Last weekend saw my second backpacking trip of the year. A bit of a solo leg stretcher to try and get fit for my coast to coast and test out a couple of bits of gear. As usual I did not fancy too long a drive so I decided to head for the eastern part of the North Pennines, setting off after work on Friday. I had picked a spot on the map to park the campervan for the night but was a little disappointed to discover another van had beaten me to it. A quick scan of my OS map led me to the car park next to Balderhead Reservoir. The air was alive with birdsong and gunshots as I settled down for the night.
I was undisturbed in the night and no other vehicle visited the car park. There was even a loo so I did not have to use my trowel in the morning. A last minute sort out of my backpacking kit and I was ready for the short drive to Middleton in Teesdale where I would start my walk.
The Bongo by Balderhead Reservoir
I parked up, did a final idiot check and set off along a lane heading for the River Tees. For a mile or so I walked along a beautiful stretch of the river, following the Teesdale way as it wound its way along the river bank.
Looking west up the river Tees
This quickly came to an end and I had a quick stomp along a minor road before taking the track heading across the moors above Eggleston. Here I passed several groups of teenage girls backpacking with huge rucksacks, possibly doing their Duke of Edinburgh. The first group was happy and chatty whilst the groups bringing up the rear did not seem quite as happy! The size of their rucksacks amazed me, what on earth were they carrying? A good way of putting them off backpacking for life……..
I found this stretch of moorland rather dull and was having my usual battle with the wind trying to blow me off track. I soon reached the edge of Hamsterley forest and managed to find a bit of shelter for some lunch. I passed a large group of walkers who appeared to belong to a club for the terminally slow and had a mindless slog along a forestry track along the Euden Beck. Uninspiring stuff!!
My mood soon lifted when I took a footpath across Hamsterley common towards Meeting of the Grains, which was to be my campsite for the night. Walking above Ayhope Beck was a delight with the sun finally putting in an appearance.
Meeting of the Grains was an absolutely stunning spot. A large green wooded glade surrounded by the austerity of the Pennine moors. I dumped my rucksack to explore and find the perfect place to pitch the tent. I found a lovely flat green area by the river but found bunny carnage with the corpses of about 20 rabbits strewn about. A few discarded shotgun cartridges telled the whole sorry tale. I soon found a good spot higher up the hillside and spent 15 minutes pegging out a flapping tent in the strong wind. Finally satisfied that it would not blow away I set about unpacking. Half an hour later I was fed up with the tent drumming in the wind so found myself reversing the whole procedure, this time sitting on it whilst unpegging to stop it blowing away!
The unsuccessful campspot!
A few minutes later I had found a great pitch in a sheepfold by the river in an area hidden by trees. It was flat and sheltered by the wind so I was a happy chap who spend a couple of hours pottering about, cooking, sitting and generally being happy with the world.
The successful campspot
That evening I kept on hearing this strange noise in the sky and could not work out what it was. I have heard this sound in the Northern highlands before and thought it must be a bird. A bit of googling and it turns out it was a snipe. Quite an eerie sound at dusk alone on the moors.
A cold still night was followed by a warm sunny morning and I was slow packing and cooking breakfast, enjoying the spot that I has chosen. I finally shouldered my pack and crossed the pastures to find the footpath that climbed Black Hill. I was climbing along the sandy path when something out of the corner of my eye went for me. I jumped back and realised that I had very nearly trodden on an adder. It did another half strike towards me and I’m sure that I heard it hiss. It then quickly disappeared into the heather. I was both nervous and excited after that encounter and was careful where I placed my feet for the rest of the day.
I left the footpath at the summit of Black Hill and followed the wall that borders Hamsterley forest northwards. The ground to the left soon gave way to the beautiful valley of Sharnberry Gill.
Black Hill looking north
I clambered down the steep sides of the valley and followed its course for a couple of miles to the B6278 road. Another track up Little Eggleshope Beck led to a climb over the moors to drop down into the valley of Great Eggleshope Beck with its disused mine workings and buildings. There was a real air of remoteness here so I had lunch and soaked in the atmosphere.
Great Eggleshope valley
This left just one more climb of the day over the shoulder of Monks moor before descending to Hudeshope beck. Another beautiful valley with the reminants of the lead mining industry. The mines soon gave way to trees and the final mile into Middleton in Teesdale was a delight in the afternoon sun.