This weekend being our Wedding Anniversary, we set off today on our special jolly jaunt - we go on the same trip every year - I know it is boring but we love the high country and it has become a tradition. The weather forecast for the North was abysmal but were we daunted? No we were not. Ten of the clock chimed and we were off - Tess in the back too.
Up over the moor and into Arkengarthdale - the first sign of really high ground. The weather was still fine, sheep were grazing the sides of the road, the heather was beginning to come out on the hills and the roads were fairly empty of traffic. What could be better.
We turned out of Arkengarthdale and climbed up towards Teesdale, already there was a sprinkling of rain on the windscreen. Here it is wild country, no houses just mile after mile of high moorland. Then suddenly there it is in front of us - Teesdale - no sun to brighten the picture but a vast expanse with the River Tees at its centre.
These high dales - each called after the River which carved its way through them - are spectacular at this time of year with great swathes of heather in bloom. Above Barnard Castle we enter into Raby Castle Estate country - these vast tracts of land are owned by Lord Barnard. All Raby Estate Farms are painted white, so that wherever you look there are white buildings showing up well against the hillsides.
Then climbing again, through Middleton-in-Teesdale with its busy main street and up on to the really high land climbing over into Weardale. This was, historically, lead-mining country and the names of the villages make depressing reading - Killhope, Crowhill, Nenthead, Ireshopeburn.
At Killhope one of the lead mines has been restored as a museum. By this time the rain is pouring down, but the farmer pulls into a layby, opens and window and takes a photograph for you. You will see it is very dark but perhaps if you bring it up full size on the screen you might see it in more detail. Those lead miners had a dreadfully hard life. Remember today it is almost midsummer - they worked in all weathers, in the bitter cold, the pouring rain, the snow - all for a pittance and with living conditions little short of squalor. Actually driving along the road through the lead mines on a day like today really brings it home to you what awful conditions they worked in.
At Ireshopeburn we called at "our" pub for Sunday lunch (along with about a hundred other people judging by the car park). We ordered and had a long wait but when it came we knew it had been worth the wait. Traditional food for this part of the world (we were surrounded by Durham dialect, very strange after our usual North Yorkshire) - Roast beef, horseradish sauce, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, new potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, cabbage, swede, cauliflower, peas and very tasty gravy. Of course the joint of beef they cook is an enormous rib of beef, so that the taste and the tenderness are wonderful. I did wish I had had a doggy bag for Tess as I found it impossible to eat all of mine!
Then it was off again, downhill now to Barnard Castle, along the main street, past the ancient Butter Croos in the photograph, back over the River Tees and finally into Richmond with its castle ruin. After a round trip of about one hundred miles we were back home, dying for a cup of tea. As usual we had had a lovely celebratory day out - and at home there had been no rain at all.
# Photos - from the top Lto R Crossing the River Tees, The Buttercross at Barnard Castle.
Killhope Lead Mine, A Raby Estate Farm, Heather on the moors, Teesdale opens up before us,