Thursday, 8 September 2011

Alston, The Northern Peninnes and High Force.

1st September 2011

The weather forecast was better for the east of England so with dark threatening skies over the Lakes, I set off for Alston and High Force in Teesdale.

So it was out of Penrith and up onto Hartside Pass. The poor unfortunate buggers who do the Coast to Coast cycle ride have to toil up this! Full of z-bends and a few quite steep gradients, it eventually reaches a height of 1903 feet where exertions are rewarded by the Hartside Cafe.

I've often thought of coming up here for a sunset view over the Eden valley, I should imagine it would be quite spectacular. It's a pretty long drive though and the certainty of a good sunset cannot be guaranteed anywhere. The drive down to Alston has the wilderness of the Northern Pennines on all sides.

I usually park up in the Station car park, mainly because it is free and walk up into the town. High up in the North Pennines, Alston claims to be the highest market settlement in England, being about 1000 feet above sea level. It is also remote being about 20 miles from the nearest town which is Penrith to the West and Brampton to the North.

My Cappuccino stop.

Alston has a steep cobbled main street with a distinctive market cross, and many stone buildings dating from the 17th Century. Next to the entrance to the Church, is a building dated 1681 and The Angel pub to its left is dated 1611 and no, I didn't go in.

St Augustine's Church was built in 1869, but records show a church has existed here as long as 1145 AD. Inside the church is an unusual clock brought from Dilston Hall, the home of the Earl of Derwentwater. The clock is of 16th Century origin and has only one hand. The bell, which was cast in 1714 also came from the Earl of Derwentwater and it was recast in 1845, it is now one of a peel of ten bells.

 Keeping an eye on proceedings was a nosy local moggy with it's head stuck out of it's cat flap. I don't know whether it was keeping an eye on me of the many birds in the Churchyard.

"Alston gets no mention in the Domesday Book of 1086 as the area was in the control of the Scots at the time. The manor of Alston (then known as Alderstone) enters recorded history when it was given to William de Veteripont by William I, 'The Lion', King of Scotland in 1209. By 1280 the area was in the hands of the English, but Edward I king of England confirmed the ownership of the de Veteripont family.
Alston then passed by marriage to the Whytlawe family who in 1443 granted it to the Stapletons of Edenhall. From them it passed as part of their daughter's dowry to the Hilton family of Durham."

"Alston and the surrounding fells have been mined for silver, lead, coal and anthracite since Roman times. In 1718 there were 119 mines producing £70,000 a year.
Alston grew rapidly in size to accommodate the ever increasing number of workers, though many miners lived near their places of work, often in appalling conditions. Since the middle of the nineteenth century mining gradually died out as a major employer and with its demise the population shrank. Some small coal mines still operate today."

I then passed over the wilderness and old mining area of Alston Moor before dropped down into Teesdale, heading for High Force.

From its rise as a trickle, high on the heather covered fells at the top of the North Pennines, to the top of the whin sill rock at Forest -in-Teesdale, the River Tees steadily grows and gathers pace, then it suddenly and spectacularly drops 70 feet into the plunge pool below. The north eastern section of Hadrian's Wall is also built on the whin sill rock. Bamburgh Castle, Dunstanburgh Castle and Lindisfarne Castle are all built on it

Access to the Force is nearly as strictly monitored as Bolton Abbey in the Dales. Won't be tired anyone who tries to either park free or gain access free. I managed to sneak past the lady in the kiosk only to be greeted by an "excuse me" but fortunately I had paid and did have a ticket. A couple of quid to park and a quid to see the Force is a small price to pay though and for the thirstier people amongst us, there is also the  High Force Hotel.

J.M.W Turner the celebrated artist also visited the waterfall in August 1816 and painted High Force

Then it was on to Middleton in Teesdale, a pretty little town which once served as the terminus of a railway line from Barnard Castle until this was closed as part of the Beeching Axe. I had a lovely coffee sat outside the Conduit (see above) in the company of the cafe's cat.
A bad accident had closed the A66 so the best option for me was to go back the same way I came which was no real hardship.
I was escorted out of Teesdale and across into Weardale by three army helicopters and a personnel transport jeep; maybe it was something I said! Once they had seen me over the border they turned and flew off. I presume they were on some manoeuvrs as the army jeep was parked up when I turned into the road. Maybe they were using my car for marker practice, who knows. To prove I wasn't being intimidated, I got out of the car to photograph them and have lived to tell the tale!

A journey of two halves.

It was one of those all too frequent occasions when the weather forecast had a big wad of thick cloud and rain hanging over Cumbria whilst ...