Last month I went camping with my Taller Half in Upper Teesdale. We stayed at the Strathmore Arms in Holwick, one of my favourite places in County Durham. Holwick is essentially a scattering of cottages and farm buildings on a no-through road that ends at the Strathmore estate. From there a footpath takes you to the stunning Low Force waterfall and the Pennine Way. Keep walking westwards and you can also bag the High Force and Cauldron Snout waterfalls.
This Easter was my first visit to Holwick. I was half hoping for a glimpse of the spring gentian – an alpine relic that is only found in the UK at Upper Teesdale. Despite planning the holiday with military precision I hadn’t actually bothered to check the flowering times so I just kept my eyes optimistically open for them. Thinking back, I don’t think I missed them, as winter had barely left its grip on the area and I now know that gentians only come out in the sun. By the time of our second visit I just assumed the flowering season had finished.
We got to the campsite – I mean the pub’s back garden, er, walled in-piece of moorland – and chatted to Helen the pub landlady over a well-earned pint and a half of Timothy Taylor’s. We were talking about how much the Teesdale vegetation had changed since our last visit, and how the Teesdale bluebells had only just peaked but were finishing everywhere else. Helen told us one of the locals had said the spring gentians were out. The hunt was on!
A walk to High Force the next day was a botanist’s dream. I reckon I saw at least twenty plants I’d not seen before, including the bird’s-eye primrose, globe flower and lady’s mantle – I didn’t even know that was a native. No spring gentian in view though. This was not helped by me not bothering to ask where to look for them. A visit to the Durham Wildlife Trust reserve across the river at Bowlees yielded some useful botanical info – Upper Teesdale is famous among botanists not just for the gentian but for the sheer number of alpine plants that are found here. It’s known as the Teesdale Assemblage, a snapshot of the post-glacial landscape that has somehow survived into modern times.
When we got back to the pub one of the regulars informed us that the gentians had all finished, so no luck this year. Next year I’ll be back and I’ll be on time!