The 2013 walk had been an excellent walk on a super autumn day starting at the Moorcock Inn near Littleborough where we were staying and after a brief climb up to the White House (where the Pennine Way was joined) we all had an enjoyable stroll along the Pennine Way to Stoodley Pike. With a clear sky there was great distant visibility as far as Wales. The route continued by dropping down to Mankinholes and then joining the Rochdale Canal which was followed upwards passing the Great Wall of Todmorden and slowly climbing to Summit where a welcome beer was taken. The route then followed a cross country route back to the Moorcock Inn. Despite being a 16 mile walk the going underfoot was consistently good and after the initial climb to reach the Pennine Way there was remarkably little climbing involved and all the participants arrived back in good shape. Indeed this walk is to be recommended for anyone wanting a varied and interesting walk in this area.
As a consequence, and with mainly the same group present for the 2014 walk, expectations were high for another enjoyable day when we met at the Masons Arms at Gargrave which, like the Moorcock, is a good place to stay with good accommodation, enjoyable and varied meals and well-kept real ale. The only fly in the ointment was that there was an adverse weather forecast for a wet morning and a showery afternoon. However all of us must have endured much worse forecasts while out on the Pennine Way and indeed it was a cheerful group who assembled at Gargrave station to catch the 9:30 train to Settle where the walk was to begin. After a short stop for provisions we commenced the steep climb up Banks Lane out of Settle which is the standard way to visit the famous Victoria Cave and after less than fifteen minutes, would you believe it, the rain stopped! By then we had left the bridleway of Banks Lane at GR 823641 where a distinct path heads north-east up a steep slope before easing up and turning eastwards. The scenery on the left up to Blue Crags and then Warrendale Knotts is top class and as a bonus we could also see Pendle Hill and the Lake District hills in the distance which boded well for the rest of the day. Soon we reached the junction of paths near Attermire Cave where the Victoria Cave can be reached by following the path under Attermire Scar. Our route however was Malham bound and followed the clear path east alongside a wall which then reached Stockdale Lane. This is followed in an easterly direction with the route passing to the north of Stockdale Farm. The hill behind the farm is Rye Loaf Hill which is 547 metres (1794 feet) high whilst the hill about half a mile further east is Kirby Fell at 546 metres high. Until recent times there was no legal access to these hills but fortunately they were included in the Open Access Area following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) Act of 2000 passed by the Labour government. We were now at Nappa Gate which was an important junction in former days – this was the site of Nappa Cross which was moved and can now be found in the wall to the north of the gate on the track leading to Langstar Gate. The Stockdale Road track proceeds straight ahead down to Malham reaching the road near Malham Cove. Our route was the lesser path down Pikedaw Hill and is described in Wainwright’s “Walks in Limestone Country” (Walk 32). This is a highly recommended book for all those who wish to walk in this area which ticks all the walking boxes. Wainwright warns of the danger of the shaft which is 75ft deep near Nappa Gate which gave access to the calamine mines, an ore of zinc oxide, which are all round here. The calamine was used in the manufacture of brass. The path requires a little care when wet but overall is a joy with Malham two miles below you in the valley. An enjoyable lunch was taken in Malham, sitting in warm sunshine which was certainly far better than forecast and indeed summer conditions. We were now on the Pennine Way which gave a very pleasant afternoon walking the seven miles back to Gargrave giving a walk of about twelve and a half miles in total, on what is probably the easiest section of the Pennine Way.
The section of this walk from Attercliffe to Malham follows the line of the Craven Fault, which marks the southern edge of the Limestone Dales, and this is illustrated and observed when descending from Nappa Gate where the land to the south is gritstone and wetter underfoot conditions compared to the limestone to the north. This geological fault runs from Austwick near Clapham and winds through Stainforth, Malham, and Kilnsey, terminating at Grassington. As far as l know there is no named walk or guide to follow this scar which is in superb countryside throughout, although there was a good description of this 45 mile walk in the Great Outdoors Magazine of March 1989 by Mick Chambers.
2015 is to have many walks celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Pennine Way from several organisations such as the Ramblers Association, Friends of the North Pennine AONB , The Wainwright Society as well as the Pennine Way Association which are currently being organised and will be detailed when available on the PWA website and those of the other groups involved.
Distance: 10-11 miles
Map : OS Explorer OL31 (North Pennines – Teesdale and Weardale)
Start: Village Hall Car Park at East end of Bowes (GR NY996134)
It’s a fair bet that if you asked the general Co Durham public the whereabouts of the River Greta most of them could not tell you once you had left the south-west corner of the county. The Greta is arguably the best river in the county as throughout its short length every yard is a pleasure. It rises just over the boundary into Cumbria just to the south of the A66. In earlier times this was Westmorland and the old name has been preserved in the name of the old county town of Appleby. The watershed here separates England into east and west with streams falling eastwards ending up in the North Sea via the Tees and those to the west into the Irish Sea via the Eden. The first 8 miles or so are quiet but for over 100 years this section of the river echoed to the thunder of trains struggling up to the top of the Stainmore Pass assisted normally by a banking engine. There was a large sign on the summit erected by the LNER which stated Stainmore Summit Height 1370 feet. This is happily preserved at the National Railway Museum. The only building was Spital Cottages at the side of the line. The first place of real interest is Gods Bridge where the Pennine Way crosses the Greta by a natural stone limestone bridge which is all that remains of a much larger cavern. The railway stayed close to the river until just short of Bowes. Nowadays there is a good footpath on the south side which carries the Bowes Diversion of the Pennine Way past West and East Mellwaters farms, West Charity Farm and Lady Myres, all of which have attractive meadows before crossing the river by a foot bridge into Bowes. This bridge exists due to the foresight of certain officers in Durham County Council who had plans drawn up for a bridge but not the funds to build it. When the old Countryside Commission had some spare funds to release for an immediate start on a project they were able to start immediately and secured the necessary funds to build this and a smaller one at Levy Pool a few miles to the north on the Pennine Way.
There has been settlement here at Bowes for centuries because of its strategic importance in the crossing of the Pennines at Stainmore. The Romans built a fort here called Lavatrae and nearly a thousand years later a castle was erected on top of the old Roman site. Today the keep built by Henry the Second in the 12th Century survives and is protected.
We start the walk at the east end of the village and walk up the main street now happily bypassed. On the right is the only pub remaining in the village called The Ancient Unicorn which dates back to the 17th Century and is reputedly haunted. Charles Dickens stayed here when he was doing his research for Nicholas Nickelby and the scandal of the “Yorkshire Schools”. One of these was Shaw’s Academy which was further up on the left and became Dotheboy’s Hall in the book.
Near the top on the left is the church of St Giles parts of which go back to the 12th Century. The graveyard contains the remains of several of the unfortunates who were at the school but a much more interesting grave is that of Roger Wrightson and Martha Ritson who were the central characters in what is known as the Bowes Tragedy. Roger was from a family who had the Kings Head pub (now no more) and fell in love with Mary Ritson from the George pub (now the Ancient Unicorn) but as landowners the Wrightsons believed themselves to be of higher status than the Ritsons and forbid the courtship. This was carried on in a clandestine manner for a year when Roger fell ill with fever. He asked to see Martha and this was reluctantly agreed to by the Wrightsons on the proviso that his sister was present all the time. Three days after the meeting Roger died leaving Martha distraught with grief and within 24 hours she died of a broken heart. They were buried in the same grave at the west end of the churchyard both aged 20. Some time afterwards John Ritson paid and worked on improving the road which is now the A66 to generate greater business for his hotel but this failed as the stagecoaches took advantage of this and continued on to the softer climate and inns of Greta Bridge.
We now pass the keep and follow the Pennine Way across two fields and down a track to the footbrige. On crossing we head east after a short distance passing West Pasture and West Gates to arrive at Gilmonby. This was the old suggested route before the bridge was built unless there was drought conditions. We take the footpath from Greta Farm towards Whorlands and follow the tarmac to Quarry Hill where the tarmac ends and continue on the white road to the open access land. Here three routes separate off and we take the most southerly of the two bridleways onto Scargill Low Moor. At GR 021106 a footpath leaves to the left and then almost immediately a footpath goes to the north past Stony Close House and Thwaite Green to meet the Stang road which goes over to Arkengarthdale. Here we turn right and past Lodge Farm into Thwaite hamlet noting the packhorse bridge and the attractive chapel. A short bit of road towards Scargill follows for half a mile before a bridleway is taken on the left which leads down to Brignall Mill where we rejoin the Greta and cross it. Brignall Mill has won several environmental awards for energy conservation and is a beautiful spot. We leave the mill by the access road to the top of the bank and at the edge of the trees is a footpath heading west above the river. This is an excellent stretch of walking for about 1.5 miles back to Rutherford Bridge and the Stang road.
Downriver from Brignall Mill the river twists through a superb wooded gorge with a continuous footpath on the north bank and one on the south bank which goes to Crooks House near to Barningham. These are superb paths but carry an element of danger in wet weather as there are some dangerous drops down into the river as well as fallen trees. It would take virtually the whole Durham County Council footpath budget to restore them and currently this is not feasible. The northern path passes the superbly located abandoned St Marys Church of Brignall Village which is thought to have been a camp of the Brigantes who ruled this area prior to the arrival of the Romans, hence its name. The Greta then reaches Greta Bridge on the A66 and the excellent Morritt Arms named after the local landowner, before continuing through another superb section of Rokeby Park to join the tees at the Meeting of the Waters made famous by the painting of Turner. From Rutherford Bridge the footpath continues upstream passing Hundah, East Lowfields Farm and West Lowfields back to Gilmonby Bridge where it is then a short walk back to Bowes Village.
Distance: 12 miles (without the extensions)
Map : OS Explorer OL30 (Yorkshire Dales – North and Central)
Start: Barningham Village (GR NZ084103)
This walk starts in the very attractive village of Barningham and indeed this area has other fine villages such as Newsham a little to the east and further on in the same direction Ravensworth. However in my view Barningham comes top of the list with its lovely green and pleasant mixture of 17th Century and 18th Century houses. This is a long village and parking is easy. The name is derived from Saxon sources and means “village of Beorns people”.
The title of the walk has nothing to do with animals. The word here means a person who was an individual pedlar or trader licensed (badged) in the 17th Century to carry corn from an important market to sell at smaller markets or in the case of this walk to smaller communities. There are several tracks or lanes in the country where the name can be found and this walk involves one of them called Badger Way. A stoop is an old form of waymark which often involved a horizontal section and occurs in several place names such as Busby Stoop near Northallerton. They are normally found on moors and in particular the Pennines. They were erected in the early 18th Century following legislation and were the responsibility of Justices of the Peace. For further information on these and similar terms consult Ernest Hinchcliffe’s fine book published by Cicerone entitled “The Packhorse Bridges of England” from where this information was taken.
This walk shows itself well on the map and is good underfoot for most of its length. It is best done in late August or early September when the heather is in full bloom and smelling great and equally pick a fine clear day as the views are very good.
Head west through the village passing the old fountain and use the path on the right of the street. Further up it is separated from the road by gardens having gone through a gate. At the end of this section pick up the road and continue uphill past the end of the village and at a bend in the road to the right take the track heading straight ahead over the cattle grid. Now go through the gate in the wall on your left which is the access to Park House. Just before Park House is a lake with plenty of reeds where there are normally ducks to be seen. Go through the farm and before the last building turn right up the track and through a gate. Now head south-west alongside the wall and through a further metal gate. At a second gate go through to the other side of the wall. You may prefer the nearby stile which is fairly high. The OS map here indicates Gathaw Stoop but I have never been able to find it. Head alongside the wall on your right for about 300 yards and then head due south aiming for an old dilapidated railway waggon. A solitary swallow has nested here for several years making its annual return from Africa. Behind is a small plantation which has been planted by the Milbank Estate to provide habitat for black grouse. The wall on your left which you are following is the County Boundary with Yorkshire on the other side. Continue following the wall on a clear track for just over a mile on a steady but easy climb. It is incredible how extensive are the views for so little effort.
Barningham Moor has a tremendous amount of ancient hut circles, cup and ring stones and an early settlement. There is much on the web on these matters and additional information is easily found. After about a mile you come to a crossing of tracks which are waymarked. At this spot continue ahead for about 400 yards and the Badger Stone is on the wall on your left. It is triangular in cross section with one face onto the wall and on the other faces are the words Badger Stoop. It would be good to see this fine waymark slightly restored to make the writing more legible. Looking west from here there are distant views of Mickle Fell and Little Fell. The latter was walked recently on the one day of the year that there is access provided by the M.O.D and is a fine walk on Warcop Range. The walk is supervised by the Staff of the North Pennines AONB – keep an eye on their publications to see the date. On the day we did it there were several completers of the English 2000 ft hills. A further half mile on a fainter track brings you to the trig point on the top of How Tallon which is situated on what appears to be a tumulus. Continue alongside the wall avoiding several wet spots for about half a mile to the end of the wall passing some shooting butts to a t-junction of paths. Here turn left through the gate and enjoy the view to the south. The stream heading south is Arndale Springs which eventually joins the Swale near Marske. The track gradually turns north and just around Frankinshaw Well take the gate on your right. This is not waymarked but there is a faint grassy path heading east which joins the tarmac at GR 069067 .
Heading north on the tarmac you now have two choices. After about 400 yards you can take the footpath on the left passing Byers Hill Farm or continue on the road past the farm access road and after a further 100 yards take the bridleway on the left.The latter is my preferred route as it does not involve an up and down! Continue west on limestone grassland to reach the gate at GR 067078. You were at this spot on the way to the Badger Stoop earlier in the walk but now head a little to the left on a clear bridleway onto Barningham Moor. After half a mile this track heads north and for the first time on this walk there is no clear track. It is necessary to head west through heather and bracken and if you are on the right route you will find some concrete waymarks about a foot high. The problem is that they are very difficult to see ahead particularly when the vegetation has grown. Osmaril Gill ahead on your left is particularly good for ancient remains with a stone circle at its head (not passed on this walk). The plateau underneath was the site of a bronze age settlement which is still visible. Keep going west passing the gill and avoiding the bracken and at GR 049083 you will pick up a track coming from Stang Forest at Black Hill Gate. Look here for a large stone with cup and ring markings. Now head north-east along a further plateau. This is a sharp turn to the north and below you is a wall and you will soon pick up a clearish path which gradually descends to a point near to the corner of the wall. Further east is a new lake with an island which has recently been created and is not on all maps, You cross over a small stream marked on the map as aqueduct.
After a short rise you will see Haythwaite farm in front of you. Head either directly to the farm or follow the wall to reach a road (not tarmac) which leads to East Hope. It is now an easy two and a half miles along the farm access road passing by Haythwaite back along the quiet road to Barningham. The road is traffic free.
There are two extensions which can be added to the walk. The first adding one extra mile is to go down Gill Beck to the north by using the path wrongly marked on the map as a bridleway just to the west of where you join the Hope road but here there has been extensive planting and this route involves a river crossing near Hurst Hill and the bridleway (?) through the wood is clearly a footpath with stiles only for access. Nevertheless this wood is beautiful and hopefully more work can be carried out here to make this accessible. An easier extension of one mile is to leave the road at Bragg House and follow the track to Ladysmith Plantation and then Low Lane eventually coming into Barningham near to the pub and Barningham Hall which is the home of Lord Milbank. He is very active on bird protection and increasing habitat and a member of the RSPB Council. When you walk this area you will observe many sites where his work is evident and it certainly enhances the general area.
Distance: 13 miles
Map : OS Explorer 304 (Darlington and Richmond) and OS Explorer 305 (Bishop Auckland)
Start: Staindrop Village Green (GR NZ219383)
This walk was constructed following the successful West of Staindrop walk. Both walks return back into Staindrop from the south on totally different routes so there will not be a south of Staindrop walk. Neither will there be a north of Staindrop as the land all belongs to the grounds of the Raby Estate and have no public footpaths. This walk, along with the west walk, goes through pleasant rural countryside but is generally in softer terrain with the west section reaching towards the early Pennines. The land is mainly arable farmland with cereals and oil seed rape predominating. Nevertheless there are wide vistas particularly towards the hills behind Barningham and also on a decent day it is possible to see the length of the old drove road on the Cleveland Way. The fields have a regular pattern and date back to the enclosures.
Staindrop has a long history and is first mentioned in 1031. It is thought that the King Cnut of England, Denmark and Norway may have ruled his kingdom from a mansion near here and it is recorded that Staindrop was given to the monks of Durham from King Cnut’s estate in 1031. The name means ‘farmstead in the stoney place’ and today Staindrop is an interesting place. The ‘Keys to the Past’ historical site of Durham and Northumberland mentions no less than 171 historical sites in Staindrop. It is a long village with a well maintained equally long village green which in all the years l have passed through has changed little. This was favoured cycling country with quiet hedge-lined minor roads and a few of these lanes will be used on this walk.
The main influence on this village are those who inhabited Raby Castle just outside the village. There was a simple castle here in 1015 and the castle underwent massive development in the 14th Century to give the perfect castle shape that you see now. Much of the stone was recycled from Barnard Castle which was then being partly dismantled. The Nevilles, who owned the castle, lost it for their support of a losing cause in the Rising of the North in 1569 with the land passing into the hands of the Vane family. The church of St Mary was in effect the family church for Raby Castle and their owners tombs can be found in the churchyard with the Nevilles being in the south-west and the Vanes in the north-west. Also buried here is Jeremiah Dixon(1733-1779) of nearby Cockfield. He was a Quaker and buried in their graveyard but sadly the site is now a garden and the grave is unmarked. His name is famous in history as one of the two men who marked out the Mason Dixon Line as the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The USA was still a British colony in 1763 when Dixon (an astrologist) and Charles Mason (a surveyor) went to America to separate the land belonging to the Penns and the Calverts, given out by different monarchs. The line, on 39 degrees 43 minutes north, stretched for 306 miles and took 50 months to complete. In fact the last bit was added later due to hostile local tribes but the Mason-Dixon line is probably the second most famous line in the world after the equator! Dixon’s brother George (1731-1785) was also a man of substance and owned coal mines. He is thought to be the first person to use coal gas for illumination. Quite recently the Mason-Dixon Line was restored and the surveyors were amazed at how accurate it was, to within a few yards. Dixie as the name for the land south of the line has survived as a form of jazz.
St Mary’s has Saxon origins with a few stones still in use and over the years there were many modifications starting with the Normans who added the tower. The porch came in 1343 and the tower top in the 15th Century. Opposite the church is Staindrop House with its Jacobean windows but there is litttle informatiom available on this house.
It is worthwhile to spend time in the village but this walk is 13miles long and you may decide to leave the exploration for the end or a general saunter. Leave the main street about halfway along its length and head north down a side street. Within a minute you will arrive at a small stream called Langley Beck which is followed downstream, arriving at the road to Bishop Auckland next to the bridge. Cross carefully! Ahead is the Darlington road but it is better to take the lane heading off at a slight angle towards the river through the wood and then turn left through the cemetery back on to the Darlington road (B6279) and look out for the fingerpost at GR136208 on your left. The footpath, thanks to excellent work by the farmer and the Raby Estate, is easy to see as all the route through crops have been really well cleared. Near Low Keverstone at GR146220 there is a kink to the east at the edge of a field and you soon emerge on a lane next to Wackerfield Grange. Turn left and pass the first lane on the right and take the second past Wackerfield Hall which was built in 1840 and is a listed building. There is some thought that when Dickens wrote “Nicholas Nickleby” that the terrible school in the book was at Staindrop and the name of the schoolmaster was Wackford Squeers. I always thought that the school was in Bowes but perhaps someone can shed more light on this story?
Now head east to the Hilton road at spot height 158. Here cross by the gate and proceed in a north-east direction to Hilton Moor Farm where there is a riding school. The stile out is to the left of the security gate in a hedge. Turn left to the north and where the road turns sharp left take the byway marked Hummerbeck Lane. If you look on the map at the country you have just crossed you will see the faint dots to the north marked up as a Roman road and this is the road from Bowes (Lavatrae) to Binchester (Vinovia). The lane you are on overlies some of this road and the books state that this road met the other Roman road in the area from Piercebridge to Binchester near to Bildershaw GR202241. On the map this is hard to connect up with a straight line linking both to Hummerbeck Farm area. When you arrive at a wood called Bolton Plantation at GR173239 after less than a mile turn to the right and at the end of the plantation turn right again to pass in front of Bolton Garths Farm which has been well restored and appears to be holiday accommodation. Very nice. I believe there are plans to have a small holiday site here with log cabins. Just past the farm the enclosure mounds can be seen on your left.
Now head just east of south to Trunnelmire Plantation on a clear waymarked track down the side of the plantation. At the end of the trees continue south across the field or leave the right of way and go to the left to arrive on a track used by cycles. Do not go through the gate but turn back to the west and when you are level with the end of the wood look for the stile in the hedge on your left. Follow this footpath to West Leaside where you turn left in front of the farm and take the access road down a very quiet tarmac lane as it only serves this property. This soon arrives at a minor road which is crossed and the path continues in the same southerly direction over Hilton Whin and Killerby Beck to arrive at Ingleton.
This is another old village going back to at least 1050. Its name is undetermined and could be Ingleds farm or the farm of the English. This village is also visited on the Headlam Pack Horse Bridge walk from Gainford. Houses to the west of the village are dated 1627 and 1629. There is a pub here but this is not normally open during the day apart from weekends. We take the westerly waymarked path out of the village with charming corners and views of well kept gardens. When you get to a small stream there is no sign of the path ahead but in any case the local dog walkers turn downstrean along the edge of the field and pick up the access road to Pinder House . This is followed passing to the left of the house. If you see a strange looking pig in the field you are looking at a kunekune pig which hails from New Zealand. In the 1970s this breed had virtually disappeared and there were only 6 sows and 3 boars left in the world. In a story reminiscent of Sir Peter Scott and the Hawaian Goose or Nene they were carefully looked after and bred and now there are several thousand in the world!
There is a footpath at Langton which goes behind the farm heading west along a ridge with good views to both north and south to Langton Bank Wood and then crossing north-west to another wood at the far end of which are some ruins and a wall. This was a walled garden retreat on the Raby Estate many years ago. The right of way ends in the wood but it is hoped to be able to get special permission to be able to leave this wood and walk the short distance to the gamekeeper’s house where an estate road goes south to Selaby Lane. In no circumstance follow this route without the explicit approval of the estate management. The shooting season extends for both pheasant and roe deer whilst spring can also be difficult with breeding birds. See the note at the end for contact information.
If permission is not granted the minor road of Selaby Lane is followed for a mile and a half to the ford at Alwent Beck. This is an attractive spot with woodpecker (Great Spotted) regularly seen. A footpath leaves the road on the right here to rejoin the road a few hundred yards further on near a bend. Do not go to Alwent Mill. The road you have just walked is part of the W2W cycle route from Walney near Barrow to the Wear at Sunderland. At the B6274 turn left and watch out for the traffic on a bend. At the next bend where the road turns south and a minor one goes to Little Newsham head north over the stile near to the seat. The well waymarked path heads north to Alwent Farm where some beneficial planting of indigenous trees will enhance the landscape in a few years time. The only dificult spot is in the second field at the start where the stile is in the top left hand corner. At Alwent there is a choice of route at the stile after the farm. You can go straight ahead to walk along the main street or head north-west over a lovely meadow and pick up a lane which is followed into Staindrop past a childrens play area which at the time of the walk was sadly closed due to vandalism. Not an inspiring end to what is a fine walk through well maintained countryside.
Notes: The Raby Estate Office is at Office Square, Staindrop, Darlington, Co.Durham. Tel 01833 660207.
Distance: 12.5 miles which can be reduced to 11.5 miles by taking short cut through High Croxdale
Start: Bowburn Village
Bowburn on its own is an average County Durham village situated on the A177 close to Interchange 61 on the A1M. It is sat on what was the Durham coalfield but of more importance is the fact that above the coal measures are the big deposits of magnesium carbonate known as dolomitic limestone. This band of magnesium limestone stretches from South Shields (South Tyneside) where it is evident on the cliff face along the coast immediately south of the River Tyne and was quarried there at Marsden all the way to the Nottingham area. Much of the grassland of the magnesium limestone has disappeared and now only scattered remnants remain. The grassland that we pass today is rare, being found nowhere else in the world. Much of the grassland has, over recent years, been given protection through various means and is now conserved. In addition several areas such as worked-out quarries have been recovered to provide habitat to some of the rare flora that is found on this grassland such as Quaking Grass, Blue Moor Grass, Small Scabious, Fragrant Orchid and Harebell.
Several of the paths used on this walk are encountered on previous walks such as “Round the East Durham Reserves” and “Shincliffe and Tursdale Beck” which are to the east and west of Bowburn respectively but this is the first walk where we have joined them up. Further information on the importance of magnesium limestone can be found on the route descriptions of these walks but suffice to say that of the 307 hectares of magnesium limestone in the area no less than 279 hectares are protected as SSSIs.
We start at the Community Centre at Bowburn where a path behind the Library leads past some well tended allotments on your left and a new childrens park to reach a minor road running parallel to the A1M. This is followed north and the A1M crossed next to Cassop Grange. On crossing this bridge take the access track towards Heugh Hall Farm. You soon cross another major road, which if your map is not up to date, will not be shown. This is the Bowburn Bypass. Here you turn down under the bridge and take the broad track north alongside the road. Where the track terminates cross the road with great care and continue northwards to a point just before Cassop Moor. On the opposite side of the road is a footpath which is taken and this soon crosses a minor road and continues east to another minor road at Chapman Beck. The path then continues over the road towards Cassop Vale. After about 400 yards another path joins from your left which is used on the Round the Reserves walk.
You are now in Cassop Vale which is a fine area for birds. This was the site of Cassop Vale Colliery known as the Vale Pit and was the site of Cassop’s second coal mine sunk in 1840 and closed in 1868. The only evidence of this are the spoil tips which have been colonised by hawthorn and gorse. We often see fieldfare and redwing here in the winter feasting on the berries. After a further quarter of a mile you cross a bridleway which is on a north south axis. This comes down from Old Cassop. Cross this bridleway and continue east to reach Cassop Bogs which is an SSSI. The pond, which was formed by mining subsidence, can contain several common species of duck such as mallard, coot, teal and waterhen although I have yet to see water rail which are sometimes seen here. This was compensated for when a goshawk was seen here some years ago. The village ahead up the hill is Cassop (formerly New Cassop). The area of the bogs was the site of Cassop Colliery which operated from 1836 until 1878.
Do not go up to Cassop but head sharp right to head west through Big Wood which is a National Nature Reserve and is Ancient Woodland (ie. it was in existence prior to 1600). Big Wood is best in late spring when there is a good display of bluebells. Continuing west a short climb brings you out on to a road near to the Heather Lad Inn which has never changed in my lifetime. This pub is quite nostalgic for me as in the late 1950s my cycling club (Newcastle and Gateshead Clarion) held their hill climbing competitions on nearby Quarrington Hill. The pub has also featured on some films from Amber Films.
Walking towards Quarrington Hill you soon reach St Paul’s Churchyard on your right. This is a little different from most churchyards as it is managed for wildlife and over 70 species of wildflowers and grasses grow among the graves. This illustrates what this area would have looked like before the the onset of modern farming. St Paul’s was built in 1868 closed in 1991 before being demolished in 1993. There is an Information Board in the churchyard and this is a good place for lunch with distant views to the west over to West Durham and the Pennines. Beacon Hill with the mast on top to the east was a beacon in the Napoleonic Wars.
Here there is a choice or routes as you can maintain your height along the top of Cold Knuckles Quarry or preferably take the lower route through Crowtrees Local Nature Reserve managed by DCC. The old quarry face to the north is interesting and again this is a good area for birds with several species of finches to be seen as well as birds of prey with buzzards about and the occasional owl. The Information Board has details of the mining industry as here there were two mines. Heugh Hall Colliery near to Old Quarrington opened in 1840 and closed in 1897. This was once owned by William Hedley of Puffing Billy fame while Crowtrees Colliery in the valley was sunk in 1820 and also closed in the 1890s. Continue down to Coxhoe on good tracks to arrive on the A177 at GR 314369 near to the R of Roman Road on the map. This whole area has a lengthy story to tell on the early development of railways which, along with much more on this subject, can be read in the excellent book “Lost Railways of Durham and Teeside” by Robin Jones published by Countryside Books of Newbury. Cross the A177 and go through a small housing estate to reach an open area with football pitches etc.and go north-west along the back of the houses to cross the A1M and reach the A688 in a very short distance. Here take the path west past the sewage works and ignore the ‘footpath closed’ sign as there is no obstruction. You then cross the old Leamside Line which was originally the main line north to Newcastle and continue west . It is worth the diversion to Tursdale House which is historic. The farmhouse was formerly a coaching inn and the small building opposite was a blacksmith’s shop. Here you are on Strawberry Lane which will be joined later in the walk amd this was a major road going to Durham in the 17th Century.
Walk down the hill to the Tursdale Beck and Hett Mill. An option is to follow Tursdale Beck but the other route is also of interest. Cross the railway line which carries a lot of traffic as it is the main line and take a path immediately on your right which crosses four fields to come into Hett Village. This is one of the Durham villages with a big village green. There are several others nearby notably Tudhoe and Shadforth. Take the Sunderland Bridge road for a short distance and turn right descending through a field with fine views to the north and recross the railway by a footbridge. Follow the path down to cross Tursdale Beck again and head alongside a wood and past small ponds in the Croxdale Estate northwards. On reaching the bridleway linking Croxdale Hall to High Croxdale there is a short cut back to Bowburn which goes straight east past High Croxdale and saves a mile. For an slightly longer walk (and an easy one too) head north with a very small narrow wood on your right (almost a hedge) to reach the Weardale Way at GR 277381 in the north-west corner of the field. Here turn right and pass Croxdale Wood House and High Butterby Farm. At this farm the Weardale Way descends down a muddy track but do not take it. Continue on the broad track by turning right at the farm and after about 400 yards you arrive at Strawberry Lane. Head south on a good path passing by Pigeon Plantation to arrive at a wood where you meet the path from High Croxdale and it is then a lovely path that you now take winding through the trees to the east. After just under half a mile you cross the old Leamside railway line again and continue on a broad track east with a wood on your right to arrive back in Bowburn directly opposite the Community Centre where you started.
Much of the information given on this walk was taken from the DCC booklet “Of Wooded Vales and Limestone Hills” which l recommend you acquire, whilst much additional information can be got from the Limestone Landscapes Project c/o DCC County Hall DH15UQ. Thanks also to Sheila Pinkney of the DVCRS who suggested the walk.