Hardberry Hill and Hudeshope Beck
From Middleton-in-Teesdale 7.5 miles (12km)
Middleton-in-Teesdale,revered as the ‘capital’ of Upper Teesdale, lies in the heart of the most beautiful and enchanting scenery imaginable. It was founded c.1031, when King Cnut granted it to the monks of St Cuthbert at Durham as part of a much larger estate. However, it did not begin to grow significantly until the nineteenth century, when it became an important lead mining centre.
In 1815 the Quaker-owned London Lead Company established their northern headquarters at Middleton. They built houses, schools and libraries for their workers and became the first British company to introduce the five-day working week. Water was piped to convenient points around the village, and some of the original tap housings can still be seen in the walls. Every house had a vegetable garden, and some even boasted a purpose-built pigsty at the back door.
The Parish church, dedicated to St Mary, the Virgin, was rebuilt in c.1878. It has several medieval grave covers built into the interior of the north wall. The east window of the original church is now erected in the churchyard. One of the most interesting features of the church is its detached bell-tower, the only one of its kind in the Diocese of Durham. This was built about 1557 to house three bells bequeathed by William Bell, ‘prest and parson of Middleton in Tesdaill’. The bells are reputed to have been pealed by one man who used both hands and one of his feet.
Our route from Middleton follows a quiet road with tremendous panoramic views of Teesdale. The river Tees meanders along the valley floor with the impressive Holwick Scars as a backdrop. The vista improves further when we leave the road to begin our ascent of Hardberry Hill. To the west stands Great Dun Fell, easily identified by the radar station on its summit, right of this is Little Dun Fell and then Cross Fell, the highest peak on the Pennine ridge.
After crossing the shoulder of Hardberry Hill, the harsher scenery of the lead mining period becomes more apparent. The valley is strewn with the remains of the Coldberry Mine, which closed in 1955 after more than 200 years of lead production. Coldberry was one of the largest lead mining complexes in the North Pennines. The immediate area of the mines has been granted the status of a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The most prominent scar is Coldberry Gutter, the result of an early open-cast mining technique known as ‘hushing’. This involved the construction of a reservoir with a turf dam on the moor above the suspected vein. When the reservoir was full, the dam was breached so that the sudden torrent swept down, tearing away the soil and surface rocks to expose the vein. Then picks and crowbars were used to loosen and remove the ore. This process was carried out repeatedly, creating deep gullies on the hillside visible from many miles around.
During the descent, remnants of a water balance system can be seen. This consisted of a wheeled water-tank which moved down an incline between two walls. A rope from the tank was attached to a bucket of ore in the shaft and, as the tank went down, the bucket came up. Using the weight of water to raise the ore from the shaft was both economical and energy efficient.
Leaving behind the ravages of the mines we descend gradually to Hudeshope Beck. The scenery quickly begins to improve and there are excellent views across Teesdale with the distinctive wooded crest of Kirkcarrion in the distance.
As we approach the Miners’ Bridge, the well-preserved Skears kilns come into view. These impressive kilns date from 1840, when the first pair was built; a second pair was added later in that century, and a single semi-circular kiln was added in the early twentieth century. The final kiln, which has now collapsed, was built in 1941 to help satisfy the more significant demand for lime during World War II. Limestone from the nearby Skears Quarry was burnt here, and the lime extracted was used mainly to help neutralise acidic soils. The kilns remained in production until 1960.
From the kilns, we follow a pleasant lane alongside the beck, passing the attractive Horseshoe Falls. The lane leads back onto the road and returns us to Middleton.