Distance: Low Route 9.5 miles / High Route 10 miles / Long Route 15 miles
Start: Demense Mill, Wolsingham (NZ GR 076375)
There are three variations on this walk which give the choice of a longer walk and also a return to Wolsingham via the Weardale Way (which is a low riverside route) or a higher route which utilises the old Weardale Way, before descending to Wolsingham.
The Weardale Way is a 77 mile walk from Roker in Sunderland at the mouth of the River Wear to near its source. The reason for this exactitude is that over the years there have been three walks following the Wear. The first two of these by Alan Earnshaw and Ken Piggin both ended (or started depending on which way you wanted to walk it) at Killhope Wheel which was just being developed at the time by Durham County Council. The former was produced on a simple sheet by Alan and l have a copy of this which will eventually go on to my blog, whilst Ken’s book is out of print but can be found in second hand bookshops. A later the route was then written by Alistair Wallace and supported by Durham County Council. In this book the author altered the previous routes by keeping the walk in closer proximity to the riverside. This is of particular importance in the section between the A68 and Stanhope when the original route went over Knitsley Fell and passed the “elephant trees”, whereas the current route follows the riverside. Both routes to Wolsingham are given in this walk description. For a considerable time there were waymarks on both routes and personally I feel that both routes should be waymarked as a high route and low route. The precedent for this is the Offas Dyke National Trail with the Castles Alternative. The current finish (or start) of the Wearda;e Way is at Wearhead where the Burnhope Burn and the Killhope Burn merge to form the River Wear. For the record I prefer to walk down the dale but starting from Killhope which is a place of high impact.
This walk starts at Demesne Mill Car Park. This is a very attractive corner of Wolsingham and there are records of expenditure on a watermill here going back to 1307. The mill also appears on Hatfields Survey of 1370. Wolsingham is a really good small market town with many interesting buildings and is well worth a detailed amble. Some years ago Durham County Council produced an excellent leaflet called “Walk About Wolsingham” and it would be good to see the series resurrected.
Today we leave Wolsingham straight away and head east to the road to enter Upper Town where at the corner of a minor road to the northeast there is a footpath which crosses the fields to Redgate Hall and then onto the B6296. It is then uphill for about 300 yards to reach a footpathat GR 089381 which leads to Greenwell Farm about a mile to the east. Note on the map the sign for a cross which can be found on the other side of the road. TAKE GREAT CARE HERE AS THE ROAD IS ON A BEND AND THE TRAFFIC IS MOVING FAST. The cross was erected in memory of the RC priest the Venerable John Duckett who was born in Sedbergh in 1603 and died on Sept 7th 1644. Tradition has it that here on July 2nd 1644 he was arrested after the baptism of two children nearby. He was taken to Sunderland and then to Newgate Prison and subsequently hanged at Tyburn because of his religion.
The route to Greenwell is on a terrace with fine views south over Weardale. Greenwell is an ancient site of habitation and is mentioned in the Boldon Book (a North East equivalent of the Doomsday Book) in 1183. Follow the footpath south of the farm eastwards to reach a minor road at spot height 164 and follow this road to Thornley village. Thornley is one of only two villages in Co. Durham where there is no through road. As a matter of interest the other one is Escomb with its famous Saxon church and this is also on the Weardale Way. Again this area has been lived in for hundreds of years and Pevsner states that there was a medieval village here, although half of the earthworks are now under Thornley Hall. The earliest houses now go back to circa 1700 and in the 1800s the village boasted a pub called the California Arms. This was run by Thomas Carrick who is buried in the village churchyard. Try to visit Thornley in spring when there is a fine display of snowdrops, daffodils and other spring flowers.
The route now continues east into and across the wooded Thornley Beck. It is interesting to observe here that to the west of Wolsingham all of the smaller streams are ‘hope’ and ‘burns’, which is Anglo Saxon for a side valley, whereas those to the east are ‘becks’ which is a Norse word and this clearly illustrates the pattern of settlement in the past. We now walk past Castlewood House to arrive at a broad track named the Coal Road as it was used to take coal from Helme Park pit to the north down to the valley bottom. The name Helme Park survived in the name of the nearby Country Park Hotel.
At this point those wishing for the longer walk should head uphill to the A68, follow Roddy Moor Road past High Cold Knot and Mown Meadows Road to Cold Knot on the A689 just outside Crook. Here head south on the footpath through Green Head and then Gibbet Hills to Douglas Lane where you turn west to the A68. Over the road is access to the Weardale Way which is followed west for two miles past Wadley and Hamsterley Hall (which is from the 16th and 17th Century and almost certainly built on the site of a previous building) to Low Harperley which is also an antiquarian site at GR120349. Here you join the two shorter routes.
The other two routes go gown the Coal Road to the A689 which is crossed and the track followed to Low Harperley on the Weardale Way. The low route on the Weardale Way is followed west to Eels Bridge and Old Park to Bradley Hall. This fine building was given a licence to crenellate by Bishop Langley in 1431 and the four tunnel vaulted chambers in the south range date back to the 15th Century. The east range was developed in Georgian times to a more modern dwelling and the moat which surrounds the house is still evident.
The Weardale Way now crosses the A689 (for a third time) by Bradley Burn Bridge which is late 18th Century and like most of the buildings hereabouts is made of sandstone. It is a listed structure. The Weardale Way is now followed back to Wolsingham and depending on the time of year many birds can be observed. Watch the river for goosander or dippers and on previous visits here both buzzard and peregrine have been seen.
The high route leaves Low Harperley by the site of Harperley Railway Station. This was a busy station during WW2 when many Italian and German POWs embarked from here to the camps in the district. The River Wear is crossed by the footbridge, then go uphill to Bracken Hill. Here head west through Shipley Moss and on to Knitsley Fell. We then follow Howlea Lane for about a mile to its junction with a bigger road from Hamsterley at GR082353. At this junction there is a footpath heading north and downhill past Wigside (which is now uninhabited) and continue downhill to cross the railway line and arrive at Wolsingham Station. Do not cross to Friarside and High Wiserley on leaving Wigside. The land towards the river is known as The Batts and this was the area where archery practice was carried out in the past. Take the time to go along the platform at the station as it is a beauty, going back to the early days of railways (1847). All that is left now is to cross the River Wear and make your way back to the start. The way past the church is the best unless you want a coffee or a beer in Wolsingham.
Distance: 12 miles
Start: Hanging Shaw Car Park (GR NY867298)
This walk covers what is an outstanding area with attractive views both distant and nearby and also has the benefit of part of it being on some of the best sections of the Pennine Way. Surely there are few better parts of England than this.
The walk starts at Hanging Shaw car park. Shaw is an old word meaning wood and can be found in many place names throughout the country. Locally we have Penshaw which is celtic for the wood on the hill. Hanging Shaw is presumably for a wood hanging on the hill and the farm with that name is found a little to the north of the car park. The forest in question in the name of the area goes back to the Baliol family of Barnard Castle and Raby Castle heritage, when the area was wooded and also l believe used for hunting.
Upper Teesdale in the 1800s was a predominately lead mining area but the area where we are starting has a very long history of human habitation even though the terrain is over 1000ft (300m) and neolithic axes have been found hereabouts. To the north up the side of the valley can be seen High Hurth Edge passed on my Chapel Fell and Fendrith Hill walk on the Durham 2000 ft hills. Excavations here show the site was occupied circa 6000 years ago by a hunter gatherer population and the site was further occupied 3000 years ago. There are extensive caves here where the people lived and these were known in times past as the Fairy Hole. The excavations, which were done in the the late 18th Century, revealed over 30 animal species including both wolf and lynx and also the bones of an iron age woman.
Leave the car park and head west towards Langdon Beck for about 100 yards and take the drive to the farm on your left. The hill on the other side of the Tees is Cronkley Scar which is crossed on the Sweeter Side of Teesdale walk where the famous and special Teesdale plants, such as Teesdale gentians living on the sugar limestone, are found and protected. Pass to the left of the farm to go to Wat Garth farm and join the Tees at Cronkley Farm bridge which gives access to the farm. Here we join the Pennine Way. It will be noted that the Pennine Way from Middleton in Teesdale to Alston wiggles about for these two lengthy sections and the reason for this is to visit some of the outstanding locations in the area. These include Low Force and High Force which Wainwright was quite rightly enthusiastic about but the aims of Tom Stephenson (who originated the Pennine Way) were very wide and included all of Upper Teesdale including Cauldron Snout (now partly emasculated by the construction of Cow Green Reservoir), the loneliness of Birkdale and the surprise view of High Cup Nick and the summit of Cross Fell which is the highest point in the whole of the Pennines and has a superb view over the Eden Valley to the Lake District. The Pennine Way Association website has a photograph of Tom Stephenson with many prominent politicians surveying the route at Birkdale farm.
We now head south-east uphill on the track to Cronkley passing the farm on the diversion to the right and continue upwards to Bracken Rigg on the path winding up through High Crag. From now to Holwick Head bridge after High Force we are walking on flagstones rescued from disused mills in Yorkshire and Lancashire which are necessary to prevent further erosion due to the heavy use of the path here from day walkers as well as Pennine Way walkers. After reaching the top the Pennine Way gently descends eastwards towards High Force and returns to the river where we enter the Teesdale National Nature Reserve and its masses of juniper which is managed by Natural England. Keep an eye out here for ring ouzels which are not common and look like a blackbird with a white chest. The section of the Pennine Way from Langdon Beck to Cauldron Snout is even better to see them. This section is also good for oystercatchers and redshank with the occasional common sandpiper.
Regrettably there is now a major problem in this reserve concerning the juniper. This is a relatively rare tree occurring in a limited number of places and this is the largest juniper wood in England. Juniper is one of only three conifers native to the UK (the other two being yew and scots pine) and this is the main reason for the reserve. In the past the charcoal made from juniper was of a very high quality and much used in the gunpowder industry, whilst the berries are still used to add the flavour to gin. They are also an enhancement to venison and beef casseroles. In 2011/2012 it was noted that some of the junipers were diseased and comprehensive investigation revealed that they were suffering from a disease known as phytophthora austrocedrae which is a fungus which attacks the plant through its root system. This was a new disease in the UK and is only known in Patagonia and Chile where it attacks the Chilean Cedar and has been prevalent there for about 50 years. The first part of its name translates to ‘plant destroyer’ whilst the second part concerns its location and the fact that it also attacks the Lawsons cypress which is found in domestic gardens. The source of the disease is still as yet unknown and in an effort to prevent its spread at points of access to the reserve there are brushes and disinfectant to thoroughly clean your boots. PLEASE USE THIS FACILITY AT ALL TIMES.
On your left there is a large whinstone quarry which is the rock that gives us the many features in Teesdale and other parts of Northumbria such as Hadrians Wall and the Farne Islands and of course High Force, but the view on the opposite side is where to look as Bleabeck Force comes tumbling down to the Tees over a succession of small waterfalls. Like most waterfalls it is best after wet weather.
You can hear High Force before you reach it. This is the biggest waterfall in the country. It is not the highest but the amount of water cascading through a relatively small gap in the face and falling a distance of 69ft accounts for the noise. Occasionally there are two falls with an adjacent one further along the edge and before Cow Green was built it was possible to see the whole cliff face with a continuous fall across its whole length. The waterfall exists because of the hardness of the whinstone (as with Low Force) being difficult to erode but the whinstone overlies a band of softer shale which is eroded. Eventually this causes the whinstone to be undercut and the whinstone collapses. Over thousands of years this has created the super gorge leading down from the fall. This area is famous for flora with globe flower being abundant for several miles down river.
We leave the reserve by a gate with boot cleaning equipment next to a sculpture of sheep and the Pennine Way descends down to Holwick Head Bridge. However, we quit the Pennine Way here. The bridge is crossed over the Tees and the route is taken uphill to the main road. For those wanting refreshments there is an alternative path at the end of the bridge to the High Force Hotel and then it is necessary to walk down the main road to the track leading to Holwick Head Bridge. At the top of the track is a stile (quite high) where the footpath is taken and a field crossed to the minor road to Ettersgill at White Friar House. There is now a bit of quiet road walking and just before Dirt Pot there is a footpath on the left. Note the magnificent row of mature trees. This track was the old road up Teesdale. We do not go up it but continue up the Ettersgill road and divert to Dirt Pit to have a closer look at Ettersgill Beck with its steep sides.
At GR884295 just before a sharp right hand bend take the footpath on the left which heads south-west and after crossing a stile you emerge on the old road which here is a track which later changes to a tarmac surface. This passes the unused Ebeneezer Chapel built in 1880 and where the road turns sharp left to join the B6277 continue straight ahead round the back of a house. This track follows a wall past Dale cottage to The Dale and passes through a walled lane (with nettles!) to Forest in Teesdale School. This is still in use as a school which makes a pleasant change! The path passes above Langdon Beck Youth Hostel much used by Pennine Way walkers. This was a purpose built Youth Hostel and replaced an earlier one which was burnt down. Here change direction slightly to a north-west direction to cross a stile and them make for West Underhurth Farm via another stile. Pass through the farm, turn left, and then take the footpath alongside a wall to Brown Hill. Continue in the same direction and you are then looking down on the Langdon Beck Hotel built in 1887 to replace an earlier one. Normally good ales are served here. On your left is the church of St James the Less dating fron 1845.
This footpath comes down to the B6277 just short of the bridge over the Langdon Beck which carries a fair amount of water. Cross the bridge and take the path to Valence Lodge alongside the beck, which has an attractive waterfall and on arriving at the lodge head north-west to Old Folds and reach the B6277. This can be a good area for black grouse but you have to be there early to see them. Turn left back to the hotel and then follow the road towards Cow Green alongside the Langdon Beck. There is a bend in the road opposite Intake Farm at the confluence of Langdon Beck and Harwood Beck. The latter is much bigger and it is sometimes possible to cross the ford to Intake Farm. Otherwise continue on the road for a further 150 yards and cross the Harwood beck on the road bridge. Immediately there is a fine footpath down the side of the beck back to Intake Farm. Here the footpath continues from the end of the ford and not through the farmyard, and follows Harwood Beck down to Saur Hill Bridge where the Pennine Way is joined. The bridge is crossed and the Pennine Way followed alongside the beck. This section can be flooded if there has been a lot of rain.
After about half a mile you reach the confluence of the Harwood Beck and the River Tees and it will be observed that the Harwood Beck is about the same size as the Tees. The Pennine Way shortly reaches Cronkley Bridge, crossed earlier in the walk, and now head left back towards the B6277 on the Cronkley access track. On reaching the road turn right for a few yards and then left up to Dale Cottage, also passed earlier. Here it is now back to the Forest School and then down to the start at Hanging Shaw.
Distance: 10 Miles
Start: Ebchester Picnic Park on the Derwent Walk
This walk starts at Ebchester Picnic Park on the Derwent Walk, primarily because of the good quality parking here although those doing the walk with a small number of people can start at Medomsley. The advantage of an Ebchester start is that it is an easy finish with great views ahead of you and because of a slight difference of route omits a little road walking.
Plenty has been written about the Derwent Walk on other walk descriptions but suffice to say that the line opened in 1867 and was closed by British Rail in 1962. Ebchester Station itself closed on 21/9/1953. The line had reached its peak in 1914 when it carried half a million passengers annually but the combination of improved roads and the fact that the line had to gain considerable height to reach Consett meant that the line left the valley bottom and much of the local population. The Derwent Walk pub at the entrance to the start was originally the Station Hotel and serves good ale and more than acceptable food.
We start by walking up the line southwards passing under the roadbridge of A691 which for much of its route follows the Roman road Dere Street. Further details on this and the Dere Street Trail can be found on the information board at the start. After about 400 yards the path crosses Whinny Lane which is a narrow very minor road probably named after Whin bushes growing in the area. This climbs steeply to reach the A691. Here turn left downhill ignoring the clear footpath at Broomhill Farm (another name for Whin) and continue down for a short distance where a waymarked footpath leaves the road on your right and climbs up to Broomhill Farm. Head west if front of the buildings to a stile which is crossed and follow the path ahead. To your left nearby is the back of the Derwent Walk Inn. The year 2010 saw the re-emergence of a path on the correct route which had been lost for over 15 years as people had taken an easier route not on the right of way. This was reported in detail in the May issue of the Durham Voluntary Countryside Ranger Service newsletter under the Parish Paths Project (known as P3 for short) whose objectives are to improve and promote public rights of way through local involvement. This is a partnership betwen the Parish Council and Durham County Council and in some cases a Town Council. When some clearance work was proceeding by Colin Bell (a Medomsley resident) and Nick Hall (a DCC Area Rights of Way Officer) they discovered the correct route and a long flight of steps. After much work from the DCC Volunteer Rangers (DCVRS) the steps were cleared and brought back to standard. The route is now waymarked as part of the Medomsley Parish Paths Walks and an illustrated leaflet has been produced which gives routes on all the paths.
The footpath turns to the right and at a waymark from the Medomsley project it turns half left going gradually downhil using the improved steps. The footpath then turns east to the right to descend to the stream which is crossed . After a short climb up you come to another footpath near a stile into a field. Ignore this stile and take the good clear footpath to the west which recrosses the stream and comes down to the Derwent Walk. The oak woods here are very attractive and support a good bird population. Until recently they were red squirrels to be seen but I have seen none for several years. Keep an eye and ear open for jays. You can take the path up the embankment to the line but I prefer to go under the line through the arch and take the footpath to the north along the bottom of the embankment.
The track bed here is descending quickly and you soon pick the Derwent Walk up at a crossroads of a path linking Medomsley and Ebchester. Turn left towards Ebchester which is soon reached arriving near the church of St Ebba. Much of this was built using stone from the fort of Vindomara. The church is possibly pre 1066 but is probably early Norman, being substantially restored in 1878. It has leper windows which allowed those inflicted to participate in the service without coming into contact with the congregation. Ebba was the daughter of Aethelfrith who was the first king of Northumbria. The church organ was made by Harrisons of Durham who made organs for many famous cathedrals and churches and whose original production site is passed on the Sanctuary Way Stage 4. They now operate from Langley Park near Durham. After the demise of the Romans the area became dense forest rising from the River Derwent and the wood walked through earlier will go back to those times. Later, in the time of Bishop Pudsey, it was known as the place of the Anchorites who were hermits. Ebchester is different from the other forts on Dere Street in that the modern settlement is built over the fort (compared to Corbridge and Lanchester where the fort is outside the village) but you can still see part of the fort in the back garden of a house. This is not marked up but if you turn right on the road leading past the church to the main road and go along a tarmac lane you will be able to see it without any inconvenience.
You now descend to the main road which is crossed and slightly to the right go onto an open space with an information board on the Roman heritage and seats. Walk through this and take the footpath down some new steps to reach a lane. This footpath has been substantially improved of late. By turning right down the lane you soon reach the River Derwent and the footbridge over the river. This replaced stepping stones which were difficult in times of high rainfall. The old stepping stones can be seen near the north bank at the far side of the bridge. We are now at the start of a new footpath which was created in 2010. This footpath was confirmed as a public right of way in 2006 following a claim from a Mr Marston who lives in Blackhall Mill using Section 31 of the Highways Act of 1980. This states “where a way other than a way of such a character that use of it could not give rise at common law to any presumption of dedication, has been actually enjoyed by the public, as of right and without interruption, for a period of 20 years, the way is deemed to have been dedicated as a highway unless there is sufficient evidence that the landowner demonstrated a lack of any intention during this period to dedicate the route. The 20 year period applies retrospectively from the date at which the right of the public to use the way was brought into question”. Mr Marston had support from locals who confirmed this and the path was made into a right of way in 2010 by the Inspector from DEFRA. It is indeed an important path as it goes alongside the river which is particularly attractive hereabouts. The River Derwent is the best otter river in the north of England and also has the highest number of breeding dippers. This is measured by the numbers over a specific distance. Kingfishers may also be seen and there is the added bonus of red kites which breed nearby.
The footpath follows the river down to Blackhall Mill utilising the improved gates and towards Blackhall Mill joins up with an existing footpath to reach the village. Ignore the first footbridge and cross by the roadbridge and take the footpath immediately on your left which leads to Derwentcote Farm. Until recently this footpath led directly to the historical site of the Derwentcote Furnace but a landslide on the path at the side of the farm has made the route inaccessible. It appears to me that the recent construction on the farm may have contributed to this but hopefully the matter can be resolved. It is now necessary to continue straight ahead at the top of the lane over the stile and pass by a modern house to reach the A694. Those wishing to visit the furnace need to walk along the main road and take the access lane to it about half a mile along the road. We continue straight ahead over the road and head part right to the corner and follow the path up the side of a wood which climbs quite steeply to White Byerside where it joins the Derwent Walk. It is probably best to keep a short distance from the fence on the last bit up to the line as it is wet. You can reach Cut Throat Lane ahead by following the farm access road but it is better to walk down the Derwent Way for about 300 yards where a footpath leading from the Derwentcote Car Park crosses the route. Turn right over one field to reach Cut Throat Lane and then head north for about 400 yards to a tight bend in the road to the left where you take the footpath on the right to Longclose Bank. Part of this is wet (due to a spring which is marked on the OS map) but easily passable. Cross over and follow the access road to Southfield Farm. Some of the woods on your left have permissive access from the Hamsterley Hall Estate and are marked up.
The paths at Southfield Farm can be a bit confusing. On this walk turn right at the last building on your right, past the end of a barn and at the first gate, where there is a stile, turn left alongside a field edge. Do not cross the stile. The way ahead (not used today) goes directly to Medomsley and is used on another Border Walks walk starting at Lintz. At the end of the field there is a clear way into the wood and the path soon descends into the tight valley of the South Burn. The woods on your left belong to the Woodland Trust and are part of Dipton Woods. The Woodland Trust have made some important acquisitions to their Dipton Woods site including land near to the Derwent Walk where they created Ajax Woods, also visited on the Lintz walk. The wood on your right belongs to, I believe, the Forestry Commission.
Cross the burn and head right uphill climbing above the Pont Burn to reach a track. Immediately ahead is a stile which leads to a large field. There is no path on the ground but head south-west and towards the far corner go through a gate which is equidistant from the two woods on your right and left. Do not go through the gap in the hedge further to the right. After walking along the side of one field you reach a clear track which is waymarked and goes along to Bradley Hall. On passing the buildings there is a splitting of tracks. The one on the left is the access road. Take the track on the right and after a short distance where the track turns to the right pick out the stile on your right. Cross over and follow the footpath alongside the fence for three fields and then head up over scrub to arrive at Medomsley which was formerly a mining village. Medomsley Colliery Busty Pit was sunk in 1839 on the west side of the village and Derwent Colliery Hunter Pit on the east side (where you have just crossed) was sunk in 1856. At their peak they employed just under 2000 men and boys. The dangers of mining are shown by the numbers killed over their lifetime with 55 losing their lives at Medomsley and 47 at Derwent. The latter closed in 1964 when it only employed 282 people and this was followed eight years later when Medomsley Closed with the loss of 155 jobs. This information was taken from the Walks leaflet that the parish has produced.
Find the War Memorial at the west end of the village near the junction of the B6308 and B6310 and take the footpath here to the west which is fenced off from the fields to come down to a housing estate called the Dene. Go through this estate by taking the street on your left to the bottom of the estate where a footpath goes past an under used football pitch and arrives at the A691 (Dere Street) at Broomhill Farm. Resist the temptation to walk down this busy road and take the path back up to Whinny Lane, used earlier in the walk, which is now walked thankfully downhill. The views ahead, particularly at sunset, are really good looking over towards the Stanhope and Blanchland moors. On reaching the Derwent Walk it is very pleasant to stroll down back to the start and a enjoy a well-deserved drink in the Derwent Walk pub.
Distance: 12 miles
Start: Holwick Village (GR 905270)
When you look at a map of the area around Holwick and the Cronkley area this walk shouts out at you to do! Indeed the Rambler’s Association magazine for recently has virtually this walk as one of its walks, possibly for the same reason as myself, in that this is a great walk to do in spring due to the wealth of both flora and the bird life back on the hills after the winter. The title is taken from the fact that on this walk we will pass outcrops of sugar limestone so named because of its appearance which resembles granules of sugar.
Holwick is a straggling settlement at the end of a cul-de-sac road on the south bank of the Tees. It has a good pub named the Strathmore Arms and there is also a camping barn at Low Way farm which is useful for Pennine Way walkers. The area is owned by the Strathmores from which the Queen Mother was descended and the road terminates at their shooting lodge of Holwick Lodge where Prince Charles is a regular visitor for the grouse shooting.
On the way up to Holwick you cannot fail to note the crags of Holwick Scar on your left. Further down towards Middleton these have been extensively quarried and indeed there was also some quarrying activity at Holwick. The rock is whinstone which is a hard igneous rock much used for roadstone and here it occurs in some places as columns. Streams descending from above make a series of small waterfalls, the best of which is Crag Force to the east of Holwick. Where the road turns off right to Holwick Lodge we continue straight ahead. The scar near its end just after here and has some detached parts which are known as ‘The Castles’.
The track we are now on is called the Green Trod which gradually ascends the flanks of Holwick Fell on a track also used for access to the grouse moors. In former times it was a much used droving route where cattle were driven down from Alston to the Vale of York before climbing up on to the Drove Road along the ridge of the Cleveland Hills now used by the Cleveland Way. Most of the cattle were from Scotland emanating from the Tryst at Falkirk where the Scottish cattle were mainly gathered from the Highlands. All of this information can be found in the definitive book “The Drove Roads of Scotland” by A.R.B. Haldane ,published some time ago but still widely available. Most of the stock on this route had arrived at Alston via the South Tyne Valley. There is no comparable book on drovers roads for Northern England which is a pity as there is also a very good book on the Welsh drove roads by Fay Godwin and Shirley Toulson called “The Drovers Roads of Wales”.
After about 2 miles on the Green Trod you get fine views down to the Tees at Dine Holm Scar (which you will pass on the return) and a further mile shows the waterfall of White Force on your left. This waterfall disappears into the rock and emerges about 400 metres away at Cawbank Spring. Shortly after you reach the first of the fenced off areas of sugar limestone. The fencing is to prevent erosion caused by sheep grazing and rabbit burrowing. The sugar limestone was created about 300 million years ago when molten dolerite (whinstone) came into contact with the carboniferous limestone which was then metamorphosed into a type of marble which then crystallised into granules which resemble sugar. The resultant soil created a niche for certain plants. Dominant is Blue Moor Grass which also occurs on other limestone areas but the sugar limestone also provides two very rare sedges called Hair Sedge and False Sedge. Also found hereabouts is the Teesdale Violet. Further on we pass another two fenced off areas. Much of the other sugar limestone areas were lost when Cow Green Reservoir was created.
The path now descends quite steeply to join a path alongside the south side of the Tees at GR827282. Across the river is Falcon Clints and the Pennine Way. The scenery here is excellent and as the name implies this is a good area for birds of prey with kestrels, buzzards and occasionally peregrine seen. We now turn right and follow the path downstream alongside the river. Much of the path here has been improved with boardwalks. The soil is acidic and supports juniper trees which can have a variety of shapes both tallish and spreading out. This is a relatively rare tree/bush and the last few years has seen much planting on restoration sites on the upland heaths of County Durham such as at Sacriston as well as in Teesdale. Nearer High Force is to be found the largest area of juniper in England. (The second largest l believe is also in the North Pennines in the South Tyne Valley). The berries have a familiar smell as they are used to flavour gin but in earlier days the wood was thought to have medical properties and was burnt in houses to fumigate them during epidemics. This area is a good area to see ring ouzels which often shelter in the juniper bushes.
Teesdale is internationally famous for its flora and there are many plants found here which are at the extremities of their existence. The sugar limestone areas have already been passed as has one of the other special areas which is the rough pastures where the wet flushes have specific flora but this persists for much of the rest of the walk and orchids can be found as well as gentians such as the spring gentian. On this walk in mid May they may well have come and passed their best. The other area for which Teesdale and also the North Pennines are visited are the traditional hay meadows which are visited on our other walks in Baldersdale etc. There are several very useful publications produced by the North Pennines AONB on these plants as well as others on themes such as geology, lead mining etc. which can be found in the local Information Centres.
The foothpath continues for 3 miles looking over to Widdybank Farm and later Langdon Beck, before reaching High House. There is a population of black grouse in this area. This species has recently seen much effort being put into arresting their population decline. There is a place near here where they conduct their leck in the mating season which may be visited on special walks run by the AONB. At High House we enter an area of productive pasture and a haven for waders such as curlew, lapwings, oystercatchers and the occasional snipe and golden plovers. The latter can be heard with their plaintive whistle standing on a tussock, normally on higher ground whereas the lapwings and curlew often nest close to farms. From here onwards for the rest of the walk can be found other Teesdale flowers such as globeflowers, birds eye primrose and the shrubby cinquefoil. The latter is rare in the British Isles only occurring in the Lake District and The Burren in Eire.
We ignore the bridge crossing the Tees and continue across to Cronkley Farm where we join the Pennine Way, passing to the right of the farm, and continue over High Crag to Bracken Rigg (where there are further juniper bushes) and then drop down to the riverside opposite Dine Holm Quarry (whinstone). The waterfall of Bleabeck Force can be very attractive in flood and this prepares you for a highlight of the walk when you reach High Force a short distance on. This is the biggest waterfall in England but it is not the highest. l believe the highest is Hardraw Force near Hawes which is 96 feet high compared to High Force which is 69 feet high. A great place to be but take care near the edge!
The Pennine Way continues alongside the river but well above it. This section of the Pennine Way has recently had a major upgrade funded by Natural England and the Heritage Lottery Fund due to its heavy use. A further mile takes you to Low Force. In my youth this was known as Salmon Leap and l guess the pollution at the mouth of the Tees stopped the salmon. I have never seen a salmon here whereas they are now common on the Tyne where at the right time scores can be seen leaping over the waterfall downstream from Hexham bridge. That’s how times change!
At Low Force we are also at Winch Bridge, built in 1830. A previous bridge of 1704 was built to take miners over the river which had only one handrail. It was possibly the earliest suspension bridge in Europe but collapsed in either 1802 or 1820, when overloaded, causing a fatality or possibly two depending where you read about the event. Here we leave the Pennine Way, which continues along the river, and head on a clear path south back to Holwick, noting the fine building of Holwick Lodge on your right.
Again l would draw your attention to the fine book called “The North Pennines ” by Iain Brown which is very much recommended by those who want to read more about this super area. Recommended walking books are “Teesdale” by Paul Hannon (Hillside Books), “The Teesdale Way” by Martin Collins (Cicerone) whilst the older Dalesman book “Walking in Teesdale” by Keith Watson, although written in 1978, has some merit. For those who want a bit more history and accounts of the Pennines fifty years ago you cannot beat “Wandering in the Pennines” by William T Palmer. A great nostalgic read for older walkers and cyclists!
This lovely walk in the Tyne Valley around Haydon Bridge is another local walk like the Red Kite Trail and Bedes Way, sponsored by different groups which in this case is Haydon Parish Council. It was developed by a community project in 2004 to celebrate the life of John Martin and was officially opened in 2006. It is funded and managed by Haydon Parish Council and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Trust some of whose land it passes through.
John Martin (1789 -1854) was born in Haydon Bridge and became the most popular artist of his day. His paintings are set in dramatic landscapes and are often based on religious stories. They can be seen locally at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle and also grace the Tate Gallery in London.
The walk takes the shape of an unbalanced figure-of-eight with the northern section being only 2 miles whilst the southern section is 11 miles with the two routes meeting at the railway station in Church Street. The scenery throughout is excellent and the way is well waymarked. The northern route starts off going down the riverside to pass West Mill Hills and along the east side of Haydonside Plantation to the road where it turns left to West Haydon Farm. Next comes Page Croft before going across fields to Haydon Old Church where he worshipped. This is a great spot to take a rest and sit on a seat to enjoy the views of the southern section. At The Tofts it then goes south down across the fields to Church Street .
The southern section leaves Haydon Bridge to the west on the south bank and goes to Morallee Wood and its pleasant tarn owned by the National Trust (at GR 805635) via Lees Farm. It is then down to Allen Banks where you head south upriver through Plankey Mill to eventually arrive at Staward Pele Tower with the easy way and steeper climb both mentioned in the leaflet. This leaflet also highlights the danger on this section and indeed on one occasion it was too icy for us to use this section due to the steep banks. The return to Haydon Bridge is via Harsondale Farm and its access road. This section passes quite close to Carts Bog Inn which serves both good food and ale. It is then past West Deanrow where a minor road is taken to Langley Castle now restored to a superb hotel. Locate a broad track opposite the entrance which is followed to a footpath heading north (at GR847269) which leads downhill back to the start.
A leaflet for the walk can be obtained from the newsagents in Church Street in Haydon Bridge and further information can be found on www.visit-haydon-bridge.co.uk. I can highly recommend this walk which deserves to be better known and can be fitted in on a short break with a visit to Hadrian’s Wall.