First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A beautiful blue sky over Upper Teesdale, and a darkly forested Pennine skyline heavy with bruised cloud. The two weathers were due to come to blows later in the day, with foul slated to triumph over fair. This early in the morning, though, autumn sunshine was spreading itself across the creamy grey stone houses of Romaldkirk and soaking the beeches about the village green with translucent splashes of lime and butterscotch.
In the chilly gloom of St Romald’s Church I found Sir Hugh Fitz Henry recumbent in the north chapel, his grey face smoothed and flattened by the patting hands of seven centuries. The Lord of Bedale, Ravensworth and Cotherstone had been felled by wounds inflicted by Scottish foes. Now he lay in chainmail and surcoat, right hand frozen in the act of drawing his long (and slightly bent) stone sword. No noble knight expected to die in his bed in these wild regions back at the turn of the 14th century, especially not a participant in King Edward Longshanks’s vicious campaigns against the turbulent Scots.
The Teesdale Way footpath led from Romaldkirk over the fields towards the River Tees. Down near the river I skirted the handsome old Dales longhouse of Low Garth, half dwelling and half byre, deadly silent in an overgrown farmyard, windows blanked out and chimneys cold. In the woods the path ran carpeted with fallen oak leaves. I walked mesmerised by the sigh and rush of the bottle-brown Tees as it crashed down its flights of rapids, exuding that tingling, exhilarating smell of a river newly off the moors, stained with peat and rammed full of oxygen.
The Lord of Cotherstone, when he fancied a bit of something savoury after the roast heron and neat’s foot jelly, would have tucked into cheeses of ewe’s milk. But today there are milk cows in Teesdale, and beautiful crumbly Cotherstone cheese. At the post office in Cotherstone village I bought a fat truckle to take home, and an extra slice for pure greed’s sake. With a full mouth and an eye on the rainclouds, I turned home along the Tees Railway Walk, a footpath that threads the trackbed of the former Tees Valley Railway by way of the mighty Baldersdale Viaduct. How would Hugh Fitz Henry have reacted to a sight of the iron horse? It made a great one-reeler for the skull cinema as I walked – the warrior astride his caparisoned destrier, charging the smoke-belching monster at full and reckless tilt.
Start & finish: Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk, Co. Durham, DL12 9EB (OS ref NY995221)
Getting there: Bus (www.arrivabus.co.uk) service 95/96 from Barnard Castle. Road: A1 to Scotch Corner; A66 to Barnard Castle, B6277
Walk (5 miles, easy, OS Explorer OL31): From Rose & Crown cross road and grass; left along lane. Right by Rose Stile Cottage (‘Teesdale Way/TW’ fingerpost). In ¼ mile, go through left-hand of 2 gates (998216); path crosses 3 fields to Low Garth (003216). Cross stile (TW); left down bank, stile into wood. Follow TW beside Tees, then up to gate. Left end of barn; in front of Woden Croft houses (008208), then through gate. Left down fence, through gate (009207); cross field, down to Tees. In ¼ mile pass footbridge over Tees (013202); in 100 yards cross River Balder; right into Cotherstone.
Up lane by left side of Fox & Hounds (011198); cross stile and field; stile onto Tees Railway Walk (009194). Right for 2 miles to Romaldkirk.
NB – Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk