Neville’s Cross Battlefield Walk
Distance: 8.8 km (5.5 miles) | Profile: Undulating with several steep hills | Going: Generally good on footpaths, tracks and road – can be very muddy in places | Start/Finish: Neville’s Cross Monument – close to the corner of St John’s Rd and the A690 at Neville’s Cross, Durham | Date: 03-09-14
This walk tours the extended battlefield of Neville’s Cross where the English and Scots fought an important, some say pivotal, engagement on the 17th October 1346. It visits most of the major historic features associated with the battle with the exception of Durham Cathedral and Aldin Grange Bridge. It is a walk of many contrasts thanks to the unique nature of the world famous landscape around Durham, a landscape that offered many tactical options to the medieval commanders at the battle. With the exception of a busy start/finish the route makes use of a network of tranquil and contemplative paths, a large part of which was in place at the time of the battle itself. It should be said that it is very difficult to be precise about the location of any battlefield particularly medieval ones. The paraphernalia of war was very valuable and little would have been left on the field therefore minimising the chance of any archaeological finds. None have been made at Durham therefore the presumed location is based on documentary evidence only. Read the HISTORY associated with this walk.
From the monument at Neville’s Cross, head towards Durham on the A690 then turn immediately left on St John’s Road. Continue to the end of the road then down an alley on the left to emerge alongside the A167. Turn right and continue alongside the A167, over the railway bridge, to the footbridge near St Bede’s Close. Cross the A167 here (note the interpretation board explaining aspects of the battle at the western end of the bridge).
Off the footbridge, continue in the opposite direction to which you approached then turn first right into Quarry House Lane. Continue approx 300 m to the bottom of the lane then turn left onto the signed footpath (just before the road bears right into the farm). Continue for 0.5 km on the signed footpath through Baxter Wood (the quarries here, together with the river, are thought to have been used by the English to protect their left flank during the battle) then alongside the River Browney to the road next to the bridge. Turn right and continue uphill to Toll House Road (a track ran through here at the time of the battle).
Bear right and cross the road towards the entrance drive to Arbour House (at the end of the row of houses opposite). Continue for approximately 0.5 km, on the drive between the buildings at Arbour House, through the gate (take some time to view the battlefield to the north-west: you will be standing where the Scottish army may once have assembled with the English on the ridge in front from left to right), then onto the track over the fields to another gate in the corner of the third field. Go through the gate and turn right on the track beyond.
Continue on the track for 1.2 km past Stotgate and Bearpark Hall farms (Stotgate, as its name suggests, was once a gate into the park that belonged to the monks of the monastery at Durham and was almost certainly the route that the Scots used when they camped overnight on the 16th October), then down the hill and around the corner, to a gap in the fence on the left just before the bridge over the River Browney. Go through the gap and continue across the field on a narrow trail that winds up the side of the hill in front to the ruins of Beaurepaire, once the manor house of the Prior of Durham monastery.
From Beaurepaire, return to the main track, turn right and retrace the route past the farms back to the gate in the corner of the field just off the track (if you find yourself on the track, at the top of a long hill looking down towards a farmhouse near the road at the bottom, you’ve gone too far: turn around and walk a few metres back to the gate).
Re-enter the field through the gate and this time bear left to follow Club Lane (known to be used by the monks from the monastery when visiting Beaurepaire) for a kilometre back to the A167. Cross the road and turn right, then continue to the top of the hill, to a footpath on the left, at the north end of Durham Johnston School (continue along the road for approximately 100 m if you want to view the sculpture in the school grounds). Follow the path around the school grounds then steeply downhill into the woods of Flass Vale (the steep slopes into Flass Vale would have protected the English right flank).
At the bottom of the hill, at the first intersection of trails, turn right and continue on the trail, past Maiden’s Bower (to where, it is said, that the monks from Durham brought the corporeal cloth of St Cuthbert in order to give spiritual assistance to the English forces) followed by Flass Cottage shortly after, then steeply downhill on the road to Ainsley Street. Continue down a narrow alley in front of you, alongside the houses, then up the steps onto Redhills Lane. One version of the tale for how this area got its name is that after the battle the hills flowed red with the blood of the Scottish Army. The battle was originally referred to simply as ‘the battle at Durham’.
Turn right and continue steeply uphill. Bear left at the top and continue through the cemetery into the cul-de-sac of St Bede’s Close. Follow the road to the junction with the A167 and turn left. Continue over the railway bridge and turn left back up the alley into St John’s Road then right and continue to the memorial close to the junction with the A690.