North-west out of Middleton-in-Teesdale along a minor road to Stable Edge, then a bridalway to Moor House. West by way of various footpaths to Ashdub, then south-west to High Force. Returning south-east via the Pennine Way, which follows the course of the River Tees. A 12-mile walk in the North Pennines.

The best map to use on this walk is the Ordnance Survey map of the North Pennines, reference OS Explorer OL31, scale 1:25,000. It clearly displays footpaths, rights of way, open access land and vegetation on the ground, making it ideal for walking, running and hiking. The map can be purchased from Amazon in either a standard, paper version or a weatherproof, laminated version, as shown below.

Standard Ordnance Survey map of the North Pennines, reference OS Explorer OL31, scale 1:25,000.
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Weatherproof Active Ordnance Survey map of the North Pennines, reference OS Explorer OL31, scale 1:25,000.
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View all Ordnance Survey maps

The views across Teesdale to Crossthwaite Scars, Holwick Scars and Crossthwaite Common.

Quarry filled with water just north-east of Newbiggin.

Disused tips near Red Grooves House.

North Pennines countryside and farmland.

High Force Hotel, a traditional country inn set in the picturesque landscape of Upper Teesdale.

The path leading down to the waterfall at High Force.

High Force

The whole of the River Tees plunges 71 feet over the cliff edge in two stages. After heavy rainfall the river will also flow over the dry right-hand side channel, creating two falls. Very occasionally the river level will be high enough to flow over the central section of rock, the last recorded time this happened was in December 2015 after Storm Desmond. In harsh winters the falls have been known to freeze, creating cathedral-like ice formations.

Access to the northern bank is via a private footpath on the Raby estate for which a fee is charged. The southern bank can be reached free-of-charge via the Pennine Way.

High Force was formed where the River Tees crosses the Whin Sill – a hard layer of igneous rock (also seen at Hadrian’s Wall and other locations). The waterfall itself consists of three different types of rock. The upper band is made up of whinstone, or dolerite, a hard igneous rock which the waterfall takes a lot of time to erode. The lower section is made up of carboniferous limestone, a softer rock which is more easily worn away by the waterfall. Between these two layers is a thinner layer of carboniferous sandstone, which was baked hard when the Whin Sill was molten 295 million years ago.

The wearing away of rock means that the waterfall is slowly moving upstream, leaving a narrow, deep gorge in front of it. The length of the gorge is currently about 700 metres. The bedload (rocks that the river is carrying) is mainly composed of large boulders, which are rolled along the river bed. Upstream of the waterfall, the river is narrow. Downstream, it widens and meanders.

Despite popular belief that it is the highest waterfall in England at 71 feet, others have a longer fall. Cautley Spout, in Cumbria’s Howgill Fells, is almost 590 feet high, and Hardraw Force, in North Yorkshire, has an unbroken drop of 98 feet. Underground, on the flanks of Ingleborough, Fell Beck falls an unbroken 315 feet down the Jib Tunnel of Gaping Gill Hole. However, High Force does have the largest volume of water falling over an unbroken drop when in full spate, thereby earning its Nordic name ‘High Fosse’.

The River Tees between High Force and Low Force.

Low Force, an 18-foot high set of falls downstream from High Force.

Wynch Bridge near Low Force.

Stone sheep near Low Force.

The River Tees.

Looking over Teesdale from the Pennine Way.