Tommy Armstrong Walk, Tanfield 9th December



Low, bright winter sun made the journey to today’s start point somewhat dangerous. We could barely see the road, oncoming traffic or indeed road signs such was the glaring and blinding light from the sun as we drove east to join the walk. For a week or two in midwinter these driving conditions are a real pain.

Nevertheless, we arrived safely and joined the walk near to East Tanfield station, not far from our previous walk. Starting out on tussocky, wet grassland we crossed a field into the dazzling sunlight before traversing some well-built duckboards across the soggier parts of the field. Our walk leader helped to build these duckboards twenty years ago and we can attest to their robust construction.

tanfield wetlands

This walk was part urban, part reclaimed industrial land and criss-crossed the old stamping grounds of local folk singer Tommy Armstrong. We passed pubs in which he used to sing and a terraced house in Tanfield Lea where he once lived. We probably walked streets that he used to walk. Part of the walk also took us to his grave in the churchyard of St Mary of Antioch in Tanfield village, laid by NUM leader Arthur Scargill.

tanfield wetlands grass

Tommy led an austere life and suffered with illness and poverty but is still remembered today for his lively folk songs encapsulating the life of hard working miners in the Durham Coalfields.

3.5 miles

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A walk around Beamish Woods 25th November

metal cow 4

This lovely short walk started out near to the excellent Beamish Museum. There’s a car park just off the A693 on the road to the museum that has a few footpaths leading off it into the woods. We started off there. It was lovely to welcome a member of the group we hadn’t seen for about a year on this walk, with her hew labradoodle joining two energetic terriers.

We started out on one of the enticing paths starting from the car park on an overcast, grey morning but happy to be out of over-warm centrally heated houses. It wasn’t too cold.

With a theme for this programme of Woodlands, this was an eponymous walk where we spent most of our time beneath the canopy of bare branches and alongside shrubby undergrowth. Straightaway from the off we were into woodland walking; on paths and tracks that snaked sinuously through the thick deciduous woodland of County Durham. This area is popular with dog walkers, cyclists and joggers and we were far from the only people out for exercise on a November morning.

The walking was gentle and easy with no steep gradients or muddy sections to worry about and the three dogs racing left and right as tantalising smells hit their nostrils.

metal cow 3

We bumped into four old friends along a section of the walk just as the rain started to come down. Four lifelike cows fashioned from bits of scrap steel, by artist Sally Matthews, adorn this footpath that was once a railway line carrying coal to the coast. We had met these three a few years ago on a longer walk and it was good to see them again. They are weathering well and look just as good as they did back then.

metal cow 1

This railway line provided the route for most of the walk and allowed us to make good progress towards Causey Arch; one of the heritage gems of the North East. This is the oldest single arch railway bridge in the whole world and is an impressive site amongst the enveloping woodland. The Tanfield railway still operate steam trains along the adjacent line and today was part of the busy Polar Express season with youngsters of all ages enjoying the thrills of a steam engine ride. We waved at the passengers as the engine chuffed and puffed past us on our way back to the car park.

3 miles



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Sunderland Bridge and Croxdale Hall 11th November

ladies in woodland

Autumn 2018 has been a delight. It started early with a chilly stretch of weather in early October and that kick-started the colour change in the trees. Dry and still weather followed with cool nights and so we had an extended period of Autumn colour before wind and rain tore leaves from the trees.

This walk took place in the last hurrah of reds, oranges and yellows and took us around the gentle countryside bordering Durham city. We started on a road that is now a cul-de-sac but once took traffic over the old River Wear crossing at Sunderland Bridge. It makes an excellent parking spot.

We were joined on this walk by an old friend; Cathy. After a break of a few years, she has re-joined the Group and brought along her two dogs. All three of them were very welcome.

We started out heading North East along a metalled estate road bordered by pasture land and overlooked by a big house. This road took us away from the River Wear and parallel with the adjoining Croxdale Beck before we took a footpath off to the right and into a lovely stretch of mixed woodland. Low sunshine sliced through the tree branches and backlit the beautiful Autumn leaves overhead; it truly was a lovely stretch of walking.

autumn beech

Emerging from the woodland we came upon a farm with its associated barns and outbuidlings. A few ducks and chickens scratted around outside and there was a couple of apple trees laden down with late season fruit. A steep footpath took us back down into woodland and after about half a mile we stopped for lunch.

After lunch the going was nice and easy, through woodland paths, open pasture and country lanes for about a mile and a half. We could then see the village of Shincliffe coming into view and we approached it from the south west, walking past the garden centre and up a farm track.

This brought us into Shincliffe Village itself and we had a very enjoyable stroll along the main street eyeing up the lovely old houses. This is a popular spot for well-to-do local professionals and is a very pretty village. A few years ago we enjoyed nosing around even more when the village held an open gardens day and about a dozen residents opened their gardens for charity.

autumn woodland

Passing the Seven Stars Inn at the end of the village, we crossed the busy A177 and walked uphill to High Shincliffe before crossing back over the A177 after about half a mile and entering woodland once again. Our return loop brought us around the rear of Croxdale Hall and its spectacular stone barn; quite a sight.

Retracing our steps along the estate road we were back to our cars.

7 miles



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Wylam and Ovingham walk 28th October

wylam woods

Although the weather forecast was a bit threatening, this walk escaped all but the briefest of showers and we enjoyed a glorious Autumn day.

Starting out at the Tyne Riverside Country Park car park, on the Prudhoe side of the Ovingham Bridge, we headed off along the excellent riverside pathway.  We were following the Tyne eastward on this first stretch and the excellent footpath is popular with dog walkers, cyclists and joggers as well as us ramblers. The river snakes sinuously here, in large broad bends and the trees cloaking the northern shore were ablaze with Autumn colour.

After about half an hour we could see glimpses of the old railway bridge between the trees and soon enough we reached Wylam Railway Bridge. It’s a beautiful bit of cast iron engineering and spans a slight bottleneck in the river at this point between two bends. Crossing the bridge, we were now walking on an old railway route just below Wylam village.

wylam bridge

Instead of following the route eastwards, we took a steep path to the left and we were soon amongst the houses of Wylam itself. This short stretch of pavement walking past many fine houses was the sharp turn of our walk and after climbing into stunning woodland, we were heading westward once again. We stopped here for lunch and enjoyed fabulous views over the Tyne valley richly decorated into reds and yellows.

wylam bridge from above

After a half mile of woodland walking we reached the edge of Wylam village itself and zig-zagged north west and upwards across pasture and arable fields for nearly a mile before reaching the outskirts of Horsley village. After another short stretch of pavement walking we were back amongst farmland and heading down across a large field full of black cows.

The final mile of the walk was another series of zig-zags following field boundaries and overgrown lanes before returning to Ovingham village itself and crossing the Bridge back to the cars.

8 miles

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An afternoon walk around Haydon Bridge, 14th October

Haydon Bridge

This turned out to be the first proper Autumn walk of our 2018 programme. The weather was crisp and clear and the leaves had started to change colour; this all contributed to a lovely afternoon walk in the Tyne Valley.

We started out near the cemetery at Haydon Bridge just under the A69 bypass. Sounds idyllic, right? Actually it is quite a nice quiet little spot with a spacious parking area and access to a couple of footpaths and a nearby playground(!). We walked through Haydon Bridge itself, noticing the crumbling remains of a high wall or maybe an old bastle before crossing the South Tyne. Continuing through the town we negotiated the level crossing over the Tyne Valley railway line and headed up into the surrounding countryside via a narrow lane.

Crossing a sloping sheep pasture we came upon Old Haydon Church, a beautiful little church that once served the original settlement of Haydon before it migrated downhill to straddle the South Tyne. This is such a quiet and peaceful place with a tunnel of yew along the pathway leading to the old church. Inside it is simple and almost austere but a lovely place for a bit of quiet contemplation. The church was built using stone nicked from nearby Hadrian’s Wall.


Leaving the church, we followed the minor road through a nearby farm hamlet before descending a very steep field back down into the town.

4 miles

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Sunday 7th October Finchale Abbey walk

finchale abbey

This was yet another lovely walk and the first one this year with a decidedly Autumnal feel to it. We started in a skinny little parking lane by the side of what seemed to be a Formula 1 practice track! Cars whizzed by at a terrifying speed, literally inches away from where we were lacing up boots and hauling on rucksacks.

Thankfully, from the parking lane we dipped straight into woodland, following a path down the slope to the side of the River Wear and stunning views across to the ruins of Finchale Abbey. We explored the ruins for a while, marvelling at the rugged architecture before heading back up through the trees and onto Cocken Lane. After ¼ mile we headed left down the footpath that led us into open farmland and from there into more deciduous woodland. This stretch took us through the lovely Cocken Woods; I love walking in woodland and this part of the walk was beautiful with the first tints of Autumn showing in the trees and the low sunlight slicing through the branches. Gradually descending a shallow slope, we stopped for lunch at the side of the River Wear, its meandering loops giving us a great spot to enjoy our sandwiches.

After lunch we headed back though the woodland before breaking out into arable farmland with Great Lumley in the near distance. After a couple of miles, we reached the village and paused to take in the expansive views of the area from a convenient bench.

The return loop of the walk was back through the large arable fields of the area, at this time of year looking bare and cold. There were a few sprouts of green from early sown winter wheat and overwintering oil seed rape but otherwise bare soil was dominant. After a couple of miles, we picked up Cocken Lane once more and completed the 5 miles as we returned to our cars.

5 miles




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Waters Meet: 29th September

Waters Meet

Part two of Kev’s double-header was a short sprint more than a long distance walk. Like the 60m sprint at the indoor athletics.

We started out near the bridge at Warden and then dipped between the few pretty houses and picked up the footpath that leads down to the river bank of the South Tyne. After only about five minutes along the path we reached the confluence of this river and the North Tyne at a place known locally as Waters Meet. It’s a lovely spot with the two rivers making an almost symmetrical ‘Y’ shape as they meet and tumble seawards.

There was a fisherman standing at the exact meeting point of the two rivers, casting optimistically for salmon that are making their way upstream at this time of year. In a perfectly timed comedy moment a large salmon leapt from the water behind him as he cast his line obliviously in front of him.

We left him to his enjoyment and headed off through the sandy riverside grassland towards Hexham. As the footpath cut through a small copse and reached the cycle path by the Tyne Valley railway line, we headed back to the start. This section was easy going on tarmac that soon became a single track rod leading back to Warden.

We rewarded our exertions with a drink in the Boatside Inn.

2 miles

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