A ritual has developed for visiting these, the most northerly of hills, on Sheet 91. I arise at six and follow a chronologically strict routine of bathroom and breakfasting, the latter much reminiscent of the Morecambe and Wise sketch where they prepare a choreographed breakfast to the music of The Stripper ( I don't play the music.)
My aim is to be away for seven so that I can be back home for a meal at a sensible time followed by the the relaxation that only comes from my smug moral high ground achieved by masochistic exertion.
Brough to Middleton-in-Teesdale provides one of the best driver's roads in the country. Climbing high onto moorland, the undulating road, endless bends, all unfenced, enabling clear sight ahead encourages one to imagine being Stirling Moss winning the Mille Miglia.
Cow Green Reservoir was built in the late Sixties and was the subject of much controversy* - so much so that I remember taking my mother, who had expressed uncharacteristic interest, to view the terrain whilst construction was underway, but before the area was inundated.
For me this was a day of saturated nostalgia. I followed part of the most iconic section of the Pennine Way: the section that runs from Middleton-in-Teesdale to Hadrian's Wall. The PW was my first proper backpacking trip in 1987, twenty years after that visit with Mother.
After Middleton-in-Teesdale the PW ascends Cauldron Spout, a fierce waterfall gorging through a steep narrow rock cleft fed from the outflow of Cow Green Reservoir only a few hundred yards upstream. The torrent is artificially controlled by the outflow so not necessarily dependent on recent rainfall. I diverted a hundred yards back down the track to look and it was in full pomp.
I had walked down the tarmac road from my car parking passing the Cow Green Weather station which is surrounded by high barbed wire security fencing and built in 1968 - I wonder how often someone comes to this remote spot to take readings. Further on the OS map notes "pile of stones." Well they often indicate "cairn" and in this locale "currick" which is the local name for the same thing, so why not use one of those words here? "Pile of Stones" has a jarring abruptness - I was reminded of a photo of a café in Yorkshire I took on the Bronte walk with BC a while ago where the sign on the door read "Shut."
Here is the entry from my PW journal:
8th day. Tuesday 28th. April 1987
Up to Cauldron Snout - very impressive - lots of water coming down. I think this must be released from Cow Green. It certainly hasn't been the result of any recent rain. There hasn't been any since before I set off!
Today there was no refreshment at Birkdale Farm, just a Japanese 4 x 4 with outrageously knobbly tyres and nobody about.
A few hundred yards further on I diverted from the now Land Rover track of the PW and headed up another LR track to arrive at a well built shooter's hut with steel panels barricading all windows and the doors - they obviously don't want desperate unkempt Pennine Wayfarers dossing down in their little palace. From here I followed a line of grouse butts across pathless terrain of tussocky grass and heather until the butts terminated and I made the final climb up the slopes of Meldon Hill. The trig had been demolished leaving a pile of concrete rubble and the theodolite mounting lying forlornly by the side. I wonder why, and how, the pillar had succumbed to this - they are so well built it would need some kind of jack-hammer to reduce it to rubble. Views of endless moorland in all directions and Cow Green Reservoir were extensive with blue sky and rolling white clouds - I had been accompanied again by curlews and lapwings, and today many oystercatchers.
I walked back to the rim and looked down for the line of grouse butts to aid my navigation but they were totally camouflaged. I took a bearing from my GPS position to the shooter's hut and ploughed downwards until I eventually found the butts, but only when I was quite close to them.
It is traditional to have one's snack at the summit, but today I preferred to cover the remaining rough ground first then have my sandwich as a reward. As always there are few places to sit comfortably, but back at the shooter's hut there was a convenient roll of that terrain matting I have recently carped about and I hypocritically used it as a perfect settee.
Back on the PW track I met a few day walkers but nobody doing the full backpacking thing and I'm glad that it doesn't seem to have become highly populated which would spoil its attributes of wilderness and isolation. It remains a splendid classic walk, best done as a nonstop venture - I'm almost tempted to give it a second go!
|Cow Green reservoir - looking north...|
|....and south. It was early morning and drizzly hazy - weather brightened later|
|Cow Green weather station - well protected|
|"Pile of stones"|
|North from dam wall|
Here is a YouTube link to my little video of Cauldron Spout:
River Tees from the dam outflow.
The river winds its way beyond the reservoir to source between Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell, marked "Tees Head" on the map
|On the way to the shooter's hut|
|The demolished trig on Meldon Hill|
|Cow Green reservoir from Meldon Hill|
|The shooter's hut|
|My perfect settee|