High Force impressed us with its gushing flow as it plunged 21m into a wide but turbulent plunge pool thanks to the River Tees flowing in full spate from all the unsettled weather that the area had been experiencing thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Bertha. Even without the help of a broken up hurricane, it seems that the river typically experiences powerfully reliable flow as almost all the photos I’ve seen of the falls in the literature tended to show the falls in a gushing state. Adding to its scenic allure were vertical cliffs flanking the funneling of the river over the waterfall while the plunge pool was fringed with jagged boulders that I’d imagine were once part of these cliffs. It was essentially Nature that was as raw and powerful as we’d encounter throughout England.
Our visit began from a large car park requiring a 2 pound fee to park the car (see directions below). Then, we had to pay an admission of 3 pounds total for both Julie and I as Tahia was able to tag along for free. Next, we had to cross the busy B6277 road (being extra cautious with Tahia given how quickly cars zoomed by here) before getting onto a wide, mostly open, and gently downhill trail that was flanked by some blooming wildflowers, some gorge walls, and some trees. To explain the open nature of the early part of the trail, a sign here informed us that this walk and the surrounding area ended up being cleared and destroyed by one of the most severe gales ever experienced in January 1992. Old growth softwoods over 100ft high were uprooted or blown over while the trail to the falls itself had to be re-built. In place of many of the old growth softwoods were imported exotic and commercial conifers, which I’d imagine explained the trees that we were seeing.
These days, we noticed that the trail itself was quite popular as there always seemed to be someone we’d encounter the whole way either going towards the falls or coming back from it. The trail eventually started to narrow as it bridged a small brook, then started to follow directly above the River Tees. At about 10 minutes from the road, we finally started to see High Force further upstream on the river. From this vantage point, the falls looked very tall and impressive, and it really hastened our steps to get closer.
Eventually after another five minutes of walking, we then encountered stairs that brought us amongst the jumble of jagged boulders fringing the large plunge pool fronting High Force. It appeared that the trail continued to switchback further uphill before the stairs, but a sign there said a fence further ahead near the top of the falls was locked indefinitely due to safety issues. We didn’t pursue going to the top of the falls, but we did see quite a few people lingering up there so perhaps they hopped the fence anyways. But as for the base of the waterfall itself, the falls appeared to be shorter than what when we had seen it earlier on the trail. However, we still marveled at the geology lesson that literally was on display thanks to three noticeable layers of rock (said to be Whin Sill, Sandstone, and Limestone) comprising the cliffs flanking the falls.
A short distance further downstream, I also noticed what looked to be basalt-like formations on the cliffs across the River Tees. That would suggest to me there used to be some kind of interaction between lava and ice. In any case, as we were just chilling out amongst the jagged boulders fringing the plunge pool, we had to hold onto Tahia since there was nothing to keep her from getting dangerously close to the turbulent river. Overall, we spent a little over an hour doing both the hike and just relaxing at the falls (this didn’t include the 30 minutes or so of restroom time both before and after the hike given Tahia’s active bladder at the time).
Finally, a sign here talked about some of the reasons behind the place names we had been encountering while in the Yorkshire Dales, the Lakes District, and the Northern Pennines. It turned out that Vikings had settled in the area 1100 years ago, and with it, they left their linguistic mark on the culture and landscape with English-adopted vocabulary that was ultimately derived from Scandinavian words. For example, the word “force” came from the word “foss” meaning waterfall (something you’ll undoubtedly encounter in our waterfall writeups of Norway and Iceland). We also learned that several other words had Scandinavian roots as well such as “dale” from “dal” or valley, “gate” from “gata” or street, “beck” from “bekk” meaning brook, and “fell” from “fjell” meaning mountain.
We actually went a little out of the way to drive all the way to Forest-in-Teesdale (where the High Force was located) from Hardraw Force. While there were many ways to get here, we can only describe the route that we took, which we’ll get into.
Heading west on the A684 from Hardraw, we drove west for a little over 4 miles before leaving the A road to turn right onto the narrower B6259 road. We’d follow the B6259 road for a little over 10 miles to the town of Kirkby Stephen, where we then followed the A685 road for about 4 miles north towards the A66 at Church Brough. After reaching the A66, we then crossed it onto the B6276 road as it passed through more pastures and rolling hills towards the B6277 road. We had to be careful on this stretch of road because there were free roaming sheep often right on or right next to the narrow road.
Once we kept left onto the B6277 road, we then followed this road for about 5.3 miles to the well-signed car park for High Force. This drive from Hardraw Force to get here took us about 1 hour and 10 minutes (most of it following behind slower vehicles on the narrow roads).
Conversely, we also could have driven to High Force from Kendal, which probably would take about 90 minutes along the A684, A683, and A685 roads before getting onto both the B6276 and B6277 roads.
Finally, for some context, Kendal was 87 miles (over 2 hours drive) west of York, 73 miles (90 minutes drive) north of Manchester, 236 miles (4.5 hours drive) north of Bath, and 271 miles (over 5 hours drive or 3-4 hours by train) northwest of London.
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