God’s Bridge, A bridge too far? Never!

The other day I was out in the North Pennines giving my all in my role as a Pennine Champion.

You will recall that I have been entrusted with the task of keeping my eye on a small stretch of the Pennine Way in the north Pennines. From God’s Bridge NY956125 to Blackton Bridge NY932182, I’m making sure that the signs are pointing the right way, reporting damage to gates and fences etc etc.

Generally doing my very small bit will, I hope, begin to repay a debt of huge pleasure the PW has given me over the years.

My last post on the subject reported the results of my OS map survey. I listed various ‘features in the landscape’ that I felt I should keep an eye on whilst out and about on the trail.

Today my mission was to walk the PW from Gods Bridge up to the A66 underpass and then out onto the wild and spectacular Bowes Moor.

I was intent on keeping my eye on God’s Bridge. An SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), I feel it important to get to know it well.

I won’t be going into the geology, the geography, the eco-environment about and around the bridge in any detail. There are plenty of books and papers written by experts that you should have fun seeking out of you want to bone up on the subject, and I recommend that you do, it is fascinating.

But here is my quick guide:

God’s Bridge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest in the Teesdale district of south-west County Durham, England. It is a natural limestone bridge over the River Greta, just over 3 km upstream from the village of Bowes.

The bridge was formed by a process of cave development in the limestone beneath the river bed and is the best example in Britain of a natural bridge formed in this way. The SSSI covers a portion of the river above and below the bridge where shallow cave development by solutional activity is still taking place. – Got it!

The Pennine Way crosses the River Greta at God’s Bridge, which is where I come in.

I’m pleased to report that Gods Bridge in still there and is in a fully working condition!

There was some damage to a sign which I’ve reported, but apart from that it’s all fine. A great spot to sit and think, take in the scenery, have a rest and a brew, or a wander around and try and work out how the bridge was formed was formed.

I’m always a little in awe of this structure and of the River Greta. It’s a bit like playing a game with the river water of ’now you see it, now you don’t. The water appears, disappears and then re-appears over and over like magic.

River Greta upstream of God’s Bridge

River Greta down stream ’now you see it, now you don’t’

Go and have a look for yourself. If you’re walking the PW do spend a bit of time at the bridge. If you fancy it as a day walk there are some really goods riverside footpaths in the area with splendid map/information boards around. It makes a nice day out. I parked the car in Bowes , had a look at Bowes Castle then followed the PW and the other well marked footpaths to God’s Bridge.

I did get further that day but I will save that for another post.

There’s always an audience in these parts!

‘A journey up to the summit of Cross-Fell Mountain’

The earliest recorded account I can find of an ascent to the summit of Crossfell, the highest point on the Pennine Way, was published in 1747. It appeared in an edition of the grandly titled ‘Gentleman Adventurers Magazine’.

“A Journey up to Cross-Fell Mountain” was written by Mr George Smith, a Scotsman by birth and a Cumbrian by residence. He was a man with many interests and abilities. As well as being a scientist and teacher, an astronomer and surveyor, Smith was also a regular contributor to ‘The Gentleman Adventurers Magazine’. His writing style makes for a very readable and interesting account of this trek.

Ascent of Crossfell 4

Smith was, by inclination, a member of the school of Romanticism that included both Wordsworth and Coleridge. Men with a passion and a curiosity for exploration, and an ability to convey in words the beauty they found in the wild and beautiful places they explored.

They wrote about places which had previously been regarded as dangerous, inhospitable lands where few had dared venture.

Although sadly generally unknown these days, George Smith, his adventures and his writing played a significant part in the movement that  established a national fascination for the great outdoors and for touring and tourism which thrives today.

As an ‘outdoors’ writer Smith is certainly engaging. His words have style and charm, and it is easy to see how his readers would have been engaged and encouraged to follow in his footsteps. He begins his account: ‘The following account of Cross-Fell Mountain will entertain such reader who’s genius inclines them to the description of romantic scenes’.

Smith sets the scene for readers by introducing them to this wild place: ‘Cross-Fell Mountain is generally ten months buried in snow and eleven months in cloud’. Whilst he is perhaps a little generous with the actual meteorological data, the description will have aroused the curiosity of his audience.

He provides readers with perhaps their first encounter of the Pennine Chain, describing Crossfell as ‘a part of that immense ridge of mountains, which are reputed the British Alps, that make their first appearance in Derbyshire, and are continued in one chain of different elevations to the River Tweed’.

On 13th August 1747, Smith and four fellow traveling companions engage the services of a local guide to give them safe conduct across ‘these almost impervious wastes’, was how he described the approach to Crossfell. ‘An environ with large and extended morasses, rocks and mountains that exhibit a very frightful appearance with not the vestige of habitation’.

As the trek progresses Smith’s eye for nature and detail in the landscape shines through: ‘the swallows, those incontestable remains of Noah’s deluge, begin here to be very frequent’……….. ‘There being some formidable assents in the manner of Mount Lebanon’.

Finally when the summit plateau is achieved he recalls the sight of ‘an immense plain that has no verdure, a capacious plain of several hundred acres’.

George Smith’s description of Cross-Fell Mountain and the summit view leaves the reader in no doubt that such a journey would be worthwhile: ‘Cross-Fell Mountain is singularly eminent, whether you regard its height or the immense base it stands on, being above twenty miles in circumference’. He continues: ‘the view from the summit includes a great part of six counties. There are mountains around of similar heights to enjoy; Skiddaw in West Cumberland, Criffield in Scotland, Pennygent and Ingleborough in Yorkshire and the highest Cheviot in Northumberland’.

He estimated that the diameter of his visible horizon on that day, 13th August 1747, exceeded 120 miles. A very good day it would appear for ‘A journey up to the summit of Cross-Fell Mountain’.

Finally Smith ends his account with something of an apology to readers: Being the 13th August, and a long drought and hot season we were not able to find the least relicks of snow in places most likely for it, which is very extraordinary’.

To follow in the footsteps of this great Victorian adventurer and make your own ‘Journey up to the Summit of Cross-Fell Mountain’ try this great circular day walk:http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/pennine-way/route/cross-fell-bonus-walk

Pennine Days – ‘Bridges in the Sky’

‘The Top Path’

The other day I took a ramble along the Pennine Way in the Wessenden Valley, deep in the Dark Peak. I set off heading south from the village of Marsden in West Yorkshire towards Edale.

A sparkling early spring day, I walked up the valley out of the village towards Wessenden Head and Black Hill beyond. This is truly the realm of the Huddersfield Corporation Water-Works. Past a string of magnificently constructed Reservoirs built to ensure a secure supply of fresh water both for industry and the general population.

From Butterley, up past Blakeley, then to Wessenden, and finally Wessenden Head Reservoirs. A chain of diamonds, all glinting in the sunshine on such a clear day.

On my return journey I decided to wander along what I’ve always called the ‘Top Path’ back to Marsden. The ‘Top Path’ begins as a steep narrow path from the valley bottom leading up the side of the Wessenden valley. It’s not so much a path more a sheep trod, so careful footing is always required. It almost feels like a secret path. If you didn’t know it was there you would probably pass it by unnoticed.  It runs high along the valley side all the way back to the village. The views are glorious.

Eventually this tiny path breaks out onto the moorland edge and the pathless expanses of Binn Moor and Meltham Moor beyond. It widens and for a mile or so follows the wonderfully named ‘Deer Hill Conduit’.

Built as a catch-water for these mighty moors, ‘Deer Hill Conduit’ was no doubt part of the grand water works scheme for the valley. Sadly, it has long since stopped running, and has begun filling in as the moorland slowly reclaims the land.

The builders of this waterway in the sky built the most beautiful bridges over their created torrent. Equally spaced along the conduit, and no doubt there to provide access to the moor for stock and travellers.

‘ A Bridge in the Sky’ – over the Deer Hill Conduit – on a road to nowhere

Simple and strong, these are elegant constructions of stone cut and dressed to fit together perfectly. Over the years their surfaces have weathered to a dark rich patina.

‘… elegant, simple constructions, blocks cut and dressed to fit together ….’

Today they are like ghosts, and in gentle decline. But they are glorious reminders of the effort and the pride that once went into our civic works, and of a tradition of builders and stone masons who were proud and satisfied with their efforts and acheivements.

Whenever I pass this way I stop and stand on each bridge. I think about the lives that built them and how beautiful they are. Today it is a secret silent world that few visit, but I hope that those who do appreciate these ‘Bridges in the sky’.

‘Today they are like ghosts; themselves in gentle decline’

So I’m a Pennine Champion, time to get started.

Greeting My Pennine Chums,

So I’m a Pennine Champion, I have the email to prove it. I’ve thoroughly read my instructions and it’s time to get started.

Granted you may think that starting from a sun lounger beside my hotel swimming pool in Lanzarote is a strange place to begin championing a 4.2 mile stretch of the Pennine Way in the North Pennines, – but then you’re not me!

Let me explain. My little jaunt to the sunshine had been arranged for some time. So whilst Storm Doris was busy rushing across the Atlantic and ‘weather-bombing’ all and sundry back in Blighty I concluded that a period of quiet reflection, careful consideration and task-planning with a cold beer, whilst me and my laptop got some warmth into our bones and circuit boards was a good idea.

Certainly a much better idea than getting blasted by horizontal rain lashing across wild and windy moorland whilst trying to check for  “damaged stiles, difficult to use gates, missing way-marks, overgrowth, blocked drains, surface erosion and flooding” to name but a few. I’m quoting from my instruction pack again. No there would be plenty of time for that. Spring and summer time in fact.

I decided on an OS map survey, some reading up and finally making use of the hotel’s free WiFi to give me a good grounding in all things North Pennines, and my Pennine Way piece of it, in particular.

I should mention that the Ordnance Survey map, ‘Outdoor Leisure No 31- North Pennines, Teesdale and Weardale’, is not the easiest thing to hold onto in the Canary Island’s breeze, mindful of the close proximity to the swimming pool. I’m certainly glad now that I purchased the laminated version, although I wished I had re-purchased and got hold of the posh, and more manageable whilst lying on a sun lounger, digital version for my laptop.

I’m pleased to share with you what I’ve discovered so far about ‘Stretch C1’, the part of the Pennine Way that I am to Champion and that I won’t hear a bad word said about.

‘C1’, by the way, is the reference number which North Pennines AONB has given to my bit of the Way. It begins at the amazing natural limestone bridge, God’s Bridge over the River Greta, 3 km upstream of the village of Bowes, so special that it is a Site of Special Scientific interest (SSSI), how about that for a start!

I finish four miles over the moors in Baldersdale at Blackton Bridge (NY932182), which is obviously just as ‘special’ to me. I’m sure me and ‘C1’ are going to get along famously.

The distance between the two bridges is actually 4.269 miles; mapping software is a great bit of kit, but sometimes perhaps a bit too precise I think. Not a particularly mountainous stretch, at this point the Pennine Way is deep in magnificent rolling moorland.  The highest point is the summit of ‘Race Yate Rigg’ at 1365 feet. (Rigg comes from the Scottish word ‘ridge’). The path is frequently crossed by numerous Sikes and Gills, which are basically small streams as far as I can tell, although I intend to get to the bottom of the difference.

All of this lies within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which is, for your information, a UNESCO Global Geo-park. I can already see that I shall need to up my game!

So here is my first list of landscape features adjacent to ‘C1’. I will have to keep an eye on these and get to know all of them; many are a complete mystery to me right now:

3 Bields: (Bield is a shelter)

2 Piles of Stones: (A Pile of Stones is a pile of stones right?)

12 Sheepfolds: (For gathering up sheep)

1 Old Sheepfold: (For gathering up older sheep – mutton perhaps?)

5 Foot Bridges: (Plenty of Sikes? Gills? Rills? And Streams in these parts)

1 Castle: (That’s what it says on the OS map! – definitely need to check this out)

1 Roman Road: 1 (An actual Roman Road!)

1 Dismantled Railway: (Dr Beeching’s senseless axing of public services I wonder?)

1 Subway: (No dodging the traffic whilst crossing the A66 thankfully)

4 Waterfalls: (Waterfalls! Wonderful)

So, plenty to keep me busy, I can’t wait to get started. Watch this space.

P.S. Nice Holiday – thanks

A Champion at last!

Great News My Pennine Chums!

I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed ever since I told you about my application to become a Pennine Champion. My quest began when the North Pennines AONB Partnership, launched their ‘Pennine Way People Project’

They were looking for conservation volunteers to champion and to help care for the Pennine Way National Trail in the North Pennines from Tan Hill in the south to Greenhead in the north. “73 miles of amazing walking in one of England’s most special places – a stunning landscape of open heather moors and peat lands, attractive dales and hay meadows, tumbling upland rivers, wonderful woods…” Their words, and who would argue with that description.

Much to my delight, an email announcing my success arrived the other day. It was headed ‘Pennine Way People – Champion’. I was already walking slowly up the steps at Wembley stadium, the trophy glinting in the sunlight. It read on… ‘Thank you for volunteering to be a Champion of the Pennine Way. I can confirm that your adopted stretch is: God’s Bridge (NY956125) to Blackton Bridge (NY932182). The crowd cheered!! I’m handed the cup and crowned a Pennine Way Champion.


Now sensibly there is a sheet of information about how ‘Champions’ are required to behave. It appears that the powers of arrest, the ability to issue currency or postage stamps do not come within this ‘Champions’ remit! There are however plenty of path monitoring and reporting duties to do, so I will need to start putting in the miles.

More helpful information is included in my ‘Champions pack’: I will need to be ever vigilant and on the lookout for damaged stiles, difficult to use gates, missing way-marks, overgrowth, blocked drains, surface erosion and flooding to name but a few.

I am encouraged to get to know the folk whose lives are touched by the PW, and I can already see the need to recruit a network of informants to assist me. (I make a mental note to reread Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, – will I be expected to train a radio operator I wonder? – Or is that going a little too far?) .
There are nineteen identified stretches of the Pennine Way; each one has been allocated to a ‘Champion’.

The fact that I am to be ‘one of the gang’ increases my enthusiasm for the challenge ahead. I am much anticipating the ‘gathering of Champions’ to which I have been invited to attend in the spring, where I’m looking forward to meeting other like-minded souls. I expect that I will have much to report back on in future editions of ‘Pennine Days’.

That is the task, the challenge and the delight which is ahead of me right now. I hope you will come with me on my Pennine journey as I really get to know my little bit of the Pennine Way; the trail, the landscape and the other Pennine Way People.

Walking in Cloudland

 The other day I came across a word I hadn’t heard before. A word which unlocked a memory that I have held on to since my first Pennine Way journey back in 2000, ‘Cloudland’; it means the sky, or a region of unreality, a place of the imagination, a dreamland.

Mid-August, high summer in the Pennine Hills. I was away from Hawes early in the morning heading north along the Pennine Way, 12 miles over some marvelous high country, up and over Great Shunner Fell to Thwaite and then on to the hamlet of Keld, where the Coast to Coast Walk crosses the Pennine Way. It was also the day I walked to ‘Cloudland’.

Even at this time of year the weather in these parts can be unpredictable. A morning chill was already giving the slightest nod toward the coming autumn. I hoped that the sun, busy climbing away from dawn into a clear Pennine-blue sky, would soon shake off any coolness.

This hike begins with a long plod on a path up the rising moorland toward the summit of Great Shunner Fell. Here the Way finally begins to feels mountainous. At 2340 feet, Great Shunner is the highest point since Edale, with views to be anticipated and savoured. On a clear day there are the Lakeland peaks to enjoy and then views south to Ingleborough. To the north, if the visibility is good, there is just about the tiny distant shape of Tan Hill Inn, the highest Inn in England, and beyond looms the dome of Cross Fell, the very summit of the Pennine journey.

With my head full of summits I began the labour of a long rising climb towards Crag End Beacon, the gateway to the Great Shunner summit. I was enjoying the moment of being out on a big moor on such a sparkling day.

I fell into the rhythm of my stride and became absorbed into the landscape. Almost without realising it, as the path took me higher and higher, I walked into a rapidly blurring land of mist and cloud. I had unwittingly opened the door into Cloudland.

The bright sunlight failed to an eerie, timeless and shadowless white. The vastness of the fell disappeared behind a closing curtain until there was just me alone, wrapped in thick soundless cloud. Surrounded by white and by the white noise of my breathing as it crashed into the silence of the moor.

I held my breath and listen to the landscape…. nothing; the silence around me was profound, enchanting even. Was the moor was holding its breath too? I shivered at the sudden coldness of the air against my warm skin. I looked hard, trying to see through and further than the white walls all around me. I sensed I was not alone in the landscape. The spirits of the moorland are swirling around me, lost in Cloudland too perhaps. Are there voices of travellers from another time calling out to me? I listen hard again. Are those the sound of footsteps moving along the path? Expectantly I wait for figures to loom out of the mist. The air fills with a haunting cry; a ghost is calling to me, wailing out over the fell.

Abruptly the spell is broken. I realise it is the urgent cry of a Curlew, perhaps calling to its summer brood, trying to return through the white-out to a nest hidden deep in the clouds. It is a sound I recognise, common to the uplands in summer, both evocative and memorable, and reassuring today. I begin to breathe again. The ghosts are gone, I smile and I move on.

With a limited view through the brume I’m careful now to stay on the path, thankfully it is well defined. Still climbing up the fell-side, finally I sense a hint of blue sky above. Like a train emerging from a tunnel I popped out of the cloud almost at the summit. In full sunlight I’m standing on the edge of a sea of white cloud tops. It is a beautiful sight. I enjoy the moment, feel the warmth of the sun and press on.

I have often thought since of about my experience that day on Great Shunner Fell and now I realise it was the day I visited Cloudland.

You never know when you might find yourself in Cloudland. Give the walk up Great Shunner Fell a go, you will not be disappointed. Go there and back from either Hawes or Thwaite or here is a great circular walk.

High Summer on the Pennine Way

The only sign of spring I have right now, amidst the dullness of these dreary midwinter days, is a bunch of shop bought daffodils in a small vase sat at the corner of my writing table.

They are in full flower and at full volume. Brilliant heads of sunlight yellow blast away at my gloom. Shouting and cajoling me towards thoughts of springtime and gloriousness of the summer ahead. I look at them constantly as I work away. They make me smile.

Whenever my thoughts turn to summer days on the Pennine Way I imagine setting out from Middleton in Teesdale, heading towards the village of Dufton, with all of Teesdales before me. It is a delightful part of the Pennine Way. Through-trail walkers will find it a welcome relief during the push north. I think that it is an area better savoured during an unhurried day’s wandering.

The words of John Hugh Brignal Peel fill my head. Better known as J.H.B Peel, the author of ‘Along the Pennine Way’ he writes:

Beyond Middleton the Way enters the deepest solitude south of Northumberland. The next village (Dufton) lies twenty miles ahead, and after the steep journey thither, (the Way) springs the greatest of all Wayside surprises by revealing a fairyland of riverside flowers and trees. A pastoral path beside the Tees. We wish this green path could carry us all the way to Scotland’.

‘This is ‘par excellence’ a summer sector; Flower-filled, bird-blithe, blossom-dappled. Rocky peninsulas wade out into the water. Trees lean towards one another, almost spanning the stream. The Tees is sweet and gentle’.

‘Walkers will enjoy the dramatic change for an hour or so, ambling beside rich water meadows and the sparkling river’.

This surprising day’s walking springs from the soil itself. The Red Sandstone of Westmorland meets the older rocks of Durham, the igneous rock of the Whin Sill compressed against the carboniferous stone results in soil that is fertile, kind and encouraging.

Dally as you will, but do then continue on and the Way will reveal one of its gems. A tranquil waterscape finally gives way to the wild country again, and to the thunder of the great waterfall, High Force.

At High Force the River Tees drops 69 feet (21 meters) over the Great Whin Sill to a plunge pool. This is not the highest waterfall in England, but it is certainly the most spectacular.

It is truly a Pennine Way highlight. You will hear it in the distance before you reach this most spectacular sight. Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet wrote famously of the sound upon his approach to the falls:

The Tees itself though far away,

Threading its course through the distance grey,

Proclaims aloud with a mighty roll

Its progress to a far-off goal;

And rushing madly headlong o’er

At High Force leaps with a ceaseless roar.’

So now, whilst you are close to your fireside, snug against the winter chill, get out your maps and guides and think and plan a summer day out in Teesdale, you will not be disappointed.

There is a great circular route if you are up to the miles, or just spend a wonderful day on the riverbank.

Become a Pennine Champion!

The Pennine Way needs you! The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership are launching a project to gather together volunteers with a passion for the countryside and a sense of place to help look after the 73-mile stretch of the Pennine Way between Tan Hill on the Teesdale / North Yorkshire border and Greenhead in Northumberland.

Apparently the Pennine Way has become a victim of its own success.  Every year this wild, remote and stunningly beautiful stretch of the trail attracts thousands of walkers. It appears that however careful we are, when you combine that many size 10 (give or take) walking boots with the, shall we say temperamental weather conditions, the ground underfoot is becoming boggy and eroded.

As I read the article I pictured joining in on healthy and rewarding days out with like-minded souls, and an opportunity to take part in some useful practical work repairing footpaths, way marking and the like.

And then my day just got a whole lot better as I read on. It appears that volunteers can also apply to be allocated a specific stretch of the route to look after as its ‘Champion’. Now for anyone like me, who was never competitive enough to become a ‘Champion’ at school or since, the thought of being bestowed with such a title seemed just too good to miss.

How hard could ‘being a champion’ be I thought. Reaching for the dictionary, it said:

CHAMPION…………

A person who vigorously supports or defends a person or cause………. An advocate, proponent, promoter, proposer, supporter, standard-bearer, torch-bearer, defender, protector, upholder, backer, exponent, patron, sponsor, prime mover.

I liked the sound of being a champion. I got my maps out and eagerly began to ramble along the trail looking for the perfect place to become the Champion of.

I felt that I needed to walk at a good pace; convinced that there were would be plenty of others behind me all anticipating becoming a champion.

I pondered. Could I perhaps be the champion of the public bar at the Tan Hill Inn? And the surrounding moorland of course. Or perhaps I could be the champion of the Pennine Way as it meanders along the side of the River Tees just where the magnificent High Force comes fully into view.

There was bound to be a queue lining up to be the voice of High Cup Nick or perhaps, for the more ambitious, the whole glacial valley all the way to Dufton.

As I walked the route in my mind there were just too many wonderful scenes and vistas, highlands and lowlands to choose from. I was breathless, and so stopped for a brew and a think. Then it came to me, the perfect place to become Champion! No, I’m not telling you where right now because I hope to get in first. I’ve written my letter of application and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I will let you know if I get the nod.

Hello

Greetings my Pennine Chums and welcome to ‘Pennine Days’ a blog about the Pennine Way National Trail, the landscape through which it passes and the lives it touches as it makes it way along the ‘backbone of England’.

My name is Dave Greenwood, I’m the Trail Reporter for the Pennine Way National Trail. I also write for ‘The Gentleman Adventurers Chronicle, https://thegentlemenadventurerschronicle.wordpress.com/, where I have great fun writing as a whole cast of different characters about outdoors related matters.

I was previously the Trail Reporter for the Cleveland Way and the Yorkshire Wolds Way.

I have the Pennine Way to thank for introducing me to just how amazing our National Trails are. It is over 20 years since I completed my first Pennine Way adventure, and I have lived under its powerful spell ever-since.

I hope those who read ‘Pennine Days’ will enjoy my discoveries, and get out and start exploring the Pennine Way for themselves.