Teesdale Way Section 2 (Cow Green to Holwick Head)
Section 2 of the Teesdale Way starts at Birkdale Bridge, Cow Green, downstream from Cow Green Reservoir and finishes on Duke’s Bridge at Holwick Head, 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, England’s largest 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 Lord Barnard’s Raby Estate which feature along the trail as far as Darlington.
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) | 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 | Hospitality & Supplies None | Start Birkdale Bridge, Cow Green NY 814287 | Finish Duke’s Bridge, Holwick Head NY 889283 | Grade Challenge | GPS File
The section starts by following the River Tees down Cauldron Snout (England’s largest cascade) to its confluence with the Maize Beck from where passage is swift over the marshy floodplain of Lingy Holm thanks to some handy duckboards. Falcon Clints however, involves a kilometre-long scramble over boulders of all sizes, frequently squeezed tightly up against the Tees. It ends abruptly on the pastures of Holmwath (Old Norse for ‘flat land by the ford’) overlooked to the west by plateau at Widdy Bank and to the east by the towering Raven Scar.
Widdy Bank Farm is the office for Moor House Reserve while, on the other side of the river, are the long abandoned ruins of Cronkley Pencil Mill remotely situated to exploit an outcrop of Ordivician slate soft enough to make pencils known as ‘widdies’. Downstream from Saur Hill Bridge it’s rocky yet again alongside Harwood Beck, past Wheysike House but improves as the trail nears Cronkley Bridge. An access track leads to Cronkley Farm where the subsequent trail drops steeply behind the farm to climb out even more steeply between Low Crag and High Crag while the Tees cuts through the Whin Sill between Dine Holm and Low Crag.
After the crags there’s a section of upland pavement (stone slabs) across a marshy section of fell leading onto Bracken Rigg. To the west, an old drovers’ route known as the Green Trod 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 the juniper wood mentioned in the introduction. 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.
Across the river, the machinery at Forcegarth Quarry eats away remorselessly at the Whin Sill for roadstone. Meanwhile, back on the trail, directly opposite the quarry, is Blea Beck Force which, as with its much larger neighbour, is best seen after heavy rain. High Force is England’s biggest waterfall where the Tees thunders over the Whin Sill, dropping over 20 metres straight down. 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 but if you want to get to the foot of the falls, across the river, you’ll need to continue a short distance to the end of the section where you can cross Duke’s Bridge and take the path to the High Force Hotel (note there’s a small toll charged by the Raby Estate to access the falls).