First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Nathaniel Crewe, Bishop of Durham, laid out Blanchland as an estate village in the early 18th century, basing it around the remnants of a medieval monastery whose lands extended far and wide across these borderlands of Northumberland and Durham.
From the slopes of Buckshott Fell we paused to look back. Blanchland had entirely disappeared. Monastic gatehouse, rambling old Lord Crewe Arms that was once the Abbot’s lodging, immaculate vegetable gardens and neat sandstone cottages – the deep cleft of the Derwent valley had swallowed them all. The northward view swept over the invisible village and on up rough pastures to the wild Northumbrian moorland of Cowbyers Fell.
All round us the sprigs of old burned heather formed silver-grey patches among the dark green of newer ling – essential food and shelter for grouse. We disturbed a female of the species who clattered off in a panicky whirr of stubby wings, calling ‘Go back-back-back!’
It’s not only grouse that benefit from the careful management of these moors and upland pastures. In spring they are favoured nesting sites for curlew and golden plover, whose sweet, haunting whistling is the signature tune of the Durham Dales.
Beyond the moor road from Blanchland rose two tall industrial chimneys, stark reminders of the lead mining industry that once steamed, smoked, roared and clanged across these moors. Beside Sikehead Dam’s wind-ruffled reservoir stood the broken-topped chimney which belched out deadly lead vapour, brought from Jeffrey’s smelting mill far below along a mile of stone-lined flues. Once a year some wretch would be detailed to climb the interior of the chimney and scrape off the ‘fume’ or condensed lead vapour for re-smelting.
Not far away we came to a sister chimney, elaborately capped, standing over disused shafts 400 feet deep. Employees of the Sikehead Mine laboured down there to hew the lead ore that kept the Industrial Revolution towns of Britain in water pipes and the army in bullets.
The homeward path lay among old spoil heaps, stone field walls and the steep rushy pastures of lonely daleside farms. A cold wind blew down the Bolt Burn’s valley, a pair of missel thrushes bounced and bobbed among the sedges, and a flock of fieldfares provided an aerial escort to see us off the Durham moors.
Start: Lord Crewe Arms, Blanchland, nr Consett DH8 9SP (OS ref: NY 967503)
Getting there: Bus 773 from Consett
Road – Blanchland (on B6306) is signed off A68 at Carterway Heads, 3 miles west of Consett.
Walk (6½ miles, rough moorland walking, OS Explorer 307): From Lord Crewe Arms, left along B6306, across bridge, uphill. In 200m, right by Blanchland sign (967502); up road for ⅓ mile; at right bend, ahead through gate (968496). Ahead with wall/fence on left, uphill for 1 mile. Where track begins descent, at gate on left, turn right across moor (970481) on track for ½ mile to road (964475).
Left; in 70m, right (fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA) on track across moor. In ¼ mile, left at T-junction (960473, YA). Just before Jeffrey’s Chimney (the left-hand of two), right over stile (958467, YA); left along dam wall. At far end, right, aiming for Sikehead Chimney (right-hand one). At fence by chimney, right (955464, YA) on grass track beside dry dam, then curving left down to angle of wall (953468).
Right through gate (YA); follow wall along hillside, keeping it on your left, for ½ mile. Cross wide right-angle of wall to a bent YA (958475); left downhill to gate into forestry (957476, YA). Boggy track downhill through trees (ducking under some boughs!) to exit kissing gate at bottom of trees (956477, YA). On down fenced path, over stile into wood (955478, YA). Down forest path to valley road (955479).
Right along road; in 500m on left bend, left off road (958482, YA, ‘Pennine Journey’/PJ) down path. In 150m, right (957483, YA, PJ), north through trees for 1 mile to road (958497). Left downhill; just before Bay Bridge, right (958499, PJ) through trees for 700m to Blanchland.
Lunch/Accommodation: Lord Crewe Arms, Blanchland (01434-677100, lordcrewearmsblanchland.co.uk) – wonderful village hotel, ancient, full of character.