WW6 & Elephant Trees
Distance: 14 km (8.5 miles) | Profile: First half: flat followed by a long climb; Second half: gently undulating followed by a long descent | Going: Good on footpaths, tracks and road | Start/Finish: Wolsingham Railway Station car park
Firstly, ‘WW6 & Elephant Trees’ is named after Section 6 of the Weardale Way and also incorporates the ‘Elephant Trees’ landmark into the circuit. This circular walk/run route is one of the most attractively and physically balanced in Weardale in my opinion and starts and finishes at Wolsingham railway station (with the convenience of the town nearby) making it really accessible for day-visitors to the dale.
From the car park it heads east away from the station on flat meadows sandwiched between the River Wear and the Weardale Railway (which makes for some great photo opportunities). It then passes discreetly through the caravan park on the banks of the river and shortly afterwards begins to climb around the top of Harehope Quarry (the quarry has long been a source of the decorative local stone known as ‘Frosterley Marble’ that can be seen in Durham Cathedral’s Chapel of the Nine Altars).
As a brief diversion, just off the trail around the back of the quarry is Eel Bridge where the marble (which is really limestone that is full of calcified fossils and which can be decoratively polished) can be seen just under the surface of the crystal clear Bollihope Burn before it cascades into the gorge and down to quarry level.
The trail itself then passes through the long abandoned Harehope Gill lead mine that still possesses fragments of several of its original features including the adit or mine level (a headtorch is recommended to look down it but the adit itself is undoubtedly dangerous to enter). Away from the mine the trail crosses the fields to run past the Bishopley lime kilns, the largest in the dale and which burned constantly right up to the 1970s.
When it hits the road at White Kirkley it turns left and begins the steep 1.5 mile climb up to Sunnyside Edge and the ‘Elephant Trees’ that are undoubtedly Weardale’s most distinctive landmark. On the ridge the track is unsurfaced, wide, undulating and VERY exposed. The trail now heads east along the windswept ridge for almost 2 miles until it reaches a junction of tracks at 6.5 miles where it turns left to descend towards Wolsingham (still very exposed) via the farm at Towdy Potts then eventually falling steeply down Wear Bank on the road to the finish at the Railway Station.
Much of the mid-to-high level route is part of the Weardale Way long distance trail and the lower part is its predecessor but together they make the quintessential circular route that offers everything including easy access to the start and finish and the services of a busy town with bags of character.