|The Pennine Way|
Looking back at the cliffs of High Cup
The section of the Pennine Way from Langdon Beck to Dufton is perhaps its most beautiful and dramatic day of walking. It has a bit of everything - a delightful riverside walk, wonderful waterfall, bleak moorland and splendid views. The day actually ends up further from Kirk Yetholm than at Langdon Beck. This has to be since Dufton is a good place to stop and the only alternative is cutting across the untracked and boggy wastes of Dufton Fell.
|Langdon Beck||YH||0870 770 5910|
|Langdon Beck Hotel||Pub||01833 622267|
|Sayer Hill Farm||B&B, camping||01833 622203|
This day started with a clear morning under blue skies - not a cloud or fog bank in sight. I rejoined the Pennine Way by walking down the road to Langdon Beck, crossing a small bridge and then walking downstream along Hunter's Close Bank back to the Saur Hill Bridge. By the gate at the middle of the bridge is a sign: Kirk Yetholm 121 miles (195 kilometres), Edale 149 miles (240 kilometres). So I had walked well over the halfway point (the distances are those of Wainwright).
Over the bridge, the Pennine Way passes in front of a small farm and out into pastures over a small rise. This is a good viewpoint for the path ahead - to the left is Cronkley Fell Scar, to the right is Widdybank Fell and the white buildings nestled in the valley are Widdy Bank Farm. The path quickly gains the banks of the Tees for a while and then detours along a wall to the farm access track. The Pennine Way now goes through the farm buildings giving you a good look at the farmhouse that dates back to 1698 with its hundreds of coatings of whitewash. The whitewash is part of the lease agreement and so all the Teesdale farms are white. You may see a few cattle close in to the farm buildings but the wild fells are the domain of the hardy Swaledale sheep. Once past the farm, the path crosses a river flat (Holmwatch) for a kilometre before squeezing into the gap between the river and clints (cliffs) falling from the moor. There is plenty of variety - scrambling over boulder-fields, slipping over scree and easy going on boardwalks.
The word 'widdy' that you see in many of the place names was local dialect for the slate pencils of Victorian school rooms. The industrial history, dramatic landscape and unique flora of upper Teesdale all have their origin in a fiery event of 300 million years ago. This was when violent earthquakes forced molten rock between existing sedimentary layers. The magma cooled to form quartz-dolerite (exposed as the Whin Sill) containing a treasure-house of metal ores (e.g. lead) to be later mined. Limestone was broken up into granules and exposed as beds of 'sugar limestone' to form the habitat of flowers more often seen in arctic or alpine environments.
In another kilometre the Pennine Way traverses under the impressive rocks of Falcon Clint and I could hear the roar of Cauldron Snout waterfall. Around a corner and it was in front of me. A torrent of peaty brown water comes roaring down a narrow cleft in the dolerite of Whin Sill (a shelf of basalt-like rock that extends across northern England - last seen as High Force leapt over it). The broad fan where the cataract escapes the cleft is very impressive. This makes a natural point for a lunch break. You are unlikely to be alone here since there is a carpark 2 kilometres away along Cow Green Reservoir and a nature trail luring tourists all the way to the top of the waterfall.
After lunch (and half a dozen photos), I climbed up the rocks on the right of the cleft and up to the top of the falls. The sight of the wall of the Cow Green Reservoir dam taming the Tees was a bit of a let-down. However the Pennine Way quickly crosses a bridge and heads down to the lonely Birkdale Farm, reputedly the highest inhabited farm in England (leaving the eyesore behind). At the farm I passed between the buildings (after waiting for the farmer to herd a mob of sheep through) and then left the farm track for a grassy, less distinct path that quickly crosses Grain Beck. Any sheep you see from now on probably belong to Dufton farms which have fell grazing rights as far as Cow Green.
For the next 3 kilometres, the Pennine Way leads through some very bleak moorland with few landmarks. The path is fairly clear but I would not like to go through here on a misty day. From Moss Shop (the tumbledown ruins of the workshop and living quarters of a nearby mine) onwards there are few landmarks. 'Shop' was the name given to the rough bunkhouse accommodation provided for miners during the week - they returned home during the weekends. An extra reason for care is the Ministry of Defence area to the south but there are plenty of signs marking the boundary. Maize Beck is a welcome respite from the loneliness of the moor. There is a flood route which follows the beck northwards to a footbridge across a small limestone gorge (Maizebeck Scar). I chose the more dramatic approach to High Cup by crossing the beck and heading west-south-west along an obvious path. High Cup soon opened up before me. I was standing above the notch (High Cup Nick) in the centre of the photo at the top of the page.
Looking down High Cup into the Vale of Eden
High Cup is a deep sword-shaped basin cut into the side of the moors. From where I was standing the floor of the valley was at least 220 metres below me. Around the sides of the basin are whinstone cliffs from whose feet broad fans of scree fall to the silver thread of High Cup Gill. Beyond the opening of the basin are the broad fields of the Eden Valley with the Lakeland (Lake District) fells just visible in the mist on the horizon. There is a slender pillar of basalt about 500 metres down the north side of the Cup. This is called Nicol Chair (or Nichol's Last) after a Dufton cobbler who was not content with just climbing the column but also soled and heeled a pair of boots while sitting on the top. If you have time then retracing the route to visit the limestone gorge is rewarding - the gorge is cute and provides shelter for some interesting specimens of wild flowers and mosses.
On that day there was quite a strong wind so I didn't overstay my welcome and was soon on the downhill route to Dufton. The Pennine Way takes the Narrow Gate path (and it is narrow!) down the right-hand side of the Cup. I stopped many times to look back up the valley - the best way to admire the cliffs since you don't really see them when you are standing on their tops. There is a small spring (Hannah's Well) running from under a large boulder if you are running out of water.
All too soon the track meets a wall which is your first chance for shelter in inclement weather and joins onto a drove road (civilisation again). I left the Pennine Way at Bow Hall where I spent the night (great B&B place). I also went down the hill a bit to have a look at Dufton. This is an very pretty village (especially for an old lead-mining area) with old and new houses arranged around a small green. There are all the faculties for a walker - a youth hostel, shop and - most importantly - a pub.