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TRAVEL NORTH - 1: 'YOU TAKE THE HIGH ROAD', From The A66 To Richmond, Northern Dales And Back
Richmond, Yorkshire - the original 'Honour of Richmond' awarded by William I to his kinsman, the Breton Alan 'the Red', first of many around the world
Scotch Corner by Richmond and Cotherstone to Tan Hill and back
A long time ago, when I was young and innocent (har-har), I heard the song 'Route 66' thinking of a highway across the US of A. How simple could you get? It had to be about a road that left Teesside westward through the northern reaches of Middlesbrough and across to the south of Darlington and down the A1(M) to Scotch Corner.
Here is where the A66 - the North's own route 66 - grits its teeth and heads into the wet and windy north-west. Cumbria and the northern Lake District beckon, but we're not going that far. We're going to be tripping down back roads mostly, south and north of the main road.
Leaving left off the A66 at Quarry Hill we take the road south to Gilling West. (Interesting this, Gilling East is on the edge of the moors not far from Helmsley, on the B1363. Gilling West is about 20 miles north-west the other side of the A1!) A few handsome Georgian buildings, residences and farmhouses dot the road to Richmond, a few more miles south. Richmond is awash with Georgian architecture. A couple of car parks on the northern outskirts of town allow exploration of what had once been a vil around the castle built for Alan Fergant, friend of William 'the Conqueror' and cousin of a Count of Brittany also called Alan. In the centre of a large market square is a church now the Green Howards' military museum on three floors. Progress upward through the floors to the modern day, to the reconstructed officers' mess with its dark furniture bearing Robert Thompson's mice. Outside the glass door to the officers' mess is a collection of Victoria Crosses earned over the last 150 years in several wars. One of the officers of the Green Howards was Hedley Verity, who has a dedication to his cricket-playing skills at the Lord's Museum in London NW8. (He sadly died of wounds sustained in Italy in a prisoner-of-war camp. A cricket bat made in the camp with a hotel sticker on it is exhibited in a glass case on the ground floor at Lord's).
The castle at Richmond is worth a look. An English Heritage site, the castle - built in the later 11th Century, is impressive on its plateau overlooking the River Swale. Most noticeable from everywhere in the town is the castle's tall keep. A steep hill leads down from a small Georgian square to a bridge below on a 25% incline, but the walk is worth the effort, just to look both ways along the river. The road leads uphill from here, winding its way towards Hipswell near Catterick Camp. We're going back into town from here, not back up the hill - you'll be relieved to know - but along the path that leads by the castle walls back to the market square. Back again to the car park, northward out of Richmond for Whashton Green and Ravensworth on another by-road. At Ravensworth is another Norman castle. Unluckily this castle is in a field with no public access. Still, what remains of it is impressive. Incongruous as it is in its setting, you need to use your imagination to think how it might have looked in its heyday, though. Turn sharp right onto a road that leads southward again - this is a really twisty route, but bear with me - uphill along Priest Gill to another crossroad, right again through Gayles, Dalton and Newsham. This part of the route is scenic, over undulating roads and leads westward from Newsham through Barningham. The road drops to a ford over Gill Beck and climbs just as steeply to cross a short plain. Scargill Castle stands on the right here, the scene of a Time Team investigation in which it was established they were at the wrong Scargill Castle!
There's a cautionary tale connected to this place. Scargill is only a small community close to the River Greta, not so much a settlement as a cluster of buildings along a road to somewhere else. Of the castle only a gateway survives, much of the building material used for the construction of a walled farm. Some years ago, whilst still well-known 'King' Arthur Scargill came by this way. He told anyone he could find he was descended from the 'Baron de Scargill' and was told in no uncertain terms where he could get off. The de Scargill clan died out with no male heirs and the site was subsequently acquired by Lady Lucy de Thweng of Skipton Castle. At the time of the Time Team investigation of the site the farmhouse was being developed but the owners wished to know of its origins.
Back through Barningham, turning left opposite the church the road takes us to Greta Bridge. Dickens came this way a long time ago when he was researching Nicholas Nickleby. The inn he stayed in is at Greta Bridge after a long and arduous journey by stagecoach. Look at an Ordnance Survey and you'll see it sits by a loop road close below the present A66 that used to be the original route west to Westmorland.us journey by stagecoach - we had them too! - in whose owning company he was probably an investor (he opposed the coming of the railways). A local workhouse did for Dotheboys Hall at which the infamous Wackford Squeers was the headmaster in his novel Nicholas Nickleby. Close by the inn is the River Tees into which the River Greta swirls its way northward to the Tees at Rokeby Park. Dickens' inn is now shown as a hotel.
Staying on the A66 we head west past Barnard Castle, on towards Bowes, leaving the main road into the village. Bowes is a hive of activity as far as remains is concerned. At the back of the village is the original Norman castle, behind which is the Roman fort, Lavatriso. Back onto the A66 for a short way, turn off again next left for Swinholme. Here, on the right are tumuli, ancient graves dating back to before the Roman occupation of these islands.
The A67 from Barnard Castle joins the A66 in an interesting road junction like a mini-Spaghetti Junction (the original of which is at Birmingham in the West Midlands). Take care not to go awry here when you take the road north - at right angles to the A67 - for Cotherstone. The road this way is a joy to drive over moorland with the odd kinks that keep the brain active, steep downward past an army rifle range on the left, up and down over a hump and over an undulating road that finally brings us past the local road right to Barnard Castle and ahead on a leftward bend into Cotherstone itself. A pleasant village, well-ordered housing on either side of the main road to Middleton-in-Teesdale, there's a small post office-cum-shop on the right opposite a white-walled cottage with a large window front. The shop is worth a visit with local delicacies, one of which is the Cotherstone cheese. Similar to Swaledale and Wensleydale cheeses, this one can be bought in different sizes in a plasticised casing. Across the road, the white-painted house is where Hannah Hauxwell moved to after retiring from her farm, Low Birk Hatt five miles away in Baldersdale. I stopped off to see her in February, 1999 - I have an autographed postcard to prove it - and enjoyed a long chat. I remember mentioning my own family's farming background*. Back behind the wheel, the road takes you to a good inn, the Fox & Hounds, for a well-earned bite and beer - or coffee if you don't want to drive on drink.
*10th April, 2018: I have a page planned as the latest in the "HERITAGE" series, to feature Hannah Hauxwell's extraordinary story, titled "DALES IN THE VEINS"
When in Richmond why not drop in on the Green Howards' Museum that takes you back to post English Civil War years?
Whilst stretching my legs along the way on a short detour -
Cotherstone to High force
From Cotherstone the B6277 road leads out north-westward to Romaldkirk, interestingly enough just past the public house is Beer Beck. On to Mickleton. A little to the left of the road is the trackbed of the railway that ran from Barnard Castle to Middleton-in-Teesdale until the late '1960s through short cuttings and under road bridges that still span the gaps.
At Mickleton the road leads under a bridge that the railway crossed. Everything is overgrown now, so unless you were here to investigate the phenomenon of the north's vanishing railways you'd hardly notice them. The road climbs steeply into Laithkirk, a scattering of properties along the road bending to the River Tees at Middleton. The station was on the south side of the river in the North Riding of Yorkshire, whereas the town was in County Durham. Since 1974 both sides of the river are in Durham's county. Yorkshire stops short of the A66. The B6277 bends sharply in the town past stone houses of the type found in these northern reaches of the Pennines, as well as the usual mix of Georgian and later. Onward by Dent Bank the road skirts the bending Tees past Newbiggin to Bowlees. Water sports enthusiasts might like to know canoeing is available here, through Low Force on the tumbling river. Above the village is a set of waterfalls on the Blea Gill by Gibson's Cave as the water courses through woodland. The road almost follows the Tees past Bowlees where the river bubbles on its hurried way towards Barnard Castle . A hotel and a large car park mark the approach - on foot only - to High Force. A small amount of cash changes hands at a small hut at the head of an easy descent into the deep Tees gorge After a five minute walk past rock faces, through thin woodland the footpath takes a horseshoe bend around a shallow ravine past tall trees. From here you can hear the water as it thunders over the limestone shelf between stacks of hard rock. Most times the river cascades over this limestone sill between the two walls, but after heavy rainfall the river can't tear through fast enough and bypasses the main fall on the north side, thus two falls bring the noise of dropping water to a crescendo that you can feel underfoot from half a mile away!
Take your time returning to the road, savour the quietness once the waterfall is left behind. A steep bank overlooks the deep river gorge as the footpath climbs back to the B6277. The hotel sells ale brewed on site in its own microbrewery, for the benefit of real ale aficionados. Could be worth asking about a room for the night to catch an early start for the next stage, High Force Hotel to Tan Hill Inn...
Where the waters flow
Cotherstone to High Force, the scenery
High Force to Tan Hill
From the High Force Hotel turn right up the road for Langdon Beck, where a minor, unfenced road will take you further along to Cauldron Snout. You pass by the mountain rescue post on the right, the falls should be fairly audible below on the left before the B6277 leaves the Tees to pass between hills, Hanging Shaw high above on the right behind Forest-in-Teesdale, a 'dry' community. 'Dry' villages are fairly frequent in the north, so-called for the lack of hostels that sell alcohol, although there are communities that have licensed premises but do not use them because the locals may be strict Methodists or Quakers.
Langdon Common, above on the right again, overshadows the settlement of Langdon Beck. Here is where you take a left turn off the B6277 near the inn and over the small watercourse named Langdon Beck that gives the settlement its name. Langdon Beck, the village is a scattering of farmhouses and well-detached dwellings. If you wanted to get away from street life, this is one place to come to, but you'd need deep pockets to pay for your property. The smaller road takes you over the Harwood Beck on a sharply twisting alignment. Up along the base of the hill named Widdybank Fell, take the left fork past Peghorn Lodge and follow the road on its wide left-hand bend uphill to Cow Green. Leave your transport by the disused mine and walk the rest of the way, a nature trail. By now the road is more or less a track where it leads to the left along the base of the fell above the broad Cow Green Reservoir towards Cauldron Snout. Half the reservoir lies in Cumbria. At the time the reservoir was created this area was all in the North Riding of Yorkshire. The dam to the left on the River Tees was built to hold back water for industrial Teesside, between 1967-71, for the benefit of a population at the time of around 400,000. The track bridges Cauldron Snout where it runs south-west to Birkdale above Maize Beck. To the right here you can see the Tees crashing in a tight bend below Falcon Clints, tall cliffs topped by cleft rocks on a wide bend. Several gills - springs - drain into the Tees opposite these cliffs including Black Sike beyond Merrygill Moss, a steep bank down which Merrygill Beck drops through the cleft hillside. Merrygill Beck itself is fed by a spider's web of smaller watercourses in the distance below Mickle Fell. Our route retraces the track back past the reservoir to Cow Green. Back by Peghorn Lodge, where Peghorn Sike tumbles down to Harwood Beck take the road left towards Harwood past Unthank, Marshes Gill, Low End and Lingy Hill. 'Ling' is a type of heather, (reflected in the village name of Lingdale in East Cleveland).
This is where you retrace your route back to Middleton-in-Teesdale along the B6277 above Harwood, a journey of about forty-five minutes in a modern vehicle, through Langdon Beck and Bowlees. At Middleton, follow back over the Tees bridge on the B6277, leave onto the B6276 through Laithkirk on the sharp right-hand bend and into fifth gear. The road has its kinks, such as at Thringarth and Wemmergill Hall, and watch the sudden turn for the bridge over Hargill Beck. Your passengers will be able to gaze at Grassholm and Selset reservoirs below Thringarth and Wemmergill, but you'll need your concentration for the road where it overlooks the infant River Lune. This River Lune runs into the Tees downriver from Middleton. (It isn't the same as the one the other side of the Pennines that runs through Lunedale and Lancaster (orig. Luneceaster, the site of a Roman military centre) into the Irish Sea.
The B6276 takes you along the base of Stainmore Common with Swindale Beck gurgling below in the same direction through woodland down to Brough. There are a few dangerous bends to negotiate down this way between Windmore End and Intake Side. Brough is a historic market town dwarfed by the burgeoning A66. A castle ruin stands on the other side of the A66 junction on the east side of Swindale Beck, around which are the remains of the larger Roman fort Verteris at Church Brough on the southward-headed A685.
(The A66 here takes the route of the railway that was lifted in the late 1960s/early 1970s between Darlington and Kirkby Stephen to the south of Brough. At Kirkby Stephen there was in interchange with the Midland Railway's Settle & Carlisle route).
After taking refreshment at Brough gun down the A66 eastward with Stainmore Common on your left. The A66 has a reputation for being a 'killer', take care! This part is not dual carriageway, and overtaking can be hazardous with its bends through the earlier railway cuttings. On the third bend is North Stainmore, stop off here if you want to take a look at the Roman signal Station site behind the inn. To the north is Stainmore Common with its own niche in history. Here Eirik Haraldsson, nicknamed 'Blood-Axe' was slain by 'Maccus' one of Oswulf Ealdulfing's men in an ambush in AD954. Oswulf was the High Reeve or Ealdorman of Bamburgh who ruled Bernicia (Northumbria north of the Tees). He was a supporter of Eadred the king of Wessex. The Norse kingdom of Jorvik. The region would henceforth be ruled by Wessex. (most of the region became Yorkshire and stretched up to Stainmore common until 1974, when it was allocated to County Durham and Cumbria in county boundary changes). Note to our friends across the Pond: either side of the A66 just past North Stainmore is a small community called Bluegrass. [Just thought I'd let you know we've got a bit of Kentucky here].
Further along the A66 where it turns into a dual carriageway is Maiden Castle, the remains of a small Roman fort on a turn-off to the left opposite Palliard. Here you leave the A66 for a minor road that takes you uphill into the wilds behind Bleath Gill. This was the scene of a British Transport Films 'shortie' about when a local goods train was stuck in the snow. The wagons were first drawn away and left in a siding after a spectacular display by the Darlington snow plough and a hard slog by a large party of railway workers to clear the line. The locomotive, a British Railways Class 2 2-6-0 was rescued after the snow was melted away with the help of rags dipped in oil and lit. Not long later 'Mother Nature' freed the branch on her own. The road climbs steeply now towards Crag Green and Barras where the branch ran to Kirkby Stephen. Before Crag Green a smaller road climbs over the lower slopes of Millstone Howe to Middle Fell and another road junction where the road from Barras climbs to Taylor Rigg (a 'rigg' is Yorkshire dialect for 'ridge') past disused or abandoned coal mineworkings. Still climbing between Pollu Moss and Kaber Fell over Rea Gill you come to Tan Hill.
Take a breather outside the inn. Hopefully you've booked ahead for a room because here is sanctuary from the world outside. Breathe in that rare air! There are only sheep up here on this tree-bare moorland. Julia Bradbury stopped off when she was filming her crossing of the Pennines on the Coast to Coast Walk, one of Alfred Wainwright's most famous routes. Like the Victoria Arms at Worton, the Tan Hill Inn has its own distinctive character. Close by the front of Tan Hill Inn are flooded pits where coal was mined here a long time ago. It is unwise to go too close to the water's edge here as underfoot is deep peat. If you were to fall in no-one could save you unless they had a rope with them at the moment you fell in! Be warned.
Tan Hill Inn is where I make a stop in the narrative and let you take a look at the scenery you've passed. The route from here will be back by Barnard Castle.
Cauldron Snout - continuing the Tees below Cow Green Reservoir
Teesdale to Tan Hill
Tan Hill to Barnard Castle and a little detour...
There's a road that leaves Tan Hill Inn (outside, from the left) that you can take to reach Barnard Castle. Undulating is an understatement and much of it is unfenced, so watch out for wandering sheep! The narrow road has passing points, so you need to keep your eyes peeled on the distance.
Some parts of the road, where sheep might wander 'willy-nilly', are hazardous. Deep dips hide oncoming traffic around Sleightholme Moor, and the road takes sudden bends. At Cocker the road forks. You won't know it's Cocker, as there are no signs that tell you but believe me that's what the place is called. Take the right off the fork which will take you down to Arkengarthdale past 'The Disputes' below Arkengarthdale Moor to your right and Dale Head Common on your left, which leads on to Faggergill Moor in the distance at the back. The road takes you past Low Faggergill below to your left on the far bank of Arkle Beck, past Whaw and in towards Langthwaite. Before you reach this picturesque village take the sharp left turn past the turn on the left for Eskeleth and up the steep bank on a slight kink. The dale is steep sided here and you don't get to take your boot off the gas until you pass Shaw Side on the left and Stang Side on the right. When you're up on Stang Hope Moor ease off the gas and almost coast down towards the forest below. This is the Stang. Take some time off from driving, enjoy the view with Arndale Hill to your right, Arkengarthdale behind, Stainmore over to the left in the distance and Scargill High Moor just to the left of the forest. When you've taken in enough of the fresh air take your seat for the downhill slalom, watching out for the sharp 'Z' bend just after you enter the forest still going downhill. Stang Gill runs through the trees to your right on its way to Gill Beck. Out of the Stang and still dropping, steeply at times, you cross Thwaite Beck left of Thwaite and head for the River Greta above the weir. The road bends a bit, almost on the level now to the A66. There will be articulated lorries - 'rigs' if you're from across the Pond or Down Under - trucks of all sizes, cars towing caravans, and endless streams of cars... Or you might be lucky. Either way, take care and turn left. You won't be going far before you turn off right for Boldron. Opposite the inn turn right, then first left again - or else you find yourself on the road to nowhere. The road kinks over Thorsgill Beck before heading north again. When you come to a couple of road forks keep left - it'll be signposted anyway - for Barnard Castle. The A67 that you come onto is on the course of an old Roman road that goes left past Startforth and the Youth Custody Centre, it follows some very un-Roman bends to right and left over the old mediaeval bridge (with traffic lights, as it's only single carriageway) and sharp left uphill into town past the octagonal Victorian Butter Market halfway along the market place. Find somewhere to park away from the town centre and come back. There are shops, cafes, churches, pubs (had to come in somewhere), and to the right almost out of town is the very grand-looking Bowes Museum that was the second (Victorian) Bowes Castle. At times in the year there are various things going on, such as steam traction rallies and re-enactments at the castle. See the Tourist Office for details and enjoy yourself.
From here back to your starting point is only about half an hour on the A66 (with the wind behind you), so I'll leave you here. Bye!