First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Cyclists on the Waskerley Way railway path pedalled into a strong cold blow from the west. The rest of the UK was sweltering in 30º of heat, but not up here on this brisk day of sun and cloud over the Durham moors.
The old railway rose gently to the west between bushes of gorse and young juniper. The wind carried lamb cries and the liquid territorial calls of nesting curlew, cur-leek! cur-leek! I almost trod on a curlew egg, a long olive-green oval camouflaged with tarry scribbles. A lapwing flapped above us, whistling in agitation, then landed to run parallel to us, crested head raised, before taking off for another agitated circuit above the human intruders.
Lumpy mounds of spoil bore witness to lead mining in the not so distant past. Nowadays the moors are managed patchwork-style for grouse, with coarse grey patches of old heather left for shelter and bright green young shoots for food. It was wonderfully exhilarating to be walking these uplands with their long views and sombre colours under a racing sky.
We left the Waskerley Way and followed a stony track down to the long dam wall and wind-rippled water of Hisehope Reservoir. A feeder channel paved with stone led away east across the moor. Fenn traps had been placed on poles that crossed the channel to catch four-legged predators on grouse. Snipe and golden plover flew up with piping cries, then settled to their nesting once more.
A side path ran off north across the moor, soon descending to cross the deep-sunk Backstone and Hisehope burns in a steep little gully. From here the landscape changed to thistly meadows crossed by the faintest of cart tracks. The lonely farmhouse of Cushat Leazes drooped sadly, slate roof falling in, walls patchy where handily shaped stones had been robbed for wall-mending, a reminder of just how tough life is for the upland sheep farmers.
We followed a green path over rough pasture to climb the steps to the brink of Smiddy Shaw Reservoir. The wind drove the water in whitecaps, and the view back across the moors we’d tramped disclosed a big dark marsh harrier sailing close to the heather, a lapwing rising to scold it away with urgent, creaking cries.
How hard is it? 6 miles; easy (but GPS helpful); moorland tracks
Start: Waskerley Farm car park, Consett DH8 9DZ approx (OS ref NZ 051453)
Getting there: A692 Consett to Castleside; cross A68; minor road past Horsleyhope; in 3 miles, left (brown sign ‘Waskerley Station’).
Walk (OS Explorer 307): Right along Waskerley Way/WW. In 1¼ miles at next car park (033453), right; left beside road. In 250m right on track to Hisehope Reservoir. Just beyond house, right (025462) along channel. In ⅔ mile round right bend to footbridge (037464). Left here on moor path for ⅓ mile to Backstone Burn. Follow right bank; cross burn at confluence with Hisehope Burn (040473). Left to cross Hisehope Burn. Up bank; in 150m, right over ladder stile (039474). Ahead across grass on track. In 100m edge left to raised bank; follow it to ford (039476); on to reach wall on left. Follow it to house (041479). In dip, right on grassy drive. Cross footbridge (042477); in 200m pass Cushat Leazes ruin; bear right (044475) on green path. In ⅓ mile through wall gate (043470); ahead on moor track; steps up to Smiddy Shaw Reservoir (044464). Left; at car park (047462) left to road; right to corner (048457); left (‘WW’) to car park.
Accommodation: Derwent Manor Boutique Hotel, Allensford DH8 9BB (01207-592000; derwentmanorhotel.com)