Tuesday, February 14, 2017

North East coast day 4 - Pennine Waterfalls

Waterfall and woodland in the North Pennines near Bowlees

While I was up north I took the opportunity to visit the Pennines, as I had never visited them before. I had a plan to do a bit of waterfall photography, because I can’t resist a good waterfall, and the Pennines have them in abundance, seeing as they form the main watershed in northern England, dividing east and west.

Often described as the ‘backbone of England’, the Pennine Hills form a more-or-less continuous range stretching northwards from the Peak District, into the South Pennines incorporating parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, through the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines past the Cumbrian Fells up to the Tyne Gap, which separates the range from the Cheviot Hills.

I was concentrating on the North Pennines, which is classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is afforded much the same protection as a National Park. Lying just north of the Yorkshire Dales, it rivals the National Park in size and includes some of the Pennines' highest peaks and some of its most isolated and sparsely populated areas.

Pennine countryside under a blue sky with three rustic barns on the hills
Parts of the North Pennines have quite a Yorkshire Dales feel to them.

My first stop was the iconic High Force. It can be reached from a couple of directions, and viewed either from above, which is the free footpath, or from below, which is reached via a footpath that traverses over private land and for which a fee is charged. But thanks to the time of year, there was no one around to collect money for either the car park or the footpath, so I made the most of that situation and helped myself to a stroll along the bank of the River Tees and a view of the falls from their base.

Looking towards High Force along the river Tees in the Pennines
Looking along the River Tees towards High Force.

Despite popular belief that it is the highest waterfall in England, at 71 feet, others have a longer fall, most notably Cautley Spout, in Cumbria's Howgill Fells, which is almost 590 feet high. However, High Force does have the largest volume of water falling over an unbroken drop when in full spate, thereby earning its Nordic name 'High Fosse'.

Long exposure of High Force waterfall with rocks in the foreground
While there wasn't much water in the falls, there was still quite a volume, in quantity
and noise.

Sunshine  on the valley walls that line the River Tees near High Force
Looking away from the falls to where the sun was reaching the river.

The whole of the River Tees plunges over a precipice in two stages. After heavy rainfall the River Tees will also flow over the dry right hand side channel, creating two falls. Very occasionally the river level will be high enough to flow over the central section of rock, the last recorded time this happened was in December 2015 after Storm Desmond. You can see a picture of it here

High Force waterfall in the Pennines North Yorkshire with silky water and large boulders
A long exposure creates a smooth surface to the river. When in full spate the water will breach the other side
of that large rock to the right of the falls.

Pennines woodland stream feeding into the River Tees at High Force
One of the little woodland streams that feed into the River Tees.

After getting a few shots of the falls, which to be honest were looking a bit drab thanks to the skeletal trees and the fact there was no sun down in the valley, I took the short drive to Bowlees visitor centre, which again, was closed, pretty much everything was in fact, I went the whole day without finding anywhere to even get a coffee.

I parked up in the almost empty car park and took a stroll along the Bow Lee Beck, a tributary of the River Tees that meanders through a very picturesque, wooded ravine, and is home to several waterfalls. 

Beautiful little waterfall in the Pennines on the Bow Lee Beck near Bowlees visitor centre
Waterfall A, for want of a more descriptive name.

It didn’t take long to find the first of them, I’ve no idea what it’s called, I couldn’t find any name reference for it while I was there, on the information board in the car park, or online once I got home. Maybe it doesn’t have a name, which would seem odd, as everything has been named at one point or another, and it’s obviously been there for a while. And although it’s not the biggest waterfall you’ll ever see, it’s not an insignificant dribble either. So anyway, we shall simply call it Waterfall A, like a juvenile criminal.

Cascade waterfall on the Bow Lee Beck surrounded by woodland
Surrounded by layers of rock and the woodland beyond makes for a nice spot.

After getting a few shots of the aforementioned Waterfall A, I carried along the muddy bank, past the remains of an old quarry, and found myself at Summerhill Force, or more specifically I found myself at the base of a very attractive set of little cascades at the foot of Summerhill Force.

Woodland stream cascades past the trees below Summerhill Force in the Pennines
Summerhill Force in the background.

Once these had been suitably captured, as they tumbled and spilled between the trees, I scrambled along to the waterfall itself. It wasn’t exactly in full flow, and seemed a tad anaemic, but it was a nice spot nonetheless, situated as it was in a wooded glade, with the falls themselves dropping thirty foot over a deep recess.

The large chamber behind the falls is called Gibson’s Cave, after a fellow named Gibson, surprisingly enough, who was a 16th century outlaw who lived behind the waterfall to stay concealed from the law. Whether this actually happened or not is up for debate, if anyone actually fancied debating it, but it’s a nice story.

Waterfall at Gibsons Cave in the North Yorkshire Pennines
Gibson's Cave extends behind and to the right of the falls. You can walk behind the them, but it was so
slippery I didn't fancy my luck.

By this time it was starting to get dark, and I could see through the tree canopy that the clouds were taking on that end-of-day tint, so I decided to make my way back to the car and leave the Pennines behind. But not for good I’m sure, there was plenty more to see another time.

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