Tales of the Unexpected

“Gosh, it’s like diamonds. Look, come and see,” Jane beckoned me over from the path and I joined her on the riverbank to where the river collected before dropping over the rock.

She pointed at the small pool above the waterfall where the river gathered its thoughts before pouring them over the edge in a shout of white noise. I wasn’t quite sure what I was meant to be looking at.

“There, on the water surface, diamonds. You can see them glittering,” Jane explained seeing my puzzlement.

I refocused and looked again at the pool. There, on the gently moving surface was a sparkling diamante veneer that shifted carefully on the underlying current then fell over the edge into the foam beneath. Glistening drop necklaces embellished the indigo silk waters cladding the Low Force rocks and we gazed awestruck.

If you look closely you can just see the “diamonds”….

In fact, we stared, and I tried to capture the impossible with my camera. A big lens and video may have done the phenomenon more justice than a still. I have seen sun glint on water before. But this was different.

Low Force

The effect was a simple one when we looked closer. Sunlight was being reflected from thousands of bubbles on the water surface and it was the constant shimmering stream that had caught Jane’s attention. Low Force was already in fine form with plenty of burnished cream cappuccino frothing on the Whin Sill ledges to draw our admiration and High Force was in similar voice with a rolling boil bronzed toffee tumbling too far into the pool beneath. But a bejewelled Tees had taken our breath away and we talked of it nonstop until we found the juniper forest further on.

High Force

Now here, rubbing the fine leaf tines through our fingers, we inhaled the delicious aroma of gin and, happily distracted, we found new conversation.

“I think it’s the juniper flavour that I like about gin,” I announced, “in fact I don’t think I really need the gin, just the juniper with my mixer”

David looked horrified.

“What would be the point of that?” he responded, his face melting into a grin.

We laughed. Having already hallucinated diamonds at the beginning of the walk it was obvious that the Tees was already having her intoxicating effect on me along with the crisp winter turquoise sunshine. The spirit of the day was proving to be a wonderful New Year tonic without a bottle in sight.

Tees near Cronkley

We had a fair breeze to walk into along the river to Forest in Teesdale but this became advantageous when we turned to walk with it along higher farm tracks back to the car at Bowlees.

I had wandered along another section earlier in the week from Barnard Castle where the wind had proved to be more of a feature in my day. The morning was blue sky bright with cumulus clouds scudding east in their rush to the sea. The river path drops into woodland and I joined the molten steel Tees as it rumbled rocks along its bed. The river played second fiddle though to the freight train wind fanning the branches above me and whipping hair into a copper tinged bird’s nest around my head. In the end I battened down the hatches with a woolly hat, anchoring underneath the stray ends that had been frantically flapping my face.

The trains became steam locos as dogs ran up and past me, tongues lolling from panting mouths, ears flapping in their efforts. A tiny brown Dachshund, smartly robed in a navy-blue coat, barked angrily at my boots as they marched towards him. Even though the boots were bigger than he was, I was relieved to see that he was on a leash. Whilst the oddly deep bark was a little off putting, and rather embarrassing to his owners, in the high wind the lead was doing an excellent job of keeping him tethered to the ground.

In the gorge on the return journey the river lulls, running deep and mercurial in places. The majesty of the silver grey current was seemingly lost on a wren who was more bent on the food it was carrying with it. Far below my feet she hopped, fluttered and jumped between the stones and rocks lining the river, trilling away, a giant voice in a miniscule body, amplified further by the gorge walls. She was food shopping, stocking up to survive the cold night ahead, tiny tail at balancing attention, oblivious to anything save dinner and ensuring nothing else came near her patch. For something so necessary and mundane it was decorated beautifully by trills and chitter and fluting song. I was entranced.

Tees near Abbey Bridge

I’m often asked about walking alongside rivers by folk endeavouring to understand the attraction. Especially those who prefer the hills or their armchair.

People, history, geography, geology, industry, agriculture, politics, culture, the economy; they are all there to find if you look. A river sews these together, weaving something of herself and her flora and fauna into the journey too.

For just one day I become part of it, along with the weather, my walking companions and a little delicious sprinkling of the unexpected. My life is enriched in the pause that is walking. Especially if it involves cocktails and diamonds.

Tees from Whorlton Bridge

What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare? No time to stand beneath the boughs, and stare as long as sheep and cows. No time to see, when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass. No time to see, in broad daylight, streams full of stars, like skies at night. No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, and watch her feet, how they can dance. No time to wait till her mouth can enrich that smile her eyes began? A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.

Leisure by WH Davies

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