Tuesday, 26 July 2016

High force. Low force. Medium force?

We went to a very special waterfall called High Force today. I'm not sure if it's in County Durham, Northumberland or Cumbria as we seem to be in an area which straddles all three counties.

The day started at Low Force, which is a slightly less impressive waterfall down stream from his similarly-named brother. There's a rather charming visitors' centre there which is funded by the European Union. It's got a very charming cafe, and a little art gallery selling prints and paintings by local artists. I bought a very beautiful print of an inviting-looking stile for £25, which felt like a bargain. The stiles in these parts often look like the entrances to Neolithic tombs. Two great slabs of stone which you have to squeeze yourself through. This particular painting made me want to find the stile, if for no other reason than to see what what behind it, which seemed so inviting in the picture. Imagine my excitement, therefore, when I left the visitors' centre and immediately found myself passing through said stile. The print hadn't lied: Beyond the stile was an ancient pedestrian suspension bridge, and from the bridge the views of Low Force were quite remarkable. It was a rickety old thing with wooden foot boards which seemed to bow and bend as we made our way across. Our minds weren't hugely put at rest by the sign post on the bridge which suggested we could only cross one at a time.

When we returned to the bridge later in the day we witnessed a family scattering the ashes of a loved one. The ashes billowed like a giant, beautiful cloud and disappeared into the wind. It made me feel a little sad.

The earth in these parts is incredibly peaty which means all the rivers round here are the colour of copper. The water frothing, foaming and bursting over the rocks at Low Force seemed to stripe. Fluffy white, then tea brown, then a bright orange which looked like a Tartrazine-infused Sodastream!

We walked along the winding river for two miles. Nathan and I fulfilled our Godfathery duties by creating a magical treasure hunt for the two little girls in our group. I had bought them both a little glass bottle with a number of tiny rubbers shaped like bees inside. As we walked along the river Nathan, Raily, Sam and I would periodically run ahead and chalk little clues on gates and large stones. The girls were brilliantly enthusiastic and entranced by the stories we concocted. I even managed to get complete strangers to deliver cryptic clues to them!

High Force itself is a hugely impressive waterfall which is actually 21 meters tall. It's certainly the highest waterfall I've visited in the UK (although, I'll be honest: I've not visited a great many!)

On our way back, we went wild swimming and paddling in a gentle stretch of the river. I paddled. Nathan swam. It was, he said, the coldest water he'd ever swum in. Drying himself with a towel afterwards was apparently like running sandpaper across his body.

We have identified the birds which we've seen en masse around our Youth Hostel. They're pheasants. I'm told that, at this time of year, they release scores of juvenile pheasants into the fields so that there's loads of them to kill when the hunting season begins. They're plainly bred to be stupid, or to have a mega death wish. The ones we saw plainly haven't yet understood that cars don't feel very good when they hit you. There are pheasant carcasses all the way along the road to the hostel. In fact, all the roads around here are road-kill heaven. Bunny massacres.

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