Tag Archives: waterfalls

Tourist Trap: £103 and a bag of nuts to see a waterfall

DAVID SIMPSON reveals how a bit of innocent chatter, a failed download, three rejected coins and a bag of nuts resulted in a £103 charge to see England’s best waterfall.

High Force
High Force waterfall, Teesdale. Photo David Simpson

A roaring awesome force of nature, High Force waterfall is one of the most beautiful and remarkable features of the North East landscape. People come from far and wide to enjoy this majestic ‘force’ pouring its foamy waters at roaring pace over the imposing slate-black rocks of the Great Whin Sill.  I wonder, though, how many people know that if they’re not too careful, they may end up paying more than a hundred pounds for the privilege?

I hadn’t been to the waterfall for a while so with some delightful sunny weather to enjoy I headed off to Teesdale, stopping at bonny Barnard Castle and the pretty village of Romaldkirk along the way. A little nearer to my destination I then called in at lovely Middleton-in-Teesdale to draw out some cash on my driving route to ‘feel the force’. Now ‘Fors’ is a Viking word meaning ‘waterfall’ by the way and has nothing to do with a force of power or the enforcement of fines for that matter – at least not as far as we know.

I haven’t been to High Force for about three years now – to my great shame, High Force should be at least an annual visit for anyone in the North East. Having been diverted at so many wonderful stops along the way I didn’t get to the High Force car park until just before 5pm. I’d never been there that late in the evening – though it’s hardly what you’d call ‘night time’ at the height of summer.  I then see a sign at the car park saying the fall closes at 5pm with the last admission at 4.30pm. Looks like I’m too late.

Low Force waterfall
Low Force waterfall, Teesdale. Photo © David Simpson 2018

I was a bit confused, did this mean that the entire pathway to get to the fall was closed or do they enclose the waterfall in some kind of iron cage to keep people out? In fact, as it turns out, the path doesn’t close at all, you can still stroll along the riverside to within a literal stone’s throw of the fall. The only limitation is that after hours you will find a locked gate near the fall beyond which you can go no further. Don’t worry though you’re still more than close enough to get a decent view or a photo.

If only I’d known all of this a bit sooner as I’d have saved myself £100 pounds but you see I have a problem; I’m a bit of a chatterbox. No sooner had I parked  the car then I got into a conversation with some friendly visitors and ramblers. Now when I say ramblers, I  mean walkers. Their conversation, I should say, was far from rambling and was pleasantly engaging, though as it turned out disastrously engaging. “Can I still get to the fal” I innocently asked, “or is the path closed?” I wanted to be sure. No point in paying a £3 car parking fee for nothing.

Soon there was a suggestion to walk back downstream to Low Force and cross a footbridge to reach the High Force from the other side of the river  (on what used to be the Yorkshire side – where unlike the Durham side they don’t charge you). There was also a suggestion from these helpful visitors that I take in Summerhill Force at Gibson’s Cave and see the Low Force as well. I should confess, that I hadn’t been to either for some time (again to my shame), at least not since I was a kid, so I wasn’t sure how long that walk would take.

As the conversation continued, I took little notice of the time. I can’t be sure but I suspect that by this time more than 10 minutes had already elapsed. Eventually another curious conversational visitor interjected and explained that I could in fact still get pretty close to the “big one” from the Durham side; certainly close enough for a photo and so I decided to commit to the parking, which was going to cost me a minimum of £3 which I could see from where I was standing and confirmed by the conversation.

£3 seemed reasonable enough, so I fished out my £10 note, fresh from the Middleton cash point, only to find that the machine wouldn’t take notes – unlike the nearby cameras which it seems take notes of your every move with a view to taking much more than a trusty tenner – but more on that in a moment. Also, there was no facility for accepting cards in the parking machine as you often find on remote car parks near Hadrian’s Wall.

I saw then that there was a parking ‘app’ that you can download to your phone. Great, I thought, I love a bit of simple technology – so I downloaded the application onto my phone, or at least I tried to. From what I remember it aborted on two or three goes, causing much frustration and taking much precious time before I eventually succeeded. Time was still ticking away.

Low Force waterfall, Teesdale.
Low Force waterfall, Teesdale.

Now I’m no technophobe, or at least I like to think that I’m not, but I couldn’t get this app to accept the input of letters from my number plate on my phone – something which, incidentally, the nearby cameras seem to have no problem reading. I decided the best course of action was to get some loose change, so I popped into the handy High Force Hotel right next to the car park and waited patiently for a thirsty couple in front of me, who were buying a not-to-quick round of early evening drinks for their numerous friends, to get served. Again, unbeknown to me, time was ticking away.

With the couple served, I decided to get myself a bag of nuts plus change from my tenner as it occurred to me that this hotel must get a constant stream of annoying people asking for change to feed into the coin-sucking parking machines nearby. At least, with the nuts, I had made a purchase that would benefit the hotel.

So you’d think I was sorted? Well, actually, no. For some reason  the parking machine didn’t like my coins at first or at least didn’t like my level of concentration or understanding of the payment process in that evening heat. No, it just wouldn’t accept those coins, coughing them out on several occasions without hesitation until eventually a new set of three pound coins was happily accepted and the parking ticket was finally there in my hands.

So with my three pounds paid and the said ticket placed on the dashboard, as instructed, it was time to explore. What I didn’t know, however, was that time had already ticked its final tock and taken its £100 toll. What I didn’t know was that despite the payment of £3, the camera had clocked my time of arrival with its number plate recognition technology and decided that I was a dreadful offender.  It was only when I’d paid that £3 fee that I was approached by one of the friendly visitors who I’d been talking to a few minutes earlier. Warily, if a little tardy in his thoughts, he asked rhetorically: “you have seen the ‘small print’ about the £100 fine after 10 minutes?”

Sadly, I had not, and for that matter nor had the talkative lady standing nearby. She confessed she hadn’t seen it either but was confident that she had paid for her ticket on time.  At this point you might have heard me exclaim “*$!~**#!”  or words to that effect. There it was: a little warning in amongst the usual T&Cs, about a £100 fine for anyone who fails to pay within ten minutes of arrival. Now rules are rules, but this seemed like a little case of extortion to me; a ridiculous sum for a silly error, perhaps even a case of bullying you might say.

Summerhill Force and Gibson's Cave.
Summerhill Force and Gibson’s Cave.

I had that sudden horrible feeling I’d been there much more than ten minutes but couldn’t be certain but thought it was a reasonable and honest mistake and as I’d paid my parking fee I thought perhaps things would be okay. On the other hand, perhaps I am just hopefully naïve.

So off I went on my stroll. It’s always a great feeling of anticipation as you approach ‘the High Force’ on the thickly wooded pathway and can hear it, though not at first see it, getting closer and closer until eventually it reveals itself in all its glory in a gap amongst the trees. I waited for a group of teens larking around at the locked gate – one of whom had unsafely climbed over the neighbouring fence towards the fall. Having made her way back across the fence and onto the path, the group departed for home, leaving me to take a few photos and admire the view from the gate, quite contently.

It had been sunny for several days so the High Force  in these dry conditions wasn’t in full spate but the powerful flow was still more than enough to impress. On the way back along the path leading to the fall I passed a couple of young blokes heading in the direction of the force clutching a veritable picnic of alcoholic drinks who were clearly intending to venture beyond the locked gate and have the after hours waterfall all to themselves for the rest of the evening. I hope they remembered to pay their parking fee.

Having paid £3 which covers a maximum of 3 hours I decided to get my money’s worth so acting on the advice of my recently found friendly band of car park advisers I tried out the walk heading downstream to take in Low Force on the Tees and the Summerhill Force at Gibson’s cave which is along the nearby Bowlees Beck. Within less than an hour I’d managed to fit in High Force and these other two falls (I’m a brisk walker) and I must say all the waterfalls are stupendous.

Low Force is every bit as good as the comparable Aysgarth Falls down in  Wensleydale – if not better – and is found in two close-by groups of falls that can be enjoyed from the neighbouring fields or from the wonderfully wobbly single-file pedestrian suspension bridge that crosses the Tees here. Gibson’s Cave and the Summerhill Force are wonderful too – reached along the beautiful wooded dene of the Bowlees Beck from Bowlees and even on this relatively dry day the sight of that lovely waterfall trickling over the cave is a pretty and picturesque sight to behold.

Sadly, all these sights and sounds on this pleasant summer’s evening were more than a little overshadowed by the distinctly unpleasant and unexpected possibility of a £100 parking fine.

Nine days passed and I’d quite forgotten about my visit to the ‘forces’ when I received a midday Monday letter of shall I say ‘high enforcement’ from a Liverpool-based company with the rather intimidating name of Civil Enforcement Ltd. Their letter, issued on and presumably also posted on a Friday*,  was received  with the following demand: “Amount due within 28 days: £100″ and “Reduced amount due if paid within 14 days: £60″.  In fact the 14 days was now 11 and a half days notice due to the delay in receiving the letter.

Now although £60 still seems to me like a proverbial ‘day light robbery’, in the circumstances it’s much less to pay and much more palatable than paying £100. It was very tempting to pay this, caving in to a bit of ‘tactical’ bullying you might say. However, I feel I have been unlucky and not properly warned of the fine rather than dishonest, so I decided to stick to my guns and hold out for what I think is right.  Anyway, I’ve appealed, and if I fail in this appeal I will then have the option of using the independent ‘Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA)’ service. If your appeal with POPLA is still unsuccessful you must then pay the full £100, so it’s a risk – which of course the parking enforcers must presumably know only too well.

As a penance for my unwitting error I have offered to pay £7 (in addition to the £3 already paid) as I think that £10 is a reasonable sum for an honest mistake. It’s also a very decent sum for the car park considering the time I was there – whereas £60 is not. We’ll see what they say. Just don’t hold your breath.

I just think that this is all a bit of a sting that can make money out of the unwitting public for a lapse of ten minutes? That’s certainly not enough time to do anything useful or see any of the sites or reach the waterfall, but more than enough to catch one or two chatty or temporarily distracted people like me unawares.

All that it would take, in my view, to avoid this would be a prominent sign at the entrance to the car park saying that you must pay within ten minutes of entering or receive a fine – it’s the one thing that any visitor would certainly want to know above anything else. This could be done very easily to make absolutely sure that people are aware of the possible fine. The car park could also make it clearer about accessibility to the fall after 4.30pm as it was clarifying this ambiguity that cost me the time more than anything else.  What makes me cross is it’s not like I didn’t pay at all or do anything dishonest, I just wanted to confirm that I was going to be able to see what I had come to see before I paid the car park money and committed to stay. It is after all ‘The High Force Car Park’.

I’ve asked Civil Enforcement Ltd, the company which collects car parking revenue on behalf of the landowners to consider my appeal. I’ve also asked if they would provide me with some details of how much they receive in revenue from fines at this particular car park.  If they respond to this particular request of information, I’ll let you know what they say.

Raby Castle
Raby Castle. High Force  is on the lands of the Raby estate. © David Simpson 2018

Don’t let this put you off visiting High Force and its nearby waterfalls though. There’s still parking at the Bowlees Visitor Centre – where there’s a suggested parking donation. The walk from Bowlees to Summerhill and all the other waterfalls including High Force is very pleasing. If you do decide to park at the High Force Car Park, however, which is certainly more convenient for that particular waterfall then just make sure you pay within ten minutes of arrival or you might just end up feeling the force of a very hefty fine.

High Force Visitor information:

High Force is situated on the lands of the Raby estate: Raby Castle

Visit the High Force website at: Highforcewaterfall.co.uk

Opening Times: High Force is open daily 10am-5pm (4pm winter).

Last admission: Half an hour before closing.

Car parking: £3 for 3 hours or £6 for 6 hours

Pay within 10 minutes of arriving

Admission to falls: Adults: 16+ £1.50, Children 5-15: 50p.

Parking at the site is managed by  Civil Enforcement Limited

 

UPDATE: My appeal was rejected by Civil Enforcement Ltd, however they did give me a further 14 days to pay at the reduced rate of £60 and I decided to pay that, reluctantly.

Raby Estate had only introduced the new parking system in May (2018) though I was unaware of this at the time. According to a story in The Northern Echo in response to my experience and that of others, Raby Estate have now extended the period of grace for parking payment at the High Force Car Park. Unfortunately this didn’t make any difference to me, because – as I understand it – the period of grace had not come into force at that time.

I would strongly suggest that Raby Estate ask for an improvement in the signage at the car park to ensure that people are aware of the risk of payment delays as soon as they enter the car park. Even if there is a period of grace, discovering there’s a fine after a 10 minute period has elapsed could be stressful to elderly visitors or those on low income.

I’d also suggest they consider finding a new company to manage their parking when the opportunity arises as I think the company’s lack of leniency does not necessarily work in the best interests of their client, unless of course Raby Estate only consider its visitors a means of making money and nothing more. I know I am not the only one to have been caught by this charge and I would suggest that it could be potentially damaging to an important element of Teesdale’s tourism industry.

Finally, I’d like to add that despite my experience I should say that High Force, Raby Castle and Teesdale itself are absolute gems that all deserve to be better known. My intention in creating this website was to highlight the wonderful heritage of the North East region, its history, landscape and places to visit, but occasionally, reluctantly, you sometimes have to draw attention to negative things that could be much improved.

 

Rivers, becks, burns and linns : What’s in a (North East) Place-Name?

DAVID SIMPSON examines the ancient names of our rivers, streams and waterfalls and plots the great beck/burn divide

The River Tees at High Force waterfall. Photo: David Simpson
The River Tees at High Force waterfall. Photo: David Simpson

Alright please don’t ‘Pity Me’, but ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by place-names and especially those of the North East. I don’t know why precisely, but it’s certainly linked to my interest in history.

Across the region our place-names offer unique insights into our distant past and I find it fun to discover that a familiar place we take for granted is often not quite what it seems. Then of course we have all those strange and peculiar names: Pity Me, Witherwack, Wallish Walls, Snods Edge and Foggy Furze. How about Shiney Row, Seldom Seen, Success, Once Brewed or even No Place? These are the places that arouse much curiosity in our region  but even seemingly mundane place-names also hold unexpected secrets.

The first thing to know when studying place-names is that for a period of a little over a thousand years  – and that’s how old most of our place-names are – our language has changed an awful lot. This means spellings in old records can be notoriously inconsistent. So you can’t just look at a place-name today and guess what it means; you have to go back in time.

The North East has many fascinating and curious place-names
The North East has many fascinating and curious place-names

Place-name experts look for the earliest spellings, scouring ancient documents and interpreting the names according to the language of times past.

The experts are skilled linguists and historians, with an exceptional knowledge of how language evolved. They come with a good grasp of old languages like Latin, Old Welsh, Indo-European, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Middle English and a knowledge of local dialect too. They also need a good understanding of local history and know about the local topography by familiarising themselves with the landscape. It might also help to know a few folk tales connected with the place-names they study. The experts are prepared to do much detective work to reach their final conclusions and even then they may not always be sure. In the end the fruits of their labour are often nothing more than a passing curiosity for most of us.

The fun part for me is exploring and interpreting this work and looking for patterns. I enjoy puzzling over baffling contradictions and being surprised that seemingly obvious explanations are not what I had expected. I also believe, well I’m certain of it in fact, that place-names and their local features have close links to local dialect. You see, place-names and dialect are living history and often a very old part of our heritage that we can easily overlook.

The Tyne at Newcastle Photo: David Simpson
The Tyne at Newcastle Photo: David Simpson

Since most place-names have evolved over long periods of time, it’s best to start at the beginning. If we glance at the map we find the  most ancient names are those of the rivers and larger streams. Names like Tyne, Tees, Team, Wear, Aln, Allen, Don, Derwent and Deerness go back thousands of years to the pre-Roman Celtic times or sometimes to the era when the inter-related Indo-European languages across Europe and parts of Asia were beginning to evolve.

The Tyne, for example has one such ancient name. Tyne derives from a root word ‘ti’ meaning ‘to flow’ and could simply be interpreted to mean ‘water’. One of its tributaries, the River Team, now partly culverted through Gateshead’s Team Valley has a similar root, related to river-names like the Thames in London or the Taff in Cardiff. Further east, the Don that joins the Tyne downstream at Jarrow comes from an Indo-European word ‘danu’ simply meaning ‘river’. The Don of Jarrow shares its roots with the Don at Doncaster and the Don in Russia, as well as the Danube of Austrian river fame.

The River Don entering the Tyne at Jarrow. Photo: David Simpson
The River Don entering the Tyne at Jarrow. It shares its name with a river in Russia Photo: David Simpson

The River Tees is thought to have a Celtic river-name though its roots may be earlier. It’s related to an Old Welsh word for ‘heat’ and means ‘boiling, surging river’ perhaps alluding to the waterfalls of upper Teesdale like High Force.

The name of the River Wear is thought to derive from ‘uis’, another Indo-European word for ‘flow’ but Uisiria and Uedra were later forms of the name. This was interpreted by Welsh speaking Celts (the Britons) to ‘Gweir’ which means ‘bending’. Look at a map and compare the whole course of the Wear from source to sea with the course of the Tyne or the Tees and you will see that ‘bending river’ is an apt description.

The River Wear at Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson
The River Wear at Sunderland – ‘the bending river’. Photo: David Simpson

Other river-names with ancient origins include the Derwent which forms part of the border between Northumberland and Durham. One of a number of rivers called Derwent in England, the name comes from Old Welsh and means the ‘oak tree river’. Further south, a smaller County Durham river, the Deerness combines the Welsh element ‘dwfr’ meaning river with an Indo-European element ‘nesta’ meaning , ‘roar, rush’ that is found in names such as Loch Ness and Inverness.

Some river-names came much later in Anglo-Saxon or Viking times, suggesting their earlier names were forgotten or replaced. In County Durham, for example, the little river called the Browney (occasionally called ‘the brune’) has a name dating to Anglo-Saxon times that comes from ‘brun-ea’ meaning ‘brown river’

Two little-known North Eas rivers, the Deerness and Browney merge at Langley Moor near Durham City. Photo: David Simpson
Two little-known North East rivers, the Deerness and Browney merge at Langley Moor near Durham City. Photo: David Simpson

In Northumberland the River Wansbeck at Morpeth and Ashington has a name from the same era and is thought to derive from ‘waegens-spic’, a bridge made from logs (a spic) that was crossed by wagons. The Wansbeck is not a ‘beck’ in the usual sense of the word though. The word ‘beck’ is usually from a Viking word meaning stream but that is not the case here.

For the Germanic Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria who arrived in Britain between 500 and 600 AD from southern Scandinavia and neighbouring areas of what is now the German coast ‘burn’ was one of the terms they used for a stream. As their territory extended north beyond Edinburgh into what is now Scotland the word was introduced there and has had a lasting legacy. Its roots however are Northumbrian rather than Scottish.

North East England or more particularly County Durham is the battleground between the ‘burns’ and their later Viking counterparts the ‘becks’. The Vikings arrived from across Scandinavia from around 866AD and in areas more intensely settled or shared out by the Norsemen the Viking word ‘beck’ replaced the older Anglo-Saxon word ‘burn’ in the names of streams although ‘burn’ often survives in the names of local places associated with those streams.

So we find places like Saltburn (salty stream) on the Cleveland coast and Sherburn (shiny stream) near Durham but the local streams from which they are named are now called becks on the map as well as by the locals too. The Bowburn Beck at Bowburn near Durham, for example, flows in the shape of a bow (as in bow and arrow) and was originally simply called ‘the Bow Burn’.

Many other places in the region include the word ‘Burn’ and the names of the streams from which they derive can often be self-explanatory. Take Fishburn and Seaburn for example, one would have been noted for its plentiful supply of fish, the other simply flowed into the sea.

Whitburn near Sunderland, named from a barn rather than a burn. Photo: David Simpson
Whitburn near Sunderland, named from a barn rather than a burn. Photo: David Simpson

It’s easy to be fooled though, as we find at Whitburn near Sunderland. Not a burn at all, this was originally the ‘white barn’, a white-painted barn or one built with white stone. Then we have Sockburn near Darlington  which was actually Socca’s burgh rather than a burn. It was the ‘burgh’ (a fortified place) belonging to someone called Socca. Even here further doubt is thrown on the explanation because the River Tees hereabouts quite clearly flows in a massive meander that forms the  very obvious shape of a sock offering a more popular ‘folk explanation’. The fact that Sockburn was for centuries the southernmost point of County Durham and thus at the limit of the ‘soke’ of the BIshops of Durham adds further to the confusion. Both Whitburn and Sockburn by the way have fascinating links to Lewis Carroll and his Jabberwocky poem and you can read about those links here.

So enough of the burns, what about the becks? Well, the word  ‘beck’ comes from the Old Norse ‘bekkr’ – ‘a stream’. It is the usual term for a stream in Viking settled Cumbria and Yorkshire but is missing from Northumberland where burn is used. In County Durham we get both becks and burns with burns in the north and becks in the south and the boundary between the two lies somewhere around Durham City and mid Weardale.

Durham City lies on the dividing line between becks and burns in the naming of streams across England. Photo: David Simpson
Durham City lies on the dividing line between becks and burns in the naming of streams across England. Photo: David Simpson

Streams north of Durham City are called burns all the way up to John O’ Groats in the far north of Scotland while south of the city they’re called becks all the way down to the Viking settled areas of the Norfolk coast. Meanwhile in much of southern England and even in Lancashire they prefer the later Dutch word ‘brook’ though burn in the form ‘bourne’ often occurs in place-names across the whole of England.

In Hamsterley Forest in Weardale we find a stream named from an Anglo-Saxon man called Bede (though probably not the famous Venerable Bede of Jarrow). It is called the Bedburn Beck. It seems superfluous when surely the name Bed Burn would suffice? It’s as if they couldn’t quite make up their mind whether to call it a beck or a burn.

To the south it’s remarkable to discover that every single stream that joins the River Tees directly is called a ‘beck’ while to the north every stream that joins the Tyne directly is a ‘burn’. Along the Wear it varies between beck and burn. In upper Weardale as far east as Wolsingham the word ‘burn’ is the choice but in the mid Wear valley around Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor where the river briefly sways towards the south, the preferred word is ‘beck’.

aucklandcastlebishopa
Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland lies on the stretch of the River Wear where streams are called ‘becks’ rather than ‘burns’. Photo: David Simpson

In Durham City it changes again with the Mill Burn beneath the city’s shopping centre on the north side of the town marking the beginning of those burns again and it is the burns that continue to feed the river from Chester-le-Street all the way to the river’s end at Sunderland, or at least they do on the map. Over in East Durham locals use the term ‘beck’ and this may be the choice of word for some people in Sunderland too. It would be interesting to know.

River-names of Viking origin in the North East are not so common but include the River Skerne (it flows from Trimdon to the Tees at Darlington) but its earlier Anglo-Saxon name was something like ‘Sherne’ (the shining river). It became Skerne under Norse influence.

Historic view of Darlington and the River Skerne
Historic view of Darlington and the River Skerne

Other river names that are pure Viking include the River Greta (griota – its name means stony) that joins the Tees at Greta Bridge downstream from Barnard Castle. Upstream from ‘Barney’ the Tees is joined by the River Balder – Balder is the name of a Norse God.

At Bishop Auckland the Wear is joined by the River Gaunless, yet another Viking name. Gaunless (like gormless) means useless, but why is uncertain. Perhaps it was too short of fish to feed the hungry Vikings or too sluggish to power the workings of a mill.

Waterfalls are a bit like burns and becks in that they change their names according to where in the region you look for them. High Force and Low Force in Teesdale derive from a Viking word ‘foss’ that literally means waterfall. Forces also occur in Cumbria and Yorkshire too.

In Weardale though waterfalls are called ‘Linns’ and they go by this name in Northumberland too where there are many impressive waterfalls to see. Linn was seemingly a word used by the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria but has Celtic roots deriving from ‘Hlynn’ a word for a pool – probably from the plunge pools found at the foot of a fall.

The River Tees, High Force Waterfall
The River Tees, High Force Waterfall

So we can see that ancient people of long ago and sometimes the slightly more recent settlers like the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings from Northern Europe have played an important part in the naming of our rivers and water features. Rivers and streams are unusual though for their ancient names. When it comes to the names  of our towns, villages, cities and topographical features, it is more often than not the Anglo-Saxon who named them.