Friday 22nd August: Tan Hill to Middleton-in-Teesdale – 16 ½ miles
I started the day by watching half an episode of Lovejoy in bed (staying in B&Bs over hostels offered the benefits of sleeping in a comfy bed, not a bunk, and having a cup of tea and the remote within reach). We headed down for breakfast – the other guests were a bunch of bikers and a family trio. The young boy was rather upset about something, so while his mother took him outside for a bit of fresh air, we chatted with the father. He had done the Pennine Way six years previously, with a couple of friends, starting in Scotland and heading south to Edale.
Over Sleightholme Moor
After packing our rucksacks, digesting our breakfasts and taking some valedictory photos of the inn, Mark and I immediately embarked on the north-east crossing of Sleighthome Moor. As soon as we dropped from the plateau of the inn to the flat, wide-open base of the moor, it was apparent that it would be very wet going underfoot.
Prior to this on the Pennine Way, more or less the whole length of moorland crossings had been laid with flag stones: Featherbed Moss, Black Hill (to give two examples). So encountering very wet ground was a new and unfamiliar challenge (although it was at least waterlogged grass and not mud). I postulated to myself that this stretch of the way was more remote, obscure and less at risk of erosion than those, say, in the Peak District; and wasn’t looked after by a National Park (it was administered by Durham County Council – I’d walked that far north!).
A couple of miles of trudging over the moor ended at a stream crossing and we moved onto a dusty track. Civilization suddenly appeared in the form of a shooting party (the time of year being August); or rather its means of transport: a long chain of unattended Range Rovers. As we followed the track in the direction of Bowes, on our right tramping along the edge of the moorland was a group of strikingly shabby youths carrying improvised white flags. From their attire we guessed that they weren’t getting handsomely paid for beating the game.
Gods Bridge – Lunch
We left the moor to cross Sleighthome Beck and then climbed its bank, up to the moor on the other side. The way down over the heather towards Gods Bridge wasn’t entirely straightforward, the footpaths being hard to tell amongst cleared vegetation.
Gods Bridge was a nice spot to sit and have lunch, sitting on the huge rocks and contemplating the dried up riverbed.
The A66 looked quite a busy dual-carriageway; with a steady flow of heavy goods traffic crossing over northern England. The dingy foot tunnel beneath roughly marked the half-way point of the Pennine Way.
Blackton and Grassholme Reservoirs
Three more miles of uneventful grouse moor followed (nice firm paths under foot though). Stone buildings eventually came into sight and the grass became short and green as we approached farmland once again. We passed by Blackton reservoir, a secluded, quite tranquil spot: trees dotted around, calm water, sheep dozing in the afternoon sun.
Climbing up away from there, we then encountered a short patch of moor, and then a very sodden grazing field before the second reservoir appeared, Grassholme.
Here there were more signs of human life: a car park and quite a few anglers on the bank. Mark and I had a rest on a picnic table, taking in some snack bars and biscuits and gabbling to each other.
Down into Middleton-in-Teesdale
There was one last climb, up away from the reservoir, by a farm and then, over the top a fine view of Middleton and over Teesdale.
The final stretch, down from the hills into the town was a pleasing ambling descent; with patches of long grass, bracken and clusters of rocks to stroll through; and a splendid view all round.
Our destination was Brunswick House B&B, a really excellent place to stay and certainly the most comfortable accommodation we had on the walk. After another pub meal we were in bed for 10.30 (we ended up watching a chunk of You Only Live Twice). A longish day, with harder going and some quite monotonous patches; but passing through some nice places.