PENNINE WAY, LOW BIRK HATT, BLACKTON, SHACKLESBOROUGH & BALDERHEAD from GRASSHOLME RESERVOIR

 


Summary

Date - 7th February 2010 Distance - 10.5 miles
Ascent -
1420ft
Map - OL31 Start point-Grassholme Reservoir parking area (NY 929216)

 

Summits Achieved

Name Height (ft) Height (m) Grid Ref
Shacklesborough 1490 454 NY 9086 1706

 

Preface

We were relaxing chatting over lunch of marmalade sandwiches and tea.

"These are excellent sandwiches Grizzly", remarked Tetley.

"Well I use the marmalade that Dad gets from Mr Williamson at Barbon. This is ginger and you can really taste the spiciness", he replied.

"It seems we may well have a new challenge in the offing, as last week I heard Dad talking to Uncle Bob about where to walk next, and the North Pennines were mooted", said Shaun.

Yes", agreed Allen, and continuing, "since then Dad has been doing some research on the Internet and has found a list on "Go4awalk", of 71 tops.

Little Eric put his paw in saying, " he also found a longer list on Wikipedia. I saw him working to cross reference the two and of those over 1000ft (305m), he reckons there is another 17, making 88 in all, but he needs to get some extra maps to be able to confirm a definitive listing."

"Looking at the list it will be quite a challenge as generally they are overall higher than the Yorkshire Dales, and spread over some pretty wild and forbidding terrain", interjected Tetley."

"Well it will keep him fit", mused Grizzly.

"It certainly will", said Dad as he walked into the room. " I have come to tell you that having just talked to Uncle Bob, we are walking tomorrow in the North Pennines. We are going to climb a hill called Shacklesborough, starting from Grassholme Reservoir, which is just a few miles from the town of Middleton in Teesdale."

"Hooray", we all cheered in unison.

"It will be great to have Uncle Bob's company as it was November when we last walked with him", said Shaun.

 

To the Start

It was quite a long drive to the start, so we had to be up early and settled in the car by 07.30. Again the route took us north leaving the M6 at Tebay, but instead of taking the road towards Appleby, we drove along the road to Brough.

"It is very flat and straight", remarked Little Eric.

"That is because it was once a railway line, and when it was closed in the 1960's, this road was built", said Tetley.

After a while we came to Newbiggin on Lune, a small village just off the road.

Tetley called out, "Little Eric , if you look to the left now, you will see a house, that was once the railway station"

"Oh yes, I see it", cried Little Eric. "So that was Newbiggin on Lune railway station."

"Well no", replied Tetley. "Despite it being at Newbiggin, it was actually called Ravenstonedale, the name of the next village along the road!

"Mmm", said Little Eric, with a confused expression on his face.

Click the link to see more - Ravenstonedale Station

Soon the road climbed up what is called Ash Fell, and on through Kirkby Stephen to Brough. Here going right, it was then along the road towards Middleton in Teesdale. This climbed ever upwards through wild and desolate countryside, the snow still piled up at the sides of the road where it had been cleared by ploughs. We agreed with Dad's remark, not a place to breakdown. The foggy weather at home had given way to clear skies with frost on the ground, that was until we started along this road. Now the mist came down making it look even more forbidding. In fact this was to be the weather throughout the walk today. After about 10 miles we turned right down a narrow road to reach the car parking area at Grassholme Reservoir, our start point. Amazingly we pulled in just seconds after Uncle Bob.

 

The Route

Here is our route. Basically from Grassholme, we followed the Pennine Way south, almost to Backton Grange. From here wild countryside was crossed to ascend to Shacklesborough, before heading roughly north-west over similar terrain, to Balderhead Reservoir. Taking the track then road on the north side, it was east above this to East Carnhill, where we headed north again to regain the start. Read on below to find out about the various points marked on the map.

 

The Walk

Dad and Uncle Bob got their boots etc on, and we settled ourselves in the rucksack, snuggling down for warmth. Setting off, it was left over the narrow road bridge, and then over the substantial stone step stile on the right. The sign read Pennine Way, and we were to follow this part of the long distance path for some miles, crossing thirteen stiles in the process.

After a few yards, Allen called out, "just look at those nice reflections in the water, of the trees and bridge."

At the next stile, as Dad made his way over, Uncle Bob snapped this picture. What a poser! [STAG have no room to talk. Ed.]

Photograph courtesy Bob Woolley (Uncle Bob)

By the house called How, we crossed the road and continued on the Pennine Way over the fields to Kelton Bottom. Cutting the corner of a field via two stiles, then on ahead down Hazelgarth Rigg, over more damp pasture we arrived at the Hunderthwaite to Balderhead road, at East Hunder. Here Uncle Bob posed for his picture.

Our continuing route was right along the lane as indicated by the signpost.

As well as being the access to High Birk Hatt, it also leads to Low Birk Hatt, the former farmhouse where Hannah Hauxwell lived, passing her meadow where she grazed her cattle and sheep, some idea of which can be seen in the picture below.

This is a rare example of a traditional northern hay meadow. The two hay meadows and a grazing pasture have always been managed without the use of artificial fertilisers pesticides or herbicides. The resulting species-rich meadow contains several plants that have disappeared from other meadows of Upland Durham, due to intense farming methods. Because of the presence of species such as wood cranesbill, globeflower, ragged robin and adders tongue fern, Hannah's Meadow is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The flowers can be seen at their best in June and July.

It is named after the enigmatic Hannah Hauxwell whose story became known through a national television documentary. She lived and farmed the land at Low Birk Hatt alone without the benefits of running water and electricity for many years until her retirement in 1988. Durham Wildlife Trust then acquired the land, to manage it as a nature reserve preserving the traditional management to maintain the fragile habitats. The farmhouse, having been renovated and improved, is in private ownership, and in respect of their privacy, we have decided not to include a picture.

From the house we continued along the Pennine Way and through the gate ahead, then on the track that led above the western reaches of Blackton Reservoir, seen in the picture below. Hannah's former home can just be made out amongst the trees in the centre.

It is owned by Northumbrian Water, and here as well as at other reservoirs they have created nature reserves. This western end of Blackton Reservoir, at periods of low water, has exposed mud flats. It is used as a breeding ground by several species of wader, especially the common sandpiper. Mallard, wigeon and tufted duck may also be seen here.

After crossing Blackton Bridge, we finally said goodbye to the Pennine Way, taking the footpath right to pass by Blackton Grange Youth Hostel.

"Where now", asked Tetley.

"Through this gate on the left, and up the field and through the wall at the top", replied Uncle Bob.

A further field followed, the gate in the wall needing to be climbed as it would not open. Now on open fell we climbed to the modest rise of Turf Hill, then continuing to make the crossing of a deeply snow filled gully. Dad was ahead and snapped Uncle Bob making the crossing.

Uncle Bob then took a bearing with the compass, indicating our direction was nearly due west, the rounded hump of Shacklesborough soon looming out of the mist, and we followed a tractor track heading towards it. Just to the left of the track stood the remains of an old stone building and more modern wooden hut.

"Whatever is that in aid of?", enquired Grizzly, somewhat mystified.

As we approached closer, Shaun said, "it's a pigeon loft."

"Seems an odd place for one so far out in the wilds", remarked Allen.

"Can't argue with that", Dad replied.

Walking on, the track divided and we took the right fork. This eventually looped round and ascended to Shacklesborough's summit marked by a trig point and shapely tall cairn. Much time must have been spent on its construction. We did not need a second asking to leap out and settle on the trig point for our picture, an important one as it marked our first North Pennine summit.

The cairn is so impressive bearing in mind the relatively modest elevation of the hill, so we reckon it deserves a picture on its own. Also it truly marks the highest point on the fell.

After lunch and while Dad was settling us in the rucksack, Uncle Bob took a bearing and pointed out to Dad that we needed to aim for a gap in the snow on the distant hill. So we confidently set off descending from the summit. As we reached level ground however the mist thickened, and we could not see more than 50 yards, never mind the reference point on that distant hill. The rough moor was totally trackless, bearing out why it is so important to be properly equipped with map and compass, and indeed GPS.

After walking for a while Uncle Bob took another bearing to ensure we were on track, and we finally reached a stream called Bleagill Hearne.

"That's good. We are on the right track", remarked Dad.

The GPS gave our position and Uncle Bob took another bearing for the River Balder and its bridge, that came into view after a little while, so all was well. It had been hard going over this section of trackless bog, and at one point Dad caught his foot in a tussock and he fell full length on his face. We were all right and could not stop ourselves laughing, as incidently did Dad.

Uncle Bob commented, "well at least you had a soft landing!"

As we descended towards the bridge, the huge Balderhead Reservoir stretched away ahead into the mist.

Crossing the bridge the clear track heading east was followed, above the reservoir and later looped round to avoid the large Mea Sike gully. This eventually led to the road at the parking area. In an adjacent field a flock of inquisitive black faced sheep came to give us the once over, and chat to Shaun.

The road was now walked to East Carngill, where we went left along the signed path. The cart track was followed for a while, before we struck half left to the boundary wall at Black Hill. Here we climbed the stile and went roughly north descending the boggy pasture to its bottom right corner, then on ahead through the gate to Lane Head Farm. Here joining the access track we strolled on to the narrow road, where we turned right. Soon though we took the path left descending to cross Selset Weir. This amazing construction controls the flow of water from Selset Reservoir into Grassholme Reservoir.

The huge bank in the distance is the dam of Selset Reservoir, and you can see where the water comes through via a wide pipe at very considerable force.

Skirting round, the path then climbed up to a gate and across a field to a stile. Uncle Bob and Dad's boots were quite clean up to this point, but this next field was one of the muddiest ever, caused by the horses that today were in an adjacent paddock. Thankfully there were some puddles on the road beyond Low Selset, so they managed to wash some off.

"That's the last of the stiles, and I make it 17 for this walk", said Grizzly.

"I agree", said Allen, who had been keeping notes.

Going right a we descended to pass Grassholme Farm to the car park. It had been a cracking walk and even in better weather conditions we think that the terrain would still have been quite bleak.

Thanks Dad for taking us, and just great to have Uncle Bob's company too.

We settled in the car, and after goodbyes were said, Dad headed back over the road to Brough. It was very bleak and forbidding through the wild and desolate countryside, especially as the skies darkened towards evening.

Not surprisingly Dad was hungry, so he went to Junction 38 Services at Tebay. A large plate of chicken curry with rice and chips, washed down with tea, replenished and refreshed him for the rest of the journey home.

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