Langdon to Dufton, last leg of the Teesdale Way!

The day was upon us and the last leg of the Teesdale Way was in our sights.  We had to drive to Langdon Beck to drop one car off and then drive to Dufton where we planned to start the walk.

We arrived at Dicko’s with tired eyes but excited about the day ahead. We’d forgone our usual ‘Greasy Spoon’ breakfast and I felt better for having just cereal. My knee was playing up after having it kicked backwards earlier in the week and I’d been on Brufen for some days now so I felt quite happy. Anyway we set off and headed to the A1 then onto the A66, the usual route we take when heading to the Lakes. The rain was quite bad and the roads where full of spray, which made it even more difficult to keep up with Dicko’s heavy right foot and his enormous Passat. But we managed and it wasn’t too long before we were at Scotch Corner and hitting the A66. We drove a fair distant and was getting dangerously close to the Lakes itself. As we drove passed the familiar ‘Cumbria’ sign I said, “If I see Blencathra before we turn off I’m just gonna carry on to the Lakes, sod the walk!”

Kel laughed and promised me we wouldn’t. But as we neared our turn, I think even she was thinking the same and hoping the cloud would be low enough to prevent us seeing the massive mountain and it’s welcoming sight.

We took our right turn without catching a glimpse of ‘Saddle Back’ and headed into Dufton to leave our car and hop into Dicko’s.

As I’ve mentioned in previous Blogs, linear walks can be a pain in the arse as the logistics take more planning than the walk itself sometimes, this was no exception. We had another journey to the start at Langdon which was to take the best part of an hour. Still we were having a good bit of craic and the rain was clearing up as we pulled into Langdon and parked just over the cattle grid and donned our kit.

Being a bit of a spotter, I was looking forward to seeing the odd Golden Plover or Red Shank which are common on this part of the walk. But nothing could’ve prepared me for the sight I was about to see at the very start, Sue wearing a day sack!!  This phenomena threw me totally off track, I didn’t even know she owned one! 

So we set off and headed towards Widdy Bank Farm which is actually a Natural England post and hugged the River Tees along the banks of Falcon Clints. The path here isn’t a piece of cake by any stretch of the imagination. Massive boulders have covered the route and a good few were a bit on the greasy side so we were watching our step from the word go. The majority of the route is over looked by the MoD land on the south side of the river and you’re constantly reminded of the fact by the red flags and sign posts that basically tell you, “cross this line and you may have your weekend messed up having been shot with a  piece of brass travelling at 2650 feet per second!”

We negotiated the slippery boulders and the odd dead sheep and caught up with a band of happy Ramblers who slowed us down on the slim path. But the weather was better and it gave me a chance to scan the river for wildlife. The crags to our right where very impressive, they towered over us and looked good climbing. I was also quite impressed by our groups ability to stay on our feet, especially as the ground was so dodgy. Kel normally gives us a rendition of River Dance but since she got her new boots she’s stayed upright for the last few walks, all we had was Sue’s impersonation of Mumble from Happy Feet on one of the greasy boardwalks.

The Teesdale Way has been very fruitful when it’s come to natural delights, old buildings, dodgy bridges and a good selection of wildlife. But what has stood out has been the waterfalls, and the one I was just about to see would not disappoint. I saw the spray rising from around the corner of Cauldron Snout, but as I walked around the roar and ferocity of this magnificent falls was quite breath taking. Dicko who had been before turned and looked at me as though to say , “I knew you’d like that!”

The path up the side is a decent scramble and could get a bit naughty if you allowed the shear sight and sound of Cauldron Snout distract you from the slippery climb. At the top you’re greeted with the massive dam wall for Cow Green reservoir and the over flow which races down the hill to create the massive falls.  At this point I heard a thud but couldn’t see what had caused it. I knew it wasn’t Kel as she was stood in front of me, but then I saw a pair of black Rab gators sticking out in front of her, it was Dicko on his arse. First fall of the way for him!

This is where we parted from our happy band of Ramblers who were going off to the right to walk around the reservoir, we took the left turn over the bridge and heading south west on our way. Like the last leg, all the sign posts display the Acorn of the Pennines Way, but this is still the Teesdale Way so as not to get confused.

Shortly before the farm at Birkdale, Kel did her usual shout up the line “Is it time for bait?”. After all it had been a good two hours since shed eaten and there’s only so many Mars bars and Snickers you can stick in the side pouch of a day sack. So we found a sheltered spot behind a wall and opened the bait boxes. Kel, Dicko and me were sat down tucking into our sarnies, but Sue was still pacing the path looking very unsettled.  When asked by Dicko what her problem was, her reply had all in fits.

“I can’t eat sat near cow s**t!”

A watered down version of Dicko’s response basically reminded Sue where she was and she’d be hard pushed to find a place that a cow hadn’t used as a loo.  She circled around like a cat trying pad its bed in then sat down, ignoring her other half’s cries of “Will you just sit down!”

I mentioned earlier about my amazement of Sue carrying her own day sack, I might like to just add at this point that all she had in was her buttie box, and even that she tried to palm off to Dicko when we’d finished eating.

With happy tummies we packed our kit away and carried on through the farm and and over a small wooden bridge and our last look at the mighty Tees, which was now just a mere trickled called Grain Beck. A striking contrast to the awesome structures that crossed its twisting swells near Stockton and Middlesborough.

After a long but steady climb we were clambering our way across the sodden peat making up the lower part of Meldon Hill, heading for Dobson Mere Foot.  Most of the route here has been built up and board walks and massive slabs laid. This is where I thought I’d give the map a quick check as Dicko had been doing much of the map reading I wanted to see where we were.  I quite innocently stepped off one of these huge slabs onto what I thought another with a covering of peaty coloured water. This is when I found out how deep the peat is, about one and half feet deep to be precise. That’s how long the lower part of my leg is!!  But the casualties didn’t just stop with my plunge into the soggy country side, the browny coloured water that left the ground as I sunk into it spread a good few metres, in those metres was Kel who was now pink with brown spots!!

After finding the nearest stream to de-peat myself we carried on west towards High Cup Scar. The route goes in two directions when you rejoin the stream. We decided to stay on the north side of the beck and started to look forward to a nice pint, which still seemed a million miles away as we’d decided to drive back to Durham for that. Anyway as we walked we met a bloke walking by himself, he stopped us and told us the way we were heading, the way he’d come, was extremely boggy and advised us to take the other route on the other side of the beck. He obviously hadn’t noticed I was covered in the sodden black stuff already and what lie ahead maybe wasn’t so bad. But we decided to take his advise and cross the beck.

Now, at this point, I’d like to add that Sue is quite an intelligent woman and is a good mate.

As the bloke told us the path was very boggy, Dicko thanked him for his advise and we (Dicko and me) turned to face Kel and Sue and said,

“Apparently the paths a bit boggy this side so we’re gonna cross the beck to take the other route!”

With a confused look on her face, Sue says, “How are we gonna cross?”

The air was silent as the brush wood blew by for a few moments as the bloke, Dicko, Kel and me all stood and looked at the massive metal structure just to Sues left spanning the beck!!

We looked back at Sue as Dicko said, “That!” pointing at the bridge we’d passed seconds ago and was probably the biggest bridge since Barnard Castle.

She may be a master at opening gates but her observation skills are as good as her day sack is full!!

We quickly put as much distance between the lonely hiker and ourselves just in case Sue decided to add further pearls of wisdom to our brief meeting.

We crossed the huge bridge that can be seen from the moon and trudged up a slight ascent then levelled out. We saw a few other hikers looking a little lost to the north and a little off piste.  The path is a bit dodgy at the best of times so I wouldn’t like to venture to far of the beaten track with all the disused shafts and shake holes on Dufton Fell.

But just over the brow I saw something that makes hiking worth while, High Cup Scar!!

I wasn’t expecting the view that this massive chunk out of the landscape would give and I was in awe, perhaps the best view so far. I would advise anyone to take the short hike up from Dufton to see this magnificent sight that cradles High Cup Gill.

However we had to get down now and we were joined by a bit of sunshine to lighten our moods even more after High Cup Scar. In fact, the cloud cleared so much we could see a good chunk of the northern fells in the Lakes which put a smile on everyone’s face. The relatively short walk into Dufton was pleasant and an excellent end to another cracking walk and the end of the Teesdale Way.

Tents v. Pods!!

Being keen hikers Kel and I are always trying to scratch together time off from a busy work schedule to hit the countryside.  This will sometimes mean just one day of getting up early and packing in the miles and the scenery and then back home for work the next day.  However, we do try and get away for the weekend so we can take in the Lakes and mostly, scale the surrounding peaks.  When it comes to accommodation, of course a bed and breakfast would be nice every time but the budget does dictate and the majority of the time we take our trusty tent.  Personally, I prefer life under canvas and the fresh air so does Kel, but recently we tested something for the first time (for us), a Camping Pod.

It was mid-March and the weather wasn’t too bad but temperatures were still rock bottom, we sat looking at the route our walking pal Dicko had knocked up for the Scouts exped and then the topic of accommodation came up.  Kel said she’d been looking at the Pods online and they looked quite good.  We thought long and hard and decided we’d take the plunge.

The weekend came and we packed the Aygo as normal, minus the tent.  It felt a bit weird, if we’d been going to a B&B or the caravan it would just be daysacks and clothing, but the car still had the sleeping bags etc which kept making me thing we’d forgotten something.  Anyway, the light had well and truly faded as we pulled into the camp site.  But it had started to rain and normally we’d be stuck with the decision of whether to quickly put the tent up, risking getting all our kit wet, or sitting in the car waiting for it to stop.  On this occasion, it was just a quick dash to a dry and warm Pod and everything was unloaded relatively rain free.  Moments later we were in the bar, instead of trying to dry various items which would’ve been caught out if in our tent.

The morning came and I stood on the decking at the front of the Pod.  I stared over towards Ullswater drinking my coffee and enjoying the sun, smelling the bacon sizzling as Kel sat over the Trangy furnishing the air with her colourful language aimed at the spitting fat.  But as I stood, I felt as though I was cheating.  The wooden structure and the dryness under foot on the pine flooring made me feel as though I wasn’t camping, which I wasn’t really!  The small radiator and the lamp which all came with the Pod, made it feel fake!   Usually, I’m the person who scowls at the ‘Glampers’ who take 3 hours to set up.  You know the ones (god I hope I don’t offend anyone here) who have to have a four man tent to fit half the contents of Dixons and Comet which they drag along with them.  Then spend the weekend screaming at their kids and drinking, not even noticing the surrounding fells.  But I felt no different, I missed being bent double getting changed, I missed the sound of the zip through the night.  I missed the feeling of realising the pitch wasn’t was level as thought when setting up, when I’m woken squashed into the corner of our trusty Vango as Kel has rolled ‘downhill’ into me.

I’ve spend most of my life camping dating right back to the seventies with my parents, 12 years in the army then to date spending a good deal of the year nestled under Hospital Plantation at a site near Thornthwaite.  I don’t think I would get used to spending my nights in a Pod, I’d miss all of the above and there’s also the cost to consider.  You can get a half decent B&B for the price of a Pod!

Everyone has their own opinion and tastes and I don’t want to discourage anyone from the Pods, and truth be told Kel’s already mentioned another stay.  But, and I know she agrees, I’d prefer a weekend under the canvas than the Pods.  At this point I’d like to point out the site at which we stayed in the Pod was extremely clean and tidy.  The Pods themselves are neat and clean and well built, and would indeed be ideal for a family stay.

Thumbs up for tents, what do you all think??!!

A stroll up Sail

After our outing in March and our first encounter with a Camping Pod, we decided we’d get the year on the way and get the tent out.  We booked a spot at the usual lovely little camp site in Thornthwaite and Kel eagerly packed the Aygo while I once again, slept off night shift.  I struggled down stairs after a couple of hours sleep to be, as usual, met by Kel who was jumping around all excited with her familiar ‘we’re going to the Lakes’ smile on her face.

I bolted my coffee and we jumped into the car which was packed to the roof with kit and food.  I had been watching the predicted weather craic on the various iPhone apps for the Northern lakes, It wasn’t looking too good.  Kel had her phone out doing the same and seeing which forecast we wanted to happen, wishful thinking as the multiple apps gave near enough the same result…..rain!!

But all this doesn’t matter when you’re on the A66 heading west to the best place in the world!  We had planned a route taking in a few Wainwright’s which looked fairly arduous, and which might have been a ‘no no’ if the weather took a turn for the worse.  We did have a plan ‘B’ which would’ve involved Dodd and an Osprey spotting session, but as much as I am a spotter I wanted plan ‘A’!

It looked hopeful as we landed in Thornthwaite and set up camp with a well-practised, military precision routine.  Everything has a place in this operation and we’re both quite anal about it, sad I know.  Anyway it was too late to hit the hills so we decided to have a quick look around Friars Crag and a couple of Geocaches to boot.

Back at the camp site, stove on, camp fire roaring away and we settled in for the evening.  Kel’s Bolognese was on the menu as I checked, and checked again our route which would take in Barrow, Outerside, Sail and Eel Crag.  A fairly short route but lots of ups and downs but from the start we had a cracking view (hopefully) of our favourite peak, Skiddaw!  The weather stayed fine into the night as the fire crackled away, the peace and quiet broken only by my cool and calm reaction to my size 11 feet kicking over best part of my mug over Vodka and tonic.  The Thornthwaite air was full of words like “you blithering idiot Paul” and “oh there’s a disappointment” …honestly!

The smell of bacon and sausages drifted through the site as we were the first to rise.  Kel cooked away as I stood, coffee in hand, staring at Skiddaw wondering about the day and what the weather gods would throw at us.  We were packed and ready to go as we could hear the sound of zips and floating heads popping out of the front of tents looking skywards.  We’d decided to take the car to the base of Barrow and parked near the small newsagents in Braithwaite.  Boots on and we set off up a track to Braithwaite lodge.  It wasn’t long before we’d turned to look at our ‘Purple headed’ mountain and had a perfect view.  There’s a wooden bench just after the lodge were I could seriously spend the rest of my days.  Through the wall and at the base of Barrow we saw what every hiker likes to see, a fell runner!  There’s nothing I like better when scaling a peak and feeling like my lungs are about to explode, than a bum bag wearing, short and vest clad racing snake blasting past me.  We set off up Barrow looking at the clouds with smiles as the sun was peaking throw quite a bit.  I laughed a bit to myself thinking about the Fell runner.  In my 20’s that was me storming up the mountains in Wales, but instead of trainers and a bum bag, I was burdened with boots and a very heavy rucksack (Bergen) going at the same speed.  I felt better as I always do with my ‘been there done that T-shirt’ thought in my head.

The weather fared well and we were in good spirits as we trugged up the grassy fell and keeping an eye on the clouds.  A look to the left and Catbells and Derwentwater came into view and life was good. 

I’m forever amazed by the ability of the weather change, at a moment’s notice, for the worse when you least expect it.  Enter the hail!!  A mad stop and donning of our waterproofs saw us back on track and heading to our first summit of the day, Barrow.  A pretty, apart from the ice balls smashing into my face, eventless but a green fell with a good covering of heather and courting Wheatear’s.  We didn’t spend much on the summit before dropping into the Barrow Door and a bit of shelter.  The sun showed itself no sooner than it had disappeared and we decided to have a quick break in the dip.  A couple of blokes came over the summit of Barrow; one looked like he had a dog in tow.  As they reached us the pair of them looked very sweaty and red and the poor Labradoodle has had its work cut out.  One of the lads had one of those leads that attach to the waist; he stormed past covered in sweat.  The usual ‘Hellos’ and ‘How ya doins’ where exchanged, the lad said, “Full of beer from last night though”, we both giggled and remembered our accent of Helvellyn after a night with friends around the camp fire.  I have a camouflaged ‘Buff’ that I wore that day; I took it off at the summit and wrung it out.  A pure smell of ‘Fosters’ lager came from sweat that dripped out, we both will have to do the summit again I think because we were both still a bit worse for wear.

The route goes off in all sorts of directions here as we trugged through the heather to find a well-trodden route to the summit of Outerside.  On the way up Outerside we saw a view of the routes we used up and down Grisedale, with the mine nestled into the Coledale valley.  We reached the summit again fairly eventless, but the view from Outerside is one to remember.  A great view of Skiddaw and the valley that houses Braithwaite and Keswick, over each shoulder is Grisedale and Causy Pike then creeping up on you are Sail and Crag Hill.

The route was becoming more and more populated and a few more fell runners graced us with their presence.  I know I go on about fell runners, but I have a question.  At this point the sky was closing in and I’m one of those hikers who have a problem with people who take the mountains for granted.  I always, especially in the larger peaks, carry enough kit to survive at least one night out if something went Pete Tong.  To me, fell runners are the ones who would probably take a tumble more easily and injure themselves due to the nature of their form of propulsion.  But they carry a water proof and a bottle of water!  Hey ho I’ll have another rant later in the blog no doubt about them.

We dropped back down to the main path up to Sail and remember our decent of Causy Pike.  I liked the weather now, it was calm and peaceful from the dip, but looking up the weather was closing in and the speeding black clouds were engrossing Grisedale and Sail.  At this point I’d like to point something out, if you’re planning on taking this route, when planning please disregard the first right turn near the sheepfold on the map, cos it ain’t there!!  Stay on the track and turn at the junction of the path from Causy and use he well-trodden path up Sail.  At the junction the wind had picked up and so had the amount of hikers.  I do enjoy looking at the various kit people wear and my person amusement is, apart from inadequate kit, headwear.  There were multi coloured ‘duts’, waterproof granny hats and the one I want, a green Stetson!  A very tall gentleman hoofed passed us on route down from Sail almost shouted, “hello there!” he was armed with two sticks and a green Stetson, he meant business.  However, the female racing after him had obviously been at the same pace, probably from Grisedale, for some time and was beyond pleasantries and stumbled past like an occupant of Tenko.  Poor woman!

The path up to Sail was a zig zag and I don’t know whether it’s easier to climb a hard scramble or to prolong the haul walking from one side of the face to another.  Anyway, this gives Kel a chance to do what she does best, spot other peaks and try and prove Wainwright right or wrong.  She normally spends time at each summit with our Wainwright books picking out the peaks, as per Alfred.  She’s quite good and Alfred has not been wrong yet….yet!!

At the summit of Sail it’s, one of those moments when you think ‘it’s all downhill from here’.  Nah!!  A slightly watered down version of Striding edge awaits to the top of Crag Hill and the precious Wainwright on Eel Crag.  I do like these climbs and I’m sure Kel shares my enthusiasm even though the words, “Ffs” litter the route up.  At the top the Trig Point welcomed our arrival, plus a pleasant couple who wouldn’t have looked out of place on the ‘Rainbow Warrior’.  The cloud was closing in and visibility was down to about 50m so just in case, I took a quick bearing for Eel Crag.  Piccys done and a fast but careful pace across the top towards Eel Crag.  Suddenly the path wasn’t so well trodden and the populous was made up by a young lad in shorts and a military style Bergan on his back.  I thought to myself we may have been better taking the ‘wuss path’ down the back of Crag Hill to join the route down from grasmoor to meet the junction at Coledale Hause.  I looked at the map and thought “There is, there is a route down Eel Crag!”

We edged our way to the start of the decent of the Crag.  Nothing looked obvious and Kel was on point.  I thought if there was any doubt she’d looked back with the worried look I normally get when I’ve gone off route.  Instead she plunged into the mist and I followed with confidence as I know she won’t do anything without ‘the look’.  She reported back, “You might need your stick” as she jumped from rock to rock on her decent.  My knee gives me gip on the decent of any peak so armed with my trusty stick I followed Kel’s lead, she looked positive with her route and I smiled at her enthusiasm hacking away at the dubious route in the mist.  Eventually we had a clearing in the cloud and ground to a halt as the rock, turned to scree.

“Where do ya reckon?”, Kel’s words were met by “F**k knows, just get to the path”.  The clear path was in sight at Coledale Hause but a ‘piste’ of scree was between us and a route.  My choice of decent was Telemark  skiing down the scree,  Kel’s  option was ‘just sit on your arse and hope for the best’.  Both options were successful and the ‘Rainbow warriors’ met us at the bottom as they’d taken the ‘Wuss route’.

The junction was blasted by the wind from a funnel between Whiteside and Grasmoor so a quick decent down towards the mine was in order.  A good pace was in order as we headed towards the long, long path back to Braithwaite.  The path back along Coledale Beck was a good stretch off before settling down in the Royal Oak.

We met a very full pub and a few of the people were from the route we’d taken.  It hadn’t been a particullary long walk but the ups and downs added to the distance.  Lovely views on this one and might do I again in the summer.