This is the final instalment of my Spring 2012 Teesdale Trilogy, rudely interrupted by the Olympic Torch…
So where was I? We were camping in Middleton-in-Teesdale for the Jubilee long weekend and decided to try out some of the walks in the Cicerone Guide Walking in County Durham by Paddy Dillan. Paddy must like Teesdale, as there are several Teesdale walks in the book.
We opted for walk 24, Middleton and Monk’s Moor. Woods, valleys, farmland, moorland – this walk has variety and then some. Taking in three moorland becks, I was hoping – no, confident – of some ring ouzel sightings.
Starting in Middleton, the route took us along the King’s Walk. Through a wood owned by the Raby Estate, the King’s Walk is a permissive path and is not marked on the map, so we got to explore a piece of Middleton we would never have visited without the guide book.
We emerged from the wood to join a footpath that passes between an old lime kiln and a limestone quarry. Our first surprise of the day was meeting a stallion tethered next to the footpath, with another horse tethered behind him among the guts of the quarry. They were friendly but looked very out of place.
We followed Hudeshope beck for a while. A pleasant zig zagging stream cutting through heathy grassland, the beck is flanked by the deeply scarred Hardberry Hill to the left, and Monk’s Moor, our destination, to our right. Old spoil heaps colonised by rabbits litter the path. There were rabbits everywhere, including several black ones.
I was on my guard for ring ouzels – this felt like their territory. None, but we did hear our first cuckoo of the year.
The path began to climb, until eventually we reached the valley head. The views back south are immense from here, but the beauty of a Teesdale spring is tainted somewhat by the deep industrial scars – not all of them ancient – that will never fully heal. Coldberry gutter cuts a deep V into the crest of Hardberry Hill. Part of a system of lead hushes that extend for over a mile, this great scar was produced by dams that were allowed to build up and then deliberately breached. The release of water would wash away the soil, and men would then gather up the exposed lead ore – galena – left behind by the flood.
After a steep uphill trudge over old mining spoil we reached the edge of Monk’s Moor. We made our first of two crossings of the moor and had lunch by another pretty beck with the grand name of Great Eggleshope. I was convinced I would see ring ouzels here, and I was sure the stony sounds I could hear were ouzel alarm calls. Escorted by some very tame meadow pipits I found the source to be not a ring ouzel, but a male stonechat.
After lunch we followed the beck a little way before recrossing Monk’s Moor, following a very steep and pathless route through heather and rough grass.
We were heading off course, but the path-of-least-resistance through the heather kept pushing us to the right of where we were aiming for. Tough going. Every so often an explosion of baby grouse would erupt out of nowhere, giving both us and the birds a heart-stopping fright.
Almost at the top, we took a rest at some limestone boulders. We were quite high – about 500m above sea level – and I could make out a row of wind farms. I was trying to work out where they were when I became distracted by a soft chiding sound from above.
There was a bird circling above us. Not a wader – what is it? I grabbed my binoculars and was extremely surprised to see a short eared owl looking straight back at me. Now I know what it feels like to be a vole staring at its own death.
The owl continued its circling and chiding, and we took the hint and moved off. Not before realising that we could see Middlesborough and the North Sea from here. We haven’t yet figured out where the wind farms are. Our grumpiness at being off-track was replaced by the thrill of being so close to a short eared owl. Known locally as the ling owl, we must have been close to its heather nest.
After wading through the heather for what felt like miles, we began heading downhill, and Middleton came into view. We made a strategic decision to deviate from the guidebook’s course and head back towards the King’s Walk. This has nothing at all to do with My Taller Half’s desire to end the walk in a pub. Or my desire for a pub dinner.
Back in the wood, we were walking beside a stone wall when suddenly the wall erupted with tiny squeaking creatures. At first I thought we were close to a wren nest, and then we saw that at least ten shrews were zipping in and out of the wall. It was like watching a shrew version of an angry ants nest. We’d made the right choice by going the wrong way.
We had one final surprise. We were following a lane that led back to Middleton from the limekilns and quarry where we had met the horses earlier. In the middle of the lane stood another horse. When we reached it we saw that it was tethered, and that behind it were several traditional gypsy caravans and more horses. Now it all made sense!
The day before, when we arrived in Middleton, we had passed a group of gypsy caravans camped out on the moor half way between Weardale and Teesdale. This must be the same group, heading to Appleby for the annual horse fair. We were proved right the next day when we saw the caravan train thundering along the road to Brough that would take them to Appleby, which after all, was just over the dale.
So despite not finding any ring ouzels we had some amazing experiences, and the ling owl and the shrew explosion were only witnessed because we’d taken a wrong turn – but the right choice.
As usual, click on the photos to view large. Thank you for reading!