Weardale Way Section 7 (Wolsingham to Witton-le-Wear)
Section 7 of the Weardale Way starts from the railway station in Wolsingham and finishes handily by the Dun Cow Inn on High Street, Witton-le-Wear. This section is a fairly easy walk on riverside trails, forest tracks and open fields with a single significant climb, through the forest at Black Bank Plantation. Depending on the weather, the approach to the footbridge over the River Wear at Harperley can be one of deep mud with little space to work around, although it can be done. There are several interesting sites off the trail in this section. They’re worth mentioning even though two of them can’t be visited casually, and require permission from the land owners. The busy A68 trunk road marks the unofficial boundary between the lead mining legacy of Weardale and the Durham Coalfield where many of the villages owe their existence to the historic presence of a local pit.
Stats at a Glance
Distance 11.3 km/7 miles | Elevation Gain 173 m/569 ft | Maximum Elevation 219 m/718 ft (Black Bank Plantation) | Going Generally firm with potentially wet and muddy sections on trails, tracks and road through farmland, woodland (riparian and coniferous/deciduous plantations), urban | Exposure Fairly sheltered first half, then exposed over lowland fields | Supplies & Hospitality Wolsingham [0.5 km] (All); Witton le Wear (PH) | Start Railway Station, Wolsingham NZ 076368 | Finish Dun Cow Inn, Witton-le-Wear NZ 145312 | Grade Moderate | GPS File
Wolsingham is one of two major towns in Weardale, with a history that goes back to the Dark Ages. Apart from its many historic features it offers a full range of hospitality and is well worth a visit. The section however, starts on the access road outside Wolsingham Railway Station. After crossing the Weardale Railway soon afterwards, the route takes to the trail across several fields before entering a lengthy section of riparian woodland on the River Wear. Deciduous gives way to coniferous as the trail ascends across the Sharnberry Fault to access forest tracks through Black Bank Plantation.
There follows a short section of oak/birch woodland at Bracken Hill before turning downhill on a farm track to reach Harperley Footbridge and cross the River Wear. About half a kilometre away, at the top, are the enigmatic earthworks of Shipley Moat and further away still, the equally enigmatic but extant remains of The Castles (investigated on TV by Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’). Although neither are on the trail, they’re worth pointing out as fascinating examples of human activity in Bedburn.
After re-crossing the Weardale Railway at the site of the former Low Harperley Station the route passes through Low Harperley Farm where precious plate from Durham Cathedral is recorded as being hidden from Scottish Covenanter forces during the English phase of the Civil War. Not too far away, on the A689, is Harperley POW Camp. Dating to WWII it’s surprisingly intact and although having heritage status it hasn’t been open to the public for some years. Harperley Hall dates to end of the c18th and lies just off the trail. It too housed POWs – during WWI – but since 1946 has been in the possession of Durham Constabulary.
The trail through a narrow strip of woodland at Harperley Dene is indistinct and you may need to hunt for the footbridge, which remains out of sight in a gully until you’re almost on top of it. After passing through Wadley Farm (where there are often a few interesting species of livestock to be seen) the trail turns upwards again, affording some nice views of Bedburn and lower Weardale before continuing over fields past McNeil Bottoms and High Garth Farm to the reach the A68 with its fast-moving traffic. On entering Witton-le-Wear you can climb a set of steps on the left to view Witton Tower, a private residence contemporary with the medieval village itself, before finishing the section at the Dun Cow Inn just around the corner.