A lovely walk contrasting the white washed farms of the valley of Harwood Beck and the heights of Great Stony Hill above and including an optional detour on to the neighbouring summit of Three Pikes.
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It is nearly seven years since my only previous visit to Great Stony Hill, one of the high fells on the Tees - Wear watershed. On that occasion it was part of long walk from Burnhope Reservoir that took in no less than five summits over 2,000ft high (read the walk report). It was a fairly grey day and there was a lot of difficult terrain underfoot. Of the five summits that I visited it was Great Stony Hill that most stuck in my mind to revisit in brighter conditions.
On this occasion I decided to approach the hill from the Teesdale side thus giving me a chance to explore the valley of Harwood Beck with its scattered community of whitewashed houses. The walk started from one of the small laybys that can be found either side of the road junction above Harwood. With the walk starting at 480m above sea level it also meant that there was less climbing than might have been expected to bag a fell the height of Great Stony Hill.
"Arriving on Catterick's neat little summit ridge we came across some quartz prominent amongst the rocks of a modest crag."
Before gaining height though I first had to descend into Harwood. A signed path cut a bend in the road which I then followed past the farm at Lingy Hill and an old Methodist chapel that has been converted into a residence. After passing the attractive cottage at Low End I crossed a bridge to begin a lovely section following Harwood Beck upstream. All along this section the skies were full of the sound of lapwings and oystercatchers.
About a quarter of a mile along the path some pitiful baaing alerted me to a little lamb that had got stuck on the beck side of a barbed wire fence. Carefully reaching over I managed to pick it up one handed to put it back on the right side of the fence and its mother.
Continuing on I crossed a footbridge to arrive at the ruins of an old church. A track led from the church up to the minor road at a row of cottages called Rigg Side House. Turning left along the road I passed between the houses at Watersmeeting and Herdship to reach another house at Hill End. The latter seems to have swapped human occupants for a trio of cows.
A bit further along I took a signposted path climbing up alongside Frog Hall and on to the farm building at Dale Head. Dropping down to cross Ashgill Beck a short pull up alongside Mill Sike finally brought me back up to the road. Crossing straight over I then continued on a good track known as Grasshill Causeway. This led easily up on to the shoulder of Great Stony Hill.
After passing the Highfield Hushes I was tempted away from the path by some interesting looking rocks in a hollow to the left of the track. This seems to be in the area called Blackling Hole on the map. Here I also found a sizeable patch of snow. Whilst snow often hangs around in sheltered areas this particular patch was in the full glare of the sun. Considering we'd recently had the hottest April day for a long time I was surprised it was still there.
Rather than go back to the track I decided to make a beeline for the summit. This was soon accomplished and I was able to finally enjoy the stunning panorama from the top of Great Stony Hill. Situated above the upper reaches of Teesdale and Weardale the view was extensive in all directions with the Cross Fell range well seen to the west. Just beyond Killhope Law I thought I could even make out the faint outline of The Cheviot.
After a detour to visit a couple of small tarns I returned to the summit. Quite surprisingly another walker appeared. This is quite unusual on the high moors of the North Pennines. He seemed just as surprised as I was. After a nice chat, sharing some of our experiences of walking in the area he continued on his way heading for Harwood Common. I headed in the opposite direction having decided to add Three Pikes to my route.
To do this I followed the fence heading east back to Grasshill Causeway. Crossing over the track I passed the cairn on Coldberry End to make a beeline across fairly easy ground heading for the corner in the fence at grid reference NY831352. From there I followed the fence across deteriorating ground including a section of head high peat hags. After crossing a wet section at Trough Head Moss it was then a short climb up to the flat peaty plateau of Three Pikes.
Leaving the safety of the fence I passed a boundary stone before hopping across the hags and groughs to reach the small pile of stones marking the summit of Three Pikes. Continuing on I headed for the larger cairn about a hundred yards to the west. Perched on the edge of steeper ground this particular cairn (marked on the OS map) commands a good view of the scattered farms of Harwood backed by Herdship Fell.
From this cairn I descended towards what looked like another cairn in an area of scattered rocks on the 590m contour. Here I found a small trod which I followed north to reach the top of a long deep grassy ditch which may or may not have been a hush. Hush or not there was plenty of other mining remains in the area including spoil heaps and a shallow grassy crater that may have been a filled in shaft.
Slanting down to a corner of wall and fence I crossed the latter to drop down to cross Trough Sike. A short pull up the other side brought me to the point where a bridleway leaves the road. Crossing over on to the road it was then a simple case of walking back along the road to the car. The road is not that busy but I did have to keep my eye out for motorbikes which tend to travel very fast along this stretch.
All in all this was a splendid walk with plenty of interest.