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Bowes and River Greta, North Pennines – 16th July 2017

We met on a promisingly warm summer morning on the edge of the village of Bowes, just off the main transpennine A66 road in County Durham.  Noting the advance route description we anticipated limestone gorges, waterfalls, subterranean river passages and fine viewpoints, and encountered all of these during our walk.  The map suggested the settlement had Roman origins, with the name Lavatris and a fort.  Bowes is also on the route of the former Stainforth transpennine railway which closed in the 1960s, and traces were still visible.

The first waterfall was close to the start, on the river Greta which we were to follow upstream a few miles, and we stopped for photographs before continuing along a very pleasant path through trees and farmland.  We were partly following the Pennine Way, a much longer-distance path, although we didn’t see any longer-distance walkers this morning – perhaps it was a quiet day for them.  Not so quiet for the nearby A66 though: we could hear it all the time on this part of our journey and we reflected on how passing road traffic seems to be a bit more intrusive when you are not part of it.

As in much of the Pennines we were walking over limestone, and it was interesting to note the variations in the amount of water in the river.  In the north east we’d had a lot of rain in the last week, but at one point we were able to photograph a stretch of river with no water at all, where the water had disappeared entirely underground, so perhaps overall this year the amount of rainfall had been below average.  At several points we passed picturesque bridges across the river, leading to local farmhouses or access to other paths.

After an hour or so of walking we reached God’s Bridge, an intriguing place where the river had appeared to burrow under what had become the access to an adjacent farmhouse to form a natural archway.  We stopped for a few moments to explore, and to clamber over the rocks.

From here we turned a corner and started to climb away from the river, and the views across the hills and moors opened up.  We crossed a ridge and then began to descend, and when we’d found ourselves overlooking another small valley we stopped on a grassy bank for our lunchtime sandwiches.  We discovered Wikipedia showed this place to be a Site of Special Scientific Interest known as The Troughs, and we could indeed imagine rare plants and other wildlife to be within sight (we saw lots of rabbits), but we were content just to enjoy the peace and quiet of this sunny spot.

We crossed the Sleightholme Beck on a rustic footbridge and climbed past an isolated farmhouse, and once again the views opened up.  We made a short diversion to the nearby Seven Hills and paused briefly at the highest point on our route.  On the horizon we could make out the location of the Tan Hill Inn, England’s highest public house, where we had once been on a previous walk.  We then descended down again to the beck and inspected a series of waterfalls amidst a complicated network of rocky channels where the running water had seemingly twisted and turned in all directions.  Below the waterfall the beck entered a deep wooded gorge which was inaccessible from the path, so we climbed again to reach the road before descending back towards Bowes, its medieval castle prominent for some distance before we reached it.

Back in the village we were able to find tea and cake outside the local pub before dispersing, with some of our number looking forward to meeting again not too far away at the forthcoming National Gathering in Lancaster.

Thanks are due on this occasion to Ian our walk facilitator, ably assisted by George and Ivor, and to all who took part, including two welcome visitors from our neighbouring Transpennine group; also once again to Ivor for some of the pictures.

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