OL31: North Pennines

OS Explorer map OL31, North Pennines: Teesdale & Weardale – I own this map, but had not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 4th January 2022.

Google Maps location links: Tow Law, High Force, Wolsingham

My previous post told you of the week’s holiday that Vesper and I took in the village of Tow Law in County Durham, on the eastern edge of the North Pennines. It was a nice quiet holiday of relaxing in our rented cottage and going out for walks; notably it was also a very snowy week, with some snowfall on our second night that settled and stuck around for the rest of our holiday, being topped up once or twice in the meantime. During that holiday, we took two trips out that took us into this map area, so let me tell you about that!

Vesper and I on our walk to High Force

The first such trip took place on the second full day of the holiday. The snow had started the evening before, and we were excited to get out into it in the daylight – in particular I was excited to get a little way further into the hills than the (admittedly pretty) farmland immediately around Tow Law would provide, since snowy hills seemed like too good a chance to miss. However, there was a slight issue in that this would require driving, and I wasn’t particularly sure how this would go, as I’d never driven in snow before.

Crossing the River Tees

We ended up deciding to go to see High Force waterfall, down in Teesdale: we could get the whole way on non-tiny roads, which would be more likely to be clear and safe; but we still committed to driving slowly and carefully and turning round at the first sign of trouble – we could always go for a snowy walk near our accommodation if we needed to. Additionally, there were a lot of options for taking in the waterfall on a shorter or longer route, so we could see how we were finding the snowy walking and turn back quickly if it was too tiring or cold, which seemed like an advantage.

In the end, the driving went fine, and after a couple of stops to admire the snowy scenery along the way, we arrived at the car park of the High Force Hotel, who have managed to establish themselves in the enviable position of charging people who come to see the falls both for parking in their car park, and for access to the most direct path to the falls. We said no thank you to the latter though, opting instead for the public right of way next door. Our route took us across the River Tees on a footbridge, before climbing gradually to a viewpoint over the top the falls over a mile or so.

High Force itself! It’s quite hard to get a sense of scale from this photo, but it is rather large.

I have to say, it was an amazingly pretty walk. I enjoy some good moor-topped hills at any time of the year, but the snow just transformed the place – I’ve never been in a wildernessy area of England when it’s snowy before, and I loved it!

High Force has the distinction of being England’s biggest waterfall by volume. Britain is of course not particularly famous for its waterfalls, and we can’t compete with Iceland or Canada or wherever in the slightest, but still, High Force is certainly big enough to be impressive, and we stood there gawping at it for a good five minutes or so – long enough for a couple to arrive with their dogs, stand there for a bit and leave again.

Looking southwards up into the hills, from just above High Force

After the waterfall, we decided to turn back rather than extend our walk; it was rather cold and Vesper was having some real problems keeping her hands warm – the only pair of gloves she owned was a fairly thin pair, and even after she’d swapped them for my thicker ones, the damage was done until we could get them warmed up. The return walk by the same route was just as nice as the way out, and we soon got back to the car, warmed ourselves, and ate our packed lunches before driving back towards the house. We didn’t, in the end, stop to see Low Force a few miles down the dale – it is, as you might expect, lower than High Force both in altitude and drop, but is said to be equally if not more dramatic. I must come back some day! Our day of snowy walks continued back in Tow Law, as we went for a tramp around Hedleyhope Fell nature reserve, but you can read about that in MY PREVIOUS POST!

Our second foray into this map area was three days later, on our last whole day of the trip. We stayed a little closer to the cottage this time, driving for only about ten minutes to the village of Wolsingham, just a little way into Weardale from Tow Law. Our plan was simple: we’d park up, then walk a up the side of the valley to the edge of the moors, walk along that edge for a bit before turning back down, and heading through farmland back to our starting point.

The route for our morning’s walk, a circuit up and down the southern side of this area of Weardale

After investigating the car park of Wolsingham Station on the heritage Weardale Railway (closed for the winter season), we ended up parking a little way further up the road before starting our walk.

Looking down into Weardale from the south

The snow had cleared up a little since the falls of earlier in the week, and some fields near the valley bottom were mostly green again, but there was still plenty of snow around higher up the sides of the valley, and it lay in great deep drifts against the dry-stone walls dividing the fields.

Some photogenic woolly friends!

The walk was very pleasant! Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to see onto the moor while walking along its edge, as there were high stone walls and shape of the land just didn’t permit it, but the views down into Weardale were great. We passed the time alternately chatting and admiring the scenery, and as we descended into the valley again from the moor’s edge, met a group of sheep sheltering very prettily in a little stone barn. It was a nice short walk that wrapped up a lovely quiet holiday!

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