Walk to High Force and Low Force Waterfalls (6.5 km)

Introduction

This is a short walk in upper Teesdale along the banks of the River Tees. Starting from the Bowlees Visitor Centre the walk first visits Low Force and after a walk along the riverside reaches High Force. The walk is full of interest from start to finish with very little uphill or downhill walking. As well as two stunning waterfalls there is some public art to admire, an old narrow bridge across the river, beautiful scenery and a nature reserve.

Bowlees Visitor Centre

Directions

The Visitor Centre is located in a converted methodist church and it has a large car park, so it’s an ideal place to start the walk. All-day car parking is available for £2.00 but the machines only take cash. It’s easy to find the centre as it’s clearly signposted off the B6277. If you are travelling from Middleton in Teesdale north-west towards Alston, the Visitor Centre is on the right just past Newbiggin. The Centre’s postcode is DL12 0XE.

Next to the Centre are some disabled parking bays and an electric vehicle charging point.

Public transport options are limited to Wednesdays when there is a bus service run by Hodgsons Buses from Middleton-in-Teesdale to Langdon Beck.

Visitor Centre Facilities

The Visitor Centre closes in winter. When it’s open the cafe stocks a great selection of hot and cold food and drinks (and the shop sells Kendal Mint Cake, one of my favourite things!). They have lots of information booklets, books and walking guides to the area. The centre also has a wildlife garden, toilet and picnic tables.

Walk Directions

This area of Upper Teesdale is covered by the Landranger Sheet 92 Ordnance Survey map. The map displays a large part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). With this map, you also get a code for use on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The OS Landranger map for Barnard Castle and Richmond is available in both the standard paper version and weatherproof ‘Active’ version.

Visitor Centre to Low Force

Walk out of the car park via the footbridge, walk past the visitor centre and follow the lane down to the main road. Turn right and look for a footpath sign to Wynch Bridge on the other side of the road. Cross the road (be careful as the traffic is moving fast along this stretch of road) and follow the footpath across a field.

At the other end of the field is a patch of woodland which borders the river. Take a small diversion on the right to the riverbank. The river here flows over a series of waterfalls (Low Force). These are not very high but they still look quite dramatic. The falls here flow over the Whin Sill, a 300 million-year-old layer of rock. This was formed from molten rock which created a layer of dark, hard rock called Dolerite or Whinstone.

Head back to the original path and cross the river using the narrow Wynch Bridge. This was built in 1830, to replace an earlier bridge that collapsed. The bridge was built so that lead miners from Holwick village could cross the river to work in the mines on the north side of the river.

Once you’ve crossed the river turn right onto the Pennine Way. The Pennine Way heads north from here all the way to the Scottish Border at Kirk Yetholm. Walk past a fine sculpture of two sheep. These are carved out of limestone, the rock which gives Upper Teesdale a lot of its character. On the front is a quote that says “A WONDERFUL PLACE TO BE A WALKER” – I couldn’t agree more. As you walk further along the trail lookout for other artworks embedded in the stone walls.

After passing the sheep sculpture you encounter the waterfalls at Low Force again.

Wall Art for Sale

Some of my photos from Low Force are available as prints on the Pixels website.

Art Prints

Low Force to High Force

After you’ve visited Low Force continue along the riverside path. The path follows the River Tees and eventually you reach an information board and the entrance to a nature reserve. Moor House National Nature Reserve covers 88 sq km and it has a number of rare habitats. These include low-lying hay meadows and blanket bogs. Continue through the reserve to reach an area of evergreen trees. These prickly trees are Junipers, an important native species and this is one of the largest remaining Juniper woods in Britain. The trees are mostly stunted by the wind and snow into low bushes, but some grow tall and slim like Cypress trees.

You are tantalisingly close to High Force now. Although you can’t see it you can probably hear it. As you get closer to the falls look on the right for a viewing platform. From the platform, you can see the falls ahead. There is a bench here if you want to linger and admire the falls.

You’ll probably see people at ground level on the opposite bank. However, there is no river crossing at this point. If you fancy seeing the falls from ground level you need to go to the High Force Hotel, see the next section for details.

High Force

High Force like Low Force has been created by water meeting the resistant rock of Whin Sill. The water flowing over the falls is full of peat, hence its brown colour. The river falls 21 metres into the plunge pool below, making it England’s biggest waterfall. If you are lucky and there has been recent rain the fall “splits” into two parts, either side of the central rock buttress. One half dries up after dry weather. If you continue along the path a little way you can stand on the rocks close to the top of the waterfall. I found this view quite giddy, but I did manage a photograph! Please be careful it’s a long drop.

To return to the car park walk back the way you came.

Visit High Force from High Force Hotel

This is a maintained walk owned by the Raby Estate, which charges a £2.00 entrance fee. Park at the public car park next to the High Force Hotel. You need to pay for parking via an app or cash, there is no contactless option. If you don’t have the app I’d recommend paying cash, the app takes forever to download. Upper Teesdale has a very weak or non-existent phone signal. There is a small shop in the car park and as well as selling entrance tickets they also sell snacks and drinks. There are toilets in the car park.

The well-maintained path to High Force is on the opposite side of the road. It’s a very pleasant walk through woodland and High Force is totally amazing when seen from ground level. At a steady stroll, you can get down to the falls in 15 – 20 minutes. Although the return is uphill the gradient is not too steep.

Summerhill Force and Gibsons Cave

If you have parked at Bowlees Visitor Centre it is worth taking a short walk to Summerhill Force and Gibsons Cave. The waterfall is only a 5-10 mins walk from the car park in a northerly direction on a well-marked footpath.

River Tees near the top of High Force

Disclaimer

Whilst I take every care to ensure the accuracy of the route descriptions, I cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions. The route described may be pleasant for walking in fine weather but can become slippery, boggy and dangerous in wintry or wet weather. On days when visibility is impaired by fog, rain, cloud or mist, some landmarks used as direction aids in the route descriptions may not be visible.

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High Force - Upper Teesdale

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