Weardale Way Section 9 (Bishop Auckland to Page Bank)
Section 9 of the Weardale Way begins at the car park on Bridge Road, near the junction with Newton Cap Bank, Bishop Auckland and ends at the bridge over the River Wear at Page Bank, on the road between Spennymoor and Brancepeth. Despite starting steeply downhill, the first half of the trail undulates gently becoming ever flatter as it continues to follow the course of the river. Other than a steep flight of wooden steps in the woods at Furness Mill the going is easy and relaxed in a quiet, sheltered and rural setting on the outskirts of former mining communities. Note that there is nothing at Page Bank Bridge. If you’re looking for hospitality and transport links they’re to be found either at Brancepeth (very limited) or Spennymoor or by continuing on the next section to Sunderland Bridge/Croxdale.
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Stats at a Glance
Distance 9.5 km/5.9 miles | Elevation Gain 47 m/155 ft | Maximum Elevation 85 m/280 ft (Bell Bank) | Going Generally firm with potentially wet, muddy and boggy sections on trails, tracks and roads through farmland, parkland, woodland, urban | Exposure Fairly sheltered | Supplies & Hospitality Bishop Auckland (All) [0.5 km]; Willington (GS; PH) [0.5 km] | Start Car Park, Bridge Road/Newton Cap Bank, Bishop Auckland NZ 205300 | Finish Page Bank Bridge NZ 233355 | Grade Moderate
From the start in the car park, the route descends steeply to cross the River Wear for the only time on this section, via Newton Cap Bridge, sometimes known as ‘Skirlaw Bridge’ after Walter Skirlaw, Bishop of Durham between 1388-1405, who commissioned it. It leaves the road at Comer Terrace to pass directly under the towering Newton Cap Viaduct which spans both the river and a grassed area known as The Batts, one of the oldest parts of Bishop Auckland. Although the trail doesn’t visit the town centre it’s possible to see more of its distinctive landmarks: its newest and tallest – the asymmetrical Auckland Tower – and possibly its oldest and most venerable – Auckland Castle – which started life as a humble hunting lodge for the Bishop of Durham.
After passing the Kynren event site you’ll reach the part of the trail where the Weardale Way intersects with Dere Street, the strategic supply route that the Romans built between York and the Antonine Wall in Scotland. Such was its importance that it was defended by forts along its entire length, including the one at Binchester or Vinovia, directly across the river.
The trail continues on what can be – depending on the weather – a soggy floodplain, to Farnley Farm then onto the Brandon-Bishop Auckland Railway Path via the access road to the farm. Ignoring the path, the route turns sharply over fields to enter a short section of deciduous, riparian woodland, down to the river alongside Hunwick Gill. The final part of the descent to the riverbank is probably best made by using the steps dug into the side of the gill rather than the wooden ladder which would seem the better option if you’re walking in the other direction.
Just beyond Hunwick Gill lies Furness Mill, a former corn mill once know as ‘Furnace Mill’ and the first of several mill sites encountered on the Weardale Way. A bit further along the wide, riverside track is Pay Bridge, a footbridge for which there may have been a toll, or across which miners may have travelled to receive their pay. It occupies the site of a railway branch line which crossed the river at this point at the end of the c19th. White poplars usher walkers through Jubilee Meadows Park to the Jubilee Bridges (the new and the old). At Lowfield Farm the trail switches to an access track which takes you to the finish at the car park, which is on the site of Page Bank Village, built to service South Brancepeth Colliery and demolished in the 1960s, long after the colliery had closed.