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The Teesdale Way – Section 05

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Distance: 11.1 km (6.9 miles) | Profile: Undulating | Going: Fairly good, though very muddy and rocky in places (particularly through woods between Low Garth and Woden Croft). Generally sheltered over farmland and woodlands | General Stores: Romaldkirk; Cotherstone [0.5k]; Barnard Castle

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Section 5 of the Teesdale Way is 11.1 km (6.9 miles) from Eggleston Bridge to Barnard Castle. This is an undulating section of the Teesdale Way with some steep climbs through a part of County Durham that is known to have been inhabited for over 2000 years. At Eggleston Bridge the Teesdale Way offers a choice of routes along the north or south sides of the river. We opt for the south side because of its variation, villages and diversity of landscape but together they combine to make a brilliant (and consequently very popular) circular walk.

For much of the journey to Barnard Castle the River Tees remains largely unvisited because of the steep-sided gorge it has created. Where the trail and the river appear to come together on the map they are usually separated vertically. The landscape is one of gently rounded rolling hills offering some steep faces at times with more woodland than we have enjoyed on the journey so far. Initially shaped by glaciers and then by humans who left the remains of their cultivation terraces for us to puzzle over particularly around Romaldkirk.

From Romaldkirk, medieval lanes, wide open pastures and riverside woodland conduct us past the bronze-age burial mound on Guestwick Hills eventually reacquainting us with the river. In the first of these steep woods, thickly carpeted with wild garlic, there is an area known as Fairy Cupboards where, below the quarried sandstone, the limestone at river level has been eroded in such a way as to make it easy to see how such a charmingly descriptive title might have been earned.

Out of the woods and past the former private academy of Woden Croft (of the type satirised by Charles Dickens in his novel ‘Nicholas Nickleby’) we arrive in Cotherstone where, after crossing the diminutive River Balder, we scale the steep slope opposite on top of which once stood Cotherstone Castle. On the way up the slope and along the escarpment we pass a couple of surprising memorials to individuals for whom this attractive place once held a special significance.

A short while later we encounter another thickly wooded former sandstone quarry (which also includes an intriguing cave). Woodland eventually gives way to more fields and a small coniferous plantation before we arrive at the farm at Towler Hill. It is well documented that artists such as Turner and Cotman sketched and painted views of the romantic ruins of Barnard Castle from this point although the present-day woodland now appears to make this impossible.

Shortly after, we arrive at the sadly demolished Tees Viaduct before descending through the wood and continuing on the road alongside the river (which offers a long view of the castle at Barnard Castle) to the main road at Deepdale. We turn left shortly afterwards to cross the Tees via Deepdale footbridge and into Flatts Wood on the other side. From here we can either continue our journey alongside the river or continue into the town.

The closer we get to Barnard Castle the more concentrated become the important cultural associations that have been made with Teesdale and which have yet to be elaborated on in this journey. Celebrated artists like J M W Turner and John Sell Cotman, the poet Sir Walter Scott, the great Charles Dickens and the Durham solicitor-turned-historian William Hutchinson have all left their stamp on these parts.