After a heavy snowfall or an overnight frost, it’s worth braving the cold to witness the splendour of a pristinely white landscape. Garrigill, one of the old mining villages high up the north Pennines, catches any snow that falls and offers a spectacular, if short, wintry walk.
Ashgill Force isn’t in the least bit undiscovered, but it has been dramatically shaped by forces of nature. The industrial history of lead and silver mining, is written deep on the landscape of the nearby towns and villages.
Start from Garrigill beside the currently closed George and Dragon Inn, and the village shop, little changed since the 1950s. There are a number of routes you can take to Ashgill Force. The most pleasant takes you over Garrigill Bridge as you enter the village from Alston.
The footpath follows the South Tyne then climbs steeply up a bridle track to Pasture Bottom, where a few houses perch atop the sheep fields. Another footpath, signed to Ashgill, guides the way past the buildings and shortly descends to follow the river. The rocks here are littered with fossilised cockles, but in the wintertime it’s no place to be scrambling around. The shelves are slippery and the power of the river in full spate is terrifying.
As the river widens, it meets the confluence of the peaty brown Ashgill, pouring in from the left and blocking your path. Climb over a style to fields along the banks of Ashgill, which seems insignificant beside the more impressive South Tyne. But this is misleading, as you will soon discover.
Broken walls hem the steep-sided field and a narrow, muddy track leads to a wooden footbridge. The way lies straight ahead, heralded by a noticeable increase in the volume of water and noise.
Feel the force
The path narrows further and becomes more slippery. A few steps up and there it is. Peer through the overhanging trees and you should be able to the scale of this magnificent waterfall. The water cascades 17m (56ft) from a high shelf, framed by the graceful arch of an old sandstone road bridge above. The soft sedimentary rock has eroded over millennia to produce a broad, open glade through which the waters batter golden boulders of sandstone and blue shale and limestone. A stout wooden footbridge crosses the fast flowing waters and offers access to what was clearly an industrial workplace at one time.
Behind the curtain of water is a navigable broad shelf, which walkers often like to explore. Of course, venturing behind the falls when the river is in full flood or frozen might be foolhardy, but on a winter’s day, with the water frozen into a million sparkling jewels, this is a magical place.
Take the footpath up to the road bridge to get a view over the glen and the waterfall as it launches over the rocky cusp. A footpath leads you back to Garrigill, where you can check out that quaint shop.
How to get there
For Alston, take the A686 Hartside Pass from Penrith,
M6 J40 or from A686 via the A69 from Newcastle. Then take the B6277 south from Alston to Garrigill, four miles away.
Find out more
Alston Tourist Information Centre
Alston CA9 3RF
Unfortunately there are no longer any places to eat in Garrigill itself as the George and Dragon Inn has closed. The village shop has supplies if it’s open. The nearest refreshments (particularly in winter) are nearby.
Market Place, Alston CA9 3QN
Alston House Hotel
Townfoot, Alston CA9 3RN
East View B&B
Garrigill CA9 3DU
Alston CA9 3PD
Nenthead Mines is a museum dedicated to both showing and telling the story of the North Pennines’ mineral mining past.