Cow Green Reservoir, Widdybank Fell and Cauldron Snout

Cow Green reservoir is one of those places I’ve wanted to visit for ages after seeing some stunning photos on Instagram, but never quite managed to bump to the top of my places to go list. We finally made our way up into the North Pennines last weekend for a lovely eight mile circular which takes you around the bottom of Widdybank Fell, starting at Cow Green and returning via the impressive falls of Cauldron Snout, worth a visit purely on name alone!

Cow Green reservoir was built in the late 60s to supply industry in Teesside – and, according to a sign near the car park, holds enough water to give every person in Europe a shower! It’s also a good starting point for getting out and exploring all that this part of the North Pennines has to offer, with trails leading to Widdybank Fell, High Cup Nick and Herdship Fell. We opted for the first of these options, following a walk from our Cicerone Guide to County Durham, which loops around rather than over the fell and totals around eight miles. A similar route is available online here.

Starting from the Natural England car park by the reservoir (honesty box for donations, toilets), we followed the route in a clockwise direction. This gets the long stretch along the road out of the way first and rewards you with a spectacular view of Cauldron Snout at the end.

The beginning along the road isn’t exactly what I’d call boring, as you are surrounded by remote uplands in all directions, but it’s a good few miles just walking in a straight line. The road itself though is very quiet and we didn’t see many cars at all, plus they are very easy to see coming. Once you leave the road the path stays level and well surfaced as you begin your walk around the fell, before becoming more indistinct and uneven as you join the Pennine Way. Along here the path is narrower in places, with a few sections which require you to clamber over boulders – made more difficult for me because Merry was trying to drag me into the river!

Walking along the river was one of my favourite parts of the walk – it was so quiet with no people around, and the dogs loved being able to jump in to cool down. All of Widdybank Fell is covered by an Access Land restriction, which means that you have to stick to public rights of way, which can be a bit confusing if you aren’t familiar with Access rules!

Essentially, you are able to walk across Access Land, but some areas may be covered by a restriction which means no dogs, and potentially also no people as well. BUT, and it’s a big but, you are still allowed to walk on any Public Right of Way (footpath or bridlepath) which crosses Access Land. You can check if there are any access restrictions where you’re going on the Natural England website.

The walk is pretty flat nearly all the way around with some gradual inclines and declines, the only section where you have to work hard is the short climb up alongside Cauldron Snout, where it’s almost a bit like scrambling. Another reason to do this walk in a clockwise direction as I’d much rather climb up those steps (if that’s what you want to call them!) then try and navigate my way down!

Cauldron Snout is unmistakably the star attraction of the walk, and at nearly 200m long, is one of the longest waterfalls in England. While this walk takes you on a more circuitous approach, if you’re not fancying a longer walk, it’s close enough to the reservoir that you could do a short there and back walk in no time at all.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. While much of this walk requires dogs to be on the lead, ours absolutely loved being able to splash around in the river for a good stretch of the walk. As an added plus, there are no stiles to navigate across, and it’s a lovely quiet walk for nervous dogs.

As much of the land around Widdybank Fell is Access Land, dogs should definitely be on a lead for this part, and you might come across livestock or ground nesting birds. We saw sheep, cows and ponies, as well as a variety of moorland bird species like curlews and lapwings. Therefore Merry stayed on the lead all the way around as I don’t trust his chase instinct in wide open spaces at all!

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