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The Teesdale Way – Section 01

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Distance: 14.3 km (8.9 miles) | Profile: Very hilly | Going: Generally good but very muddy, boggy and rocky in places. Very exposed on high, open moorland. Strong navigational skills necessary in poor conditions | General Stores: Dufton

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Section 1 of the Teesdale Way is 14.3 km (8.9 miles) from Dufton in Cumbria to Cauldron Snout in County Durham. From its remote Cumbrian start on the western slopes of the North Pennines to Middleton in Teesdale 19 miles (32 km) along the trail, the Teesdale Way exists in the mind only as it borrows the route and waymarking of the better known Pennine Way.

Starting from the car-park just west of the village green the trail heads west on the road out of the village and immediately turns left to confront the long haul up to the ‘Nick’ at the top of High Cup Gill. This is by far the most taxing climb on the entire route as beyond the high point of the watershed 4 miles (6.5 km) hence, it is downhill almost all the way to the North Sea 92 miles (147 km) away. If the Helm Wind (the only named wind in the British Isles) is blowing off the ridge from the north east it could be a chilly climb to the summit even if it is a warm day – and positively freezing if it isn’t!

One of the most striking geological features of this part of Cumbria and Upper Teesdale is the Whin Sill which is encountered for the first time at the spectacular panorama of High Cup Gill, a glacial valley that has impressed generations of walkers and one that is probably responsible for more clichés of ‘awestruck-ness’ than any other feature on the entire journey (and I’m not about to add to them – just go and see for yourself).

One feature that might rival High Cup Gill’s ability to generate clichés is the ‘barren-ness’ or ‘desolation’ so often attributed to the open moorland of Upper Teesdale. The practice was started by 18th century writers and judging from contemporary accounts seems to show no sign of stopping. In truth this part of the journey is anything but barren or desolate: it doesn’t last long and divides neatly into sections – to the footbridge over the Maize Beck; to the short climb away from the beck; to Moss Shop lead workings and the flag marking the edge of Warcop Training Area; to the bridge over Grain Beck; to Birkdale Farm and thence to end of Section 1 on Birkdale footbridge between Cow Green Dam and the waterfall of Cauldron Snout.

Look out for fossils on the way, in the rocks around you and under your feet, for bird-life and the changing geology of the Maize Beck, lead-mining activity and don’t forget to take notice of the vulnerable peat-bogs that are so important to the ecology of the entire dale because it’s the only chance you’ll get on this trip. If you’ve been unfortunate and visibility is poor (as it so often is) then content yourself with navigating accurately to the features just discussed using your map and compass which you’ll undoubtedly have with you. Don’t forget: enjoy it because this very special section of the Teesdale Way is over all too quickly.

One feature that has as yet gone unmentioned is the limestone gully of Maizebeck Scar east of High Cup Nick near Watch Hill that is a particular favourite of mine. The relatively recent emplacement of the footbridge lower down on the Maize Beck means that the trail to the north is less frequently used because the beck can now be crossed even when it’s in spate. In low water conditions you can get up close and personal with Maizebeck Scar which is a deep channel cut through the limestone by large volumes of fast flowing water that in places has left a fascinating finish rather like bitumen on the rock.