First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Teesdale town of Barnard Castle on a busy weekday, bustling, friendly, and packed with local shops. Some of these were not entirely traditional in produce, however; goat curry pasties were wowing the shoppers at the Moody Baker. William Peat, Master Butcher (or one of his representatives) came haring out into the street after a departing customer with: ‘Sausages, Missus! You forgot your sausages!’
We passed the gaunt, broken walls of the castle that overhangs the Tees. Down by the river we stopped beside the rushing white bar of the weir just in time to catch sight of a dipper alighting there. It bobbed its white shirt front energetically up and down before skimming off upriver in flight as straight as an arrow. We followed it along the Teesdale Way, an undulating path now rocky, now muddy, that shadowed the river through beautiful woods of young limes and beeches.
There’s always an element of uncertainty about the wild flowers you might find on a springtime walk in this northern part of England, where the colder and more upland situation squeezes the flowering season into a shorter and more intense timeframe than further south. But on this woodland walk today, everything had popped out and was displaying ensemble – wood anemones white and purple, bluebells and stitchwort, primroses side by side with red campion. Wild garlic and celandine, violets next to wild strawberries, forget-me-not, speedwell and water avens – it was altogether an astonishing display, with drifts of red, white and blue flooding the shadows under the trees.
Opposite Cotherstone we found the most perfect picnic spot in Teesdale, a primrose bank from which we looked down through young ash leaves on the river snaking noisily round a bend. Pied wagtails curtsied on the rocks, swallows skimmed the water, and a fisherman stood knee-deep and cast for a trout.
We descended to cross the Tees, then climbed to the return path along the rim of the dale. The sky turned slate grey behind us in the west. A bolt of rain, a whistle of wind, a crash of thunder and a spatter of hail like buckshot on our backs. Then brilliant spring sunshine spreading like butter across the pastures at Cooper House where plump lambs grazed and a brown hare sat tight in the wet grass, ears flattened along his damp furry back, delicately grooming each paw in turn.
Start: Barnard Castle long-stay car park, DL12 8GB (OS ref NZ 051163)
Getting there: Bus X75, X76, 84, 85, 95, 96 (Darlington),
Road – Barnard Castle is signed off A66, between Greta Bridge and Bowes (A1M, Scotch Corner junction).
Walk (8½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL31): Right to Market Cross; right up main street. At right bend, left by Methodist Church (‘Castle’). Follow ‘Riverside Walk and Cotherstone’ down to riverside (047166); bear right and follow ‘Teesdale Way’/TW through woods, close beside river. In 1¾ miles, through gate into field (033183). In 100m right through gate (TW), steeply up to gate at top. Left along upper wood edge.
500m beyond West Holme House, cross stream on footbridge by waterfall (025195); bear half right up bank (yellow arrow/YA) and curve round left to cross wall stile (YA). Cross next field, aiming for corner of wood straight ahead of you. Follow it with wall on left. In ½ mile, left (017201, TW) to descend through trees to cross gorsy meadow. At 2-finger TW post (014202), left across Tees; on far side, left to cross tributary (013201).
To visit Cotherstone, turn right here; to continue walk, climb steep bank opposite; up steps and along top of bank, following TW. In 1 mile pass Cooper House (023192); in 100m, left through kissing gate (TW) and bear right along lower wall. In ½ mile, descend to 2-finger TW post opposite pool (027186); right across stone footbridge and on. In 2 miles meet B6277 (045167); left across Tees footbridge (‘Cycle Route 70’); right to Barnard Castle.
Conditions: Some sections rocky and stumbly; a couple of short sharp climbs
Lunch: Picnic; or Fox & Hounds, Cotherstone (01833-650241, cotherstonefox.co.uk)
Accommodation: Three Horseshoes Inn, 5-7 Galgate, Barnard Castle, Durham (01833-631777; three-horse-shoes.co.uk) – smart, tidy and welcoming.
Info: Barnard Castle TIC (03000-262626), thisisdurham.com