Barnard Castle sits at the gateway to the Tees Valley. It is an area as lovely as the Yorkshire Dales an hour to the south, but it seems less popular, judging by the number of tourists around. We were there for a week long walking break with friends from our Ramblers Group.
Up until now, the weather has been very kind to us but on Thursday it turned spiteful as we headed out to Bolderhead Reservoir, meeting at the large car park for our next walk. Overnight a cool, blustery wind had picked up and grey, rain laden cloud hung threateningly nearby as we arrived to start our walk. Our route took us across the top of the dam and along a rough field path which followed the contour of a low hill with us slowly climbing. After pausing for coffee close by a very remote farm, we eventually emerged on to a path across the top of the moor. This path gave some wonderful views more typical of the big skies of Norfolk, as the sun punctured the cloud, but it brought little warmth to a biting chilly wind. As we walked across the moor there was little respite.
The Moorland Path
After a lengthy trek we turned onto a path which descended off the moor and picked up a route which took us past two reservoirs. The last part of the walk took us through a reserve dedicated to the memory of a North country icon, Hannah Haukswell. Two information boards provided more information about this strong, determined Yorkshire lady.
Hannah Haukswell was a North Yorkshire farmer who was the subject of a number of TV documentaries over her life. The programmes detailed the tough conditions she endured at the dilapidated Lower Birk Hatt farm which she owned and farmed alone after the death of her parents when she was 35. The farm had no electricity or running water and she battled on through hard winters, tending her animals and the farm. Following an ITV documentary in 1972 entitled “The Hard Life” the TV company was inundated with offers of help and a local firm raised money to bring electricity to her farm. A follow-up documentary almost 20 years later entitled “A Winter Too Many” showed her in failing health and strength, and preparing to move out of the farm into a cottage in the centre of a nearby village. She had sold the farm and the animals she had loved all these years. She noted that in the summer she lived but in winter she simply existed. After leaving her farm, Hannah recovered to enjoy a long and happy retirement in her warm village cottage. She died in 2018 at the age of 91. You could say, a long and happy life.
Views of Teesdale including the Hannah Haukswell Nature reserve (Bottom image)
Our last day, a Friday, dawned bright with a spectacular colourful sky at sunrise. As we drove west for the start of the walk, dark clouds were being swept in to the valley and by the time we arrived at our destination at Cow Green reservoir, the threatened rain storm had arrived. The numbers for this walk were fewer as many had gone home. The leader of the walk was in two minds about cancelling because of the appalling conditions but after some gentle persuasion by one or two she declared that the walk would go ahead. At this point we elected not to join them because of the adverse weather, the hill were covered in low cloud and the rain had become what felt like a 40mph heavy drizzle! We drove to Middleton in Teesdale and headed for a coffee shop to decide on our plan for the day. Often many of our best decisions are made in a coffee shop, and this was no exception as the drizzle persisted outside!
A quick search on a mapping app revealed an 8 mile low level route starting from the village centre we could follow so after finishing our drinks we headed off on our walk. It was still breezy and squally as we turned off the road along a riverside path which led up through a stinky farm yard onto a low hill and across fields. Part of the path followed an old disused railway line and this afforded us some lovely views through the drizzle into the valley. At one point, the sun burst through the clouds and we were treated to weak, watery rainbows as we looked on from our elevated viewpoint.
The rain has stopped……just
The rain eventually gave way to fluffy cloud and intermittent sunshine . Our route took us from flat paths and trails alongside another reservoir, this one partially empty for maintenance work, back into the hilly dales landscape of pasture and dry stone walls. At one point we watched in fascination as a farmer on a quad bike with his two collie sheepdogs helped him successfully manoeuvre a large flock of sheep through a narrow gate and along the track we had just walked down.
We continued on, recognising the path we had walked along a few days earlier and eventually arrived back in Middleton in Teesdale in glorious sunshine. We later heard that the group that set off from the Reservoir a few miles away had endured drizzle and wind all walk and the views from the top of the moor were non-existent!
Teesdale is a lovely but slightly less popular part of the Dales area of North East England, but still as beautiful and interesting. We will undoubtedly return at some stage, whether on or own or with a group, who knows but we will be back!