Carricks to Hunstanworth (Co. Durham Border Walks)Filed under: County Durham Border
Distance: 11 miles
Map: OS Explorer 307
Start: Durham County Council Picnic Area, east of Blanchland (GR NY983153)
This walk commences at the Durham County Council Picnic Park on the banks of the Derwent which for much of its length serves as the border between County Durham and Northumberland. Regrettably, there is no footpath either alongside the Derwent Reservoir east from the site or westwards into Blanchland. We therefore cross the new bridge constructed at the same time as the reservoir and take the path on the north bank.
This is an attractive route with abundant birdlife and we could well see dippers which nest here. On several occasions l have seen redstart here and there is always the chance of seeing a pied flycatcher when they are present in the area.
Our first highlight is the estate village of Blanchland which is a Northumberland village with a Durham feel, possibly due to its softer architecture. Indeed a lot of its wealth was from the lead mines of County Durham some of which will be visited later. If you have read “A Pennine Journey 1938” by A. Wainwright (not published until 1986 when he was famous as it had laid in a drawer in his house!), you will have noted that he had walked from the Kirk Inn at Romaldkirk to Blanchland in one day. His route was from Middleton-in-Teesdale over Newbiggin Common into Westgate, then Scarsike Head and down into Rookhope before crossing over to Hunstanworth and finally descending into Blanchland. An epic day! I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone as it encapsulates the period just prior to World War 2. Indeed the day that Wainwright left Blanchland was the day of the historic meeting at Munich between Chamberlain, Hitler, Mussolini and the French Premier. It had rained in Weardale which he thought a bit dreary (he was wrong on that count) but Blanchland revived him and he thought quite rightly that it was a wonderful place. I am sure that 70 years later, you will agree with him. W.H. Auden visited Blanchland 8 years earlier in 1930 and said later that no place held sweeter memories for him.
With a population of circa 150 the village is certainly small but nevertheless boasts an old Abbey from the 12th century (from which the village takes its name), a fine hotel which was originally part of the Abbey and a village shop, as well as tearooms.
There as three routes to our next destination which is Baybridge Picnic Park. One of these is a newish wheelchair friendly path whilst the other two follow the river more closely. Ours is on the Durham side and passes an attractive waterfall to arrive at Baybridge. This path was substantially improved by the Durham Countryside Ranger Service many years ago.
Baybridge Picnic site is an anomoly as it is on the north bank of the Derwent yet is in County Durham. The reason for this is that some time in the past the river was diverted onto a different course a few metres further south.
We turn left westwards to pick up the road to Newbiggin Hall. The road climbing the hill is an old drovers route to Pennypie which can also be reached directly from Blanchland. It is easy going for the next mile past Newbiggin Hall before we turn steeply down to the river and cross it near to Gibraltar Banks. Just upstream from the bridge is the confluence of Nookton Burn and Beldon Burn, which merge here to become the River Derwent. Vagabond, in his book published many years ago entitled “50 Weekend Walks around Newcastle”, stated that this place is a perfect Elysium and those who know his books know full well his extensive knowledge of the north-easern countryside. Nothing has changed over the last 50 years since he penned those words.
It is a steep climb into the unique and interesting village of Hunstanworth. There is no place like it in County Durham. It is of some antiquity being mentioned in the Boldon Book when Bishop Pudsey compiled the Durham equivalent to the Doomsday Book. Hunstanworth is less well known than it should be and suffers from its close proximity to Blanchland. The somewhat austere buildings were designed by the well known Victorian architect Samuel Teulon in 1862. His style of High Victorian does not please everyone with its angularity and its use of multi-coloured bricks and, in the case of Hunstanworth, coloured stone also. Note the different colours of slate used for the roofs. This style is much favoured in Burgundy in France as those of you who have visited Beaune will be able to testify. The reason that Teulon built as much round here is down to the fact that he was sponsored by the Vicar, the Reverend David Capper who resided at Newbiggin Hall which we passed earlier in the walk. His church, St. James, is interesting and the churchyard has the remains of a pele tower.
Pevsner in his County Durham Guide called Teulon insensitive, ham-fisted and self-assertive but has to admit that in the case of Hunstanworth he was successful.
We have a bit of road walking now over the hill to arrive at the hamlet of Ramshaw. In this area, at Sikehead Dam was found a mesolithic flint tool which indicated settlement from very early times, although evidence of occupation in the subsequent neolithic and iron age times is absent. The area came to life in the 19th Century when lead mining commenced. There is a lead slag heap on Bale Hill where lead washing was carried out and much other lead mining remains. The engine house which survives was used to power the water pump to keep the mines dry. The Derwent Mines were down in the valley but today we will go through the fluospar mine south west of the houses before climbing up to Sikehead Mine, past the two chimneys and down the course of the flue. The old mining reservoirs were utilised when a Presser Steam Engine was built to carry water to Smiddy Shaw Reservoir which had been completed in 1872 and water from this area had been collected in much earlier times by the Prince Bishops.
It is downhill all the way now over Buckshott Fell and the grouse moor back to Blanchland and along the path back to Carricks.