Weardale Way Section 4 (Rookhope to Stanhope)
Section 4 of the Weardale Way starts at the Rookhope Inn, Rookhope and finishes on the south side of the ford in Stanhope. The early route traces some of the latter part of the previous day’s taking in a wide variety of terrain including an indistinct ascent of Smailsburn Common which is rugged and can be muddy and/or boggy. Although there’s little at Rookhope now, the adjoining village of Boltsburn was a hive of industrial activity in the c19th with rail links over the moors, on both sides of the village, servicing large scale lead mining and smelting activities. The long, straight track over Bolt’s Law behind the village was once an incline plane on which tubs of coal and lead were hauled up and down the slope.
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Stats at a Glance
Distance 10 km/6.2 miles | Elevation Gain 134 m/439 ft | Maximum Elevation 399 m/1309 ft (Smailsburn Common) | Going Generally firm with muddy, wet and boggy sections through farmland, riparian woodland, general woodland, upland pasture/moorland | Exposure Very exposed (particularly the first half) | Supplies & Hospitality Rookhope (BH; PH); Eastgate (PH); Stanhope (All) [0.5 km] | Start Rookhope Inn, Rookhope NY 938428 | Finish Stanhope Ford NY 991391 | Grade Challenge
You leave the Rookhope Inn over the Rookhope Burn, heading towards the small industrial estate. Out the back of the estate the route crosses a waymarked stile onto the steep slopes of Smailsburn Common over rough, potentially boggy ground heading for the south-west corner of the intake. There is a track that will take you in the right direction but the trick is finding it. If you feel unsure as to where you’re going, retrace yesterday’s route using the railway path as far as the corner of the conifer plantation beyond Smailsburn Farm. Visible across the dale to the NW is Dry Rigg from where, in 1569, came Tynedale ‘reivers’ intent on relieving Weardale of its cattle. They returned home fewer in number and minus the cattle. It’s all chronicled in the poetic account of the Rookhope Ryde.
From the top of the common it’s a long descent back to the railway path at Smailsburn Farm using stiles to cross a couple of field boundaries. On the path, turn right uphill; continue as far as the corner of the large coniferous plantation on the track, then turn left and descend over open ground to the road. Cross the Rookhope Burn via the nearby footbridge and continue on the trail past the wooded ruins of Brandon Walls Lead Mine (where there’s a particularly impressive waterwheel pit). Beyond the mine, the trail undulates steeply over Ambling Gate Bank and Ashy Bank, before more woodland, descending to the lane at Hole House Farm.
There’s a lengthy section of tarmac on the lane to Eastgate, passing All Saints Church to arrive at the A689 by the long established but nevertheless, strangely sited, replica of a Roman altar (the original was found in the Rookhope Burn nearby) by the bus-stop. Not far along the road is the handsome Cross Keys Inn, a former post office. There are some nice waterfalls on the Rookhope Burn around Eastgate one of which is visited easily from the trail on entering the village. By pushing further up the burn on the other side (via a woefully under-maintained footpath) you can visit a lovely set of shallow falls at Turn Wheel Linn on an outcrop of the Little Whin Sill.
After the caravan park at Hag Bridge, the trail takes to a narrow, rugged and, at times, extremely muddy strip of riparian woodland squeezed between an unused 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.
Out of the ‘cattle enclosure’ the trail continues – without further undulation – around the garden of an isolated house and along the edge of an adjoining field to cross the railway shortly before arriving at the now flooded Greenfoot Quarry, a former dolerite quarry on the Little Whin Sill. Ignoring the direct route into Stanhope on the road, the route crosses the charismatic, volcanic gorge of Briggen Winch via Stanhope Bridge to reach the end of the section on the ford over the the River Wear by c16th Unthank Hall.