Christmas come early?

“Oh bother,” messaged Linda at 07.37 this morning, “just looked out of my window. Thick fog!”

I’d already hung washing out and knew that similar conditions existed in my back garden. I went back to the Met Office app on my phone and checked the forecast again. Meteorological life in Appleby had deteriorated overnight but weather conditions on the Pennines were still good. Well, on my phone anyway. And they had to be for the walk we wanted to do.

I messaged Linda and Christine.

“Inversion. I hope!”

There was nothing else we could do other than go and investigate. If fog clad the region, we would need to rethink the walk we had kept in mind for months.

Back in July, Linda and I had walked our version of the first section of the Teesdale Way that had seen us at Teeshead and Great and Little Dun Fell in the Pennines looking down on the source of the Tees. This had actually been the penultimate section of this particular long-distance walk for us and I was already missing the idea of walking alongside a river. The map shows just how close the sources of the Tyne and Tees are so, as we had walked back to the car, we had commented on how good it would be to walk north from the CAA golf ball down to the source of the South Tyne near Garrigill. I needed to know there would be another river to trail alongside and this felt a suitable handover link from the Teesdale Way to the South Tyne Trail.

On the bridleway at the top of Moor House Reserve

There is a bridleway from Great Dun Fell summit that follows the Trout Beck through the Moor House Nature Reserve. This then links with the access lane from Garrigill to Moor House and provides an easy tramp into the upper reaches of South Tynedale. The only issue was that we needed a dry, still and preferably sunny day. It is wild Pennine country and, whilst the path appeared relatively straightforward to follow on the map, neither of us fancied a day on mist wrapped moorland seeing nothing save our feet. The forecast had, for 5 days, continually suggested a blue-sky day over the Pennines today. It was now or wait for another long time.

The inversion wraps itself around Knock Pike

Leaving a densely foggy Appleby, we drove up into the hills where the grey mist continued to envelope the car. Linda’s husband Allan had kindly agreed to drop us at the start point on Great Dun Fell so, using the access road, we headed out of Knock and into the murk.

Lake District fells in the distance

My mind was already considering plan B when we emerged into the promised dazzling blue sky. Leaving a cloud sea behind us we were deposited at the frosty top that glistened in uninterrupted morning sunshine. The Lake District fells waved at us across the white ocean and our own route across moorland was already sunbathing in the low rays. I was thankful for the need to get moving in to the subzero temperatures because I was, below the surface of rucksack prep, photograph taking and adding the millionth layer of clothing, astounded and humbled by the conditions we had driven into.

Long distance walking is not for everyone and it is a discipline I was unfamiliar with. Walking by the Tees had taken me into new territory in more ways than one. Watching the course of a river and its impact on the community certainly hits the geographical and historical spots and I have marvelled at how man crafts his life around the natural world he grows up in. But more so has been the unbridled beauty and force that energises every rivulet, beck, stream and river on their tumbling way to the sea. Their voices sing, filling the natural and manmade landscapes with a rise and fall of movement and focus and, when the sun lights the water, the world around explodes; a carnival of colour and sound and life. This is what I knew we now had before us on an icy November Monday morning and it seemed like Christmas.

Walking alongside the Trout Beck

As the cloud quelled the valley behind us, the sunshine filled the moorland silence and lit our path north. Tiny streams and rills began to appear as we dropped downhill. Following alongside our feet, the quiet chatter brought a comforting fluency as we found our pace. The path wove across the streamlets as they joined to create Trout Beck and we committed to the left bank as it became too wide to cross. We found the infant Tees late morning. An old friend, the river joined with our watery companion at Troutbeck Foot and headed towards Cow Green reservoir. It was good to see my first river just before we were introduced to our next.

Bridge shot over the Tees
Infant Tees before Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell

The South Tyne birthplace is marked by a sculpture, not dissimilar to the Eden Benchmark Sculptures, “The Water Cut”, and we resumed following the now familiar blue waymarkers with the Daft as a Brush logo. The South Tyne makes an unfussy appearance as a tiny spring just behind the sculpture, but it grows quickly into a stream with attitude. We stopped for lunch about a mile or so further on where the stream had already widened to a 10 ft channel with a very loud voice.

South Tyne sculpture

Despite sitting close together on streambank rocks, I found it difficult to hear the conversation going on around me. As a newborn, this watercourse created a sound level more reminiscent of that in a nursery or kindergarten, and I let the rush and babble fill my thoughts as I took in our surroundings.

After 5 miles of walking, we had finally moved from moorland into farmland and I watched one man and his dog on the hill above us. I say one man and his dog. It was really one man, his truck, his quad bike, his caterpillar tractor, his chainsaw and a very waggy Springer spaniel. The dog bounced with great abandon between man and machines as his master set a fence on the hillside and I pondered the value of his life and companionship to a man who was involved in what appeared a very solitary activity. Similarly, a sheepdog further down the valley seamlessly moved a flock of sheep up another hill as the shepherd walked slowly behind. The Border Collie hung on his every word, dropping to the lie position immediately as “That’ll do, that’ll do” followed him up the rise.

Getting the map out at a gate had the usual effect on two runners who were passing by.

“Do you need help?” the blond woman asked. She had a Dutch inflexion to her immaculate English.

“No, no, we’re fine, thank you,” I reassured her.

“We just wanted to make sure you weren’t lost,” her partner added in a very strong London accent.

“We’re just working out the best way to get to Garrigill but also see the waterfalls,” I replied.

“What’s the path like from here?” asked Linda, “it was rather boggy up in that section.” She pointed to the riverbank behind us. In the interest of conserving energy, none of us really wanted a repeat of that path.

“Oh, the next section is fine. If you’ve managed the previous one, this will be no problem at all,” Dutch woman explained.

“If you take the road it will be too much of a detour if you want to see the waterfalls too,” London man added.

“Ah, ok, thank you,” I smiled. “That’s helpful to know.”

The runners were locals and full of useful café information for future trips so we chatted for a few minutes before they left us to run into Alston to pick up his van.

Dorthgill Falls

We found the waterfalls, both in full rainfall voice. They invariably bring us to a respectful silence; the torrents spraying the air and our thoughts with a reminder of unleashed and glorious power, even in such a young river. They were a delightful culmination of all that we had been gifted with today.

As we journeyed home, disappearing back into the still existing Eden inversion, I wondered if you can have Christmas in November. With great company, good food and presents all the way, today certainly felt like it.

Ashgill Force

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