Page last updated 31/05/07

A Tour In Westmorland by Sir Clement Jones, published 1948




When the weather is mentioned in the headlines of newspapers instead of being tucked away, as it normally is, in small print at the bottom of the page, or, in still smaller type, along with lighting-up time at the top, you may be sure that it has not escaped the notice of hikers and holidaymakers in their home-going postcards. On 2nd June, when we started our tour, the heat was very much in the news as well as on the road. "Hottest weather for 92 years" we read; on the 4th the story was much the same: "Six days running over 85." But there were some sinister looking clouds while we were at Kirkby Stephen and we assured each other that we had better make the best of the fine weather. It wouldn't last. And, for once, we were right; during the next two days there was a drop of 28 degrees, and by the time we reached Middleton-in-Teesdale on the 6th it was even colder and wetter than when we left Kirkby Stephen.

Our plan in coming to Teesdale was to see the Pennine range and the Westmorland border from the Durham side; to visit the waterfalls of High Force and Caldron Snout; and, if possible, to get as far as High Cup Nick and the junction of Crookburn Beck and the Tees (where meet the counties of Cumberland, Durham and Westmorland). As we had no car and no bus guide, we were uncertain to what extent we might be able to carry out this programme. In the end we were able not only to complete the whole of it but even to add to it, owing to the kindness of friends in the hotel who gave us a lift in their car. Once again I render thanks to motorists, and if ever Mr. and Mrs. Harris should read this book I hope they will realise how grateful my wife and I are to them. I hope they will also bear witness that we did not throw out hints or fish for a lift, or hang about in the front hall of the hotel in a hopeful, expectant manner. "Sursum Corda" - Lift up your hearts - is the motto of my old school, but "Lift up your friends" seems to be the text followed by the Harrises, for I know now, since I learnt later, that they make it a rule never to go out for a drive without first offering a lift to somebody.Click on picture to view a higher resolution image

In this way, and with them, we planned overnight a combined operation by car and on foot to High Cup Nick. It would have to depend on the state of the weather but we would get to Caldron Snout anyhow.

We woke to find pouring rain and a high wind from the north-west. We stowed our spare shoes and stockings in the car and set off from Heather Brae Hotel, where we were staying, along the road to High Force. We had seen the wonders of this place on the previous afternoon. High Force has been described as "the finest waterfall in the kingdom" with which I entirely agree, for though I have seen many forces and falls in different parts of Westmorland and Cumberland and other counties, I have certainly not seen anywhere else such grandeur of setting or such a fine fall of water. You approach it from the high road down a path through a wood of fir trees, and at the end of the path you hear straight ahead of you the thunder of the fall. The Tees, at this point on its journey to the sea, having carved itself a deep bed in the basalt, hurls itself over a square-headed mass of rock with a drop of over 70 feet into the canyon below. The colour of the water is brown from the peat bogs above the fall; the upper part of the rock is basalt, with vertical lines of limestone beneath. In a chapter called "Geology in Westmorland," in Kelly's Directory of the County,
1 there is an account of this formation: "In the carboniferous limestone of the Pennine Chain there occurs a fine example of an intrusive mass of igneous rock called the Great Whin Sill. It is a greyish black basalt and is finely exposed in Teesdale at the waterfalls known as High Force and Caldron Snout."

As I stood and gazed up at this mass of rock and water I was reminded of three things. First of a stick of Edinburgh Rock, of the sort called ginger (which as a child I had always left to the last), for that is exactly how the 70-foot column of water looked in the distance - ribbed and creamy and brownish. Secondly, looking into the dark pool below, I remembered the colour of the water in the Rio Negro at Manaos in Brazil - not as black as its name suggests but rather a dark coffee colour. Thirdly these columnar strata of igneous rock looked exactly like the pillars in some great cathedral or ruined abbey - and I remembered a saying of "Grey Owl" when we were with him at Beaver Lodge in the wilds of Canada. We were walking through the woods on our way to see a beaver-dam when he looked up at the trees and said in his slow drawl: "Brother, I never go to church, but I always think the arches of these trees must be like those in a cathedral."

But the recollections of the elderly are apt to be boring to other people so I will not continue them, even though these memories did come back to me as I watched the water coming down at High Force.

Leaving the falls on our left we kept straight along the high road northward until we came to Langdon Beck Hotel. Here we turned left-handed along Peghorn Lane, first by the side of Langdon Beck and then, after crossing a wooden bridge over Harwood Beck, we drove on to Cow Green, where we parked the car. We started our walk across Widdy Bank Fell in the direction of Caldron Snout which was our first objective. It was still raining and blowing hard as we set out across the moor, and we debated whether we should have to be content with seeing the Snout or whether we should get to High Cup Nick afterwards. As we walked we looked everywhere for any signs of the wild gentian (Verna) which is not only said to grow in this part of Widdy Bank Fell but which had actually been seen there by friends of our a fortnight earlier. Evidently we were just too late. Another place famous for wild gentians is Cronkley Fell close to Teesdale on the Yorkshire side. Instead of gentians we had to be content with seeing masses of lovely wild pansies.

Caldron Snout is another magnificent waterfall in the Tees; the same brown peat-stained water as at High Force; the same basalt canyon; only the fall is not quite so perpendicular nor is the volume of water so large, because the Tees does not receive the waters of Maize Beck until below the Snout. But it is a fine sight nevertheless, amidst a grand piece of scenery in some of the wildest country yet left in England. It is here at Caldron Snout that the three counties of York, Westmorland and Durham meet. The meeting takes place at the junction of the Tees and the Maize Beck. In order to get a better view of the waterfall (and to gain a little time, in the hope that the rain might stop) we scrambled down the rocks to the foot of the fall.

The rain was still falling heavily, and we were pretty well wet through by this time, but we were all eager to see High Cup Nick so we pretended to ourselves that it looked like clearing and we quoted "wet at seven, fine at 11." Deducting the two hours (summer-time) it was only ten o'clock. We decided to push on.

Having crossed the bridge over the Tees at Caldron Snout, we were now in the parish of Dufton in the county of Westmorland, walking in a westerly direction. This was a real boundary walk, for Maize Beck is here the boundary between Yorkshire and Westmorland and we walked beside it for a good part of the way to High Cup Nick. It was probably a mistake to do so, but we have been told on the previous night by a man in the hotel that there was no proper track and no posts marking the route and that therefore it would be wiser, if clouds were low, to keep near the beck. This we did, but on our return journey from High Cup Nick we found that there was a perfectly good track all the way with posts and stones at intervals. We certainly lost distance on the outward journey by following the windings of the beck and by getting into places where the going was very heavy, what with bogs and peat crevasses to avoid or jump or wade through, and ridges of heather and rough, coarse grass to stumble over. The peat bogs here and the bad going were just like what they are in parts of County Mayo, and here, as in Ireland, turf is cut for fuel near Caldron Snout, only here we noticed that it is cut in smaller pieces. We plodded on with Dufton Fell in the distance on our right and Mickle Fell in Yorkshire on our left rising to 2591 feet which, we were told, in the highest ground in that county. These two landmarks, between which we were able to steer our course the rest of the way, were now visible, for the rain which had been persistent ever since we started was clearing, the clouds were lifting, and, as we sat down for luch in a gully in the moor, in order to get out of the wind, the sun came out and we had a glorious view ahead. It was "fairing oop." By the proper time, by the sun, it was 11 and it was fine.

After lunch, when we were just below the 2,000-foot contour, the bird-watchers had their innings and scored a peregrine falcon, a brace of grouse, some sandpipers, about 20 golden plover and a dunlin nesting.

As we were crossing the moor, we suddenly heard a shrill, nasal "twaa-twee" and also an excited and alarmed not of a small bird which we identified as a dunlin. The bird was obviously not far from its nest and held its ground when we approached quite close. Though we looked about, we could not find the nest which has been described as "a neat little cup hollowed-out in a tussock of grass, almost always close to water.
2 The place where we saw the dunlin was actually in the county of Westmorland, but it was close to the borders o North Yorkshire and West Durham, both of which are mentioned as placed where dunlin breed sparingly on the moors.Click on picture to view a higher resolution image

Gradually we became aware from the formation of the ground, as we approached Murton Fell, that we were getting near High Cup Nick. That is the odd thing about it; you are quite close to the horseshoe precipice before you are aware of it. Then suddenly you come upon it. It has been described by Mr. Poucher - and who should know better than he? - as "one of the greatest surprises in the hill country of Britain."
3 The ground is literally cut from under your feet. There is no foreground to look at but you see, through the broad open gap at the western end of the horseshoe, the Valley of the Eden some five miles away to the west, and beyond that in the far distance the outline of the high fells of Cumberland in the Skiddaw direction. It was like standing on the rim of an empty cup, looking across the tea-leaves with a broken gap in the far side of the cup. The rim is in fact composed of the same igneous rock that we noticed at High Force. "Here," says the writer on that subject, "the Whin Sill is well seen along the western face of the Pennine escarpment, one of the finest sections being at High Cup Nick, where the basalt is 73 feet thick and has baked or altered the shale beds both above and below it."

It is always a pleasure to visit a district with a geological formation and flora and fauna different from those to which one is accustomed. This was certainly true in our case, coming from London, and the Teesdale country, round Middleton and up to High Cup Nick, had been no exception. In boggy, heathery moorland on this higher ground one does not look for flora but the bird-watchers had had a good day with the dunlin nesting and the large number of golden plover, and now it was the turn for geology. Nothing like the precipitous basalt edge of High Cup Nick had been seen before by any of us.

[text omission]


when we explained to him which way we had been to High Cup Nick that by the time we got back to Cow Green we should have walked 15 miles as near as made no matter. He seemed to imply, without actually saying it, that this was not a bad performance for us old 'uns, considering the weather and the rough ground, and we old 'uns secretly felt rather pleased with ourselves. Mr. Airey thinks nothing himself of walking the ten miles or so from Birkdale over the moor to Appleby when he wants to go there to see his relatives, but his sister, being unable to make so long and arduous a journey, walks a shorter distance, in the opposite direction, to Langdon Beck where she can get a bus to Barnard Castle; there she changes into another bus for Kirkby Stephen, and so to Appleby - a journey of some 40 miles which take her 11 hours! On one very rare and memorable occasion in the 1945 General Election, she and her brother were offered a lift by car all the way from Cow Green, round by Middleton and Brough to the polling booth in Long Marton which is about a mile from Dufton village. It was to be a long drive and a great event, but alas! it never came off. The Aireys arrived at the appointed time and place near the Tees where the car was to meet them, but when they got there the road was bare; there was no car and so their votes were never registered.

* See p. 21.

Elections are favourite topics of conversation with farmers, quite apart from the political issues involved or the party programmes. Indeed a far greater interest is taken in the character of the candidate than in the cause for which he stands. If the modern candidates of to-day are blameless, worthy men, then let us go back to some ancient Victorian day when the hustings really were hustings. "Do you remember old Mr. X?" asks a farmer friend of mine. How could I, seeing that he was dead before I was born, but I had heard tell of him so I say "Yes," in the hope that my friend will continue. "He was a great Parliament man," he went on, "but he had his failings." My friend then looked at me in a very knowing way and raised his elbow twice, fearing perhaps that I might have overlooked his first movement.

He pursed his lips outward and drew in a quantity of breath in a disapproving way and added "Ay, he went bit mark." I missed the point of this and then saw it. He, the parliamentary candidate had overstepped the mark; he had gone past the mark; he had gone by the mark. "He went bi' t' mark" my friend repeated. Then followed a story of how this same candidate on one occasion was to have addressed a public meeting in a Town Hall; and all the people came; the place was packed ; they waited and waited; but the candidate never arrived; "and then word coom that he'd got the tuithache." More knowing winks from my friend.

Of another Conservative M.P. at a later date it was said by Liberal critics that the man wasn't a suitable member for Westmorland at all, seeing that he seldom went to the House and never spoke during the whole session. To which came the famous, oft quoted Tory reply: "Better if he stayed in his hotel aw' t' time than bin a Liberil." A delightful idea this, that the representatives of the people who were returned to Westminster were constrained to dwell in hotels! It might be true of 1947, housing accommodation being what it is, but very unlikely in the eighteen eighties when practically every M.P., whether a Liberal or a Conservative, had or took a house in London while Parliament was in session.

That two lonely farms at Birkdale situated in a wild mountainous district, separated from their polling station by miles of moorland should be included in Westmorland at all seems to a mere visitor at any rate to be a clear case for an alteration of the county boundary, because Birkdale is for all practical purposes in Teesdale. It is to Middleton-in-Teesdale that the farmers come on Saturdays for groceries and gossip, and though the two farms are in Dufton parish there is no possibility of their using Dufton for either social or religious purposes, separated from it as they are by miles of heather, bog, becks and the high watershed.

To alter the boundary, however, and bring these farms into Durham would, I realise perfectly, lead to a fierce controversy into which I would not dream of entering. It so happened that while we were there, a proposal had been made under a County Boundary Commisson to make some adjustments in another part of Yorkshire. A local paper had flared up at once. "North Riding will fight" was the heading, and underneath I read "full resources will be used against any unreasonable attempts to annex any part of the Riding." There was the spirit of the Lady Anne Clifford alive again!


Westmorland is, to a small extent, a coastal county bounded by the sea at the head of Morecambe Bay and by four continguous counties, namely, Lancashire, Cumberland, Durham and Yorkshire. It therefore follows that there are four three-shire meting places. There are firstly the three shire stone at Wrynose above Little Langdale (probably the best known and the most frequently visited of the four); secondly, the county stone on Crag Hill near Kirkby Lonsdale; thirdly, the junction of the Tees and Maize Beck at Caldron Snout; and fourthly the junction of the Tees and Crookburn Beck in the extreme north-east corner of Westmorland.

It is the last of these with which I now deal, and I suggest that it might be called the Crookburn meeting to distinguish it from the others. As our headquarters were then at Middleton-in-Teesdale we approached it from the Durham side, but you could get to it just as well if not better from Alston in Cumberland. The distance from Middleton to Alston by the main road is about 22 miles; 14 from Middlton to the top of the pass and thence a run of eight miles downhill into Alston. It is at the top of the pass that the road crosses over the little (as it then is) Crookburn Beck, and it is there that you have to leave the car and start walking. If you (or your friends who may be kind enough to lift you) can spare the time and the petrol for the longer journey, it is well worth while to drive the whole way to Alston and back, because by going over the pass and returning up the hill you get a better picture of how Westmorland and Cumberland meet at this point and how Crossfell on the northern side dominates their meeting. We were fortunate in being taken the long way.

Click on picture to view a higher resolution image
But first we were to see a very lovely bit of the Tees a few miles to the north of Middleton and to the south of High Force. We left the car and walked across a field to Scorberry Bridge; here we crossed over the Tees to the Yorkshire side where we noticed a wealth of wild flowers; one field, in particular, covered with pale orchis, another with wild pansies of varying colours and sizes - purple, yellow, blue and yellow half and half, and pure white. We then walked upstream to Winch Bridge where we recrossed the river to the Durham side and so back by a footpath to Bow Lees and the car.

As we had already seen High Force and Caldron Snout and Langdon Beck, we passed these by, and went steadily forward up the main road to Alston with the Harwood Beck below us on our left. We had also passed by a number of quarries from which great quantities of road material are being taken, after being put through high and hideous mincing machines. Formerly, and until recently the London Lead Co. owned and operated lead mines here. The Company was formed in 1692 under a charter of William and Mary, and finally closed in 1905 after 200 years of activity. The principal lead mines were in this part of Teesdale, but owing to the low price of the metal and the decreasing percentage of silver found in it the Company came to an end.

An industry that still survives in this neighbourhood is that connected with barytes or sulphate of barium. This is a heavy, white mineral occurring in veins, carrying lead and zinc ores. It is used in the preparation of white paints for wallpapers and for bleaching flannel. Westmorland has been an active producer of barytes at Brough and at Dufton Fell, and there is a mine that we saw working at Cow Green close to the Tees above Caldron Snout.

It is a long pull up the Alston road to the top of the pass. Here at Crookburn Bridge (see ordnance map) you take an old, disused road called Yad Moss Lane, which after about a mile or more becomes a sort of grass terrace walk with a magnificent view across to the west. Below is the junction of Crookburn Beck and the Tees, where the three counties (Durham, Westmorland and Cumberland) meet; beyond is the towering height of Crossfell in Cumberland, just over the boundary. It is one of those places which in the days of my childhood used to be called "scream points." They were given this name because, when you came to them, you couldn't help calling-out "Oh!" The earliest "scream point" that I can remember was on the road from Kendal to Staveley, where, as you come round a corner, you suddenly see the whole range of the high fells of the Lake District spread out in front of you. No visitor can go there on a fine day without exclaiming vociferously: "Oh, how lovely!" ; in short, he "screams" when he reaches that "point." If he doesn't there must be something amiss with him. This spot on which we now stood near Crookburn Beck is a real "scream point."

From this grass terrace you can either follow the old Yad Moss Lane, which becomes Peghorn Lane, downhill to Langdon Beck Hotel, or, if you have left your car or bicycle at the top of the pass you can return, as we did, to Crookburn Bridge on the main road. I am well aware that the traveller who comes back from a far country with stories about places which he has seen that others have never seen is liable to become, if not discredited at any rate regarded as a noted bore, with no one to check the truth or stop the flow of his yarsn, but I have met so few people in Westmorland who have ever seen the junction of the Crookburn Beck and the river Tees that I merely recommend those who are fond of scenery to go there at the earliest possible occasion, and I leave it at that.

1    * Kelly's "Directory of Westmorland," 1938. p.13.

2    "The Handbook of British Birds," H.F. Witherby, 1940.

3    W.A. Poucher, "The Backbone of England." Country Life, p. 194.

Thanks to Diane Coppard in Leicestershire for transcribing this! Reproduced by permission of Tim Clement-Jones.



Chapter 7

Chapter 9