Richmond to Downing Street

Richmond, a jewel of the North Riding of Yorkshire, chief town of Swaledale: and the first question I have to ask is why anyone would want to leave it for the grimy, backstabbing world of Downing Street? Yet this has happened. A sudden political hiccup and the journey had to be taken, though the individual in question, I gather, took the train or a car rather than the long thread of footpaths and lanes needed to do it properly.

It is not a short distance. It would require determination and not a little bit of time – about as long as a Norfolk Prime Minister’s tenure, I am told.

The first thing to overcome is having to leave Swaledale. It is a gorgeous part of Yorkshire, tucked along the River Swale from the hills to the Vale, with higgledy stone villages, tucked in a long, long dale alternating between narrow clefts between stony hillsides and broad green meadows. Stepping out of it up onto the wind-scoured moor can be a shock – driving steeply out of the dale once I came to Crackpot and was forced to turn back – though that may be because the road was closed: it should be done on foot.

With this in mind, the route proposed follows Swaledale down until it meets the Ure – in truth the famed ruggedness of Swaledale end soon below Richmond to give way to rich farmland, but that too is beautiful. The Swale Way (which we follow) does not give up on the river until its ultimate end in the Yorkshire Ouse, and concludes at Boroughbridge.

From Boroughbridge we take up an interestingly eccentric route called St Bernard’s Way, imagining a walk threading between the great mediaeval monasteries of Yorkshire and the Midlands, down through London to Dover, but for us, Westminster is the aim.

This route then from Richmond to Downing Street passes through ten counties, from Yorkshire, and finishing in Westminster in Middlesex.


Ordnance Survey:

Route map

High Force

High Force is a spectacular waterfall on the upper course of the River Tees, which forms the border between Yorkshire and County Durham.  It is also a popular place to visit, and there are a number of walks in and above Teesdale around the waterfall.

The main family route starts at Bowlees, on the Durham bank.  From here, you cross the road and a field into the wood edging the river, and to a swaying footbridge high above the gorge of the Tees – there are warning signs against having more that one cross the bridge at once, but whether that depend on how overweight they are is not a detail it explains.  Here you cross to the Yorkshire side of the river and start walking upstream.

Soon you reach Low Force, where the Tees tumbles in a complex of steps. The path here, along the Yorkshire bank of the Tees, is part of the Pennine Way: the Way comes up the dale from Middleton and past the waterfalls to get to the watershed ridge of Pennines.  This is a gentle walk still, and will stop short of the high fells.

In time you come to a private bridge across the river in to the Raby Estate.  For the moment, carry on past it.  The path then climbs above the dale past wilder heath, and eventually a sound of roaring thunder becomes distinct, and soon the path reveals a vantage at the top of High Force (which is a good place for  picnic). The power of the water is clear by its edge. You can see that were any poor beast to tumble into the water it would be churned and crushed mercilessly against and between rocks repeatedly and would be pulp before it were hurled far below down the fall. Its adds a grim remembrance to an otherwise lovely scene. Keep children away from the edge!

From the vantage at the top, the main route retraces your steps down to the estate bridge. Across, back to the County Durham bank, and through the meadow.  The path leads back up through the wooded fringe to the road to the High Force Hotel: buy tickets for the waterfall, then back across the road through a gate and down through the woods.

Daniel Defoe wrote “The Force is an august scene; the noblest cascade I ever beheld; description is beggared in the subject”. As we stood admiring, there was something like a small earthquake – the rocks trembled and several visitors in different parts started and commented on it. A Victorian writer wrote that “the concussion of the waters produces a sensible tremor in the earth for some distance; and the noise of the fall is heard for many miles round the country”.

Climbing from High Force back to the hotel, there is a path up over the hill, to a farm with the name “Dirt Pit”, and from there up and over and down again to Bowlees.

Other, wider routes are traceable around Teesdale, past the waterfalls or above them.

Main article

Maps and books

  • Ordnance Survey Landranger series (1:50 000):
  • Ordnance Survey Explorer series (1:25 000), irksomely, on the border of two maps:

Route map