Are you a fan of stunning castles, pretty waterfalls, charming villages and dramatic views? If so, visiting Upper Teesdale and the surrounding area will be right up your street!
In this blog post we’ll give you all the information you need to plan an unforgettable trip. Including all the best walks, things to do in Teesdale, villages you can’t miss, the best pubs to stop by and also where to stay in Teesdale, England.
Upper Teesdale Guide
Separated by the River Tees, Teesdale is situated where the most southern of the Durham Dales meets the most northern part of the Yorkshire Dales. Split into Upper Teesdale and Lower Teesdale, the town of Middleton-in-Teesdale lies in the middle.
Quite literally, the middle town in the dale of the River Tees.
Starting at Barnard Castle and working your way up to Middleton-in-Teesdale, must see villages to take in along the Lower Teesdale include Larthington, Cotherstone, Romaldkirk, Eggleston and Mickleton.
Then crossing over into Upper Teesdale there’s the Forest-in-Teesdale with the High and Low Force Waterfalls. A little more remotely towards the source of the River Tees, there’s also the stunning views of High Cup Nick near Dufton.
Upper Teesdale is also part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). As soon as you arrive there it’s imminently obvious why. If you love the outdoors and being in nature, this is where you will want to prioritise your time in Teesdale, UK.
North Pennines AONB
The North Pennines AONB was confirmed as such in 1988. Sandwiched between the National Parks of the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland it totals an area of 1,983 km2 making it the second largest AONB in the country.
Recognised globally for being one of the most naturally preserved and remote places in England, it is also a UNESCO Global Geopark. It is home to a whopping 80% of England’s black grouse and a healthy population of the rare red squirrel.
Getting To & Around Teesdale
By Train | There are no direct national trains to Teesdale. The nearest stations are Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Middleborough. Then from there hop on a local bus for Barnard Castle or Middelton-on-Tees, depending on where you are going to start exploring from.
By Bus There is no direct national bus to Teesdale. You will need to take a national bus into a surrounding larger city such as Darlington, Middlesborough or Durham. Then take a local bus service into one of the towns or villages along the Teesdale Valley.
By Car | Travelling to Teesdale is by far the best option because it’s also to easiest way of getting around once you are there. There is public transport between villages, but you simply won’t be able to get to some of the more remote places mentioned in this guide without one.
Most of the things to do in Teesdale are outside, however, they don’t all involve walks through sweeping moorland or over hillsides to experience them.
Here’s our top pick of Teesdale attractions.
Once owned by King Richard III this impressive castle with extensive grounds are now managed by the English Heritage and us well worth stopping by. Barnard Castle itself is a smashing little market and it’s castle is just right there, you literally can’t miss it.
If you’re a English Heritage member your ticket will be free, but you will still need to book. For non-members the current cost of an adult ticket is £7.60.
There are over 400 English Heritage sites in England so if you are planning on visiting a few and don’t already have a membership it may be more cost effective to consider getting one.
The Bowes Museum
Also located in the town of Barnard Castle, this striking French style Chateau houses a large and varied art collection. The grounds of the Bowes Museum include beautifully manicured gardens and extensive parkland with woodland walks, children’s play area and picnic area.
Eggleston Hall Gardens
Otherwise known as ‘The Jewel Amongst the Hills’’, this entry on things to do in Teesdale is a plant lover’s paradise. Less of a traditional English garden and more of an eclectic Victorian garden centre, you’ll find thousands of different plant varieties at Eggleston Hall Gardens.
There’s no entry fee as such, just an honesty box to contribute towards a Hedgehog Rescue fund and upkeep of a Garden Trail. Don’t miss the replica of The Angel of the North and the detour through the little wooden gate into a fascinating churchyard.
Managed by the English Heritage, the majestically imposing ruins of Egglestone Abbey are free to access. You can walk there along a seriously picturesque section of the River Tees from Barnard Castle town or there is a small car park with a £2 charge for non-members.
Situated in the tiny village of Bowes, the remains of Bowes Castle are again managed by the English Heritage and free to enter. There’s not a great deal to keep you occupied for too long, but stopping in on this 12th century slice of history is worth it if you are passing.
The title of Lord Barnard and accompanying property including this grand medieval estate has been passed down through the Vane family for generations. The current owner and Lord Barnard is Henry Francis Cecil Vane.
As with plenty of properties of this stature in England, Raby Castle and it’s 200 acre deer park has a direct and dark link to the Caribbean slave trade.
First coming into the family in 1626, it was first owned by William Harry Vane, the 1st Duke Cleveland. A recorded recipient of £4854 in reparation money for the 233 slaves he owned in Barbados. On his death he left over £3 million in property, cash, silver plate and jewels.
It is nevertheless an impressively intact castle which makes for a great day out. There’s a nice cafe, picnic area and lots of lovely walks. The price of a standard adult ticket is £13.00 each.
More Things To Do In Teesdale
The next few of our recommendations for what to do in Teesdale are a little more on the active side and can be incorporated into longer Teesdale walks. We’ll tell you about our favourites in the next section.
Country Durham’s largest forest, this Teesdale attraction contains a whopping 2000 hectares of various walking routes, biking trails and bridleways. If you don’t have your own, there’s a bike hire centre situated within Hamsterley Forest and horse riding stables nearby too.
Named after the enigmatic Hannah Hauxwell, a dedicated farmer who lived a frugal and fascinating life, this beautiful slice of Upper Teesdale is now a protected nature reserve. She lived and farmed the land at Low Birk Hat alone without electricity or running water.
First appearing in a documentary called Too Long A Winter in 1973, she went on to star in numerous documentaries about her choice of lifestyle. Still a working farm, the land continues to be managed without the use of pesticides or artificial fertilisers.
The traditional Hay Meadow is at its best in June and July and can be visited as a stand alone or as part of a walk in the local area – more details on that later.
Gibson’s Cave Teesdale
Just a short walk from the carpark of Bowlees Visitor Centre, Gibson’s Cave is a wide rock shelter under an overhang behind the pretty waterfall of Summerhill Force.
The name is born of a local legend, the tale of a 16th century outlaw named William Gibson. On the run from the law, he apparently hid out in the recess behind the waterfall where people used to bring him food and clothing.
It’s not the most impressive waterfall on this list of things to do in Upper Teesdale, but worth a stop by nonetheless.
Low & High Force Waterfalls
The main reason to venture to Bowlees Visitor Centre is however to take in the phenomenal waterfalls of Low & High Force. Set in this part of the forest in Teesdale is one of the most attractive sections of the River Tees.
The Bowlees car park is ‘donate and display’ so there’s no fixed charge. From there it’s less than a 10 minute walk to the cascades of Low Force. Crossing Wynch Bridge over the River Tees, it’s then around a 30 minute walk to larger High Force.
The first bridge here, built in 1741, was rather more precarious. It collapsed under the weight of 9 miners in 1802 and the new style bridge was built in 1830. It is considerably safer, but still recommend that only one person at a time use it.
There’s also a legend that tells of a High Green Ghost who inhabits the waters, grabbing at the ankles of anyone who ventures too close to the waters’ edge so watch your step!
Dropping 21 metres over the volcanic rock of Whin Sill into a plunge pool, High Force is widely regarded as the more impressive of the two waterfalls. We however personally preferred the smaller flowing cascades of Low Force.
It is possible to visit the top of High Force along an alternative walkway from a different car park at High Force Hotel. There’s a £3 parking charge and the adult admission fee is £2 each.
A further 30 minutes walk upstream from High Force is another magical waterfall called Blea Beck Force that we loved too. It was part of the longer walking route that we did back across the River Tees and over the hills. Details are in the next section.
Upper Teesdale Walks
Some of the most spectacular sections of the 268 mile Pennine Way run through Teesdale.
Then there’s the Teesdale Way. A long distance walk between Dufton on the edge of the North Pennines AONB and Redcar where the River Tees empties into the North Sea. Summit to sea, the total distance is 92 miles (148km), but it is typically broken down into smaller sections of under 10 miles each.
But Teesdale is also home to the most amount of shorter breathtaking walking trails of varying difficulty to get your hiking boots stuck into too. With plenty of them being circular walks too.
During our time visiting Teesdale we tried our best to work our way around as many as possible. But I think you could spend a lifetime there and not manage to walk them all.
Here’s our favourite Teesdale walks.
High Force & Upper Teesdale Walk
Starting at the Bowlees Visitor Centre, this High Force walk first takes you past the stunning Lower Force cascades and over River Tees. You then make your way to a viewing point over the impressive High Force waterfalls.
Continuing upstream, through a gorgeous Juniper wood you’ll come to another pretty waterfall called Blea Beck Force on your left. The path then meanders further up into the North Pennines AONB, through valleys and over moorland until you cross back over the River Tees.
You then make your way back down the other side through farmland and over styles to the Bowlees Visitor Centre. It’s around 10km, but took us just under 5 hours due to the amount of stopping and staring at the scenery we did. You can find the full details of the route here.
Teesdale Reservoirs Walk
Starting from the Balderhead Reservoir carpark, this circular Teesdale walk first takes up onto the stunning viewpoints of Goldsborough Hill. There really are views for days up there.
Then meandering down through moorland, you make your way along the edge of the mighty Hury Reservoir. Then crossing over, you take the path down the other side of Blackton Reservoir until you reach the Blackton Nature Reserve and turn up into Hannah’s Meadow.
Joining the main road it’s a just a short walk back to the car park from here. It’s a 12km hike that took us around 5 hours. Although we did spend quite a while atop of Goldsborough Hill soaking in the magnificent views. You can find a map and full route details here.
Mid Teesdale Circular Walk
Starting and ending in the pretty village of Mickleton, this Teesdale walking route begins along a section of the Tees Railway path. You’ll then divert off into the equally pretty village of Romaldkirk, before continuing up across meadows and over the River Tees to Eggleston.
Back in Mickleton there’s a cracking little pub that you’ll turn up opposite from on your way to the carpark. Making for the perfect way to round off exploring the Teesdale countryside.
Distance wise it’s around 10km and it took us under 4 hours including a lunch stop and getting lost a few times. The route details we used weren’t so much details as more of a general outline so you’ll need an accompanying map to keep you on track.
Harter Fell & Grassholme
This circular Teesdale walk, starting from Middleton-on-Tees, first descends into Lune Valley before climbing up onto the side of Harter Fell. Be sure to turn around and look at the view of Middleton as you ascend. It’s stunning.
Before you start the route back down, Grassholme Reservoir, where you’re heading next, will come into view. A picturesque route along the shore joins a section of the Tees Railway Path via a viaduct to bring you back alongside the River Tees and back into Middleton-on-Tees.
This route is just over 10km and took us around 4 hours. This is the walking route description that we followed.
High Cup Nick From Dufton
We didn’t complete this final Upper Teesdale Walk because we didn’t have good enough weather. But I’m still going to put it on here because from the panoramic photographs I’ve seen of it, it looks like a stunner and we are hoping to come back to it.
It’s a fair weather only hike as part of the climb up through High Cup Gorge is a steep scramble through a boulder field. Then the route back, although slightly shorter, is however no less tricky as the path includes a steep slope to one side and a sheer drop to the other.
Here’s the High Cup Nick route details. Do let us know in the comments if you complete it and what it was like.
Best Pubs in Teesdale
Naturally any UK travel guide wouldn’t be complete without recommendations for our national institution, the pub. Again, we tried our hardest to work our way around as many possible – all in the interest of research for this blog post of course.
Here’s a handful of favourite pubs in Teesdale.
The Blacksmiths Arms | Mickleton
The Rose & Crown | Romaldkirk
The Moorcock Inn | Eggleston
There are also plenty of pubs in the bigger towns of Barnard Castle and Middleton-on-Tees, but these more traditional village pubs are where it’s at for us.
Where To Stay in Teesdale
Whether you’re after a Teesdale hotel stay, a self contained apartment, a campsite or an overnight park up spot, there’s plenty of options on offer in and around Upper Teesdale.
Hotels in Teesdale
High Force Hotel | Beautiful location, tasty food and beer, welcoming staff and large comfortable beds – what more do you need? Check prices and availability here now.
Brunswick House B&B | Rooms with river views with on site parking, breakfast included and exceptional review. Check prices and availability here now.
The Little Flat in Barnard Castle | Elegant and pet friendly one bedroom apartment with enclosed garden. Check prices and availability here now.
Quirky Quarry Shepherds Hut | Comfy, cosy and calming with wonderful terrace views and full English/Irish brekkie included. Check prices and availability here now.
Mickleton Micro Barn | One bedroom apartment with gorgeous mountain views, adjoined to a gastropub srving homemade meals and cask ales. Check prices and availability here now.
Rose and Crown | Luxury 18th century coaching inn with period features in a delightful village setting with great food and traditional charm. Check prices and availability here now.
Campsites in Teesdale
To find independent overnight park up spots for campers in Teesdale we mainly used the Park4Night app. But we also came across plenty by ourselves that weren’t listed, just from driving the more remote roads of the North Pennines AONB.
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