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Date: 14 Jun 2006
Start / Finish: Middleton-in-Teesdale. Small free car park in the town.
Maps: Outdoor Leisure 31: North Pennines.
|Day 1||Bink Moss & Cronkley Fell||10.2 miles / 1800 feet (16.4km / 548m)|
|Day 2||Cauldron Snout & Great Stony Hill||15.5 miles / 1860 feet (25.0km / 566m)|
|Day 3||Chapelfell Top & Fendrith Hill||14.2 miles / 860 feet (22.9km / 262m)|
A circuit of the Upper Tees from Middleton-in-Teesdale, visiting several moorland mountain summits and the excellent section of the Pennine Way leading to the waterfall of Cauldron Snout.
Some of the summits on the eastern side are rough and trackless with areas of deep peat groughs and can be very boggy after rain, they are best tackled in a summer dry spell. The Open Access land designation in the North Pennines specifically excludes dogs, which are allowed only on public rights of way. Much of this land is also managed as grouse moors. The extensive Moor House nature reserve of the upper Tees, which includes Cronkley Fell, is especially sensitive for the rich variety of bird life and flora.
We took the Pennine Way (PW) S out of the town and climbed over the shoulder of the hill where Grassholme reservoir came into view. A little further at 924233 where the PW descends through a wall, we took the shooters track NW past a line of smart circular stone grouse butts. The track terminates at Brown Dod and a gate gives access to the open hill. A grassy track continues NW and peters out, leaving a short trackless walk to join the ridge wall and fence. A faint path follows the fence westwards over rough wet moorland and kinks around S to Bink Moss, whose summit is just beyond the final bend in the fence by a peaty pool and marked by a small post. The views were rather dull and hazy and the whole area was deserted for the rest of the day.
Proceeding W along the fence over more rough moorland, we crossed the peaty depression and climbed the short rise to the cairn on Hagworm Hill. The rising ground W towards Long Crag was for another day, and we descended N to the head of Blea Beck and collected excellent water. Further down is a waymark post indicating the footpath N across Howden Moss. The first part of this footpath is now marked at intervals by similar posts, but there are only faint fragments of a line between them and much of it is essentially trackless, with numerous thin ditches to watch out for beneath the rough vegetation. After a few posts there is a Nature Reserve information board and just beyond is a shooters track that ascends W to a cabin. Climbing to the cairn atop Noon Hill, there is a grand view of Teesdale below.
We picked our way NW around to the damp head of Black Ark, which feeds the waterfall of White Force below in wetter times, and arrived at an enclosure beyond a bridleway track. A flat area above a pool made a good pitch for the night with a welcome light breeze.
The air was clearer in the quite cold morning as we took the good bridleway track down Birk Rigg with a fine view of the valley ahead. The PW gives easy walking as it crosses the Tees and loops back to the fine section alongside the river between the steep scarps. Approaching Falcon Clints, the path is hemmed in by the steep slope and picks its way through boulders on the shoreline, turning N to the superb clamber up the rocky side of Cauldron Snout waterfall. Emerging at the top, the atmosphere changes quickly on sight of the Cow Green reservoir dam with its discharge pipes spouting foaming peaty water.
The reservoir track ascends to the top of the dam with a view of Meldon Hill directly above and the Cross Fell tops beyond. At a gate, a path sets off L to the reservoir car park, now with a portaloo. Most visitors head for Cauldron Snout but the mine track heading NW provides fine easy walking with spacious views and was deserted. We stocked up with plenty of good water at the emerging streamlet at Holdenhurth Band and arrived at the B6277. We had seen the flashing lights of a helicopter as it came in to land here and there were police cars and an ambulance at the scene, though no visible signs of an accident. It took off just before we arrived at the road but the police remained at the roadside and greeted us cheerily.
A short walk L along the road is the county boundary at Crookburn Bridge. We followed the fence on the R initially above a steep sided ravine, a virtually pathless but not difficult ascent NE to Scraith Head. A new fence follows the county boundary SE towards Harwood Common, mostly accompanied by a mown heather track that eases the going. The summit lies a short walk beyond the fence corner through peat groughs, rough heather and tussocks and is marked by a cairn, though we could walk easily some of the way through the dry peat channels. Returning to the corner, the new fence continues through more peaty wilderness all the way to Scaud Hill and the next summit Great Stony Hill, marked by a trig point. This top is rock-studded grass and made a good pitch, though the air was too murky now for good distant views.
It rained in the night and a quite cold wind picked up, which was a surprise given the forecast, though the tops were clear. A pathless but easy descent SE is the crossing track near Coldberry End, and we then took a direct rough line to join the fence again where easier going resumed to a boundary stone on the far side of Trough Head Moss. The summit of Three Pikes lies due S over a wilderness of peat and tussocks and is marked by a small pile of stones, and our main reason for this visit was that it was the only mountain summit in England we have never before seen clear. The view was not really good today but the Cross Fell tops were seen against a mildly attractive milky sky.
From the boundary stone the county fence marches on, with a quite easy traverse to Noon Hill and the Harthope Head road followed by more peat groughs on the ascent to the fence corner near Chapelfell Top. The summit is a short walk N along a straight peat channel and has a cairn and post surrounded by a sea of peat hags and scrubby heather. The trig point on the next summit Fendrith Hill can be seen to the S and the faithful fence marks the way.
The moorland ridge arrives at the narrow Swinhope pass road. We took this for a quick descent to the valley at Newbiggin, gaining the PW on the S side of the Tees via an attractive footpath over two footbridges, the second one supported on elegant beehive-shaped pillars. The June wild flowers were excellent and made a very enjoyable return above the river to Middleton.