First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
We’ve seen the dipper,’ enthused the woman we met under Falcon Clints, ‘and a black grouse in the rocks just along there.’ ‘And a grey shrike,’ put in her husband. ‘And you’ve seen the peregrine, have you? And the ring ouzel … Ooh, thanks, we’ll keep our eyes peeled.’
How can one begin to list, let alone express, the richness of bird life in the breeding season around the meadows and moors of Upper Teesdale? And that’s to say nothing of the wonderful Ice Age relict flora sprinkled across the limestone grassland and the bogs and heaths of this lonely cleft in the hills where the young River Tees comes tumbling down its volcanic steps to sinuate through the dale.
Jane and I set off from Langdon Beck, taking the track through the pastures by Widdy Bank Farm and on upstream along the Tees. Redshank, lapwings and oystercatchers flew round us, piping and bubbling their anxious calls as we skirted their nests and young hidden in the sedges. Mountain pansies with purple and yellow petals, northern marsh orchids of royal purple, lipstick-pink lousewort and buttery gold kingcups spotted the grass and damp bog patches.
On through the narrowing throat of the dale, with the dolerite cliffs of Falcon Clints standing dark and hard-edged overhead. A slate-backed peregrine went darting out across the river from the crags, twisting like an acrobat before hanging in the sky on an invisible step. The sun picked out the black and white plumage of an oystercatcher, the orange-pink of a redshank’s trailing legs. The only sounds were bird cries, wind rustle and the mumble of the shallow Tees in its bouldery bed. It was like lingering in some private corner of heaven.
The rush and roar of Caldron Snout came to us round the corner of the crags. The peat-charged waterfall came bouncing down its rock staircase in a series of foaming cataracts as brown as bottle glass. We scrambled up the rocks, and found ourselves in another reality – wide uplands, heathy moors and the great wind-ruffled lake of Cow Green Reservoir.
The homeward way lay across the pathless hillside of Cow Rake Rigg, then back through the wide valley of Harwood Beck. Tiny, exquisite pink bird’s-eye primroses grew on the banks of the tributary sikes*, and the creaking complaints of lapwings and the alarm calls of redshanks piped us out of their territory and on down the valley.
* sikes – local name for tiny streams
Start: Langdon Beck Hotel, Co Durham, DL12 0XP (OS ref NY 853312)
Getting there: B6277 from Middleton-in-Teesdale. Park in lay-by down side road opposite Langdon Beck Hotel (‘Cow Green’).
Walk (10 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL31): On down Cow Green road. 250m after crossing Harwood Beck, left (847309, ‘Moor House NNR’) on stony track to Widdy Bank Farm (837298) and on under Falcon Clints. Scramble up crags to right of Cauldron Snout waterfall (815286) to road at top. Right to road at The Knott (817309); turn right. Either follow road back to Langdon Beck (2½ miles), or pass cottage on left and bear left (‘footpath’ fingerpost) north-east across Cow Rake Rigg (no track). Over first crest; aim right of fenced shaft; then aim for wall running uphill, a little to left of prominent white house on distant hillside ahead. In ½ mile, come over crest; head for Binks House below. Cross stone stile; skirt Binks House (825320); cross stile (yellow arrow/YA) in bottom left corner of field. Follow stream on left for 100m; left to cross it, then stile (YA); half left to ladder stile (YA); down through gate and through Marshes Gill farmyard to road (825324). Ahead over Harwood Beck.
On left bend at Lingy Hill farm (828320), right along field track for 1 mile to Greenhills (838320). Up drive to road (841319); right over stile. NB fingerpost points straight downhill, but bear half left down to wall stile (842316, YA). On in same direction to bottom left corner of next field (845313). Ladder stile; follow Harwood Beck to bridge (850304); left to Langdon Beck.
Conditions: Tricky underfoot across boulders below Falcon Clints; rock scramble beside Cauldron Snout
Refreshments: Picnic, or Langdon Beck Hotel (01833-622267, langdonbeckhotel.com)
Accommodation: The Old Barn, Middleton-in-Teesdale, DL12 0QG (01833-640258, theoldbarn-teesdale.co.uk) – lovely warm and welcoming B&B
Upper Teesdale NNR: northpennines.org.uk