merry Gill before crossing three rough fields to a stony track leading to the isolated farm of Cornset. Go left on it to a gate and then turn right to another gate 100 paces away. Once past a barn on the right the Way is mainly grass covered with a soft velvety surface which makes for easy walking and time to admire the views back into Lunedale and the two reservoirs of Grassholme and Selset.
After a gate the path curves to the left past a couple of cairns and around the edge of Harter Fell. Away to the right is Greengates Quarry where volcanic whinstone was extracted mainly for road surfacing. After passing a simple barn the Way reaches the edge of the moor at some 1,500ft.
The views down into Teesdale are outstanding with Middleton in the centre. Beyond the town are the wooded slopes of Hudeshope valley which provided much of the dale's lead ore. Scattered across the landscape are the distinctive white painted farms of the Raby Estate.
By this stage of the walk you cannot fail to have noticed the prominent walled hill away on the right crowned by Scots pines. Kirkcarrion has been in view for most of the walk. The Iron Age tumulus inside the wall was excavated in 1804, revealing the bones of a possible chieftain of the Brigantes.
The descent on the long grassy path into the valley is exhilarating. When you reach the lane to Holwick go right to rejoin the B 6277.