Weardale Way Section 13 (Mount Pleasant to Deptford)
Section 13 of the Weardale Way starts from the riverside at the end of Beatrice Terrace, Mount Pleasant on the edge of the administrative area of City of Sunderland, Tyne & Wear and finishes at Deptford Terrace, Deptford, close to the edge of the historic city of Sunderland. This section is an easy, sheltered walk alongside the now tidal River Wear on good footpaths and trails that were previously part of the seemingly defunct River Wear Trail. The singular exception is a steep, rugged climb around the shoulder of Claxheugh Rock after South Hylton which takes you onto European Way and the final, urban approach to Queen Alexandra Bridge.
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Stats at a Glance
Distance 9.9 km/6.1 miles | Elevation Gain 98 m/323 ft | Maximum Elevation 42 m/136 ft (Pallion) | Going Generally firm with potentially wet, muddy sections on trails, roads and tracks through woodland, parkland, urban, farmland | Exposure Fairly sheltered with some exposed stretches | Supplies & Hospitality Fatfield (PH; Re); Pallion (Ca; RS); Sunderland (All) [0.5 km] | Start Beatrice Terrace, Mount Pleasant NZ 314541 | Finish Queen Alexandra Bridge, Deptford NZ 382577 | Grade Moderate
If you don’t visit Mount Pleasant Park’s ornamental lake the first site to grab your attention on this section of the Weardale Way will be the graceful arch of the Victoria Railway Viaduct hurriedly completed in 1838 to mark Queen Victoria’s coronation and based on a Roman bridge in Alcantara, Spain. Tunnels in the bank linked quarries to riverside staithes.
Apart from a pub, Cox Green offers the Alice Well (once its only fresh water supply) and the final opportunity to cross the river (if you wanted to visit Washington Wildfowl & Wetlands Centre for example) until the Northern Spire Bridge. It’s about as far up river as pleasure craft get, where the few resident boats are a reminder that the village was a hub for the early coal trade and had a substantial boat-building industry.
The route continues along the river, climbing steeply through riparian woodland past Wearside Golf Club, across from the aforementioned Wildfowl Centre, before arriving on a gently shelving floodplain known as Offerton Haugh (‘haugh’ is from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘flat ground alongside a river’). In March 1644 – during the English Civil War – an inconclusive engagement referred to as the ‘Offerton Skirmish’ took place between Scottish forces allied to Parliament and Royalist forces on the high ground to the south.
Past the haugh, the trail becomes more rugged as it passes through more woodland at Stony Heugh (not to be confused with ‘haugh’, a ‘heugh’ is from the Anglo-Saxon for a ‘steep hill or cliff’) before meeting tarmac once again at White Heugh Cottages. Towering overhead, Hylton Bridge, carries the busy A19 trunk road. By the time it was built in the 1970s the ferry that once operated between South Hylton and North Hylton had been closed some 20 years. North Hylton had been a centre for various industries including ship-building, a nod to which is given by the decaying hulks still lying alongside the village today.
Piles stand silently in a stretch of river by the water sports centre, overlooked by the sandy bluff of Claxheugh Rock which is the first indication of the East Durham Limestone Plateau, a Permian reef on which Sunderland is built, and where, between 1838 and 1971, the Ford Paper Mill operated. It’s a quite a stiff ascent to pass around its shoulder, stiff enough to give the section a ‘moderate’ rating in my opinion. Over the top of the hill, interest in the shape of the Northern Spire Bridge has been added to the final couple of kilometres on European Way. It’s Sunderland’s newest bridge, built in 2018, but as impressive as it is it doesn’t quite match (in my humble opinion) the elegant simplicity of Queen Alexandra Bridge best seen from the riverside on the downstream side, by Webster’s Ropery.