Teesdale Way Section 1 (Dufton to Cow Green)
Section 1 of the Teesdale Way starts in the quiet village of Dufton, in Cumbria’s Eden Valley following the Pennine Way National Trail to Birkdale Bridge, Cow Green on the nascent River Tees squeezed between Cow Green Reservoir and Cauldron Snout, England’s largest cascade. The location in Upper Teesdale is extremely remote, with no facilities en-route. The nearest public road to Birkdale Bridge is ~2.5 km away so, if not heading to one of the few hospitality options around Forest-in-Teesdale, most folks will probably choose to walk the first two, or even three, sections back-to-back.
Stats at a Glance
Distance 14.4 km/8.9 miles | Height Gain 540 m/1771 ft | Maximum Elevation 601 m/1970 ft (Narrowgate) | Going Generally good but rocky and possibly boggy in places. Very exposed on high, open moorland. Confident navigational skills recommended, particularly in poor visibility | Supplies & Hospitality Dufton (PH; YH; BB; Ca) | Start Fountain, Dufton Village Green NY 689250 | Finish Birkdale Bridge, Cow Green NY 814287 | Grade Challenge | GPS File
This section of the Teesdale Way is the most challenging of the entire trail. There are few opportunities for shelter so you need to be prepared with adequate clothing, some food and, ideally, the ability to make a hot drink. Narrowgate, the highest and most rugged part of the trail, comes early on, after which it’s mainly downhill, latterly on track and road, to the end of the section at Birkdale Bridge. Stone cairns are used to assist navigation through the rocky areas approaching Narrowgate; these are easy to miss in poor conditions, which are not uncommon at this elevation, so it makes sense to have at least one proficient navigator.
The route starts (or finishes) at Dufton’s distinctive pink fountain, across the village green from the Stag Inn and not far away from the handily located YHA. It’s a long and increasingly rugged haul up to High Cup Gill (a strikingly impressive glaciated valley that reaches into the Vale of Eden) past the first of the red flags indicating the proximity of the Warcop military training area. If the Helm Wind (the only named wind in the British Isles) is blowing down the slope it’ll feel chilly, even on an otherwise warm day. Some of the most striking geological features in this part of North Pennines are formed by outcrops of the volcanic Whin Sill. These include High Cup Scar which takes the form of a distinctive curtain of rock around the lip of High Cup Gill.
Beyond High Cup, it’s possible to cross the Maize Beck using one of two footbridges. When in spate, the beck could be a dangerous obstacle (a couple of walkers lost their lives attempting to cross it in the 1960s); it was customary, and safer, to use what became known as the Flood Route crossing, further upstream at Maize Beck Scar, after a trip across the ‘rock gardens’ on High Cup Plain. Sometime around 2006 a bridge was constructed on the main route, negating the use of the Flood Route which is a shame because the ‘Scar’ and the ‘rock gardens’ are worth seeing.
As well as the Whin Sill, the Carboniferous sequences of limestone, sandstone, siltstone and mudstone that comprise the Alston Formation in Upper Teesdale make their own distinctive contribution to the landscape. Laid down by rising and falling seas over millions of years, it is the uneven weathering of the various rock types known as Yoredale Sequences that creates the characteristic ‘stepped’ flanks of the dale. Carpeting the bedrock, as you make your way towards the abandoned lead workings at Moss Shop, is impressively thick blanket bog – take notice because it’s the only place on the trail that you’ll see it.