County Durham Rambles - A misty morning wander around Cassop vale

Cassop is a former mining town situated approximately five miles south east of Durham City on the B6291, although after the  subsequent population decline as a result of the mine closures it is now classified as a village. Cassop Vale is to the north west of the village and is a designated site of scientific interest owing to the fact that it sits on top of a layer of magnesium limestone, something which is rare in England and is mainly only found in and around South East Tyneside and County Durham (ref wikepedia). 

    As with most of County Durham coal used to be King, and the area was extensively mined, Cassop Colliery being a major source of income for many during the nineteenth Century. The Colliery opened in 1840 and worked until 1868 with work continuing until  1877 in Vale pit, details of which can be found on the excellent  Durham Mining Museums website @ (warning can be addictive).

    As part of my mission to walk every public right of way on the OS Explorer map no 305 I had already walked on the public footpaths and bridleways found between Cassop and Kelloe and had been looking forward to walking on the vale for sometime. That being said the dotted green lines I had been studying on the map were exactly  that, and I wouldn't know exactly what the terrain or scenery would be like until my dainty size twelves were crunching the ground beneath me.  I was/am however, aware of the rich history that is so often on display throughout the county and was eagerly looking forward to experiencing it first hand.

    It was a dreary, misty Saturday morning when I parked my car on the side of the road in front of  Cassop Community Centre. As is normal on these forays there was no rigid plan other than to walk as many public footpaths/bridleways as was enjoyably possible. Senior management had also imposed a time limit which meant I was limited to a distance of around three or four miles, which wasn't great, but at the same time I was just glad to get out after a seeming never ending period of pouring rain. We consequently ended up walking just under four miles on a figure eight shaped route with the addition of a small loop at one end.

Map credit OpenStreetMap

    After walking a short distance in a south westerly direction from the Community Centre Scout and I turned right onto a concrete road ( signposted public footpath) which made a steep twisting descent past a sewage works  at the end of which a path was clearly discernible disappearing into the mist on our right. Taking this we were now on what I believe is Cassop Vale National Nature reserve and it wasn't long before we came across a decent sized pond which boasted some bird life in the form of Mallard and Wigeon ducks along with a cormorant which immediately took flight and frightened everything else off as it did so.

Continuing via a footbridge which whilst passable, had certainly seen better days,it wasn't long before we found ourselves walking along a former railway track bed which isn't shown on the map, not that this isn't an uncommon occurrence when walking in Durham, the county being criss-crossed by a myriad of former mineral lines. Could this line have served Cassop Colliery? Possibly, but I don't know for sure; what I do know is it probably dated back to the mid nineteenth century and as always I found myself trying to imagine what it looked like back then. I also often wonder in these circumstances what those who worked the line would think if they came back now, some 170 years later and saw what little remained.

Scout on the former railway track bed above.

Continuing in a north westerly direction  the path both followed the track bed and crossed open fields before coming to a stone surfaced farm track (below) which was to be part of the small loop we were to walk in before making a right turn on the public road to the village of Old Cassop. Every now and then there would be a break in the mist affording us tantalizing views  of a wide valley flanked by a wooded hillside which I'm sure would be a beautiful sight on a better day.

    The mist was lifting now and it was a pleasant walk up the track which climbed to meet the road which runs west from Old Cassop toward Cassop Moor. Turning left onto the road we made a short descent to a small copse of trees where the road crossed Chapman Beck; which is where we made a left turn and once again found ourselves on the disused track bed, although this time we were walking in the opposite direction toward Cassop. After a short distance we were back at the stone track in the picture above and for the second time that day followed it back up the hill to the road where this time we turned right to Old Cassop.

Chapman Beck above and the footpath leading off through the trees back toward Cassop below.

Back on the old track bed, this time heading toward Cassop, above, and on the road to Old Cassop, below.

Passing through Old Cassop we took the public bridleway at the far end of the village which climbs a short sharp hill and would have afforded us some nice views of the surrounding countryside if it wasn't for the mist. Naturally what goes up has to go down and an equally short, sharp descent down a wooded hillside back into the vale quickly followed.

The public bridleway climbing away from Old Cassop above and the wooded descent back into the vale below.

At the bottom of the hill we crossed over the path we'd walked earlier that morning and continued across the vale in a southerly direction before turning left by a wooded hillside on a public footpath which brought us back to the concrete roadway we'd set out on earlier that day.

The bridleway crossing Cassop Vale above, and the footpath along the bottom of the wooded hillside leading to the concrete road, below. In typical British fashion the brief appearance of a blue sky quickly vanished leaving us once again with a dreary backdrop for what little remained of the walk.

Even though it wasn't the best of days weather wise I thoroughly this walk, partly because the paths and tracks were quite user friendly being clearly marked with well maintained gates which didn't fall on on top of me when opened, and partly because of the scenery (what I saw of it) and local history. It wasn't a long walk, being 3.9 miles in length (including the added loop) and wasn't physically taxing, although the concrete road at the start/finish of the walk is quite steep. I shall certainly be revisiting this again on a much sunnier, warmer day, that's for sure.

All of the route is covered on the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 305 which I would recommend taking with you if you don't know the route.

Notes for dog walkers:-

There is a dog waste bin close to the start of the walk in Cassop.

There were no styles or gates to clamber over, all were in good working order.

Water wasn't an issue on the day, although it may be in summer so I would still carry some in hot weather.