The Funny Bunny
Distance: 28 miles | Profile: Very Hilly | Surface: Road | Grade: Hard
Start/Finish: A167/A691 roundabout nr Sniperley Park, Durham, Co. Durham (NZ 260439)
The blue line in the map above represents the trail at the centre of the section. Scroll or drag to see more.
I call this ride the ‘Funny Bunny’ because on the map it looked a bit like a rabbit and the name stuck. I must have enjoyed the rhyme because after riding it many times over the years I can confirm that there’s nothing funny about it however it is a relatively short, testing and exciting ride. I’ve included it early in my recommendations because it’s one of my favourites. It can be undertaken either way round to equal effect but if I go clockwise I usually do the climb up Ivesley Lane which is straight up the road from Waterhouses.
Historically, one of the most interesting features of this ride is its proximity to the Roman supply road of Dere Street, with intersections (not that you’d notice them) near West Brandon Farm and close by what remains of the fort of Longovicium at Lanchester . It also takes in the extended site of the Battle of Neville’s Cross and passes close to Brancepeth Castle, the home of one of the heroes of the battle.
To start on an anti-clockwise circuit: head towards Framwellgate Moor on the minor road off the roundabout then turn left at the next roundabout shortly afterwards, heading past the entrance to New College and up the B6532 to begin the climb of Findon Hill into Sacriston.
After descending over the crossroads and all the way through the village, turn left onto Acornclose Lane just before the road starts to climb. Continue along the lane and onto a steep but short climb after which the road levels off. At the junction, bear left on a fast descent into the outskirts of Witton Gilbert. After a quick left and right, turn right again at the roundabout on the A691 and head towards Lanchester.
Crossing the next roundabout, climb to the crest of the hill and turn right across the carriageway and onto the climb of Langley Lane (used several times by the Tour of Britain cycling race). Unfortunately there will be no cheering crowds to help you up this hill which is quite long and steepens aggressively towards the middle where it passes the ruins of 16th century Langley Hall hidden within the conifer plantation on the right.
With the steep bit over, the road continues to climb steadily before flattening off, then climbing a bit more to the crossroads at Burnhope. Turn left on the fiendishly quick descent of Peth Lane (as you drop into the bowl after the first long straight section, the road bears left, tightening all the time so take care as it’s very easy to end up close to, on or even over the white line if you’re carrying too much speed) followed by a brief rise before the road drops steeply down the 20% gradient of Peth Bank (be careful).
At the crossroads turn right, then left shortly afterwards and continue on the B6296 up Cadger Bank which, although it looks steep, is pretty consistent and not one of the most difficult in my humble opinion. At the top, on the left are the remains of the Roman fort of Longovicium (easily missed if you’re not looking for them). Back in the day, an aqueduct ran close to the line of the present road, bringing water to the fort.
Continue up the road, past the cottages on the left and as the road begins to descend, take the first turn on the left. Holehouse Lane is steep and straight, leading to a junction and a narrow bridge across the River Browney. Over the bridge, continue up the hill and bear right at the junction then take the next left up Cornsay Lane. This lane is long, narrow and ever-steepening as it approaches the junction with Front Street (a name that confers rather too much status on what is a fairly unremarkable, often dung-covered, lane through the outskirts of the village of Cornsay).
Turn right on Front Street then left shortly after and continue through Cornsay, dropping down from the village to the T-junction. Turn right on Cowsley Lane then take the next left, descending to the foot of Hedleyhope Fell (a rapidly dwindling example of mid-altitude heathland) then start what is a taxing climb on the road up to the junction with the B6301. Turn right at the junction then take the next left, descending to East Hedleyhope with its quaint, green, village hut (beware of the tight left-hand turn about half-way down).
Continue through the village and along the road to the junction with Ivesley Lane at Waterhouses. Turn right and onto the stepped but steep, wooded climb of Button’s Bank. Over the top, turn left at the next junction and continue on Sandy Lonnen past Baal Hill and the intersection with Dere Street at the entrance to West Brandon Farm.
Continue on the descent towards Brancepeth Castle, the tops of which can be seen above the trees in the distance. Take the first left on Morley Lane just after Quarry Hill and Stable Cottage (where the gradient begins to ease off) then keep left to follow the lane and continue, via a lengthy climb, to the junction with Brandon Lane.
Turn right at the junction then left at the next, descending through New Brancepeth to cross the River Deerness in the valley bottom before regaining all of the height just lost on the climb through Ushaw Moor to the T-junction on the outskirts of Bearpark.
Turn right and descend through Bearpark crossing Aldin Grange Bridge at the bottom. Continue as the road undulates upwards on Tollhouse Lane with the final short, sharp climb to the traffic lights on the A167 (if the lights are red when you get there, pop onto the pavement and rejoin the road past the footbridge). Turn left and continue on the A167 through Crossgate Moor (site of the Battle of Neville’s Cross) back to the roundabout to finish.