A Walk on Pikestone FellFiled under: Other
Approx. Distance: 12 miles
Start: Demense Mill Picnic Area, Wolsingham, on B6296 (GR NZ076375)
This walk is best done on a day of good visibility. It makes a good winter walk as you are not too far off lower ground but is best in late Spring. Being on heather moorlands there are obviously grouse about and the area is effectively managed for grouse shooting and complete with good tracks. Other moorland birds will normally be seen such as curlew, golden plover, and snipe near wetter patches.
This walk can equally be done from The Grove in Hamsterley Forest onto Pikestone Fell but this start at Demense Mill Picnic Area is arguably a better start. Demense means the land of a medieval manor and there was a corn mill here, hence the name. We head towards the Church of St Mary and St Stephen through a kissing gate. This term could come from the habit of courting couples demanding a kiss from their partner before letting them through. However, more likely it described the fact that the gate touched or kissed the two lips of the fence opposite. We now cross the old mill race which carried water in a stone culvert from a spot 500 metres above the weir on Waskerley Beck to power the grinding stones. The church goes back to Norman times but was heavily restored in 1848 and only the tower has Norman characteristics. Leaving by the main gate you pass the Masonic Hall which in earlier days was the Grammar School and was founded in 1612. Further down Church Lane is Padua House. Note the blocked up windows which were blocked up to prevent excessive payment of window tax.
At the main road a footpath opposite leads down to Wolsingham Bridge which is crossed. This bridge also crosses over the Weardale Railway now happily reopened to Bishop Auckland. The station here dates back to the early days of railways. We climb the hill for a short distance before turning left and taking a footpath uphill, parallel to the road to avoid road walking. This footpath returns to the road as the access road to Chatterley and we continue up Wear Bank. Just after Rushy Lea Lane the busier road of Howles Lane branches off to the left and this is ignored. We continue upwards heading south for about one and a half miles to Blackburn Lodge. Here we have made a height gain of about 600ft from the river. The road surface now changes to a good track to Doctors Gate. This track has been enhanced and is popular with mountain bikes. Doctors Gate is interesting as here have been found remains of mesolithic, neolithic and bronze age flint tools in the old quarries . It is thought that these people possibly used the site for a temporary hunting camp on their way to the higher dales returning to valley bottoms when the weather cooled in the winter.
Pikestone Fell , although normally quiet, does have its busy days particularly when it is used for the Durham Challenge Walk run by the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA). This is a fine organisation, who as their name implies, are involved in long walks such as 100 miles over a weekend. Full details of all their events can be found on their website. Continuing on from Doctors Gate we come to the edge of Hamsterley Forest. This was established in the 1930s using many unemployed men from the coal and engineering industries. They were employed in Instruction Centres both here and elsewhere in the UK. We descend a short distance into the forest at Potato Hill before taking the footpath heading west-north-west at GR069308. This is another airy walk over to Meeting of the Grains where the North and South Grain join to form Ayhope Beck. Here was the farm of Ayhope Shiel which was converted to a bothy by the Mountain Bothies Association but had to be closed due to the constant vandalism. Their places are not advertised now as this is not uncommon, a good example being seen on the Southern Upland Way.
We continue north-west, following North Grain to the escarpment and end of the Open Access near to Allotment House and the well known elephant trees. This broad bridleway is taken east looking down on Weardale to Harthope at GR064349. The bridleway of Rushy Lea Lane is taken for a short distance before going left and down on a footpath to Spence Hill, Towdy Potts and Ashes House before emerging back on to the road just above Wolsingham Bridge.
For a further look around Wolsingham we will turn right at the main road to pass Whitfield Cottages. Note the evergreen oak trees here known as Holm Oaks, as they are rare in the north-east. Peel Cottage which follows was named after Sir Robert Peel and this was the first police station in Wolsingham. Turning left at the old Town Hall we go up the B6296 for a short distance and then take the quieter Meadhope Street which winds round to Waskerley Beck and its numerous mallards. We are now at the bridge and follow the road alongside the beck back to the start. The houses on your left were a new development from the St Annes Convent which was modified and extended.