Welcome to LEJoG Day 49, hope you can stay awake!

Day 49 pre-amble

This week (Days 48 to 52) there are a number of notable ‘highs’, so it seemed appropriate to go with a ‘High’ theme for every blog post title.

  • The Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in the British Isles at 1,732 feet above sea level (Day 48)
  • High Force, a 21m waterfall (Day 50)
  • High Cup Nick, a justly popular and photogenic glaciated valley (Day 51)
  • Cross Fell, the highest point on the Pennine Way (Day 52)

You will note that Day 49 is the odd one out. But, as today’s destination is Middleton-in-Teesdale, and the walk ends close to the River Tees, a pun on ‘high teas’ works for me. Sometimes this week there were also ‘lows’ that make for a useful contrast in the post titles. Today ended up boring me more than any other day on the Pennine Way so far, hence ‘low tedium threshold’.

(I thought it was a step too far to put a punning double-e in tedium, but see the Day 48 teaser…)

LEJoG Day 49 (Sunday 21 July 2019)

Tan Hill to Middleton-in-Teesdale (17 miles)

Cumulative: 687½ miles

Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 30 minutes. Average speed: 3.09 mph. Weather: Overcast, no rain, moderate wind, cool.

Practicalities: The walk starts right outside the front door of the pub.

The walk

Start: Tan Hill Inn, 10:00am. End: Pennine Way sign near cattle market, Middleton-in-Teesdale, 3:55pm. That was the linear end point: continued to the Forresters Hotel.

More or less straight on to Sleightholme Moor after leaving the pub car park. This moor is the subject of sober warnings in Trailblazer and virtually every Pennine Way blog I’ve read. The walker should expect a prolonged stretch of wet, boggy ground and to have to change direction numerous times in order to avoid the worst of it. Well I was very lucky then, as Sleightholme Moor was largely dry throughout. No doubt that sun and wind last night did the trick. The path is indistinct in places, but following the marked white posts solves that minor problem. It’s easy to follow the posts and becks, and the ground is flat from beginning to end. I could hardly have asked for an easier start to the day.

After around 3 miles, you cross Frumming Beck and come to a wide track, running close to Sleightholme Beck (on your left). Again this makes for speedy and fairly easy walking: there’s a short dip and rise which marks the first climb of any note whatsoever, but otherwise you’re completely untroubled by hills. As you approach Sleightholme Farm (just past the 4 mile mark), you leave the track for a footpath which crosses Intake Bridge and climbs steeply to Wytham Moor.

Intake Bridge, LEJoG Day 49

Intake Bridge – the climb to Wytham Moor is the faint path on the right

Once on the moor, follow a stone wall for around ¼ mile until you come to a highly significant signpost. Straight ahead for the Bowes Loop: an alternative mainly designed for those staying in the village of Bowes but which has since become more commonly used than the original route, at least partly because this additional option hastened the demise of the YHA at Baldersdale. The law of unintended consequences at work, as detailed by Dave here.

The only factor that mattered for me was that the Bowes Loop adds around 4 miles to the day. 17 miles is tough enough: 21 miles was just asking for existential despair. Thus I turned left, heading for the A66 road, a major thoroughfare of northern England, between the A1 at Scotch Corner and the M6 at Penrith. Visible in the distance from Sleightholme Moor just minutes into the walk, soon the A66 would be audible too.

It’s round about here (mile 6) that the walk started to bore me. The descent through Wytham Moor to God’s Bridge is no more barren and featureless than Ickornshaw Moor, I suppose. But whereas the views of the impending Dales were enough to make that a delight, here there was just a main road and then another very similar-looking moor beyond, with no inspiration on the horizon. As I’ve made clear before, I like moorland walking in general. Now though it was trying my patience. Here’s the difference it makes when you feel uninspired: the short, sharp climb from God’s Bridge to the A66 isn’t especially hard, but today it felt like a drag. “What’s my incentive to keep going?” you ask yourself. The only reward, it seemed, was still 10 miles or so away.

A66 underpass, LEJoG Day 49

The A66 underpass – cliché, but it felt like there was no light at the end of that tunnel

Once the A66 is crossed, the climb on to Bowes Moor is quite a steady one. I stopped at a large cairn for food after 7¾ miles. This broke my usual rule of making it past the halfway mark before having lunch, but I’d already figured that I would find this quite a trek after a hard day yesterday, and was budgeting for another major stop later in the afternoon.

Another gradual descent followed, crossing a footbridge and going through a gate at almost exactly the same time as another walker approaching from the mount I was about to climb, Knotts Hill (a little bit of ‘aisle fever’ for me there). Knotts Hill was OK but the endlessly undulating grass afterwards irritated. That would be the section from Race Yate, past Peatbrig Hill and on to Cotherstone Moor. At least now there was a settlement to break the monotony of the view. This was Baldersdale, mentioned above as the location of an old YHA, which closed as a result of the Bowes Loop and (more importantly) the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001. The Pennine Way passes through the garden of Clove Lodge, where three other walkers were just re-starting after taking lunch.

At almost exactly mile 11 for me today, Clove Lodge also marks (or at least sells itself as) the halfway point on the Pennine Way. The full length of the Pennine Way is 268 miles. According to this blog, I had covered 138 miles from Edale to Clove Lodge, suggesting that my diversions to Hebden Bridge and Haworth have added 4 miles to my route. This seems low, but not by much, so I’m pretty confident in the accuracy of the mileage according to Fitbit.

Not long after Clove Lodge, the Bowes Loop rejoins the Pennine Way and you cross Blackton Bridge, over the reservoir of the same name. Then, not surprisingly, it’s another climb, this time through Hannah’s Meadow, named after the late Baldersdale farmer and 1970s TV personality Hannah Hauxwell. Again it’s a hill not dramatic enough to be memorable, but just long and steep enough to be tiresome. After crossing the road you continue through Mickleton Moor.

Here I became really fed up of indistinguishable, undulating moorland. Guess what came next? Yes, it’s another descent, past another stone wall and through some more stiles. No-one who’s volunteered to complete the Pennine Way is in any position to complain about this, of course. And indeed I don’t think I have, until today. The least inspiring days involved lots of reservoirs, which I light-heartedly mocked. Crucially though, those days were saved by interesting variations in scenery. Day 49, I’m afraid, offered very little respite on that score.

Anyway, this particular descent takes you to How Farm, where I had to take the long way round a field due to a combine harvester obstructing the direct route. As a consequence I got my bearings slightly wrong, climbing a locked gate and falling on the far side of it when I could have passed through a gap in the hedge further along. I was mildly annoyed, though not flustered enough to yell or swear at my temporary misfortune. In fact, after crossing Grassholme Reservoir I felt quite optimistic, knowing that there was only one significant climb to come (Harter Fell) and Middleton lay on the far side of that.

Yeah, about that optimism. It lasted for as long as it took (less than 10 minutes) to walk from the reservoir to Grassholme Farm. Here you leave the road, and find yourself climbing through yet another hill farm. And my tedium threshold was officially broken. Smashed through, in fact. By now I felt like the main character in a particularly unimaginative vertical scrolling computer game, of the type I would have played on the Commodore 64 in the 1980s. One in which all the screens look exactly the same, with the same features re-appearing over and over again in your eyeline as you try and concentrate on your ultimate goal. In this case:

  • Grass (well, ok, that would actually dominate the centre of your view)
  • Hill
  • Farm
  • Sheep
  • Stone wall
  • Barn
  • Stream
  • Sheep shit
  • Dead rabbit
  • etc.

Now pasing through the wonderfully-named valley of Lunedale, it was therefore an immense relief that the next such hill farm, Wythes Hill, offered something different. A tuck shop and honesty box, which was akin to topping up your strength or points in this desperately dull computer game. Bought a can of full sugar Coke (a rare treat, reserved only for days like this… or mixing with Jack Daniel’s), ate one of my protein bars and still had an appetite. However I was 2p short of what I needed for a chocolate bar, and my conscience wouldn’t allow me to take it for 58p instead of 60p. Good karma was clearly in operation, as there was another tuck shop and honesty box offering chocolate just one day later.

Energised, and no longer preoccupied with sheep dung and rabbit corpses, I was soon on top of Harter Fell and looking down on Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Middleton in Teesdale, LEJoG Day 49

Middleton-in-Teesdale, seen from descent of Harter Fell (similar to the header image, but taken 10-15 minutes later)

The descent seemed longer on the ground than on the map, but when the end’s in sight, that doesn’t matter a jot. Stopped at the point where the Pennine Way leaves the B6277 to head west for the Low Force and High Force waterfalls.

After the walk

Checked in at the Forresters Hotel. Now I’d booked this several months in advance, and had forgotten that they don’t serve food on Sunday evenings. Oops. Not only that, but the breakfast chef wasn’t available the following morning. There was however no temptation to dish the dirt on Trip Advisor, as the gentleman who checked me in was full of suggestions for both evening meal and breakfast.

Showered and listened to the Open finale before heading out. I played it safe (and cheap) with my evening meal, going to the Middleton-in-Teesdale Fish and Chip Shop, just 20 yards from the door of Forresters. This must be one of the most highly-rated and best-reviewed in the country, at least for an inland location. I didn’t choose the obvious because I’d eaten fish and chips only two nights earlier in Hawes. The lamb burger with yoghurt and mint (and chips) was excellent. Ate it on the outdoor table at the Forresters (with permission), accompanied by a cold pint. Solo walkers’ bliss.

Rest of the evening reading my Kilimanjaro guidebook and watching Open highlights.

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

Two episodes of Rule of Three:

  • Lawrence Rickard on Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the greatest comedy film ever made apart from on the days where I prefer Airplane! About as great as a one-hour three-way discussion of a masterpiece could possibly be. That took from the start of the walk to Sleightholme Farm.
  • Phill Jupitus on Chuck Jones. A leftover from earlier series – not being a cartoon fan or expert, I was initially sceptical. Phill’s passion and articulacy won me over. Special mention to his monologue describing 4 minutes of purely visual gags in the Bugs Bunny cartoon Rabbit of Seville. That took until shortly after the A66 underpass.

My Perfect Balance compilation, explained in full on Day 23 (see link). It just happened to be the perfect length to get me from my lunch stop to Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Picture (taken 21 July 2019) shows the view approaching Middleton-in-Teesdale from the descent of Harter Fell.

Next: Day 50 (22 July 2019)in which I heed the advice of Paul McCartney and TLC.

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