I shouldn’t complain, I am very lucky to live in such a scenic part of the UK with moorland and hills on my doorstep. However it’s human nature to want what you can’t have and so I dream of trips to the Lakes and Scotland and further afield, currently out of bounds to us in tier 3 in County Durham. Maybe it is simply the yearning to escape, to go somewhere new, to explore and to leave behind everyday life for a while. That will all have to wait until 2021.
It was a beautiful morning on Tuesday and the pull of the hills was strong, so strong that I didn’t take the usual turn for the office but kept on driving with no idea where I was going. I ended up at the top of the Eggleston to Stanhope road, Teesdale on one side and Weardale on the other. The air was cold and clear with a sharp frost on the ground and the sun was climbing slowly into a blue sky. I walked for an hour over frozen moorland along the watershed to Harnisha Hill, wrapped up well against the icy wind. I returned the same way and having sated the call of the hills, drove back to the office.
Wednesday was a longer walk with Steve, planned slightly better than the previous day’s walk. We started at Hury reservoir near Cotherstone and walked westwards along the shore of first Hury and then Blackton reservoir. The weather was grey and drizzly but was forecast to improve. At the far end of Blackton reservoir we came to Birk Hat, the farmhouse where the legendary Hannah Hauxwell spent most of her life.
Hannah Hauxwell lived alone here with her beloved farm animals, without electricity, central heating or running water. In harsh winters she would often sleep in the byre with the animals for warmth and could go for weeks without seeing anyone. She never married and lived alone on the farm from the age of 34 when her parents died until her 60s when she moved to Cotherstone. She died in 2018 at the age of 91. There were numerous TV documentaries and books about her over the years, stories of a bygone age and an incredibly tough woman.
I am sometimes asked if I named my daughter after Hannah Hauxwell, but I didn’t. I chose it because it was a good north country name with no airs and graces, but not too plain either. But thinking about it now, there are far worse namesakes for my daughter to have.
After Birk Hat we left the reservoirs behind and headed south, initially uphill over fields and then once past Clove Lodge, onto moorland. We were on the Pennine Way here, the part linking Bowes to the south and Middleton to the north, bleak and boggy moorland but very wild and quiet. We continued over Race Yat and down into Deepdale or Sled Dale, depending on whether you are looking at the 1 to 50000 or 1 to 25000 map. This had caused confusion the evening before when we were discussing routes, one of us looking at one scale map, the other looking at the other scale and neither of us knowing what the other was talking about.
We had a brief stop for lunch near Deepdale Beck and then headed east on a good track to West Stoney Keld where we joined an alternative Pennine Way taking us north. We passed a house with a thatched roof, unusual in this part of the world where it rains a lot. This was Levy Pool Farmhouse, a listed building with a ling (heather) thatched roof, highly unusual but apparently ling is good thatching material with a long life, if you can avoid fires. The chimney stacks had clearly been extended recently in an effort to do just that.
After a few more miles of moorland walking we came to Goldsborough, a small rocky outcrop of good Pennine gritstone. It’s reasonably popular with local climbers and I have climbed here in my distant past, but the best routes have always been slightly too hard for me. At the far end of the crag a huge block had come away and had rolled down the hill, probably within the last 12 months given the freshness of the debris left behind. The route called Hubris is no more, and hopefully no-one was on the route when it parted company with the rest of the crag.
The weather had cleared as promised and we had had blue skies and a cold wind for the second half of the walk. From the top of Goldsborough we could see over the reservoirs to the hills on the east side of Teesdale, to Monks Moor where we’d been the previous week (I failed to take any photos so didn’t write about it, a blog without photos just doesn’t work). From here we dropped down to the road and followed it back to the car park, stopping only to photo a rainbow that had appeared above the reservoir.
Since then it has rained solidly for two days, a cold, wet, winter’s rain from skies that stay dark all day. My outings have been restricted to muddy runs through wet fields while the first snow of the season falls higher up Teesdale and on Barningham Moor.
Just writing this blog has made me realise that I really am lucky to live in such a beautiful and wild part of the UK. Maybe tonight I will dream of the hills of Teesdale and leave dreams of further afield for another time.