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The Weardale Way – Section 14

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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 14 of the Weardale Way is 5.1 km (3.2 miles) from Deptford to Roker on the North Sea coast. So much heritage is squeezed into the shortest and most urbanised of the Weardale Way’s sections that it can leave the visitor quite bewildered at times. Utilising the River Wear Trail and Bede’s Way, the trail – although short – can be quite strenuous as it involves a fair bit of climbing (via long flights of steps). It can also be exposed if the weather is poor but there are usually plenty of places in which to take refuge.

The start at the Queen Alexandra Bridge is right at the heart of what was an area of great shipyards that built some of the most revolutionary ships of their day (on the same side of the river, on the other side of the bridge was the well known Doxford’s shipyard) then as we head down Deptford Terrace, shortly before taking a narrow lane onto the riverside, we pass the wrought iron gates of what was Laing’s Shipyard.

The quietness of the riverside at this point in contrast to its appearance quite late into the 20th century is breathtaking and hard to comprehend. Across the river is Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light that was built on the site of Wearmouth Colliery, a ‘super-pit’ that stretched for miles under the North Sea (the remains of the staithes alongside which ships were loaded with coal can still be seen on the river in front of the stadium). On our side of the river the trail passes the site of what were known as the ‘Hetton and Lambton Drops’. This was a heavily industrialised network of railways in the area of Galley Gill where coal trucks were brought to disgorge their loads directly into the holds of ships waiting at the staithes below.

The entire river around this area was once teeming with vessels all of which had to pass under the Monkwearmouth Bridge which we reach shortly afterwards. Here we take a long flight of steps to the roadway above, emerging at the back of what was once the Vaux Brewery complex whose dray-carts pulled by heavy horses came to symbolise the city of Sunderland for a time.

We cross the bridge and turn right using the underpass to head down Dame Dorothy Street passing St. Peter’s Church that was once home to the Venerable Bede and whose tomb is today in Durham Cathedral. Shortly afterwards we pass the turn-off to the National Glass Centre built to commemorate Sunderland’s long association with glass-making. As we approach the coast we are treated to a great view out to sea looking across the North Dock Marina (the activity centre in the marina is home to a fantastic ‘petrified tree’ – which you should make a point of seeing).

Turning right downhill at the ‘Watch House’ we quickly find ourselves on the beach in the shelter of Roker Pier. Just along the sea front is Andrew Small’s sculpture entitled ‘C’ that marks one of the possible start/finishes of the C2C cycle trail. We however, have to continue past the sculpture to ascend a flight of steps at the end of Marine Drive, taking us back to the promenade, where we make a right turn and continue to our finish point at the Bede Memorial Cross, 200 m further on.

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