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The Weardale Way – Section 11

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Distance: km (x miles) | Profile: Undulating | Going: Generally good, muddy in places. Sheltered on riverside trails, parkland and farmland | General Stores: Bishop Auckland [0.5k]

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Section 11 of the Weardale Way is 12.6 km (7.9 miles) from Durham City to Chester-le-Street in County Durham. Although this section is mainly flat, it includes a short but steep descent into the Wear Gorge at Finchale Priory about mid-way through. The going is easy on well defined trails, tracks, footpaths and roads (some of which are quite busy) and is generally sheltered. From Framwellgate Bridge to New Lumley Bridge this section of the trail shares that of  ‘Cuddy’s Corse’ and all signage for this trail (see image in gallery) can be reliably followed.

There is a lot to get through on this historic walk so: starting from Baths Bridge on the city-side of the River Wear with fine views of Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle, the route passes under the first of several bridges that are encountered before we leave the city. Elvet Bridge is first up followed almost immediately by the medieval Old Elvet Bridge that once incorporated Durham Gaol or ‘house of corrections’ (with Brown’s boathouse and the landing site of the Prince Bishop river-cruiser sandwiched between them).

Continuing under the arch of Old Elvet Bridge we pass underneath the high level Kingsgate Bridge next, before encountering the folly known as the Count’s House where the river flows lazily around the southern tip of the heavily wooded peninsula that is a World Heritage Site. Shortly afterwards we cross the river at Prebends Bridge where, to the right, the road enters what was the outer bailey through the Watergate in the old city wall

On the right bank downriver is the Old Fulling Mill with South Street Mill opposite – with the obligatory weir connecting them both. Off the bridge we turn right and continue downstream through a narrow vennel behind South Street Mill where we find possibly the most photographed view of Durham Cathedral with the Fulling Mill in front of it. Next up is the oldest of the city’s bridges – Framwellgate Bridge – followed by the much more recent Millburngate Bridge and finally the city’s most modern – Pennyferry Bridge. Shortly afterwards, on the left and out of sight beyond a discreet garden gate is Crook Hall, one of the oldest and most historic dwellings in the city.

Leaving Durham behind we continue on a wide and reasonably well surfaced access road along the river’s floodplain to Frankland Farm where the road kicks up sharply onto a track that we leave shortly afterwards to continue on a trail through a section of woodland known as ‘The Scogs’. This leads us to Low Newton Junction – now a nature reserve – and marked by four concrete posts where the direction of the old railway track that gave the place its name can still be traced. This was once a heavily industrialised location close to brickworks whose clay pits are now home to the quiet, wildlife haven that is Brasside Ponds.

Keeping to the main track we next pass between the modern-day equivalents of the house of corrections encountered earlier: Low Newton Prison and the high security Frankland Prison (which together with Durham Prison itself must make the proportion of prisoners to people amongst the highest in the country) add a sombre and reflective touch to the walk. Leaving  prisons of all times and types behind, we continue down the lane past the bunkers of the now disused Brasside Ammunition Stores to descend eventually into the caravan park where we find Finchale Priory sitting on the banks of the River Wear.

Crossing the river via the footbridge we climb out of the deep sandstone gorge up a long flight of stone steps to reach the road on Cocken Lane. Here we turn left and then right and continue along an at-times busy country lane that has no footpath. Eventually we arrive at a way-marked trail that takes us over fields to the outskirts of Great Lumley. Skirting around the village on the road, we take once more to the trail as it descends through the fields – with long views towards Chester-le-Street and Lumley Castle – then enter a section of riverside woodland that takes us past Durham County Cricket Club’s Riverside stadium on the opposite bank and under New Lumley Bridge to finish the section on the pier of Old Lumley Bridge.

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