I hadn’t walked this section before (my blisters were too bad on the previous occasion!) and was looking forward to it – although it’s strictly speaking a massive diversion, because the route goes east to west, it goes through some beautiful scenery and I was looking forward to the waterfalls (Low and High Force and Cauldron Snout) and to High Cup.
It was really hot again – more blue skies and sunshine, in a very un-Pennine-like way – and I decided to carry another litre of water just in case. Unfortunately I didn’t start until close to 10am, but I decided that if I put my best foot forward I could make it to Dufton by about 6.30.
The start of the walk from Middleton-in-Teesdale is a very pretty and easy stroll along the Tees, through mainly flat pasture, and there were wild raspberries growing beside the path. Along the way I met John, Jim and Terry, who were heading up to Dufton as well, and we walked part of the way together. The three of them are old friends and walking partners, and it was great listening to their stories. Terry in particular was a mine of information and taught me how to recognise burdock and meadowsweet (a flower I have seen a lot on my walk but couldn’t name). I persuaded the three of them to pose (reluctantly) for a picture by Low Force.
We passed High Force a bit further up – very impressive, although I think the view is actually better from the north side of the river – and continued on through shadeless fields. It was getting hotter and hotter.
I then persuaded the other three (against their better judgment) to take a ‘shortcut’ which turned out to be nothing of the sort, and we ended up having to retrace our steps through a steep field. The others were too kind to blame me, but it was definitely my fault and I felt guilty. We stopped for lunch in the only shade we could find, next to the river, and Terry soaked his sore feet although he said the river water was actually warm.
Having looked at my watch and the map, I realised that I would have to speed up if I were going to make it to Dufton in reasonable time, and so I said goodbye to the other three and headed off. Unfortunately my leg, which had been getting increasingly sore all morning, was by this time very painful and I had to stop several times to loosen my boot laces and take some painkillers. I was very tempted to soak my leg in the river but suspected that if I ever put my feet in the cool water it would be very difficult indeed to take it out again and carry on walking! My morale was not improved by being overtaken by a group of army trainees, all carrying heavy packs and wearing black tshirts and thick camouflage trousers. I was not in a good mood and the scenery up to Cauldron Snout was largely lost on me.
After what seemed like a very long stretch of scrambling over boulders, I eventually rounded the bend to Cauldron Snout. This is a 180m waterfall in a high and narrow gorge just below Cow Green dam, and the force of the water rushing down was extremely impressive.
Unfortunately, I then realised that the route goes straight up next to the waterfall by climbing the rocks. It’s higher than it looks from that photo. I am terrified of heights and not confident about my balance, and for a horrible moment I thought I would not be able to do it and would have to turn back, but I packed away my pole and decided to take it slowly. It was one of the scarier things I have done on this trip – I was equally frightened of falling and almost equally frightened of panicking and getting stuck. I eventually made it to the top and had a rest break and a piece of Kendal mint cake as a reward.
The drama of Cauldron Snout was followed by a long and incredibly tedious climb up through moorland. The trail guide moans about the boggy going on this bit, but when I got there there were two bulldozers building a huge new road out of aggregate. It was firm underfoot, but very hot and dusty, and there was a lot of noise and the smell of engines and tar. Eventually I got to the end of the track and it was downhill to follow the beck towards High Cup. This was a long and very boring walk; by this time I was running low on water and my leg was really sore, the sun was still beating down, and the going was rough and uneven underfoot.
Just as I was starting to question the point of the walk, LEJOG, and life in general, I got to High Cup and all my worries dropped away. If you haven’t seen it, you should – photographs really don’t do it justice. It’s a huge bowl scooped out of the hillside, and you reach it without warning; the ground just drops away from your feet and it feels like floating in space. It was truly amazing, and I sat down as close to the edge as I dared and just drank it in.
The rest of the walk was a bit of an anticlimax – a long steep descent down into Dufton, albeit with wonderful views. I finished the last of my water with about an hour and a half to go, and spent a lot of the last bit planning what to drink in the pub. By the time I reached Dufton my leg was very painful and I was glad to stop walking, but it was worth it all for High Cup.
Highlights: The tart taste of raspberries near High Force; being asked by Terry to sing while we walked along (Ilkley Moor, if you’re wondering); High Cup, which can’t be described adequately; the cool shade of Dufton village green; a much-needed G&T in the pub.