Search Results : Durham

Nov 072020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A strong cold breeze was blowing off the Durham moors down Weardale, and clouds jostled with blue sky on the skyline to north and south. We peeked in the windows of Westgate’s remarkable Methodist Chapel, its pews massed in a thicket of curlicued and painted ironwork. Primitive Methodism was a strongly held faith here in west Durham, whose lead miners and pack horsemen led rough and uncertain lives.

A footpath led north from the village up a steep-sided cleft where the Middlehope Burn came jumping and sparkling down over rocky steps and ledges. We followed upstream to a wide bend of the burn; here the remnants of Low Slitt* lead mine lay scattered.
*spelt variously Slitt or Slit – Slitt seems to be the most frequently used

A waterwheel pit for pumping out the mine, the great stone base where a hydraulic engine lifted buckets of lead ore from the workings, deadly little culverts you could fall into in a twinkling, and a washing floor on a promontory near the river, where little boys with heavy bucker hammers smashed rocks and sluiced the fragments to release the precious ore.

We scrambled up a steep bank to a round reservoir, and stood there looking across the old mine to the hush or gash in the fellside where great torrents of water were released to tear away the turf and expose the vein of lead beneath. Mine tips lay above at the edge of the moor, a fleet of green whalebacks grown grassy with a nap as sleek as velvet.

Today this is a scene as peaceful and lonely as can be – great sweeps of daleside, empty save for the dotted sheep, a couple of isolated farms, the ruin of a barn or two, all under an enormous sky.

We found a stony lane that led up to the walled fellside track of Springsike Road, boggy with dark mud and patches of rush. Sheep called, the wind blew, hidden streams trickled. Everything seemed simplified and straightforward up here between the dale pastures and the moors.

Wheatears flirted on the wall tops, their white rumps flashing as they flew away. Mountain pansies purple and white, wild thyme tussocks and autumn gentians grew by the way. A long walled bridleway brought us easily down into Weardale again and we sauntered back to Westgate beside the peaty River Wear, as clear and brown as molten toffee.

Start: Hare & Hounds, Westgate, Weardale DU3 1 RX (OS ref NY 908381).

Getting there: Bus 101 (Bishop Auckland)
Road: Westgate is on A689 (Stanhope-Alston).

Walk (6¼ miles, moderate hill walk, OS Explorer OL31): Left along A689; first right; in 200m, left (‘Slitt Wood’). Follow path north beside Middlehope Burn. In ½ mile at Slitt Mine site (906392), left up bank by info boards to dam/pool above (904392). Right around dam; at stile (904393) bear right on path with wall on left. In 250m cross stile (904396); in 300m, right over wall stile (905399). In 150m, left up rough rocky lane (904400). At top, right (901399) along Springsike Road walled lane. At road (893407), left uphill. In ½ mile road bends left (885405); in ¼ mile, left (882401, fingerpost) along walled bridleway. In 1 mile at road, left (886387); in 150m, right (888387, fingerpost), half right down to drive. Right to road (886385); left; in 400m, right between house and shed (889382). Cross River Wear (888381). Left on Weardale Way for 1½ miles; left across river (909380) into Westgate.

Conditions: Springsike Road can be wet/muddy

Lunch: Hare & Hounds, Westgate (01388-517212,

Accommodation: Westgate Manor, Westgate DL13 1JT (01388-517371,

Info: Durham Dales Centre, Stanhope (01388-527650);;;

 Posted by at 02:19
Oct 192019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Today was one of those ‘Shall we?’ days – a morning of chilly winds over County Durham, and a weather forecast of spitting showers followed by proper rain. It wasn’t really conducive, the thought of pulling on all the raingear and setting out through a dank and dripping Hamsterley Forest. But in the end we were glad we did.

‘Oh, it can get a bit clarty up there in the forest,’ said the jolly young ranger in the Visitor Centre. We hadn’t heard that local word meaning ‘mucky’ for many a day. And a bit clarty it turned out to be, once we’d got off the hard-surfaced tracks.

We had a look at the ranger’s map and decided on the Three Becks Walk, thoroughly waymarked and well laid out. The Bedburn Beck, charged with rain, went bouncing down under the trees, a vigorous young stream of water stained toffee-brown with peat from the moors. The forest steamed, a heady whiff of bark, resin and damp pine needles.

Timber climbing frames beside the trail catered for youngsters with energy to burn. In its maturity Hamsterley Forest plays a role as a leisure woodland for walkers, cyclists, runners and riders, but when it was created in the 1930s, it was as a severely commercial softwood forest.

Back then the north-east of England was in the grip of the Great Depression, and local pitmen and shipyard workers who had lost their jobs were only too happy to be paid for planting young trees in their millions. They lived on site in barrack-like wooden huts, still to be seen near the Visitor Centre.

We followed the Three Becks Walk west among the pines and larches, their hard dark presence softened by borders of beech, oak and sycamore. There was a steady trickle of chaffinch song, a background chitter of wrens, and in the treetops the excited thin squeaking of goldcrests foraging high up.

Soon we forked off the surfaced track, up a stony forest path bound together with knotty conifer roots. Clearings opened up, large areas left to grow scrubby where spindly rowans and silver birch swayed to the windy swirls of rain.

A steep descent on a slippery track, across Bedburn Beck and up through Frog Wood on an old drove road to a view over a gate onto open moorland rusty with heather sprigs and bracken. Down past the ruin of Metcalf’s House, once an inn for the drovers, with an apse-shaped bread oven at the house end. And a return along Redford Meadows beside Bedburn Beck, a beautiful lush end to the walk in steady rain, watching for dippers along the stream and breathing in the scent of the wet exhaling forest.

Start: Hamsterley Forest Visitor Centre, Co. Durham DL13 3NL (OS ref NZ 092312). Car park £6/day.

Getting there: Hamsterley Forest is signed from A68 (Darlington-Tow Law) at Witton-le-Wear.

Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer OL31): Follow the well-waymarked Three Becks Walk (white arrow on orange square) all the way round. NB Hamsterley Forest contains many walking and cycle trails, so look out for the right waymarks! On the return leg, vary the route by following Riverside Walk (blue arrows) from the road at Low Redford Bridge (081310). Turn right along road here to cross Aisford Beck; in 80m, left through car park (080309, ‘public footpath’ fingerpost) and follow Riverside Walk back to Visitor Centre.

Conditions: well surfaced, well waymarked trails. Trail maps available from Visitor Centre.

Lunch: Hamsterley Café, Visitor Centre.

Info: Hamsterley Forest Visitor Centre (01388-488312,;;

 Posted by at 01:48
Nov 032018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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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, – wonderful village hotel, ancient, full of character.


 Posted by at 01:05
Jun 162018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Cyclists flocked round the Durham Dales Centre in Stanhope, and curious tourists took photos of the village’s famous 250 million-year-old fossil tree in the churchyard wall. When a beautiful day like this one arrives over the moors and valleys of West Durham, everyone wants to be out and about. The chatter and fuss of the selfie-takers were soon overlaid by the quiet chuckle of Stanhope Burn as we walked up its narrowing dale against the flow.

The hillsides north of the village wore the velvety nap and lumpy complexion that betokens a lead-mining landscape. In the throat of the valley we found the pitch-black levels and abandoned buildings of old workings where local miners earned their crusts through hard and health-shattering labour.

Nowadays Stanhope Burn runs clean and sparkling. Grey wagtails flirted their yellow underbellies on the stones, and a dipper bobbed its white shirtfront mid-stream under a bridge.

Above the mine buildings we left the valley track and followed a narrow path across hillsides where swallows cut low arcs across the heather and sand martins went scooting along a line of nestholes in the crumbling stream bank. We forded and re-forded the shallow burn, and headed south across trackless moorland where agitated grouse scuttled off, scolding us: Back! Back! G’back!

A line of wind-tattered conifers on the skyline formed a handy aiming point. When we had come up with them we found ourselves by Park Plantation with its long encircling wall and swathes of grey and brown stumps of recently harvested trees. The sun blazed and the wind blew fiercely in our faces as we followed the wall south, leaping over boggy sikes or streams that wound through the heather to join Stanhope Burn.

Snipe were displaying over the moors, extending their tail feathers as they dived to produce an eerie, tremulous hooting noise. We turned off along a farm track by Mount Pleasant and Pease Mires, and dropped down to Stanhope through woods where late bluebells and early purple orchids glowed under beech trunks striped with sunlight.

Start: Durham Dales Centre, Stanhope, Co Durham DL13 2FJ (OS ref NY 996393)

Getting there: Bus service 101 (Stanhope-Bishop Auckland).
Road – Stanhope is on A689 (Bishop Auckland – Alston)

Walk (8¼ miles, rugged moorland walking, OS Explorer 307): from Durham Dales Centre, right along A689. In 200m, right up Garden Close. Dogleg right/left to Chapel Street; left; right up path (fingerpost) beside allotments. Through kissing gate/KG at top of lane; on up with hedge on left to a track (995396). Left (KG); follow track to cross B6278 (991400, fingerpost).

In 100m fork left along Stanhope Grange fence. Follow lane for 1¼ miles to derelict mine. After shed on right, and before last one on left, fork right off main lane (987413). Don’t fork immediately left, but keep ahead up stony path which curves left. In 200m through gate; yellow arrow/YA points right, but keep ahead, with Stanhope Burn on left, for ⅔ mile to derelict old cottage. Ford burn near here (987425), and recross just beyond, after left bend in burn. In 500m, at Access Land notice and gate with YA, recross burn (983431).

On south side, grassy track climbs bank. Follow its indented course, then a pathless route SSW across moor, aiming for line of pine trees on skyline. In ⅔ mile, cross stony track (977423), make for right corner of Park Plantation wall (975421). Left along track for 1 mile, keeping parallel with wall, skirting quarry hole (970414) and crossing Reahope Burn, Deep Sike and Isaac Sike to cross Stoneby Sike (966408). 450m beyond Stoneby Sike, left through gate (970404) along farm track past Mount Pleasant (972405) and Pease Mires (979407) to road (982406).

Right; in 450m, left (982402) down drive to Widley Field (984402). Half right here across field to far right corner; over ladder stile (986401). Left; in 50m, left over stile; ahead through trees for 20m, then right along woodland path for ½ mile to A689. Left to car park.

Conditions: For confident walkers with map/compass/GPS. Inadvisable in mist.

Lunch: Durham Dales Centre tearoom.

Accommodation: Stanhope Old Hall, Stanhope DL13 2PF (01388-529036,

Info: Durham Dales Centre (01388-527650,;;;

 Posted by at 01:57
May 272017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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If I could wrap up in one package my ideal place for a walk in spring, it would be these few miles beside the River Tees. There’s something complete, something absolutely perfect about the blend of sights and sounds here in this twisting cleft in the Pennine Hills – the rumble and chatter of the young Tees in its rocky bed, the high volcanic cliffs between which it snakes, the poignant cries of curlew and lapwing nesting in the sedgy fields, and above all the brilliant colours of the exquisite little flowers that bloom for a short, unpredictable season across the craggy back of Cronkley Fell.

Setting out on a cold, wind-buffeted morning in mid May, we had no idea whether the flowers would be out or not; their brief blooming depends so greatly on what kind of winter, what kind of spring Upper Teesdale has had. It felt more like a February morning as we crossed the racing Tees near Cronkley Farm. But in a damp bank beside the farm, sunk among masses of marsh marigolds, we spotted the pale yellow orbs of globe flowers, a signal that spring was at least attempting to elbow winter out of the way.

Behind Cronkley Farm we climbed between the juniper thickets of High Crag, up into the grassy uplands where the old droving track called the Green Trod runs up the nape of Cronkley Fell. The wind did its best to push us back, but we put our heads down and fought it to the summit.

A succession of ‘exclosures’ up here, wired off to make them impenetrable to the nibbling sheep and rabbits, harbours the rarest of Upper Teesdale’s spring flowers, delicate survivors of a post-Ice Age flora that has vanished from the rest of upland England. We knelt on the stony ground to take in these miniature beauties at eye level – deep pink bird’s-eye primroses, tiny white stars of spring sandwort, and the intensely, royally blue trumpets of spring gentians.

At last we tore ourselves away, frozen and entranced. We descended to the Tees and returned along the brawling river, where lapwings flew up and curlew skimmed overhead, intent on shepherding these human intruders away from their nests and unhatched eggs.

Start: Forest-in-Teesdale car park, near Langdon Beck, Co. Durham DL12 0HA (OS ref NY 867298)

Getting there: On B6277 (Middleton-in-Teesdale – Alston), 1½ miles beyond High Force car park.

Walk (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL31. NB: online map, more walks at Right along B6277; in 100m, left down farm track. Skirt right of first house (864296); down to wicket gate (yellow arrow/YA); on, keeping right of Wat Garth, to track. Join Pennine Way (PW) and cross River Tees by Cronkley Bridge (862294). Follow PW and YAs past Cronkley Farm, into dip (862288), up rocky slope of High Crag, and on along paved track. In 500m, left across stile (861283). PW bears left here, but continue ahead uphill by fence. Through kissing gate (861281); in 100m, turn right along wide grassy Green Trod trackway. Follow it for 2 miles west across Cronkley Fell (occasional cairns). Descend at Man Gate to River Tees (830283); right along river for 2½ miles. At High House barn (857294) aim half left across pasture for Cronkley Bridge; return to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk, Barnard Castle DL12 9EB (01833-650213, – wonderful village inn, comfortable and welcoming

Moor House NNR: 01833-622374;

Peak District Boundary Walk ( Launch Day, Buxton – Sat 17 June,;

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 02:56
Apr 232016

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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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,

Accommodation: Three Horseshoes Inn, 5-7 Galgate, Barnard Castle, Durham (01833-631777; – smart, tidy and welcoming.

Info: Barnard Castle TIC (03000-262626),;;

 Posted by at 09:15
Nov 212015

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The trouble was – not how to find the Rose & Crown in Romaldkirk, but how to persuade myself to leave its warm and cheerful bar and go out into the teeth of a bitterly cold day. It’s so cosy in here, can’t I just …? No? Oh, all right, all right, I’m coming …

Once outside, wrapped like an Inuit on a particularly harsh day, I woke up and began to savour my surroundings. The trackbed of the old Teesdale Railway makes a fine marching route, and we got into a good rhythm stamping along its cuttings and up and down the gullies where the bridges used to be. The distant hills of Upper Teesdale were dissolving behind grey slides of rain, but that didn’t bother us in our weatherproof cocoons.

Beside the former Banklands Quarry we took to the narrow hill road that climbs steeply to the heights of Romaldkirk Moor. The dark conifer spinney at the crown of Scarney Hill seethed with wind as we went past. A wonderful view opened southwards towards the long undulating ridges of Stainmore Forest, and nearer at hand the landscape ranged away in big sedgy fields where tattered sheep grazed with their backs to the weather and fleeces streaming before the wind.

We speculated about a building isolated on the moor, as tall as a house, with ruinous stone steps going up to a front door ten feet above ground level. A sturdy old barn, or a fortified house from lawless times among these hills? The wind snapped off that chain of thought, driving us off the hill and down to the fields around Gill Field farm.

Gill Field and its neighbour, West End, were shuttered tight and silent. No dogs barked, nobody stirred as we slipped through the squeeze stiles and wicket gates, bowling along with the weather at our backs to find the level track of the Teesdale Railway waiting to carry us back to Romaldkirk. And when we got back there, and lifted the polished brass sneck of the door, and inhaled the scents of dogs and log fires and other weather-battered walkers in safe haven … well, contentment found us ready and waiting.
Start: Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk, Durham DL12 9EB (OS ref NY 995221)

Getting there: Bus service 95, 96 (Barnard Castle – Middleton-in-Teesdale).
Road: Romaldkirk is on B6277 between Barnard Castle and Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Walk (6¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer OL31. NB: online maps, more walks at Cross B6277; up road opposite (‘Tees Rail Path’/TRP signs on lamp posts). Beside old railway signal, right (992220, TRP) and follow TRP. In 1½ miles, left along road at Banklands Barn (972232). Follow road for 1½ miles past radio mast (974220) and Romaldkirk turning (975218). At T-junction cross Hunderthwaite road (980210); follow farm drive to Gill Field. At farm (981203), through gate into yard; through squeeze stile at left corner of house; across garden and through wicket gate; half left to cross stile. Across large field to bottom left corner (986201). Left through gate; follow wall to West End farm (988200). Pass to left of buildings; right through 2 successive gates; half left to farm drive; left through gate; on along drive. In 650m, beside stone gatepost in a dip, right through gate (994203, yellow arrow). Cross field to kissing gate; left along TRP; in 1 mile (993216) follow signs into Romaldkirk.

Lunch/accommodation: Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk (01833-650213, – perfect cosy base for winter walking.

Information: Middleton-in-Teesdale TIC (01833-641001 – winter opening, 10am-1pm);;

 Posted by at 01:52
May 302015

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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We’ve seen the dipper,’ enthused the woman we met under Falcon Clints, ‘and a black grouse in the rocks just along there.’ ‘And a grey shrike,’ put in her husband. ‘And you’ve seen the peregrine, have you? And the ring ouzel … Ooh, thanks, we’ll keep our eyes peeled.’

How can one begin to list, let alone express, the richness of bird life in the breeding season around the meadows and moors of Upper Teesdale? And that’s to say nothing of the wonderful Ice Age relict flora sprinkled across the limestone grassland and the bogs and heaths of this lonely cleft in the hills where the young River Tees comes tumbling down its volcanic steps to sinuate through the dale.

Jane and I set off from Langdon Beck, taking the track through the pastures by Widdy Bank Farm and on upstream along the Tees. Redshank, lapwings and oystercatchers flew round us, piping and bubbling their anxious calls as we skirted their nests and young hidden in the sedges. Mountain pansies with purple and yellow petals, northern marsh orchids of royal purple, lipstick-pink lousewort and buttery gold kingcups spotted the grass and damp bog patches.

On through the narrowing throat of the dale, with the dolerite cliffs of Falcon Clints standing dark and hard-edged overhead. A slate-backed peregrine went darting out across the river from the crags, twisting like an acrobat before hanging in the sky on an invisible step. The sun picked out the black and white plumage of an oystercatcher, the orange-pink of a redshank’s trailing legs. The only sounds were bird cries, wind rustle and the mumble of the shallow Tees in its bouldery bed. It was like lingering in some private corner of heaven.

The rush and roar of Caldron Snout came to us round the corner of the crags. The peat-charged waterfall came bouncing down its rock staircase in a series of foaming cataracts as brown as bottle glass. We scrambled up the rocks, and found ourselves in another reality – wide uplands, heathy moors and the great wind-ruffled lake of Cow Green Reservoir.

The homeward way lay across the pathless hillside of Cow Rake Rigg, then back through the wide valley of Harwood Beck. Tiny, exquisite pink bird’s-eye primroses grew on the banks of the tributary sikes*, and the creaking complaints of lapwings and the alarm calls of redshanks piped us out of their territory and on down the valley.

* sikes – local name for tiny streams

Start: Langdon Beck Hotel, Co Durham, DL12 0XP (OS ref NY 853312)

Getting there: B6277 from Middleton-in-Teesdale. Park in lay-by down side road opposite Langdon Beck Hotel (‘Cow Green’).

Walk (10 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL31): On down Cow Green road. 250m after crossing Harwood Beck, left (847309, ‘Moor House NNR’) on stony track to Widdy Bank Farm (837298) and on under Falcon Clints. Scramble up crags to right of Cauldron Snout waterfall (815286) to road at top. Right to road at The Knott (817309); turn right. Either follow road back to Langdon Beck (2½ miles), or pass cottage on left and bear left (‘footpath’ fingerpost) north-east across Cow Rake Rigg (no track). Over first crest; aim right of fenced shaft; then aim for wall running uphill, a little to left of prominent white house on distant hillside ahead. In ½ mile, come over crest; head for Binks House below. Cross stone stile; skirt Binks House (825320); cross stile (yellow arrow/YA) in bottom left corner of field. Follow stream on left for 100m; left to cross it, then stile (YA); half left to ladder stile (YA); down through gate and through Marshes Gill farmyard to road (825324). Ahead over Harwood Beck.

On left bend at Lingy Hill farm (828320), right along field track for 1 mile to Greenhills (838320). Up drive to road (841319); right over stile. NB fingerpost points straight downhill, but bear half left down to wall stile (842316, YA). On in same direction to bottom left corner of next field (845313). Ladder stile; follow Harwood Beck to bridge (850304); left to Langdon Beck.

Conditions: Tricky underfoot across boulders below Falcon Clints; rock scramble beside Cauldron Snout

Refreshments: Picnic, or Langdon Beck Hotel (01833-622267,

Accommodation: The Old Barn, Middleton-in-Teesdale, DL12 0QG (01833-640258, – lovely warm and welcoming B&B

Upper Teesdale NNR:

Info: Middleton-in-Teesdale TIC (01833-641001);;

 Posted by at 01:30
Jun 142014

There aren’t many proper old upland hay meadows left in England, but the one at Low Birk Hat farm in Baldersdale is an absolute beauty.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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That’s thanks to Hannah Hauxwell, the lone woman who farmed these fields in an entirely traditional way until her retirement in 1988, and also to Durham Wildlife Trust who took them on, renamed them ‘Hannah’s Meadow’, and continued the good work.

We stopped in to the sparse little exhibition in Hannah’s Barn below High Birk Hat farmhouse, and then followed the Pennine Way beside the meadow – not yet cut, its sweet vernal grass and sedges full of old hay meadow flowers such as yellow rattle, knapweed, moon daisies and blue powder puffs of devil’s-bit scabious. Miss Hauxwell became a TV start in the 1970s when a series of programmes followed her unadorned, narrow life through the seasons. A reluctant star, she never could quite understand what all the fuss was about. But what a wonderful treasure her decades of hard work left us in this Durham dale.

From Low Birk Hat the squashy, puddled track of the Pennine Way led us up and out onto Cotherstone Moor. A half gale from the west shoved us around like a ruffian, then got behind us when we left the National Trail and struck out east across the moor. Curlews and golden plover piped plaintively, a great crowd of starlings went swooping all together, and a red grouse planed away on stubby scimitar wings. Swaledale ewes among the sedges stared incredulously in our direction, then averted their gaze like a pew full of spinsters at the sight of something unspeakably shocking – a vicar in cycling shorts, perhaps.

On a wild open upland, unfenced for miles under a gigantic sky, we found an alternative loop of the Pennine Way and followed it back north. Above the path the flat-topped granite outcrop of Goldsborough stood proud of the moor – a miniature table mountain, whose sheer southern crags are only seen by sheep and walkers.

We lingered under the rocks, admiring their weather-cut striations and the brilliant purple heather lining their ledges, and then dropped back down over many stone stiles into sunlit Baldersdale and the homeward path. Lapwings creaked in the sedgy fields, oystercatchers zipped down the wind, and every blade of grass squeaked and sparkled underfoot.

Start: Balderhead Reservoir car park, near Romaldkirk, Co Durham, DL12 9UX approx. (OS ref NY 929187)

Getting there: On outskirts of Romaldkirk, right off B6277 Cotherstone road (‘Reservoirs’). In 4½ miles pass ‘High Birk Hat, Hannah’s Meadow’ sign on gate on left (933190) in another 250m, left through gateway to Balderhead Reservoir car park.

Walk (8 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL31): Walk back to ‘Hannah’s Meadow’ gate; go through, and down lane (‘Pennine Way’/PW). At gate (933190), right to Hannah’s Barn exhibition. Return to PW; follow it past Low Birk Hat (936184), across Blackton Bridge (932182). Fork left (no waymark) across beck. At triple PW fingerpost (934181), right up stony track to road beyond Clove Lodge Farm (935177). Ahead; in 200m, right (PW) across Cotherstone Moor. In 1 mile, at Race Yate, cross stile in fence (942161, PW). In 100m, left off PW through gate (blue arrow/BA); follow grassy track (sometimes faintly marked on ground) east for 1⅔ miles. At gate where wall and fence meet, left (969164, BA) along Bowes Loop of PW. In ½ mile, at cross-wall by ruin (965171), go through left of two gates. In 20m fork left, aiming for crags of Goldsborough. Cross Yawd Sike (stream) by railed footbridge (960174); carry on below left slope of Goldsborough. At crest beyond (952178), fork left aiming for West Friar House Farm.

At road (948179, PW), left for 100m; right down drive to East Friar House. Down left side of byre (acorn, yellow arrow/YA); left over stile (946182, YA); follow PW/YAs west through fields and stone stiles to Low Birk Hat and car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham DL12 9EB (01833-650213; – really comfortable, efficient and helpful

Information: Middleton-in-Teesdale TIC (01833-641001);

 Posted by at 01:31
May 182013

A sunny day, clear and cold, had settled over Teesdale.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The leaves of the beech trees along the River Greta shone a sharp acid green as they filtered the morning sunshine. We followed a field path up the noisy Greta from Greta Bridge, walking against the flow of the river that sparkled over its bed of rocky slabs in the narrow west-east dale it has carved for itself.

A brief climb to the lip of the dale – seas of yellow rape rolling away to pale purple moors on the northern skyline – and then we were dipping down into the wooded cleft where the ruin of St Mary’s Church lay in its walled graveyard. A wonderful peaceful spot to idle and wander among the old slanting gravestones, unsteadily lettered by local masons – ‘Christopher Thwaites Postmaster of Greata Bridge 1693’, ‘Julian & Jane Sutton Bless ye The Lord Praise Him & Magnifie Him’, and a low stone for a child, simply inscribed ‘EH 1699’.

The path wound on, increasingly narrow and crumbly, through Tebb Wood, a world of white, blue and green with bluebells and wild garlic, bugle and wood anemones. Neither of us could remember any riverside walk so bright with wild flowers – the dusky purple nodding bells of water avens, false oxlips with multiple primrose heads on cowslip-like stalks, bold pink campion, white stars of stitchwort, early purple orchids. Blackcaps burbled musically in the scrub hawthorns, and wrens chattered. The sun poured over everything like a warm bath for the senses, just edged enough with cold fingers of breeze to remind us that we were in the Durham dales in springtime.

Down by stone-built Brignall Mill we crossed the Greta, splodged through the muddy caterpillar tracks of a logging operation, and turned back along the south bank of the river. What a contrast! These north-facing slopes of the gorge were at least a month behind those facing south only just across the river, with bluebells not yet bloomed and celandines and delicate white wood sorrel still out in glory.

The path climbed to a precipitous ledge above the Greta, then turned south through the woods high over Gill Beck. At Gillbeck Bridge we took to a silent country lane and field paths through open uplands where young calves kicked and capered in the meadows. A stretch of road with far moorland views and then the homeward path through Mill Woods and by the water-sculpted churn holes of the Greta’s gorge.
Start & finish: Morritt Hotel, Greta Bridge, Co. Durham, DL12 9SE (OS ref NZ 085133)

Getting there: Greta Bridge is signposted off A66 between Scotch Corner (A1) and Bowes. Park near Morritt Hotel – please ask permission, and give hotel your custom!

Walk (9½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL30): Leaving Morritt Hotel, turn right along road. Just before bridge, right over wall (fingerpost) follow riverside path towards Brignall Mill. In 2 miles you pass opposite the confluence of Gill Beck (062113). In another ⅔ mile path rises to go through gate (051112; yellow arrow/YA); in 150m fork right over cattle grid and down to Brignall Mill (047112).

Follow YAs around mill and across footbridge; dogleg right and left along higher track; in 100m bear left down to path downstream beside River Greta. In ⅓ mile cross footbridge at Hening Scar (051111) and continue beside Greta. In another ⅓ mile on Bleak Scar, path climbs high above river. Near top it forks (057112); don’t go right uphill to gate, but keep ahead along fence and above river. In ¼ mile, at post with 2 YAs (061112), keep ahead (not left), to bend sharply right along gorge of Gill Beck. Continue for ½ mile, crossing 3 footbridges, to reach Gillbeck Bridge (062105).

Left up Cowclose Lane. In ¾ mile, at end of Primrose Gill Plantation, left (072101; ‘Byway’ fingerpost) along stony lane. Pass limekiln (073104); in 300m, left through gate (075106, blue arrow) up fields to Crook’s House (075115). Ahead down left side of barn; right across farmyard; along drive to Wilson House farm (083118). Ahead along road; in ½ mile, left (085125, fingerpost) over stile; right through Mill Wood. Over meadow to Greta Bridge; through gate and farmyard (087131) to road; left to Morritt Hotel.

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Conditions: For surefooted walkers – riverside paths are narrow, slippery and eroded in places

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Morritt Hotel, Greta Bridge (01833-627232; – family-run, very friendly, helpful and well-kept

More Info: Durham walks/accommodation –

 Posted by at 01:40