The Waterfalls Walk
Classed as moderately challenging, the trail which begins at the Bowlees Visitor Centre does include several steep flights of stone steps and a mixture of paths and rocky, uneven tracks. From the centre head right and follow the gently rising track through the fields to the high point of Ash Hill, where it’s worth stopping to take in the vast expanse of ancient farmland dotted with the traditional white painted barns of the Raby Estate laid out before you. For those don’t know the history behind these white-washed buildings, the story goes that the Duke of Cleveland became stranded in a storm whilst out hunting in Teesdale. After he was refused shelter at a local farmhouse which he thought belonged to his estate he determined never to suffer the same humiliation again so ordered that all buildings belonging to his estate be whitewashed for easy identification. The tradition carries on today across the estate.
The descent from Ash Hill sees you cross Smithy Like (a small stream) and go through some farm buildings at Dirt Pit, where you’ll cross over the road and follow the public footpath into the neighbouring field, where you cross a wooden bridge over another stream and often boggy ground. Carry on through the gate at the end of the field next to the barn and begin your descent towards the woodland behind the High Force Hotel. Cross the road in front of the hotel. You can bear right and head to High Force which is an amazing sight in itself (you do have to pay an entry fee as it is on private land) but we are going to bear left down the steps to the banks of the River Tees. Cross the river on the narrow footbridge and follow the Pennine Way on the river’s south bank. Stay close to the river as it rushes down the valley and eventually you’ll come across the famous Low Force with its peaty brown waters rushing over a series of rocky outcrops into the water-gouged gorge below.
Carry on until you pass the stone sheep, cross back over the river on the narrow Winch Bridge and head up through the woodland to the road where you can see the Visitor Centre on the right. But you’re not finished yet as the half a mile to Summerhill Force and Gibson’s Cave beyond the centre is well worth the extra effort. Local legend has it that in the 16th century an outlaw called William Gibson hid from the local constables in the cave, hidden by the fall of water, and was helped by locals who fed and clothed him. Back at the visitor centre you’ll be glad of coffee and cake. It is also a great mine of information with lots of maps of the surrounding area.
High Force Hotel is en-route and it’s a family-friendly, dog-friendly inn with rooms, a welcoming bar with a log-burning stove and cosy wood-panelled restaurant with an open fire. They serve good, home cooked food all day (using plenty of local Teesdale produce) and lots of local ales and gins, so it won’t matter what time you finish (or start) your walk.
Just down the road is The Rose & Crown at Romaldkirk. This old coaching inn on the village green is rightly popular for its cosy bar with a welcome real fire, well kept ales and a tempting bar menu that includes everything from freshly made sandwiches to sturdier dishes such as hog roast sausages and mash, and battered bream with triple cooked chips.