The main reason I’ve moved to Crook is that it is very easy to get up into Weardale. Weardale is a walkers’ paradise, largely because hardly anyone can be bothered to visit. An earlier work trip to Birmingham meant I had a day off to make up for the hard hours sitting in a train and running after buses. Today was forecast to be sunny: it looked like it would be a lovely day.
I decided to bus up to Stanhope and head up Bollihope Common to look for sneaky wild camping spots. From Stanhope market place I headed towards the river. An attractive riverside path is spoiled by the odour of stale dog shit: Stanhope has a rogue dog walker who is allowing their dog to shit everywhere all along what should be a great place to hangout. Despite the efforts of the Weardale Gazette and a ‘Wanted’ poster put up by the council, I’m afraid to report that the rogue shitter is still at large.
My path took me through Stanhope showground (soon to be the venue for the community play The Bonny Moorhen), across the railway line and sharply uphill through a series of fields. The walkers must be fit round here: not one of the field boundaries has a functioning stile.
I was intending to cross a woodland and continue uphill, but a red warning sign changed my mind. Weardale is full of mine shafts and quarries, and this sign proclaimed that the footpath was closed ‘due to quarrying’. I took an alternative track past several farm buildings before climbing a steep bank to meet the top of the closed footpath. A good vantage point, the view was disappearing behind a white haze: the valley was filling up with diffused smoke from several large bonfires dotted through the dale.
The path was now a narrow ridge between two deeply excavated quarries. An eerie place. One side had filled up with larch trees. The other was more open and home to many cliff-loving birds.
I’d enjoyed a nice easy stretch of gates-that-opened, although waymarkers were in short supply. Now for some hardcore map reading. There were two homesteads between me and the open access land that marks the edge of Bollihope Common. Neither landowner believes in making-it-easy-for-walkers, but to negotiate the second house I had to go through a field containing a mad horse, climb a gate, duck under some electric fencing and climb a padlocked gate into a bog. I was now on open access land, much to the disgust of the two mallards and one sandpiper who had been hanging out in the bog. Next time I think I’ll stick to the road.
I had intended to follow the moorland road linking Weardale and Teesdale until it meets Bollihope Burn so I could check out the area for camping. However, walking on the road was boring, and the moorland alongside it was tussocky and boggy. So I sighted the elephant trees (a most remarkable landmark – you can see them from almost anywhere in Weardale) and headed eastwards along a faint path. Ready to turn back if the path turned into a bog, I was pleased to find that the sheep track turned into a wide grassy verge. It felt very bleak up here today, but on a smog-free day the views are rewarding. Red grouse, skylark, plover and curlew kept me company, although there were not many lapwing about. In the summer there will be ring ouzel here.
Eventually my path joined up with the Weardale Way. Hill End is a row of houses high above Frosterley and marks the edge of the open access land. A large flock of chickens live up here. They seemed happy to see me and posed for photos.
I stayed on the Weardale Way, which heads downhill to join up with Bollihope Burn along a pretty stretch of woodland and more abandoned quarries. Primroses and coltsfoot lined the path while vertical towers of rock laid testament to the skill and determination of the long-forgotten quarrymen. A deep pool turned out to be full of mating toads. Oblivious to everything but each other, it was hard not to tread on those toads who were late in joining the party as they headed, slowly, along the footpath towards the pond.
Through fields, and then along the top of Harehope quarry (yes, another quarry), I met a very laid back herd of highland cattle. I fed one of the cows a handful of grass – she’d been sticking her head through the wire fence to reach the grass on the other side. It’s not easy. Unlike horses who use their lips, cows manipulate their food using their cat-like rasping tongues. She twisted her tongue around my gingerly proffered handful, and it took a few attempts before I was brave enough to shove it into her mouth.
I now had a choice – push on for Wolsingham or head into Frosterley for a leisurely wait for the bus. I was cold and didn’t want to hang around, but wasn’t sure I could beat the bus into Wolsingham. I’ve just checked the distance since getting home, so I know I made the right decision – Wolsingham is another three and a half miles away, and I would not have made it.
I dawdled a bit, then headed to the river meadow south east of Frosterley. Full of flowers in summer, it looked quite bare today with its short winter grass. I was met by another large flock of chickens, who eagerly led me to their feeding troughs in the hope of a top up. I occupied myself taking photos of interesting stones, then spotted a beautiful sunset. Despite being smoggy all day, I was treated to a sun pillar, double sundog and delicate iridescent lenticular clouds: cloud spotting heaven. Satisfied, but thwarted in my search for a camping spot, I headed into Frosterley to wait for the bus home.
Click photos to view large. I’ve posted more photos on my flickr site