Weardale Way Section 4 (Rookhope to Stanhope)
Section 4 of the Weardale Way starts at the Rookhope Inn, Rookhope, County Durham and finishes at the south side of the ford through the River Wear at Stanhope, County Durham. The early route traces some of the previous day’s latter part, taking in the rough, muddy, boggy and potentially navigationally challenging climb over Smailsburn Common. THERE IS A GPS ROUTE FILE AVAILABLE FOR THIS SECTION AS A FREE DOWNLOAD FROM THE SHOP.
Distance 10 km (6.2 miles) | Elevation Gain 134 m/439 ft | Maximum Elevation 399 m/1309 ft (Smailsburn Common) | Profile Hilly>undulating>flat – descending | Terrain Farmland, riparian woodland, general woodland, upland pasture/moorland | Going Generally firm with muddy/very muddy, wet and boggy sections | Exposure Very exposed (particularly the first half) | Hospitality & Refreshment Rookhope (PH/BH); Eastgate (PH); Stanhope (All)
Leaving the Rookhope Inn westwards, in the opposite direction to which it arrived yesterday, the trail quickly turns off the road, crossing the Rookhope Burn, heading towards the workshops. This time, instead of turning left at the workshops and heading back up the railway path, the trail continues ahead to a stile in the wall, behind the workshops. The next section, over Smailsburn Common, takes a diagonal route, climbing over rough, potentially boggy ground, on what is never more than an indistinct and intermittent trail with no waymarks, heading for the south-west corner of the intake where there are two stiles and a gate (this part of the route offers variation to yesterday’s closing kilometres – if you feel unsure as to where you’re going, retrace your steps and use the railway path as far as the corner of the conifer plantation beyond Smailsburn Farm).
From the top of the common it’s a long, more or less straight, descent to the railway path at Smailsburn Farm, using stiles to cross a couple of field boundaries. Once on the path, it’s uphill to the corner of the large coniferous plantation ahead, then turn left off the path and descend the spur to the road, and turn left to an attractive little footbridge across the Rookhope Burn, set back from the road, on the right. Over the bridge, the trail undulates across potentially wet and muddy ground before entering riparian woodland sheltering the mournful ruins of Brandon Walls Lead Mine with its impressive waterwheel pit. Beyond the mine, the trail leaves the woodland and takes to the fields, undulating steeply over Ambling Gate Bank and Ashy Bank, before entering woodlands to descend to a lane at Hole House Farm.
Then there’s a lengthy section down the lane to Eastgate, passing All Saints Church and the replica of the Roman altar by the bus-stop before crossing the road and turning downhill to Hag Bridge where the trail turns left into the caravan park. At the other side of the park, the trail takes to a long, narrow strip of scrubby, rough and often extremely muddy riparian woodland squeezed between a now defunct section of the Weardale Railway and the river. This thin strip of land usually contains cattle which are obviously responsible for the condition of the ground. It’s difficult to avoid getting up close but I’ve never had a problem.
At the end of the field the trail continues around the garden of an isolated house, then around the edge of the field, alongside the river to cross the railway line via a pair of stiles before passing between Greenfoot Quarry and the river as it flows through Briggen Winch. This darkly attractive, volcanic gorge is spanned by the venerable Stanhope Bridge, still busily carrying traffic across the river between Stanhope and Middleton-in-Teesdale despite its limited width. Crossing in the same manner, the finish of the section, at Stanhope Ford, is not far away downstream.