Tuesday, 21 May 2013

High Force to Dufton

Today was something of a landmark - Day 50 of the walk.

It turned out that I was the only guest staying the night at the High Force Hotel. A couple of people had come in for a single drink the night before, but that was it. Apparently the hotel I owned by the Blabey estate. They put nothing in to maintaining or improving their properties. I asked whether there were any plans to upgrade the hotel. Apparently not. The farmhouses on the estate are in even worse condition, I was told. Not the best of landlords, it would appear.

High Force
Anyway, I was able to arrange an early breakfast, at 7:30, and I was on my way shortly after 8:00. Fortunately I found a footpath leading down to the bridge across the Tees, so unlike the previous evening, when I hadn’t registered the fact that this footpath met the need, I didn’t have to retrace my journey down the main road to get to the bridge.  So I was back on the Pennine Way in good time.

This followed the river up to the waterfall at High Force. It’s a bigger drop, but not as impressive as Low Force, which I had passed the previous evening. Then it was on up past a quarry on the far (North) bank, and then a climb over the shoulder of a hill where the river is confined to a narrow valley. Thereafter, having dropped back down to river level and crossed a bridge, it’s relatively open farmland near Langton Beck before rejoining the Tees a mile and a half upstream. This is where the journey gets more interesting – and more challenging. The final two miles up to the second waterfall, at Cauldron’s Spout, is in a steep-sided valley. There are three stretches, each a hundred metres or more, where you have to clamber over giant boulders at the bottom of scree falls. On occasions one’s feet are mere inches from the river itself. It would be impossible to travel this way if the river was in spate, which judging from occasional detritus on the banks if must be from time to time. It certainly would have been on the previous Saturday, when nearly three inches of rain fell over much of this area.
Cauldron's Spout ... 

I  had intended to take my lunch break beside the pool beneath Cauldron’s Spout, and had hoped to see ring ouzels, which I have seen here in two previous years. But the ground was waterlogged, so I pressed on up the steep slope beside the waterfall. At the top the dam below Cow Green Reservoir comes into view. After all the recent rain there was plenty of water topping the damn and flowing in plumes down it face. This is a very impressive sight, particularly when the sun brightens everything and presents a dazzling spectacle of shining water.
... and the plume of water on the dam above

Then it was a few minutes walking before I found a convenient set of rocks to perch on as I had my lunch. The sandwich provided by the High Force Hotel was pretty horrible, but bananas and a chocolate bar were some compensation.

I had never really studied the map before tackling this section, and had erroneously assumed it was a gentle upward slope alongside the stream that enters the Tees at Cauldron’s Spout, and then a gentle descent into Dufton. This was not the case. It’s actually a four mile ascent to the strangely named High Cup Nick above Dufton. This is initially on a track, but the latter half is across open moorland, often as wet as anything experienced elsewhere. At one stage, following a couple who had been ahead of me for most of the day, I found myself a few hundred metres off course. This was prompted by their similar realisation, and we then had to tramp across 400m or so of boggy ground to regain the track by Maize Beck.

The view from High Cap Nick
When you reach it you can appreciate why High Cup Nick is so named. Immediately ahead is a huge valley, vertical cliffs at the top of the escarpments, and closely-packed contours to the winding and growing stream hundreds of metres below. It’s as if some giant had taken a great trowel and scooped a huge chunk from the hills. The Nick is a small cutting at the top of the cliff, at an altitude of just under 600m, where the stream spills down into the valley beneath. In my view it’s one of the most spectacular sights in the Pennines. And the Nick itself is higher than many of the peaks further South, with even higher hills on either side above the shoulders of the valley.

And the Southern escarpment
The path then shoulders the valley for a mile or two, hardly dropping in altitude at all. A lot of it is rocky and involves scrambling, sometimes with almost vertical slopes on the valley side beneath. It’s only when the valley itself broadens out that one starts the descent proper.

This again demonstrates the strange phenomenon of seeming longer then could be explained by the amount of climbing earlier. But in this case there is some justification: Dufton is some 200m lower in altitude than the top of Cauldron’s Spout miles back.

Dufton Pike - the view from the descent into the village
I reached Dufton, an attractive little village with a lot of red sandstone buildings, a little after 5:00. It took another quarter hour to get to the B&B at Coney Garth, a half mile or so beyond the village. It was not a great welcome. It was immediately a series of questions: where was my walking companion; when would he arrive; what did I want for breakfast the following morning? Most B&Bs welcome one with a refreshing cup of tea and enquiries about your achievements for the day. Tracey Foster has much to learn!

I had not yet managed to return Mike Tobias’s calls from the previous evening. Whenever I tried it seemed just beyond the range of any mobile signal. However, eventally I found a spot where I could get a signal and was able to reach him and give him the postcode so he could use his satnav to find Coney Garth.

Enough walking for the day, so after a shower it was back in Mike’s car to the village where we had an excellent steak at the local pub, the Stag. There, on another table, where some of the walkers who I had first seen at Baldersdale. Will and I had actually met up towards the end of the day, and walked together the last mile or two into Dufton. He had walked a good couple of miles more than me, as he had stopped for the night well before High Force, so his apprehension about his abilities to cover the distances required had proved unfounded.

Fairly bright most of the day, but a squall behind threatened rain in the afternoon. 12-17C. 23.50km, 602m ascent, 717m descent. Rocky sections along the Tees, and very hard going before Caldron’s Snout. Limited tracks – perhaps 20% of the total distance.

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