If I was to sum up my previous experience with the Weardale Way from a purely physical point of view I would say it wasn't the most taxing of walks, or at least it hadn't been up until now. Yeah, lets just say that was about to change... I think I had half an inkling of this when I studied the map the day before and saw some of the contour lines were alarmingly close for what looked to be long distances. I also worked out the walk was going to be somewhere between ten and eleven miles long and elected to leave Scout (our Lakeland Patterdale cross) at home. Needless to say Miss April wasn't a happy bunny when I put on my boots and slunk out of the front door without her.
As on all previous occasions the plan was to utilise public transport and take the bus from Wolsingham to Stanhope and walk back. To this end I parked my car in the pay and display car park outside St Anne's centre which is situated on West End (the main A689). The cost for doing so being a princely two pounds for the day which was more than reasonable. As an added bonus there was/is a bus stop right outside the centre which was handy.
The walk itself weaves its way along the southern flank of Weardale, climbing the fell side from the valley bottom twice with a long decent in between. Needless to say I was under no illusion this was going to be a lot harder than what I had encountered before. What I did do (and always do on longer more arduous walks) was study the map for potential bail out routes should I find myself struggling. I then printed off a copy of the map and highlighted these along with the main route so Senior management had something to hand to the cavalry should I suffer some unforeseen mishap. This might seem a bit anal, which it probably is, right up until the moment something goes wrong.
As I have also stated this isn't meant as a route guide, although I will describe the route and anything I think is relevant or needs pointing out as I go.
The route of the Weardale Way (WDW) as denoted by the red diamonds on the lower section of the map shown above (below the A689/River).
Leaving the bus In Stanhope market place one headed south down Front Street (the A689) in high spirits eagerly looking forward to the day ahead. The weather was a combination of sunshine and showers with a blustery west wind blowing down the valley which for the most part meant I was going to have a tail wind which is always a bonus. At the end of the village I then turned right on an unclassified road which crossed the river and railway before making a sharp left turn outside a caravan park. This was me back on the Weardale Way proper, as in reality the path by passes Stanhope on the southern bank of the river which is a shame as the town is well worth a visit.
A hundred yards further on the path leaves the road and follows a line of Electric poles up a field to Parson Byers.
Parson Byers is a pleasant hamlet which the path skirts before angling right across an open field. Amazingly the yellow Weardale Way arrows are quite prevalent on this section of the walk and my mind finally seemed to be getting in sync with that of the man who put them there. Having said that I still checked my location at regular intervals on my good old ordnance survey map.
Parson Byers above and a view across the valley below.
As I've continually said these articles aren't meant as a definitive route guide I do however want to take a little time describing the section from Parson Byers climbing up the hill side next to the former quarry with the same name. This is without doubt the hardest part of the walk I have encountered so far involving a steep climb over some exposed countryside.
As can be seen on the map above the Weardale Way (green diamonds) travels in a south easterly direction from Parson Byers crossing Cow Burn and passing some derelict mine buildings before making a sharp right turn and heading into what looks like an overgrown wood. Once in the wood it bears right into an equally overgrown gully which climbs steeply up the fell side. Very steeply... I must admit I found this section extremely hard going, suffering as I do with a lung condition, and it was a case of walk (insert stagger) ten paces, take ten long breaths and repeat (a lot). Don't get me wrong this climb would have all but the very fittest gasping for breath. After what seemed like a lung bursting age the former Parson Byers quarry appeared on my right hand side. The quarry, which is now disused, was opened in 1872 and closed in 1958 when it was operated by Dorman Long who, amongst other things, built the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle. Not that I was in the mood for a history lesson at the time.
Parson Byers Quarry (above and below) which in its day was so big it had its own internal railway system.
At the point where the two previous photographs were taken the path has been diverted slightly owing to it's proximity to the edge of the quarry. This involves making a left turn through a gate then turning right and walking up an extremely steep field keeping tight (but not in) to a gully on the right hand side. The gully gives way to a stone wall which is followed until a narrow wooden bridge over a small beck is encountered. Once over this aim at roughly eleven o'clock toward the distant field boundary. There is a path, but it is hard to pick out at times. Earlier on I mentioned the exposed nature of this part of the walk as well as the day comprising of sunshine and showers... Yeah, needless to say this was when God thought he'd make it that little bit harder and the heavens opened. I certainly wouldn't like to have been caught out here on a rough day in the middle of winter, that's for sure.
Mercifully the top was reached and after a sharp left turn, keeping the stone wall on my left with open Grouse moors on my right, a much appreciated decent was made to Hill End.
With the sun shining once again the splendour or Weardale lay before us.
Once the road is reached the route turns right following it for a couple of hundred yards before making a left turn down a steep decent past Bishopley and another caravan site to Bolihope Burn. This really is a pretty part of the walk with signs of the north east's industrial heritage all around in the shape of lead mines and limestone quarries. The path itself follows Bolihope burn through some delightful woodland and once again, (I know its a reoccurring theme) I found myself walking on a disused track bed.
Bolihope Burn and the disused track bed.
After half a mile or so a quarry face appeared through the trees on my left followed by what can only be described as a hole in the wall which could only have been man made.
A Quarry face behind the trees above and "the hole in the wall" below.
Surprisingly there were some much appreciated information boards telling the visitor this was once Fine Burn Quarry from which Limestone was transported by rail to the Low Bishopley Lime Kilns where it was processed into quick lime, see below. The boards also informed me the trees surrounding the path were a rare example of a Yew Woodland.
If ever there was a long distance footpath crying out for information boards such as the one shown above it's the Weardale Way starting as it does with the lead mines above Killhope and finishing with the ship yards of Sunderland this walk very much charts the North Easts industrial heritage. It has so much to offer both as an educational tool and visitor attraction. Perhaps this was the plan, who knows? All I know is it's a crying shame the path is as under used as it appears to be, he says getting off his soap box.
Crossing Bolihope Burn above, and leaving the former track bed where it passes under the road at White Kirkley, below.
The Weardale Way continues along the southern banks of Bolihope Burn past the former Bishopley Lime Kilns where once again there were some much appreciated information boards. A little further along there were some more at the site of the former Harehope Lead mine which was adjacent to Harehope burn .
The remains of Bishopley Lime Kilns (above), just visible through the trees.
Once Harehope burn is crossed the path climbs a little and opens out with fine views into the valley below. Not long after I came across a rather special seat carved in the shape of a pair of hiking boots which I thought was as good a place as any to stop and have a spot of lunch and take in the views. Below me were the former Broadwood and Harehope quarries which are situated close to the village of Frosterley. I did wonder if Frosterley Marble was quarried here, although in the main I think they were Limestone quarries. Either way it was a nice place to take in the view and munch through ones ham and pickle sandwiches.
Boot shaped Weardale Way seat above, I mean where else are you going to stop and eat your butties? The view from the seat, below.
Suitably refreshed I was on my way again fully aware I had a decision to make as to which route I was going to take into Wolsingham. Originally the route of the Weardale Way traveled via Landieu farm to run alongside the railway to Wolsingham. For whatever reason however, the powers that be rerouted it via West Biggins and Harvey Hill which is a far more strenuous option than merely following the railway across flat pastures. As I have mentioned I suffer from pulmonary sarcoidosis and after the initial lung bursting climb at Parson Byers I was in two minds as to which way to go and it was only when I reached the road where I either turned left or right that I opted to take the hillier route. Funnily enough I was messaging my wife at the time and ended the message with going up hill now, fifty minutes later I sent another saying still going up hill. This was followed by another ten minutes later on saying legs starting to cramp now. For most walkers with a reasonable level of fitness and no lung condition, this is just a long slog, what I would say however is if you have any doubt in your mind, or your legs are feeling it, take the lower level route via Landieu.
Looking back into Weardale with Frosterley in the back ground above, and the only way is up apparently. Both pics taken on the flanks of Harvey Hill.
Mercifully the highest point of the climb, which was around the 380 meter mark, was reached and not for the first time that day I found myself making a long descent on a well defined path with a stone wall to my left and open grouse moors to my right.
Even if there was a guaranteed pot of gold at the end of the rainbow my legs were too tired to go and look for it.
The Weardale Way follows the route marked with red diamonds down the fell side via Towdy Potts to Wolsingham, there was however a hand written sign informing one and all that there was not only a bull in a field, but also cows with young calves. This was at the point where the path takes a left turn through a gate at Harthope. There might have been the odd delinquent pixie too, who knows, either way I decided to play it safe and continued heading in a north easterly direction along the track to meet the tarmacked road at Chatterley. It was all down hill from here with some fine views of the valley and Wolsingham below.
The lane leading down to the road at Chatterley above, and the end is in sight below.
Wolsingham Station above which is operated by the Weardale Railway. I had originally hoped to take the train from here to Stanhope instead of the bus, unfortunately the first train didn't leave until 11.30 which I felt was a bit late in the day for a walk of this length. Finally we have the River Wear again which was last seen at the start of the walk back in Stanhope.
I have to say for me the Weardale Way just keeps on giving and I thoroughly enjoyed today's walk, which for those who are interested was 10.8 miles long and took me a little under six hours. Certainly it had been the most physically demanding section to date and as I have said previously anyone walking this will need a certain level of fitness. If I am being honest I would say I personally was on my limit, something which was bore out by the data on my exercise tracker. The views however, and the ever changing industrial heritage which one was walking through more than made up for this.
Notes for dog walkers:- I didn't have Scout with me today, but as always I like to look out for my fellow dog walkers. Water was scarce on some parts of this walk so I would recommend carry a litre or so and a collapsible dog bowl. Most stiles and gates encountered were no issue although there were two where mans best friend would have struggled on their own. One of these, at the start of the walk, may be particularly awkward for bigger breeds.
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