First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Looking round the Chapel of the Nine Altars in Durham Cathedral, you can’t help but be struck by the beautiful floors and columns of ‘Frosterley marble’, dark polished limestone speckled with white fossils.
Frosterley lies in Weardale, upriver from Durham. The village is proud of its celebrated product. There’s a great unpolished lump of the stuff in the car park, formed 325 million years ago and covered in circular fossils of sea lilies with delicate rays.
From Frosterley we followed the Mineral Valley Walk as it rose to run round the rim of an old quarry. Sunk below the level of the fields were big lumpy spoil heaps, delvings and trackways, their awkward angles all smoothed and softened by the grass that covered them in a green velvet nap. Looking down on this from the striated limestone crags of the former quarry faces, it was hard to imagine the thunderous noise, the dust, the hard labour and raw surroundings of a hundred years ago.
Beyond the quarry we turned down the gorge of the Bollihope Burn on a former railway track. A red grouse scuttled away in a panic. The path squeezed between adjacent rock faces where streaks of dusky red hinted at the presence of iron. Across the burn some hopeful lead miner had driven a speculative adit, a tunnel leading from a crude hole into utter darkness.
A flight of steps led up to open sheep pastures, hillside farms and a glimpse of long ridges of moorland beneath a cloudy sky. Then we dropped back down beside the Bollihope Burn, looping back to Frosterley along the rim of Harehope Quarry, another huge subterranean moonscape now repurposed as an ecological education centre. Field classrooms, wildlife ponds, summerhouses and a wind turbine have taken over from heavy machinery, rubble mountains and polluted pools.
On the way we crossed the dry bed of a stream. There below the footbridge were great slabs of Frosterley marble, dark rock smoothed by water and patterned with an intricate jumble of white fossils. It was remarkable to think of the journey this ancient seabed deposition made in medieval times, cut and shaped to rise in polished glory in the cathedral of the Prince Bishops twenty miles away across the hills.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; field paths, old trackways
Start: Frosterley car park, Frosterley DL13 2QW (OS ref NZ 026370)
Getting there: Bus: 101 (Stanhope – Bishop Auckland)
Road – Frosterley is on A689 between Wolsingham and Stanhope
Walk (OS Explorer OL31; Frosterley Walks leaflet downloadable at durham.gov.uk/media): Right along A689. Left (‘White Kirkley’) across River Wear. In 150m, left (022367) beside chapel (‘Mineral Valleys Walk’/MVW). In ½ mile, right at kissing gate (029365, MVW); keep fence on right round quarry rim. Through gate (027362); down slope; right (MVW) to road (025360). Left (MVW); by bridge, right (026360, stile, MVW) along Weardale Way/WW. In ¾ mile pass (don’t cross) bridge (020354); in 40m, right up steps; right at top to gate. Left up fence; in 150m, right (020356) on field track to road (025360). Right; in 150m, left (026360, stile) on WW. In 700m, by footbridge on right, ahead (033361, stile, ‘Permissive Path’); in 150m, left along WW (035360). In 500m at gate WW turns right (039363); left down road. In ½ mile at level crossing, don’t cross (036368); bear left on path. In 600m, right to cross railway (030368); ahead on lane to Frosterley churchyard (026368) and Front Street.
Lunch/Accommodation: Bonny Moorhen, Frosterley DL13 2TS (01388-526867, facebook.com/thebonnymoorhen)