Our border collie was having an off day, so we
jumped at the chance to reluctantly had a dog-free day up the Dale. I may have mentioned before that Weardalians love Facebook, and the Weardale Museum had posted that morning that visitor numbers were down and the Council someone was nicking their road signs (the museum is too small to be allowed the brown tourist info signs).
The Weardale Museum is in a pretty Upper Dale village called Ireshopeburn. I’ve wanted to visit for ages, but always felt guilty about leaving the dog at home in such beautiful walking country. Finally the opportunity had arisen.
Another item on my list of ‘things to do without the dog’ was to pop into Chatterbox Cafe, St John’s Chapel (one village before Ireshopeburn). More than a mere cafe, Chatterbox is a real hub for Upper Weardale. It has become a mecca for cyclists and acts as a Tourist Information Centre (something else Durham Council no longer provides). We’ve sat outside the cafe with the dog before, but I’ve never actually been in.
Cue surprise when the cafe owner Cameron walked in and informed me that he’d run out of Wolsingham Wayfarers walk leaflets. As the Official Unofficial Photographer for the Wayfarers, photos of me are almost as rare as hens’ teeth, and I’m still scratching my head as to how he recognised me (did I mention that I’d never been inside the cafe before?). Chatterbox is renowned for its welcoming and friendly atmosphere. We had a delicious lunch (there was even gluten free bread for My Taller Half), and by the time we were ready to leave, it felt like we were lifelong friends with everyone else in the cafe.
Weardale is a small place (metaphorically speaking) and Andrea Holmes, otherwise known as Snap Happy Hippy, popped in to see how her new mugs were selling (check them out, they are awesome). I discovered Andrea while listening to BBC 6 Music when she phoned in to take part in Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie’s The Chain (“officially the longest listener-generated thematically linked sequence of musically based items on the radio”). She mentioned her website so I checked it out and said Hi on Facebook. She sells Weardale-themed art and crafts up and down the Dale, so we’ve met a few times, but I wasn’t expecting to bump into her in the cafe.
That was enough nattering and chattering. Off to the museum.
The Weardale Museum opens at 2.00pm, so we dallied in the cafe (free tea and coffee top ups) and then headed up to Ireshopeburn. A tiny museum (basically a small house) packed to bursting with treasures, it is a unique experience staffed entirely by volunteers. I wasn’t totally surprised to find that I knew the steward on the door. This time it was Mike, who I used to volunteer with (before we got the dog) at Durham Wildlife Trust at Low Barns. The first room is crammed with bits and pieces from typical Weardale homes. We could have stayed there all day – visitors are encouraged to handle the items, and Mike was on hand to answer questions (“what’s that?” “and this?”).
Weardale was a stronghold for Wesleyan Methodism, and there is a room dedicated to John Wesley. Upstairs there is a crash course in Weardale history. There is the famous Weardale Tapestry (not as old as you might think), beautiful silk postcards sent home to Weardale during the First World War, and of course lots of information about Weardale’s mining heritage.
My personal favourites were the two spar boxes. Weardale miners were after galena (the raw material for lead), but found the non-valuable but shiny mineral deposits irresistible, and arranged them into beautiful boxed displays. There are more spar boxes on display at Killhope Lead Mining Museum, but the two in Ireshopeburn are pretty impressive.
Saturated with Weardale history, we went home satisfied but determined to spend more time in the Upper Dale. In fact, we went back to St John’s Chapel, this time with dog in tow, the next day. We even took Holly into Chatterbox Cafe, where she behaved impeccably. We will be visiting again, and soon.