“ City: Darlington / Country: England „
Bowlees Visitor Centre is an ideal base to begin exploring Upper Teesdale and the surrounding area. Housed in an old Methodist Chapel just off the B6277, at Newbiggin, Bowlees. The visitor centre is well sign posted following the brown tourist signs for both Bowlees Visitor Centre and also the popular picnic area which lies adjacent.
The postcode for Sat Nav is DL12 0XF
I have visited here many times over the years as it is only around an hour and a half's drive from where I live. Not only is the visitor centre interesting, but it is a great picnic spot and you can walk on foot from here to nearby attractions : Low Force Waterfalls and Gibson's Cave and waterfalls.
High Force Waterfall is also located nearby and there are good footpath links to all these attractions and the Pennine Way.
Bowlees Visitor Centre
As the Visitor Centre is housed in an old Methodist Chapel, this does make it unusually different to the majority of visitor centres I have came across.
The Visitor Centre was established in 1976 by the Durham Wildlife Trust to interpret the natural history of Teesdale and Upper Teesdale. The area has a rich geology and spectacular landscapes as well as being home to rare birds and flowering plants.
The building does have an old fashioned charm about it and inside there is not only the information you would expect a visitor centre to offer, such as local attractions, walks and leaflets, but also Natural History displays of geology, landscape, archaeology, flora, vegetation and wildlife.
A small shop offers souvenirs, books and small gifts.
It also houses a small cafe, serving drinks and snacks which can get very busy, especially on weekends. For that reason, I prefer to take refreshments with me, as there is a lovely picnic area with grassy banks beside the stream which is adjacent to car parking spaces, so you can park up and enjoy a picnic on the grass. Some picnic tables are also scattered about. If the weather is nice during the spring and summer months, the picnic area also gets very busy, so please bear that in mind if planning to stop off here.
Parking and admission to the visitor centre are free but donations are welcomed.
I first stopped off here many years ago when visiting the spectacular High Force Waterfall nearby. It is possible to walk to High Force from Bowlees, but as it is further up Teesdale, you may wish to take your car as there are parking facilities at High Force. The more serious walkers enjoy the walk to High Force.
It is possible, however, to reach Low Force Waterfalls, Gibson's Cave and waterfalls very easily on foot from Bowlees, if a stroll is more to your liking. Of course, full information on all these attractions is available from inside the Visitor Centre and they are well worth a visit if stopping off here.
Low Force waterfalls are located further downstream from the larger High Force Waterfall and are easily reached by leaving the Visitor Centre, crossing the road and following a signposted footpath through a field, which leads you down to a wooded area and the waterfalls.
It will only take around ten minutes to reach Low Force and you could easily spend a day here if you wish. There are plenty of places to sit on the rocks and paddle in shallow areas across the river. Crossing the river is achieved by walking over the Wynch Suspension Bridge which dates back to 1830, and yes, it moves as you walk over it! I used to be too scared to cross it when I was very young, despite my dad and brother bribing me with all kinds to try and tempt me to cross!
Gibson's Cave and waterfalls are reached by following a trail from the Visitor Centre. Though not as fast flowing, nor as high as High Force, Summerhill Falls, which you will reach by following this trail, is still a beautiful place to visit. Erosion over the years has produced "Gibson's Cave" - the grotto or shelf behind the actual waterfall which you can walk into, and thus stand behind the falling water. Gibson's Cave was the hide out of an outlaw in the 16th century and is also a wonderful example of the beauty of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The woodland path leading to Gibson's Cave and Summerhill Falls runs alongside a stream and is a pleasant walk, where you will pass one or two smaller waterfalls along the way. Again, the trail is not long in distance, but bear in mind this path also includes a set of steps and can be a little rugged in places.
Given that entrance is free, whilst its near neighbour High Force involves a cost for parking, as well as entry, then this makes Summerhill Falls well worth a visit. Of course I would still recommend a visit to High Force as it is a spectacular sight, but if you are not looking to spend money, then Bowlees Visitor Centre and the trails to the waterfalls here are an ideal and very cheap day out.
If visiting the Teesdale area, then no visit is complete without visiting High Force, Low Force, Summerhill Force and Gibson's Cave. Bowlees Visitor Centre is the ideal base to explore all of these. The visitor centre itself, with its friendly and helpful staff, is a brilliant source of information and will equip you with all you need to know, as well as being somewhere interesting to visit and stop off for refreshments or relax with a picnic.
It's all free and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Bowlees Visitor Centre also has planned events taking place throughout the year. You can call the centre direct on 01833 622292 for more information on these.
The centre is open from the end of March to October, daily from 10am - 5pm including all weekends and bank holidays.
Bowlees Visitor Centre