Cow Green Reservoir - High Cup Nick - Meldon Hill - Cow Green Reservoir

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This is a walk I would recommend keeping for a clear, sunny day, the best to experience the views down High Cup Nick and if you take the alternative return route, the panoramic views from the summit of Meldon Hill. Although access to the Pennine Way public footpath is unrestricted, Open Access over the area covered by the alternative return route of this walk is restricted to weekends only during the period generally between mid-May to mid-July, to avoid disturbing moorland birds during the nesting season. Be aware also that dogs are not allowed at any time on any of the Open Access land covered by this walk, except on the Pennine Way public footpath and then only if the dog is on a lead.

From the large reservoir car park (Weelhead Sike Car Park and Picnic Area) the route descends the virtually traffic-free surfaced road that leads down the eastern shore of the reservoir towards the dam, passing on the way through the Widdybank Fell area of the huge Moor House Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve. Just below the dam the road intersects the Pennine Way before crossing a bridge across the River Tees. At this point take the time for a short but very rewarding detour to view the spectacular Cauldron Snout Waterfall; at 200 yards long it is believed to be the longest waterfall (or cataract) in England.

Return to the road, cross the bridge into Cumbria and continue along the Pennine Way to Birkdale Farm. From the farm the track leads down to a footbridge across Grain Beck before climbing steadily up the moor on a clear track that borders restricted MoD property. (A nearby flagpole flies a red flag when firing is taking place on the MoD range). The track then traverses the side of Rasp Hill before descending to intersect the Maize Beck.

A newly erected footbridge transfers you to the south side of the beck, after which a long, pleasant walk on a wide, grassy path delivers you to the apex rim of the High Cup Nick glacial depression. Approaching the natural spectacle for the first time from the direction of High Cup Plain in the east has to be one of the best experiences you can have when walking in the Northern Pennines. The view down the full length of the huge, U-shaped depression and out across the flat plains of the Eden Valley towards Appleby, with the high fells of the southern Lake District beyond, certainly has the wow factor.

You now have the choice of either returning along the same route or taking a slightly shorter but more direct and certainly more strenuous, alternative return route. To start the return leg of the circular route, follow a short length of the rim of the depression before leaving the Pennine Way and turning north-east on a flat, grassy track to intersect a footbridge over a narrow, deep gorge formed by the Maize Beck.

From the footbridge the route heads straight uphill towards the summit of Meldon Hill. There is no obvious track up the fell, so following a compass bearing is recommended. There are large areas of blanket bog on the ascent, particularly on the lower slopes where the straight-line navigation briefly reverts to zigzagging. The remainder of the terrain up to the summit comprises marshy grass, gulleys, thick heather and finally shake holes near the top. The distance from the footbridge to the top of Meldon Hill is a little under two miles and irritatingly, includes a couple of false summits. The trig point on the summit of the 2,516-feet high Meldon Hill is unfortunately in ruins, but from here there are terrific 360-degree views of the northern high Pennines and beyond.

The long descent from the hill to the River Tees covers similar terrain as the ascent, but being downhill is obviously not as strenuous. As this is rough walking across Open Access land, with no recognised paths, there is unfortunately on arrival at the river no footbridge. It is therefore necessary to remove boots and socks in order to ford the river back into County Durham. During normal river conditions the water should be no deeper than fifteen inches at the crossing points; however, I would advise against attempting the crossing after prolonged rainfall when the river is likely to be in spate.

The climb up from the reservoir to the stony road is not overly steep, but coming as it does towards the end of the walk, can be tiring. The final lap of the walk is along a gently sloping downhill track back to the reservoir car park.

England - North England - Durham - North Pennines


Birds, Butterflies, Flowers, Great Views, Hills or Fells, Lake/Loch, Moor, Nature Trail, River, Toilets, Waterfall, Wildlife
7/17/2017 - Chris Thompson

My advice is to NOT attempt the circular route, I wouldn't really us the word route, it's a painful, exhausting slog through miles of terrible terrain. Stick with returning the way you came, it will save you a whole load of trouble.

6/6/2012 - Nigel Corner

Not for the faint hearted but a great day out with fantastic views and few other walkers. The alternative return route is strenuous and probably best not attempted in bad weather. NBC

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31.1 Miles