Teesdale Way Section 2 (Cow Green to Holwick Head)
Section 2 of the Teesdale Way starts on Birkdale Bridge, below Cow Green Reservoir and finishes at Holwick Head Bridge downstream from High Force. The entire section lies within the Moor House – Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve where the glacial landscape supports a unique collection of sub-arctic and alpine plants. You’ll find hay meadows in summer, a large juniper wood and many interesting bird species including Black Grouse, Golden Plover and Ring Ouzel. The reserve lies within the North Pennines AONB in an area where the Whin Sill is at its most prolific, popping up between the distinctive white-painted farms of the Raby Estate which feature along the trail as far as Darlington. THERE IS A GPS ROUTE FILE AVAILABLE FOR THIS SECTION AS A FREE DOWNLOAD FROM THE SHOP.
Stats at a Glance
Distance 10.9 km (6.8 miles) | Height Gain 84 m/274 ft | Maximum Elevation 462 m/1514 ft (Birkdale Bridge) | Profile Undulating | Going Generally good partially on well constructed trails and tracks but involving a challenging and rocky clamber down the Whin Sill at the start. Elsewhere very muddy and boggy in places. Generally exposed on moorland and farmland | Supplies None
Birkdale Bridge to Holmwath (The Difficult Bit)
The section starts by following the River Tees down the long cascade of Cauldron Snout to its confluence with the Maize Beck from where passage is swift over the marshy floodplain of Lingy Holm thanks to some thoughtfully placed duckboards. However, it gives a false sense of security for what’s about to come. Falcon Clints involves a kilometre-long scramble over boulders of all sizes, frequently squeezed tightly up against the river. It ends abruptly on the pastures of Holmwath (Old Norse for ‘flat land by the ford’), overlooked to the west by Widdy Bank and to the east by the towering Raven Scar.
Holmwath to Pasture Foot
From here you’ll move quickly, past Widdy Bank Farm, the office for Moor House Reserve, and the long abandoned Cronkley Pencil Mill on the other side of the river. On reaching Sayer Hill Farm and Saur Hill Bridge over the Harwood Beck you’re about half way. It’s rocky alongside the beck, past Wheysike House, but things improve on reaching Cronkley Bridge. An access track leads to Cronkley Farm where the subsequent trail is often muddy. It drops steeply before an even steeper climb up the Whin Sill between two crags: Low Crag and High Crag. Meanwhile, the Tees cuts through between Dine Holm and Low Crag.
Next comes a section of upland pavement (stone slabs) across a marshy section of fell which leads onto Bracken Rigg. To the west, the Green Trod – an old drover’s route – can be seen climbing Cronkley Fell. There’s also a fine view in the opposite direction, as you descend the ridge past the first bushes of England’s largest juniper wood. At the bottom of the slope you cross a couple of footbridges onto Pasture Foot, a piece of flat land alongside the river which has an ancient history of habitation.
Pasture Foot to Holwick Head Bridge
Across the river, Forcegarth Quarry chips away remorselessly at the Whin Sill for roadstone. Meanwhile, back on the trail, and directly opposite the quarry is Blea Beck Force. This waterfall is one of County Durham’s unsung treasures and is particularly impressive after heavy rain. A claim which applies equally to the final feature, which for many will be the journey’s highlight. High Force is England’s biggest waterfall where the Tees thunders over the Whin Sill. If you’ve never seen it before you can’t fail to be impressed. There are a couple of easily found photo opportunities directly off the trail. However, to get the full set you’ll need to visit the High Force Hotel where you can pay a toll to the Raby Estate, to get to the foot of the falls.
Moving a short distance further on, the distinctive notch you can see on the distant ridge is Coldberry Gutter. This is a lead mining remnant cut into Harberry Hill, high above Middleton in Teesdale. That’s about it as you’ll shortly be descending steps off the unseen Keedholm Scar, to finish the section at Holwick Head Bridge where you can take the path mentioned previously to the High Force Hotel if you’re not heading for Middleton in Teesdale or Holwick.