Weardale Way Section 6 (White Kirkley to Wolsingham)
Section 6 of the Weardale Way starts from White Kirkley Farm, White Kirkley near Frosterley and finishes at the railway station in Wolsingham. The route from the hamlet of White Kirkley to the busy dales town of Wolsingham passes through a couple of working farms and involves a long and reasonably strenuous ascent onto the exposed escarpment of Sunnyside Edge. Not far away is the distinctive Weardale landmark of ‘Elephant Trees’ which is actually a small, isolated copse of wind-bent beech trees. The walk along the escarpment, on the edge of a grouse moor, offers superb views up and down the dale, with the last few kilometres to the station being almost entirely downhill.
Stats at a Glance
Distance 9.2 km/5.7 miles | Elevation Gain 224 m/734 ft | Maximum Elevation 372 m/1220 ft (Sunnyside Edge) | Going Generally firm with some potentially wet/boggy sections through upland pasture, moorland, coniferous forest and farmland | Exposure Very exposed (particularly the first half) | Supplies & Hospitality Frosterley [0.5 km] (FF; GS; PH); Wolsingham [0.5 km] (All) | Start White Kirkley Farm NZ 027359 | Finish Railway Station, Wolsingham NZ 076368 | Grade Challenge | GPS File
The first port of call after leaving White Kirkley is the Bishopley Lime Kilns on the other side of the Bollihope Burn. These ‘running kilns’ were kept operational 24 hours a day, serviced by the railway which ran in front and along the top of the kilns. The limestone in this part of the dale has a high concentration of a particular fossil known as ‘Dibunophyllum Bipartitum’. When polished, the fossils give the otherwise ordinary limestone a decorative quality at which point it’s referred to as Frosterley Marble. Although demand has long since ceased, examples grace many ecclesiastical buildings in particular, most notably the Chapel of the Nine Altars in Durham Cathedral. Superb examples of the fossils in their natural state can be seen in the Bollihope Burn below Wise Eel Bridge.
With the exception of a mine at Sunnyside, Harehope Gill Lead Mine was the furthest east in the dale and is the last site to be encountered on the trail. Beyond the mine, the route passes a diversion to the previously mentioned Wise Eel Bridge, only a short distance away, and skirts the former limestone quarries at Broadwood and Harehope. On reaching an access road it turns sharply uphill to begin the ascent to Sunnyside Edge, passing through West Biggins Farm along the way.
Persistence is required as the Elephant Trees seem to defy your ability to approach them but eventually the trail steepens to its greatest extent as the top of the escarpment beckons. Awaiting you is an endless expanse of heather with the ‘Elephant Trees’ only a short distance away but in the opposite direction. The route however, turns east for a relaxing couple of kilometres on a wide, stony track – which turns easily to sticky clay in wet weather.
On reaching another copse – of conifers this time – at a junction of tracks, the route leaves the escarpment for a long descent with endless views of the dale and Wolsingham in particular. After passing through the farm at Towdy Potts, the final few hundred metres to the station are downhill on the road at Wear Bank where there’s a good view of the station from the bridge, particularly if there’s a train at the platform. By using the Weardale Railway’s heritage service both this section and the previous one can be turned into memorable day-walks. Alternatively there’s an easy circuit which be completed by returning alongside the railway line on a well-marked trail.