Friday, 31 July 2015

Low Force, High Force and Bleabeck Force - North Pennines AONB

We already knew that we wanted to see the famous High Force waterfall
Low Force waterfall from downstream 
in the North Pennines AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and when Dave spotted a route on The Walking Englishman which encompassed not only this natural wonder, but also its companion waterfalls of Low Force and Bleabeck Force as well, we decided that this was definitely a walk for us. We wanted sunny weather to get a pretty sparkle off the water and yesterday turned out to be just about as perfect as it gets! Grey and overcast here at Appleby, but as we drove an hour to Middleton-In-Teesdale (we got stuck behind a tractor), the skies cleared and the sun came out. Part of our drive was along the B6276 which is an amazing road for views. It's quite narrow with a steep drop on one side so the driver can't look about them too much, but the passenger can see for miles! So beautiful!

We parked up at Bowlees Visitor Centre on the B6277, not far past
Decorated wall stones
near Bowlees 
Newbiggin. The Centre asks a £2 donation for the car park and we could then walk along the Pennine Way for free to all the waterfalls. I spotted a couple of damp admission tickets on the ground by Low Force and we later learned that another car park more conveniently situated for High Force will not only charge £2 for parking, but also £1.50 each admission to the private footpath on their side of the river and their visitors are fenced in so don't get anywhere near such a good view. A couple of men had risked climbing out over the fence! Anyway, back to Bowlees and, if you will be nearby during the school Summer Holidays, the Visitor Centre is organising weekly events for kids. Wild Wednesdays include various nature and art activities at just £3 per child. The building itself is elegant with lots of local arts and produce on sale, and a pleasant cafe! We bought good traybake slices to takeaway at the end of our walk!

The only potential problem for us with the Bowlees route was the Wynch
The Wynch Bridge 
Bridge. First built in 1741, it was believed to be the earliest suspension bridge in Europe - until a chain broke plunging three of a group of haymakers into the river in 1802. One drowned. The current bridge replaced the repaired original in 1830 which makes it 185 years old although it looked as though the wooden floor planks were considerably newer. There's a confidence-inducing (not) sign warning against more than one person crossing at the same time, and saying that if walkers overload the bridge and it collapses, then it's basically their own silly fault. I got myself across as swiftly as I could and saved my admiration of the views for the safety of the riverbanks!

We were back on Whin Sill dolerite by the riverside. The same molten
Low Force from the pre-bridge side 
lava that helped create High Cup is widely in evidence at the Forces. Stepping on the rock made me think of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland - somewhere I have not yet visited, but would love to go. Low Force is the first of the three waterfalls we encountered and it can be viewed from both sides of the Wynch Bridge. The thunder of the tumb,ling water is exciting to hear and, not only does the path get close, but it is possible to step out onto the rocks and practically into the spray. Obviously the rocks do get slippery so this an entirely 'at your own risk' endeavour! The well-worn gravelled path heads alongside the river so is very pretty to walk and mostly level and easy, although not wheelchair accessible as there are odd rocks and tree roots to navigate.

I loved this stone sculpture of two sheep which protrudes into the path. It
Keith Alexander's sheep sculpture 
was made in 2002 by local artist Keith Alexander. One side is inscribed, "A wonderful place to be." and is attributed to A Walker. The other side reads, "It reverts to scrub. Once it's gone, it's lost." A Farmer. We learned that this area is home to the largest ancient juniper wood in the country and were surprised to see boot disinfection points on either side of a path section. An infection is attacking the trees so walkers are asked to wash and spray the soles of their boots to help prevent tramping disease across an even wider area.

High Force is a truly impressive sight! There are three shelves on the
High Force 
water's descent so it is furiously churning by the time it crashes into the river below. The waterfall is not on such a grand scale as Iceland's Gullfoss, but it is much warmer so we could stand and gawp for several minutes without needing to rush for cover! This photograph was taken from cliffs downstream and it is also possible to stand at the top of the falls watching the water rushing downwards. It was incredible to think that this is the same wide sedate Tees we crossed several weeks ago. As we continued upstream on our path, I wondered whether water creatures can tell that there is a huge waterfall up ahead. Does it exert any pull on the water behind or is the force purely at the point of the drop? Certainly the feeding ducks seemed completely oblivious! We were lucky to also see a pair of huge dragonflies flitting over our heads.

In comparison, Bleabeck Force is tiny! It is also unfortunately situated
Bleabeck Force 
opposite an ugly quarry, but we turned our backs on industry in order to appreciate the stream waterfall. The area here is part of Moor House - Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve which covers 88 square kilometres of upland habitats. It is Britain's leading site for research into the effects of changing climate on the natural environment. The Reserve is also famous for its unique Arctic-Alpine plants which have survived here since the last Ice Age.

Our lunch stop was up on a hillside overlooking the river and with gorgeous views across the valley. It was sheltered with rock slabs as seats and soporific in the sunshine. We had sandwiches with delicious ham from Tebay which is a great place that our friend Hedley had told us about. It is basically a motorway services on the M6, but instead of hosting outlets for the usual mass-produced food chains, this one is a farm shop with a deli counter, butcher counter and a huge range of foodstuffs. We bought pies, ham and vegetables on our visit and could easily have stocked up with dry goods, drinks and jars too - if we had the room! We are debating whether to make another stop during our journey south tomorrow!

Lunch was pretty much the most outwardly point of our walk and Dave
navigated us back to Bowlees with his specially printed out Ordnance Survey map, combining footpaths and tracks, some of which appeared not to have been walked in years. We passe a renovated Primitive Methodist Chapel which was a lovely building and now looks to have been converted into a holiday let. There was also a still-in-religious-use Wesleyan chapel and we racked our brains to remember who Wesley was and how long ago he was influential. The return leg wasn't as dramatic as the outward, but was still pretty in its own right and we felt very happy about being out walking in sunshine after a couple of days when most of our time was spent in the caravan or awning.

Overall, this wasn't a particularly strenuous walk. We were on the move for a little over four hours and covered about seven miles, but this did include lots of photography stops so our pace wasn't as embarrassingly slow as it might seem. And on the good side - nothing hurt!


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