WALKING THE WEARDALE WAY - WESTGATE TO ROOKHOPE

Today's mission was to initially walk the Weardale Way from Westgate to Stanhope, unfortunately things didn't go to plan and I had to cut the walk short at Rookhope. That being said we still had an interesting five and a half mile walk with some fine views across the dale.

In keeping with my "one way only" ethos the plan was to park in Stanhope, get the bus to Westgate and then walk back to Stanhope. The day got off to a good start when we found a parking place in Stanhope market place right  next to the bus stop which as an added bonus was free. 

The bus journey from Stanhope to Westgate doesn't take long, something like fifteen minutes, the bus driver dropping us off in the centre of the village. When I say us I mean myself and Scout, our Lakeland/Patterdale cross.
    
    There are actually two long distance footpaths travelling from Westgate to Rookhope one being the Weardale Way and the other A Pennine journey. On reaching Rookhope A Pennine Journey continues in a north easterly direction whereas the Weardale Way doubles back on itself heading south to Eastgate. I must admit I spent a little time studying the map before setting off and decided to follow the route of A Pennine Journey (APJ) to Rookhope. One of the main reasons for this was the APJ skirts Heights quarry and I was curious to see how big it actually was. That being said both paths merge to the north of the quarry at Crow's Cleugh beck. 


Once Weardale travels smart new bus had dropped us off at Westgate and we'd sorted ourselves  into some semblance of order Scout and I set forth heading north out of the village up Scutterhill Bank.  As you can probably gather from it's name this involved a short sharp half mile climb featuring a 20 percent gradient which had those of us who suffer from pulmonary Sarcoidosis gasping for breath. On the plus side the higher we climbed the better the view behind us, and was well worth the lung bursting effort.


         Above - Looking back down Scutterhill Bank toward Westgate.  


The footpath (APJ) leaves the road at a point where it makes a sharp left turn. The path continuing straight ahead  past some wheelie bins onto Side Lane. If you have read my previous Weardale Way entry you will know my thoughts on the somewhat eccentric way markers on the opening stretch of the walk. Seemingly A Pennine Journey is better signed, or at least it was on this section . The only criticism I would have is the minute size of  the AJP way markers, one of which is shown in the picture below.



Continuing along side lane with panoramic views across the dale to our right we were quickly reminded of the area's industrial past at the sight of some old mine workings and what looked to be  kilns/smelters. This whole area was/is rich in minerals such as Lead , Flourspar, Iron ore and limestone.Indeed close to the site of the present day Heights quarry was the Heights mine operated by the Weardale iron Company from which iron Ore was extracted between 1850 and 1868. Iron ore from these hills giving birth to the likes of Consett Iron and steel works which operated from 1840 until 1980.


     Consett iron Works (above) Credit Google images.


       Spoil heaps and old mine workings close to Side Lane.

The path follows Side Lane for approx a half a mile before branching off on what I thought looked like an old railway track bed. I now know I was following the course of the former Rookhope and Middlehope Railway which ran from Rookhope to Middlehope Lead mine was situated close to Middlehope Burn above Westgate. This railway, which was built purely to transport minerals, was opened in 1856 and operated until the 1920's and was an unexpected pleasant surprise for a railway enthusiast like me.


        Following the course of the former Rookhope and Middlehope Railways track bed.
 
   Although I didn't know it at the time, owing to there being no reference to a disused railway on the map, the path follows the old track bed more or less all the way to to Rookhope. Once we'd crossed Park Burn we encountered the present day Heights Quarry which is operated by Aggregate Industries who have done an excellent job of keeping the path away from the mine workings.


The map above shows the path skirting Heights quarry with an arial view from Bing maps below.




The footpath passes behind some office buildings and continues for approx 200 yards on a clearly defined route before crossing the road and passing through a gate. It then runs through a wooded area where the path is very overgrown and not for the first time Scout thought her "dad" had gone mad. At the end of this wooded section is a high fence with a wooden stile which had seen better days and was now something of a death trap. After some careful maneuvering however,Scout and I were soon on our way.


       Scout searching for the footpath skirting heights quarry above, and inspecting a damaged stile.



     The only view of the present day heights Quarry.

 North of the quarry the path converges with the Weardale Way and both footpaths follow the disused track bed to Rookhope. The scenery here is wild and open, some might call it bleak, I call it atmospheric. The railway track bed itself is also far more pronounced travelling over some deep embankments and through shallow cuttings.


 The wild and atmospheric scenery to the north of Heights quarry with  Northgate Fell as a backdrop. The photograph below shows a high embankment where a stream has cut a deep furrow into the hill side. What is also apparent is the steepness of the gradient and locomotive crews must have certainly earned their money either keeping up a good head of steam pulling empty trucks up the hill from Rookhope, or holding back heavy trains laden with ore on the return journey.


I must admit discovering all this unexpected history makes my day as to me these old railway track beds and mine workings are a window into our industrial past. a window I will no doubt spend the next week or so researching. I also find myself wondering about the men who worked here in the harshest of conditions. Even the railwaymen wouldn't have had it easy. The locomotives of the mid 19th Century were primitive in the extreme with open cabs affording little in the way of shelter from the elements for their crews.. Could you imagine flogging up this hill in bitter cold sleet and snow?


Speaking of atmospheric - This derelict farm house next to the old railway tracked really caught my writers imagination and will be featuring in a story of one sort or another sometime soon.

Unfortunately as interesting as the walk was it was about to be cut short when Scout had something akin to an asthma attack. Needless to say it frightened the life out of me and I opted to cut the walk short and catch the bus from Rookhope back to Stanhope. She did calm down whilst waiting in the bus stop and I do wonder if she'd got over excited at the sight of several Rabbits. Either way I wasn't taking the risk.


All I can say is I eagerly look forward to walking the next section and any hidden gems it too may throw up.

Notes for dog walkers
There was no water from leaving Westgate to arriving at Rookhope where one encounters Rookhope Burn. Once again I always carry water and a collapsible bowl so Scout doesn't go without.

Fences and stiles. Unfortunately there were one or two of these where I had no alternative other than to lift Scout across, which wasn't easy. Something which may be a problem for bigger dogs.

Adders - the UK's only poisonous snake. I was informed by the bus driver that there are Adders in the area so take care and keep a ware eye for both yourself and your pooch.



























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