High Force, Teesdale

Leeds Mum, Laura, explored High Force with her girls (aged 7 and 9). You can see what she thought of it here…

Around an hour and a half from Leeds (via the A1), High Force is a natural wonder worth driving north for. Set in the stunning countryside of Upper Teesdale, this ancient waterfall is situated in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so there’s plenty of beautiful scenery to admire enroute.

We visited High Force as part of a 4-mile looped walk from Bowlees via Low Force at the end of August and it was the perfect family walk to polish off the summer holidays.

Low Force and Wynch Bridge

We started our walk by parking in Low Force layby on the B6277; there is also a free car park (and good coffee!) at Bowlees visitor centre just across the road. A flat, grassy path led us to the forest and a centuries-old footbridge called Wynch Bridge. Owing to its age and fragility (it was originally built in the mid-18th century!) only one person was permitted to cross at any one time – much to the delight of my daughters, who loved having the bridge to themselves.

From Wynch Bridge, we got a brilliant view of Low Force, which tumbles over the Whin Sill, a layer of hard dolerite rock formed a mind-boggling 295 million years ago. We continued along the rocky Pennine Way footpath which ran alongside the River Tees for approximately 2.5 miles.

Holwick Head Bridge

We reached Holwick Head Bridge, which can be crossed to reach High Force (and the High Force Hotel, car park and public toilets), but would incur a small admission fee (£3 for adults at the time of writing) as it leads to a private route owned by Raby Estates. So instead of crossing, we continued on the Strathmore side and kept to the Pennine Way. It wasn’t long before we heard the rushing of water – the waterfall was close by.

High Force

We were able to catch a glimpse of the falls via a couple of fenced viewpoints amongst the trees, but we were unprepared for the sheer vertigo-inducing drops below. It truly felt like we were on the edge of a whinstone precipice and had us grabbing our girls to pull them back from the edge (they were nowhere near, but parental instincts were kicking into overdrive!) One of the viewpoints gave us a spectacular panoramic view of the falls in all their glory, but the only way to see them from the bottom is on the Raby side where you must pay a small admission fee.

High Force itself was simply breathtaking; an impressive cascade of water exploding off the rocks into the gorge below. At the top of the falls, there were rocks to perch on and admire the river beneath us, although we made sure our girls always kept within arm’s reach. To be honest, I think they were ready for a rest and were stupefied by the noise and spectacle.

Stony Beck

After a quick bite to eat, we backtracked until just before Holwick Head Bridge, where we took a footpath leading up and away from the riverside and into fields. Tracking the public footpath up, across and down to Stony Beck, we enjoyed the relative tranquillity of being away from the rushing water and steady trickle of hikers below. Once over the beck, it was a few hundred metres until we were back at the road.

Bowlees Visitor Centre

But we weren’t finished yet! Lured across the road by a pair of gorgeous horses in a roadside field, we paid a visit to Bowlees visitor centre (where there is also a free carpark). Packed with outdoorsy gifts, information, and a sweet little café, we treated ourselves to pots of Brymor ice-cream and enjoyed them outside, watching birds pecking at well-stocked bird feeders.

Gibson’s Cave and Summerhill Force

From Bowlees visitor centre, we went for one more schlep to Gibson’s cave, just 500 metres behind the centre. Following the gorge upstream through the woodland, we came across Gibson’s cave and the spectacular Summerhill Force. Named after a 16th century outlaw named William Gibson, who was on the run, the cave boasts a secret recess behind the waterfall, where Gibson is said to have hidden from the law. A real sense of magic, awe and wonder overtook us as we stood and admired the sun bouncing between the rocks at the top of the waterfall. My husband and eldest daughter (the more adventurous duo!) ventured to the back of the cave where they could peek behind the water.

All in all, a brilliant walk with lots of interesting geological features to talk about along the way. It’s all relatively easy riverside terrain (just a bit rocky in places and a few inclines) and would be easy to navigate with school-aged children or a baby in a carrier/sling.

Alternative Route

For those of you with little legs or strapped for time, you can access High Force by taking a much shorter woodland route courtesy of Raby Estates. Boasting a woodland sculpture trail, this pram-friendly route is accessible from The High Force Hotel carpark for a small admission fee. There is also a free High Force app with walking routes, guided tours, and special offers/events to enhance your visit. More information available here: High Force Waterfall Tickets – Raby Estates