The Weardale Way – Section 12
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]
Section 12 of the Weardale Way is 9 km (5.6 miles) from Chester-le-Street to Mount Pleasant in Tyne & Wear. This section is fairly and squarely in the heart of early coal mining country and progresses beyond the point at which the river becomes tidal which is important in itself because the earliest commercial pits relied on the river to transport coal to ships waiting downriver. This section of the Weardale Way is flat and sheltered and makes a pleasant walk at any time of year. It can be muddy in wet weather but in general makes use of very good trails. A short section at Lumley Forge is on a narrow and frequently used lane and several busy roads need to be crossed thereafter.
Looking across the river from the pier of Old Lumley Bridge, beyond the park, is the Roman town of Chester-le-Street and its historic church of St Mary and St Cuthbert (the spire of which is visible). From here we head downstream alongside the river, passing in front of Lumley Castle then cut in on the trail to cross the golf course towards a stone bridge that takes us into Lumley Park Woods. Following the course of Lumley Park Burn upstream we pass alongside Garden House and behind the castle (although with the leaf cover in spring and summer, you wouldn’t necessarily know it).
We ignore the next bridge and continue alongside the burn heading uphill to pass Manor House and cross the A1(M) via a footbridge. At the road we turn R, taking a shortcut down some steps to emerge once more onto the same road and head under the motorway bridge that towers over the gorge at Lumley Forge. Much development has occurred at this point in recent times and although our Weardale Way guidebook recommends continuing up the road it is only reasonable to do so if you want to call at the pub that is located at the turn-off onto the trail. If you don’t want to go to the pub then turn left, off the road under the bridge and continue on the track.
At the end of the track, we turn right then left shortly after (crossing a busy road in the process) and continue on the trail. Well into the latter half of the 20th century much of the land hereabouts was still occupied by pits, coking works and railways; in fact, the trail continues on a disused railway path at the start of which, in the distance, can be seen Penshaw Monument, the most visible and imposing of north-east landmarks. Shortly afterwards we step off the track to continue across fields alongside the much more recently abandoned Leamside railway line before encountering the busy A183.
To the left and across the road we continue on a long, straight and wide track that leads us through Biddick Woods then lazily swoops down to follow – though always separated from – a slip-road off the busy A182 that heads towards the town of Washington (although modern and sprawling, Washington has important historic sites, particularly Washington Old Hall (an ancestral home of George Washington) and the F-pit Museum which is one of the few tangible reminders of County Durham’s mining heritage).
The trail rejoins a now tidal river, whose course took it through the private grounds of Lambton Park, at Chartershaugh Bridge. The finish to this section lies a little further downstream on the banks of the river at Mount Pleasant Park opposite Fatfield and only just out of sight of the distinctive mound of Worm Hill that as its name suggests is bound up with the local legend of the Lambton Worm.
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