First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
If I could wrap up in one package my ideal place for a walk in spring, it would be these few miles beside the River Tees. There’s something complete, something absolutely perfect about the blend of sights and sounds here in this twisting cleft in the Pennine Hills – the rumble and chatter of the young Tees in its rocky bed, the high volcanic cliffs between which it snakes, the poignant cries of curlew and lapwing nesting in the sedgy fields, and above all the brilliant colours of the exquisite little flowers that bloom for a short, unpredictable season across the craggy back of Cronkley Fell.
Setting out on a cold, wind-buffeted morning in mid May, we had no idea whether the flowers would be out or not; their brief blooming depends so greatly on what kind of winter, what kind of spring Upper Teesdale has had. It felt more like a February morning as we crossed the racing Tees near Cronkley Farm. But in a damp bank beside the farm, sunk among masses of marsh marigolds, we spotted the pale yellow orbs of globe flowers, a signal that spring was at least attempting to elbow winter out of the way.
Behind Cronkley Farm we climbed between the juniper thickets of High Crag, up into the grassy uplands where the old droving track called the Green Trod runs up the nape of Cronkley Fell. The wind did its best to push us back, but we put our heads down and fought it to the summit.
A succession of ‘exclosures’ up here, wired off to make them impenetrable to the nibbling sheep and rabbits, harbours the rarest of Upper Teesdale’s spring flowers, delicate survivors of a post-Ice Age flora that has vanished from the rest of upland England. We knelt on the stony ground to take in these miniature beauties at eye level – deep pink bird’s-eye primroses, tiny white stars of spring sandwort, and the intensely, royally blue trumpets of spring gentians.
At last we tore ourselves away, frozen and entranced. We descended to the Tees and returned along the brawling river, where lapwings flew up and curlew skimmed overhead, intent on shepherding these human intruders away from their nests and unhatched eggs.
Start: Forest-in-Teesdale car park, near Langdon Beck, Co. Durham DL12 0HA (OS ref NY 867298)
Getting there: On B6277 (Middleton-in-Teesdale – Alston), 1½ miles beyond High Force car park.
Walk (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL31. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Right along B6277; in 100m, left down farm track. Skirt right of first house (864296); down to wicket gate (yellow arrow/YA); on, keeping right of Wat Garth, to track. Join Pennine Way (PW) and cross River Tees by Cronkley Bridge (862294). Follow PW and YAs past Cronkley Farm, into dip (862288), up rocky slope of High Crag, and on along paved track. In 500m, left across stile (861283). PW bears left here, but continue ahead uphill by fence. Through kissing gate (861281); in 100m, turn right along wide grassy Green Trod trackway. Follow it for 2 miles west across Cronkley Fell (occasional cairns). Descend at Man Gate to River Tees (830283); right along river for 2½ miles. At High House barn (857294) aim half left across pasture for Cronkley Bridge; return to car park.
Accommodation: Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk, Barnard Castle DL12 9EB (01833-650213, rose-and-crown.co.uk) – wonderful village inn, comfortable and welcoming
Moor House NNR: 01833-622374; northpennines.org.uk
Peak District Boundary Walk (friendsofthepeak.org.uk/boundary-walk): Launch Day, Buxton – Sat 17 June
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).