High Force and Low Force – Middleton in Teesdale

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Middleton-in-Teesdale is a small, attractive well set out market town in County Durham and is surrounded by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The town expanded in the early 19th century when the London Lead Company moved its northern headquarters there from Blanchland in Northumberland and a lot of the architecture from this time can still be seen. Evidence of this Victorian time is Middleton House, formerly the headquarters of the Lead Company, the Lead Company’s housing and the school which is now an outdoor centre. The drinking fountain, on the green, celebrates the history of this lead mining town. Middleton was also a railway terminus from Barnard Castle until it was closed due to the Beeching Axe. There are regular cattle and sheep markets, held near the bridge over the River Tees, and the sales of Swaydale rams attract buyers from far afield. Today Middleton is a popular tourist market town, with the Pennine Way close by, a good variety of shops and two pubs the Teesdale Hotel and the Bridge Inn. There is also a Tourist Information Centre where you can find leaflets of walks and places of interest within a 50 mile radius.

The River Tees flows for 85 miles from Cross Fell in the Pennines to the North Sea between Hartlepool and Redcar. The river tumbles over a succession of falls or rapids one of them being High Force which has a vertical drop of 21.5 metres (71 ft). High Force an amazing waterfall can be heard before you can see this wonderful sight, gushing over the top of the cliff made up of whinstone, a hard igneous rock, and the lower part made up of Carboniferous Limestone, a much softer rock. In between is a thinner layer of Carboniferous Limestone which was baked hard 295 million years ago. The waterfall is slowly moving upstream leaving a narrow deep gorge in front of it which is now about 700 metres. The river is narrower upstream of high force and it widens and meanders downstream of the force.

Low force is a 5.5 metre high set of waterfalls approximately 1.25 miles below High Force and again is an amazing sight. This is also the site of Wynch Bridge which is a suspension footbridge. The bridge was built in the mid 18th century and was originally used by the Holwick lead miners to get to the lead mine at Little Eggleshope. The original bridge was suspended on hand-forged wrought Iron chains and had only a single handrail for support. It collapsed in 1802 when a chain broke and a man was drowned. The bridge was replaced in 1830 and strengthened in 1992. To this day the bridge still sways when someone crosses and there is a notice suggesting that only one person at a time should cross the bridge.

The Walk

We park at the side of the road opposite the Teesdale Hotel and head towards the town taking a look at the Tourist Information Centre, the shops, the water fountain and all the facilities before making our way down Bridge Street to the bridge over the River Tees. Just before the bridge we take the footpath on the right and head forward following the River Tees on our left. We cross a little footbridge over a stream coming into the river. When we reach a building, called Breckholm, the footpath has been diverted so we turn right here and follow the very clear arrow uphill through the field to the road. At the road we turn left and follow the road for just short of a mile, passing a footpath on the left, until we see the river sweeping round in like a big semi-circle below us and close to the road. We take the footpath on the far side of the sweep in the river. We head down towards the river and follow the path through a bit of a wood with the river on our left. We keep following the path and river through fields, over stiles and go over a small foot bridge for about 1.5 miles until the footpath divides into two at a footbridge and where Bow Lee Beck joins the river. We take the path to the right into a field, not the left path over the footbridge. With the beck on our left we follow the beck round to the right after a very short way we go over the footbridge into a field and turn right, keeping to the wall and beck on our right we head forward between two tree lines. At the end of the field we go through the gate and keep following the two tree lines with telegraph poles going through the centre. We go through another gate and head to the left hand corner of the field and go over a stile. We walk forward and go through a gate and keep heading forward until we come to a cross roads of paths. Bowlees Nature Reserve is to the right on the other side of the road but we turn left and head forward between two stone boulders and follow the path to Wynch Bridge at Low Force. We take a look at Low Force before we cross Wynch Bridge and turn right, the River Tees now on our right, and follow the well worn Pennine Way to High Force. We view High Force and then carry on to view the top of the force. We now retrace the same footpath back to Low Force. When we arrive back at Wynch Bridge we take the path, sign posted Pennine Way, against the fence line with the river on our left. We keep following the Pennine Way close to the river for about 1.5 miles, through fields, crossing over some stepping stones, a stile and a footbridge. The path starts to go away from the river and slightly uphill and after about half a mile the path touches the river again and we keep heading forward still following the Pennine Way until we reach the road. We turn left over the bridge and head forward on the road back into Middleton-in-Teasdale.


This is an easy to moderate walk following the River Tees.


Approx 11.75 miles using OS map OL31.


Middleton-in-Teesdale in County Durham.


From the A1 take the A66 at Scotch Corner. After passing Greta Bridge take the right turn, just onto the dual, carriageway sign posted Barnard Castle. Cross over the A67 and take the B6277 and follow this road which runs through the centre of Middleton-in-Teesdale. There is road side parking and a car park. To reach the car park turn left down Bridge Street and it is on the left just before the bridge.

Toilets and Refreshments

In Middleton there are public toilets opposite the fountain on the green. For refreshments there are plenty of shops, the Conduit Tea Rooms and two pubs the Teesdale Hotel and the Bridge Inn.

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