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.
There is a capacious car park with visitor centre at Bowlees, off the B6277 on the north side of the dale in County Durham, up the dale from Middleton-in-Teesdale and where the Bow Lee Beck drops down to the Tees. Further up the road, closer to the waterfall, is a hotel, the High Force Hotel, which seems to do a good trade in visitors, and has to be visited because the main standpoint for viewing High Force is on private land belonging to the Raby Estate, and the hotel has the ticket office. There are in fact tow waterfalls on this stretch: High Force and Low Force, the latter still a fine site.
The main family route starts at Bowlees. 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 geology of the dale is telling here, the rock in layers and the force wearing at them over aeons has produced a beautiful sight and the noise to accompany it. The dale is general a quiet place, but the waterfalls produce a roar and a thunder belying the overall tranquillity.
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.
Above Low Force, the path takes a gentle way along the river. The river seems quite placid, but its waters are swift and swirl amongst many rocks in the course which must make to deadly eddies but for its apparent shallowness.
You then 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.
From the vantage above High Force on the Yorkshire bank, instead of walking back down again, you can continue to follow the path up the dale. It leads past Bleabeck Force and then turns north, still following up the Tees.
At the next bridge, cross back to the Durham bank: the Pennine Way continues up the Tees to another spectacular fall; Cauldron Spout. It is a bit far this time though on the day-walk, so instead you may follow a path eastwards, back to the road, just below Forest-in-Teesdale. The path from here runs higher over the moor than the normal route, and comes to the woods up the Bow Lee Beck, which can then be followed down to the car park.
Another, wider, diversion misses High Force entirely: from the footbridge below Low Force, instead of following up the riverside, keep on the path due south to the hamlet of Holwick. from here there is a path to the west, above Teesdale, parallel to it, as far as a path junction close to where the Pennine Way turns north: and here you can join the route above.
This latter route form Holwick is also an interesting path as it could provide a route up Mickle Fell, Yorkshire’s highest fell – most routes start from the south side of the fell across in Westmorland but if from the path junction you keep on to the west, over the shoulder of Crockley Fell and back to the Tees by Cauldron Snout, then Mickle Fell is due south, and it would be an All-Yorkshire route. It is however a live firing zone, so you would have to do that on a day the fell is open and with a permit from the Ministry of Defence.
Yet more routes
With so much in the hills, and so many paths, there are endless routes around this part of Teesdale, and I can only scratch the surface. Go and explore.
Links, maps and books
- Ordnance Survey Landranger series (1:50 000):
- Landranger 91 (Appleby-in-Westmorland)
- Ordnance Survey Explorer series (1:25 000), irksomely, on the border of two maps:
- Information on Wikishire: