Weardale Way Section 8 (Witton-le-Wear to Bishop Auckland)
Section 8 of the Weardale Way starts from the Dun Cow Inn on High Street, Witton-le-Wear and finishes at a small car park tucked away on Bridge Road, close to the junction with Newton Cap Bank, Bishop Auckland. After passing through the grounds of Witton Castle Park, the first section of the trail within the Durham Coalfield visits Witton Park and Escomb, villages which have been defined by industry and religion respectively (Witton Park was the starting point for the Stockton & Darlington Railway, the world’s first public railway). The finish, on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland, is dominated for a long way by the attention-grabbing profile of Newton Cap Viaduct which spans the River Wear as it begins to meander noticeably through the Central Wear Valley.
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Stats at a Glance
Distance 8.4 km/5.2 miles | Elevation Gain 79 m/258 ft | Maximum Elevation 124 m/407 ft (Witton-le-Wear) | Going Generally firm with potentially muddy sections on trails, roads and tracks through farmland, woodland, parkland, urban | Exposure Fairly sheltered | Supplies & Hospitality Witton-le-Wear (PH); Escomb (PH); Bishop Auckland (All) [0.5 km] | Start Dun Cow Inn, Witton-le-Wear NZ 145312 | Finish Car Park, Bridge Rd/Newton Cap Bank, Bishop Auckland NZ 205300 | Grade Moderate
From the Dun Cow Inn the trail leads steeply downhill to cross a high embankment which conducts the Weardale Railway discreetly through the village. Before the A68 was constructed Witton Bridge carried the main road over the river. Immediately after crossing the bridge the route enters the woods of Witton Castle Park at North Lodge. Woodland gives way to open parkland shortly after crossing the Linburn Beck where Witton Castle itself is almost hidden behind the uphill slope. On leaving the park, the route enters coniferous woodland before meeting the river where it negotiates a particularly rugged section followed by a short climb through riparian woodland to open farmland on the stretch to Witton Park.
At the road where, by turning left you’d find yourself at Witton Park Railway Viaduct, you turn right towards the village itself, passing the sites of a former pit and associated brickworks of which there is little evidence of either today. To continue on the trail you’d cross the green behind the Methodist Chapel to the bridge under the Weardale Railway, leading to what is now the Paradise nature reserve but was, in its mid-c19th industrial hey-day, a massive complex of blast furnaces. I recommend continuing further into the village to visit a poignant sculpture by the North East artist Ray Lonsdale called The Ball and the Bradford Boy which is part of a cycle tour I put together visiting all eleven of the artist’s sculptures in County Durham. This one was installed in 2017, on the hundredth anniversary of the Victoria Cross being awarded to the first of two brothers – both recipients of the award – who were born in the village.
From the bridge, the trail undulates across several fields shaped distinctively by glacial activity tens of thousands of years ago to the village of Escomb which you enter past the c17th Saxon Inn but which is best known for the important Saxon Church you’ll find on the circular green in the middle of the village (there’s usually a notice saying where the key can be obtained and believe me, it’s worth taking the time to have a look).
Out of the village, approaching Bishop Auckland, the first thing you’ll notice is Newton Cap Viaduct which is visible from a considerable distance across the fields. First however, you need to scale the fast-eroding wooded slopes of Broken Bank. There were once several pits in the area and the ‘orange stream’ that runs into the river at the foot of Broken Bank is effluent from the workings. Broken Bank itself is aptly named for the loose ‘shaley’ soil associated with ‘coal measures’ geology, which is sensitive to erosion – particularly in wet weather – and really needs to be consolidated in some way, to prevent the trail sliding into the river.
Several minor trails lead up through the scrubby woodland, to a sloping, grassy bank which falls away towards Bishop Auckland Rugby Club‘s ground. Here, the trail joins Bridge Road, an access road which leads to the finish of the section in the car park at the junction with Newton Cap Bank.