Day 9. 22 miles
One of the joys of walking a Pennine Way with a tent and camping equipment is the absolute flexibility of it all. There were many days when I woke up not having a clue where I’d spend the following night, and any plans I did make could be changed or revised at any point. Much like today. A good nights sleep prepared me well for one of the harder parts of the trail that would take up a good chunk of the next two days with the walk from Middleton in Teesdale and over the mountains to Alston. Another remote section, lots of climbing and high places and taking Dufton and Garrigill out of the equation, many miles of wilderness. Waking so early as was now the norm, I boiled up a lovely, steaming hot cup of tea as I had to wait for the Coop to open before heading back into town, and supping my drink on a sunny but chilly morning I had a moment of clarity. Todays original plan was to camp up at High Cup but knowing I would likely reach there at mid-afternoon at the latest, and realising it would make tomorrow a ridiculously long day, which is hard enough with the fells to be traversed and the subsequent hammering on the Corpse Road down to Garrigill thereafter. Therefore, I decided today to head to at least Dufton, and see where I’d end up from there. I still though had to pick up two days worth of breakfasts and lunches, and once I’d filled my bag to bursting point I was back on the trail for 7:45, and very glad I was too for today is one of the great days on The Pennine Way. An early start was also a bonus to be able to soak in the early delights in peace and quiet, with a walk along the Tees that leads to two of the days many highlights in the shape of Low and High Force waterfalls.
Especially with it being summer, the walk along the gentle River Tees is lovely. The early morning sun shone brightly on golden grass and flowers in full bloom, before the path became narrow and sheltered, and I quickly found that wearing shorts wasn’t the brightest idea again at this point due to the nettles and thistles that encroached on to the path. However, it’s not too long before the river is in view again and eventually the first waterfall of Low Force can be heard before it is seen. At eighteen foot, it is an impressive double waterfall where the approach is via the Wynch Bridge that due to its slight wobbliness it is recommended that only one person cross it at a time and thankfully being the only person there a queue wasn’t required. I neglected to hang around there too long knowing much more water would be in view this morning, and so I re-crossed the bridge and re-joined the quiet path that I only seemed to be sharing with a couple of dog walkers. It wasn’t long before I reached the second of todays three waterfalls, and the highest too, that of High Force. The seventy odd feet drop is a powerful and not to mention noisy experience to witness and happily, it’s also free of charge when walking via the Pennine path; if coming from the other side where lies a road and carpark, a fee is charged.
The river and waterfalls are left behind but not before strolling past the pig-ugly quarry on the other side of the bank that is somewhat of a stain on the landscape. No explosions appeared to be scheduled during my time around the area, thankfully, and off I trundled to Langdon Beck. When here before, in summer no less, we stayed in the YHA there, a quarter or mile so off the trail and awoke the following morning - the day we were scheduled to see High Cup Nick - to rain and mist that didn’t abate all day. Todays early morning sun had been briefly replaced by some slightly overcast weather, but at least I could look forward to, for me, the highlight of the whole trail knowing it wasn’t going to be washed out in the fog. Yet again, the next bit of the walk up to Falcon Clints was as though I hadn’t passed that way before. I was completely befuddled by that not a single part was in the least bit familiar. Not the walk through Cronkley Farm, nor the bridge, nor the wide open fields that lead alongside the River Tees to the Clints but contained, typically, a whole herd of cows and all eyeing me up as I approached. There was a thin wire fence between the field and a drop down to the river that likely wouldn’t have offered much protection had I been charged at, but I still took the precaution and popped over to the other side of it, just in case. I reached the stile with no problems and I thanked the cows sincerely for being so docile.
If your heart is in your mouth during moments like that, it also is beneath the Falcon Clints as the walker requires some balance and patience when rocks and stones have to be clambered over. I gingerly made my way without managing to twist my ankle or bend my knee, and reached the third waterfall of the day of Caldron Snout. The Way itself climbs up the bank beside it which is somewhat of a scramble for a few minutes using hands and feet but nothing that is too taxing. At the top is the dam wall of Cow Green reservoir with the trail itself heading away from there and onto a hard track that for three or four miles is hard going but with the ultimate pay off eventually, of High Cup Nick. As previously alluded to, the when we originally came this way, this day was a complete anticlimax. The rain and fog we awoke to became increasingly thicker as the day progressed meaning we knew that High Cup would be a complete write-off. When we arrived at High Cup, we, along with several other walkers, ended up standing on the edge staring into a foggy abyss which was incredibly anti-climatic. Thank goodness there was no such chance of that happening today. The sun and blue skies lit up the afternoon and once the worst part of the day ended, that of the long, hard road to Maize Beck, it was a lovely and gentle walk where I stopped to filter some water and ended up dozing off on the grassy bank for twenty minutes. I’d slept much better in the tent than I thought I would, but these little naps I’d been enjoying each day were much needed and helped to recharge the batteries on days that seemed to becoming much longer as the walk progressed.
Maize Beck is crossed sooner than it originally was, on a new-ish footbridge and from there, the odd marker stone points the way to High Cup Nick on a wide and open moor. Despite the head of the Cup being visible on the approach, there is still little idea of what lies before you until the huge valley comes into view and standing at the cups edge genuinely takes the breath away. The usual northern direction that the Pennine takes was purposely directed to go west to take in the waterfalls along the Tees, and no doubt more specifically, High Cup. I sat on the edge for half an hour in just t-shirt and shorts and soaked the panorama in, with the Lake District mountains profile thirty miles away on the horizon. I frequently would close my eyes for half a minute and freshly absorb the view upon opening them. The idea to wild camp here became ever more appealing, especially with a water source not five minutes away but common sense prevailed. It was only 3:30 and knowing I could shave a few miles off another hard day tomorrow by carrying on until evening, I peeled myself away and knew that a treat lay ahead in Dufton with a meal at the Stag Inn, and visiting Dufton generally is a treat being as it is my favourite village on the Pennine Way. Naturally, the descent down isn’t an easy one. From High Cup the path meanders up and down a stony and muddy track, and even on this hot day I managed to plant half my calf in a bog which turned my leg a lovely shade of brown. Eventually I met the road into Dufton and though the Pennine strictly speaking doesn’t go through there, it skirts around eastern side but I can’t imagine there are many who don’t pay a visit to the village with the pub, a YHA that we stayed in on our inaugural visit here and where I can't recommend highly enough and a very nice café that had unfortunately closed for the day when I arrived today.
I headed straight to the pub and enjoyed a beautiful burger and fries with some ice cream to cool down a bit. The early evening was still a sunny one when I departed, and not knowing where to spend the night I headed out the village and carried on walking until the farm land either side of the tree-lined path ended. A thought crossed my mind to begin the walk to Knock Fell and pitch somewhere en-route but wouldn’t you know it, in front of the gate I needed to go through laid two dozen cows who were evidently not going to shift out of the way for me. Instead I found a sloped pitch on a fern lined bank that had a bare spot just big enough to pitch up on, and I spent the night trying not to slide off my sleeping mat. The sunset, though, was glorious.