Weardale Way Section 11 (Durham to Chester-le-Street)
Section 11 of the Weardale Way starts from Baths Bridge in Durham City and finishes at the east pier of the now demolished Old Lumley Bridge opposite Riverside Park in Chester-le-Street. Although this section undulates gently for the most part it includes a short, steep descent into the Wear Gorge at Finchale Priory about half-way through. The going is relatively easy, the roads relatively quiet but with few footpaths. The section also incorporates waymarking for Cuddy’s Corse and the Northern Saints Trails.
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Stats at a Glance
Distance 13 km/8 miles | Elevation Gain 131 m/430 ft | Maximum Elevation 75 m/246 ft (Great Lumley) | Going Generally firm with potentially wet, muddy sections on roads, footpaths and trails through woodland, farmland, urban, parkland | Exposure Fairly sheltered | Supplies & Hospitality Durham (All); Finchale Priory (Rf*); Great Lumley (Ca; GS; PH); Chester-le-Street (All) [0.5 km] | Start Baths Bridge, Durham NZ 278425 | Finish Old Lumley Bridge, Chester-le-Street NZ 284509 | Grade Moderate
From Baths Bridge the route heads under New Elvet Bridge, past the permanent mooring site of the Prince Bishop river cruiser, Brown’s boathouse, and Elvet Bridge, the oldest bridge in Durham which dates 1160 and which once incorporated a gaol, or ‘house of correction’ as it was known. Further downstream is the soaring Kingsgate Bridge, a product of 60s architecture and shortly after passing St Oswald’s, Church on the the other side of the river, at the tip of Durham’s distinctive peninsula is the riverside folly known as The Count’s House.
Off to the right, at the top of the ramp to Prebends Bridge is The Watergate leading onto North Bailey inside Durham’s medieval city walls. The bridge itself offers one of several iconic views of Durham Cathedral and the Fulling Mill below it as well as a short verse by Sir Walter Scott inscribed on a stone at the western end of the bridge. Across the river and off the bridge, the trail continues downstream past South Street Mill (another iconic photographic opportunity) to Framwellgate Bridge – Durham’s second oldest – where the waymarkers for Cuddy’s Corse begin. Milburngate Bridge is on the main thoroughfare for traffic through the city while Pennyferry Bridge is the most recent of Durham’s ten bridges over the River Wear.
Shortly after leaving Pennyferry Bridge the route passes the foot of Sidegate, a steep, cobbled lane off Framwellgate Peth on the northern outskirts of the old city. Not too far away is the entrance to Crook Hall, one of Durham’s oldest and most historic dwellings, now in the possession of the National Trust.
There follows something of a lull as the route takes to a quiet access road along the river’s floodplain before a short climb to Frankland Farms where it switches seamlessly to a woodland trail through what is known locally as The Scogs. Now a nature reserve, Low Newton Railway Junction is marked by four tall, concrete posts that once supported the gates. Not far away is Brasside Ponds, another quiet reserve created out of a former brickworks.
The route proceeds between two prisons – HMP Low Newton on the left and HMP Frankland on the right. On reaching Frankland Lane at Brasside, the route continues past a now privately-owned complex of squat, Cold War ammunition bunkers before arriving at a private holiday park within which are the ruins of Finchale Priory. Here, the River Wear is crossed via a long, well-constructed wooden footbridge that delivers you to the bottom of an equally long flight of steps to assist you out of the deep sandstone gorge.
The steps emerge onto Cocken Road, one of a network of busy lanes in the area, none of which have a footpath. The road needs to be negotiated with care to reach a trail over fields leading to the village of Great Lumley. Here there is a footpath on Cambridge Drive, which is followed onto Front Street, the main road through the village. The route then bears left towards an intriguing wooden bench-type sculpture for which – frustratingly – there is no information whatsoever. Descending through the fields offers long views towards Gateshead, Chester-le-Street and Lumley Castle before you reach the wooded riverside a short distance upstream from Durham Cricket’s Riverside Stadium. and an adjacent boathouse belonging to Chester-le-Street rowing club. You have to pass under New Lumley Bridge to reach the finish of the section on the east abutment of the long-since demolished Old Lumley Bridge.