Weardale Way Section 5 (Stanhope to White Kirkley)
Section 5 of the Weardale Way starts from the south side of the ford on the River Wear at Stanhope and finishes at White Kirkley Farm, White Kirkley near Frosterley. Although relatively sheltered at both start and finish, the section involves a long and substantial climb over a high ridge, fully exposed to the elements. The steep descent into Bollihope is made on tarmac, followed by an easy walk on a good trail along the wooded Bollihope Burn to the finish. The theme of the section explores Weardale’s historic relationship with a thick layer of limestone called, simply, the Great Limestone. Several large quarries along the middle dale sent the rock to blast furnaces at Consett and Teesside where it was an important part of the process in the production of iron and steel.
Stats at a Glance
Distance 7.4 km (4.6 miles) | Elevation Gain 198 m/648 ft | Maximum Elevation 338 m/1108 ft (Catterick Fell) | Going Generally firm with a potentially wet, muddy and/or boggy section above Parson Byers Quarry, through farmland, moorland, riparian woodland and parkland | Exposure Middle section is very exposed | Supplies & Hospitality Stanhope (All); Frosterley [1 km] (FF; GS; PH) | Start Stanhope Ford NY 991391 | Finish White Kirkley Farm NZ 027359 | Grade Challenge | GPS File
From the south side of the ford (now permanently closed to vehicles) the route heads downstream on an access road, away from Unthank Hall, before taking to the trail, over fields, at Unthank Mill Farm. Shortly afterwards you can choose to go under or over the Weardale Railway using tunnel or stile – either way is quite safe as the line above Stanhope Station is no longer used. The route then makes a short, sharp ascent on a track to pass through a holiday park, from where it continues on the road for a short distance, to Railway Terrace. This is where the main ascent begins to Parson Byers Farm and from there, over more fields, upwards to Parson Byers Quarry.
The steepest and most rugged part of the ascent begins at the foot of the long abandoned quarry. The wooded trail can be somewhat overgrown in summer but there’s a good view over the quarry from the gate at the top where you can see the full depth of the Great Limestone. From there you continue to push steeply upwards, over fields which, in extended periods of bad weather, can become decidedly soggy. Eventually hillside pasture meets open moorland on Catterick Fell where the climbing ends on a good trail but where it’s very exposed to the prevailing westerly wind, offering little in the way of shelter until you begin the descent to Bollihope.
The view from High Bishopley offers a panorama of the abandoned workings of Fine Burn Quarry stretching along the Bollihope Burn as it continues to erode a course through the Great Limestone. On its way down to the burn, the route drops through a small holiday park which was once the site of Bollihope Smelting Mill. Further downstream on the trail, in sheltered woodland, there’s an impressive cutting through the limestone, created to give access to the quarries for the Bishopley branch of the Weardale Railway. Across the burn from the cutting are some adits (tunnels) high up in the rock, dug to investigate Slitt Vein, the longest mineral vein in Weardale.
After passing though Bishopley Crag Quarry and over the burn via the footbridge, the trail continues on the track bed of the railway until it reaches the road while the track bed itself continues under the bridge above which is the finish of the section at White Kirkley Farm.