Durham-Cockfield Fell Loop
Distance: 47 miles | Profile: Hilly | Surface: Mixed | Grade: Intermediate
Start/Finish: Broompark Picnic Area (NZ 250415)
The blue line in the map above represents the trail at the centre of the section. Scroll or drag to see more.
This ride was put together as a circuit with the intention of visiting the area of Cockfield Fell and the village of Cockfield itself which was once the home of Jeremiah Dixon, the celebrated astronomer and surveyor who together with Gloucestershire-born Charles Mason, surveyed and gave their names to the iconic Mason-Dixon line in the United States.
For a relatively long ride across a hilly county there is a remarkable lack of climbing due to the fact that the route makes extensive use of a couple of railway paths – the Deerness Valley and the Brandon-Bishop Auckland paths. That’s not to say though, that there aren’t one or two testing inclines along the way.
The route leaves the Broompark picnic area on the Deerness Valley railway path making for the village of Waterhouses beyond Esh Winning. Continuing across the road on the far side of Waterhouses, the path eventually pulls upwards sharply to meet the road and continue on the other side, gently undulating to Stanley Crook.
At the B6299 we turn left onto the road and then right, following the undulating road high above the town of Crook to meet the A690 (the main route into Weardale from Durham). Crossing the road we continue to the village of North Bitchburn where we bear left on the B6286 before turning right shortly after to descend the steep hill to the A689 at High Grange (take care here as the hill terminates directly on the junction).
Here we turn left and then right, on another fast descent to follow the road as it turns hard to the left. A short while later we cross the River Wear using a narrow bridge that passes underneath the ‘skew-arch’ railway viaduct before conducting us into Witton Park.
At the top of the hill we turn right at the first junction and continue to the T-junction where we turn right. From here a long straight road known as Sloshes Lane takes us past the entrance to Witton Castle and across the busy A68. Crossing the next junction a short while later, we continue through the hamlet of Wind Mill and turn right at the next junction onto Nettlebed Lane.
Passing the site of the old colliery, we continue on Nettlebed Lane (becoming Crane Row Lane) for several remote and potentially windswept miles all the way to the ‘The Edge’ and the one-time mining village of Woodland.
We continue through Woodland on what is now the B6282 to make a fast descent right and left then over the cattle grid that announces a short but stiff climb onto the open moors of Langleydale Common that affords us huge views over towards the Yorkshire Dales (if the usually prevailing westerly wind is blowing hard you’ll have felt it on the way up to Woodland but it can make the previous climb much more strenuous).
Thankfully – if the wind IS blowing – we turn hard left off the main road at this point, almost in the opposite direction, onto a minor road that rapidly becomes a rocky track. This is a long, fast and potentially dangerous descent down a spur that steepens to meet the River Gaunless at the site of the old Copley Smelt Mill.
At the road, we turn right and cross the bridge, then turn left passing below the smelt mill chimney high up in the woods to our right. We continue uphill through the woods on a good track known as Scotland Lane that intersects the bed of the old Bishop Auckland-Barnard Castle line, eventually becoming a road that intersects the main road at Burnt Houses. From here we turn right then take the second left to head into Cockfield which, as the sign proudly proclaims, is the ‘home of Jeremiah Dixon’. Turn right in the centre of Cockfield we continue downhill to the cross-roads and turn left towards High Lands running down the edge of Cockfield Fell.
Immediately on crossing the River Gaunless the road kicks upwards and we begin a stiff climb up to High Lands. At the crossroads we turn right on the B6282 and continue to the A68 at Toft Hill. Here we turn right and continue through Toft Hill to the T-junction, then turn left and continue – generally downhill – for about 3 kilometres, through High Etherley, Etherley Grange and Etherley Dene to turn left on Etherley Lane (B6284).
From here we continue into Bishop Auckland and cross the River Wear far below via the impressively tall Newton Cap Viaduct, turning right shortly after to meet the Brandon-Bishop Auckland railway path which takes us all the way to the finish at Broompark picnic area (crossing several roads in the process). A word of warning: be careful on the descent that comes just before arriving at the finish – it is steep, long and loose and crosses a narrow bridge over the burn at the bottom with a short but sharp climb up to the finish very soon afterwards (if you’re not confident about the descent – walk it).