Craghead; where Hollywood meets County Durham: 3rd March 2019

craghead

That intriguing title has worked as clickbait hasn’t it?

This walk, around the Stanley area of County Durham, passed by a local character who went on to become a big cheese in Hollywood so read on for more!

We started out from the home of one of our walking group and followed a route that threaded its way through houses that now sit where industry was once dominant. We were quickly walking into neighbouring countryside that skirts the area around Stanley. Still slowly waking from Winter slumber, the area was a sea of dun coloured grasses overlaid by a pale grey sky – typical March weather!

This first section of the walk headed up to the small hamlet of Craghead overlooking Stanley. Once a bigger mining village, it is still a thriving community and you can still see the footprint of the wagon way that once ran through here, taking coal to nearby distribution yards and on to coastal ports. The coal industry has made way for modern wind turbines that stand tall and skeletal against the skyline.

turbine

Craghead was the birthplace of David Horsley who emigrated to America in 1884 with his extended family to start a new life. Here he set up a bicycle making business and ran a pool hall before setting up the Centaur Film Company with Charles Gorman and his brother William Horsley. They eventually moved their film company to California in order to take advantage of the sunny, dry weather and the rest is history.

sculpture

Sculpture commemorating mining heritage

From Craghead we headed South East down a quiet local road called Wagtail Lane before heading North again and completing our five mile loop back in South Moor.

 

6 miles

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A Stamfordham Ramble 17th February 2019

farm track

I can honestly say that I have never walked around the village of Stamfordham. Indeed, I have never been to Stamfordham before we did this walk despite it being a few miles from our house.

It’s a surprisingly big village with a lovely spacious village green which was the start of our walk today. We headed out of the village by way of the footpath that loops around the lovely church of St Mary before heading out into farmland.

st marys stamfordham

It was a bright and breezy day, not too cold for February and good walking weather. Following the footpath markers, we walked West, down a grassy lane between fields before a short spell of road walking and then cutting through a small hamlet after a mile or so. After crossing the Fenwick Burn and a bit of a wrong turn through a badly way marked field, followed by a dainty hop over an electric fence, we passed through a large farmyard and back out into open fields.

It’s fairly flat around this part of Northumberland and so we tucked ourselves behind a stone wall for shelter and ate our lunch. We were lucky enough to catch a bit of winter sunshine here and some bird song for a lunchtime cabaret. It was a bit chilly though so we didn’t hang around for long.

farm track

We headed back towards Stamfordham before we were close enough to nearby Matfen Hall to hear the thwack of expensive golf clubs, following quiet roads and country lanes for the most part. We did pass through an enormously heavy metal gate that led from open pasture onto a local road. It was obviously a relic of a grander age and was crowned by a pair of impressive carved stone gateposts.

gate post

 

7.5 miles

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Newcastle Historic Walk 3rd February 2019

tyne bridges

One of our occasional urban walks.

With a programme theme of Local Heroes, a saunter around the centre of Newcastle offered us the chance to explore the historical figures that loom large in the list of Newcastle inhabitants.

We started out at Grey’s Monument, the towering 40m column crowned by a handsome statue of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey. It bears an uncanny resemblance to Nelson’s Column in London and was created by the same sculptor, Edward Hodges Bailey. Grey was a local landowner and politician famous for assisting in the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832.

We headed off south, down the slope of Grey Street, a very handsome street in the middle of what is known as Grainger Town. Richard Grainger was a developer who cleared and replaced 36 hectares of crumbling, rambling buildings with his vision of classical architecture in the 18th century.

We turned right into Mosley Street, the first in the world to be lit by electric street lights in 1879, and headed up to cathedral square to take in a fine statue of Queen Victoria. Ducking behind the cathedral itself into a narrow cobbled street, we came upon a small bust in a wall niche to commemorate the site of where Thomas Bewick’s workshop once stood.

bewick

Heading past the remains of the Castle at Black Gate, we crossed the Tyne via the High Level Bridge; designed by Robert Stephenson and built by local engineers, the Hawks family. After a restorative break in the Arch16 café, we returned across the bridge and descended one of the many stairways down to the quayside.

nigh level bridge

After a leisurely stroll amongst the market stalls we headed back up the steep streets towards the railway station and the handsome statue of George Stephenson the railway pioneer. From there it was a short stroll to another statue, that of Joseph Cowen, a radical liberalist politician of the 1870s.

We sneaked inside the remains of the city walls and ended our walk by exploring the monastic heritage of Blackfriars restaurant.

4 ½ miles

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Wylam Wanderings 13th January 2019

wylam station

The first walk of our new 2019 ‘Local Heroes’ Programme was based in and around the village of Wylam in the Tyne Valley. There are rich pickings for local heroes in this corner of Northumberland, you can barely walk a mile without stumbling across references to an eminent engineer, railwayman or steam pioneer.

Starting off in the excellent, but well hidden, Riverside Country Park car park we walked up the main road to St Oswin’s church; the only church in Northumbria dedicated to this important local king from the 7th Century.

st oswins wylam

From here we walked back down into the village, passing by the site of the family home of early railway engineer William Hedley before descending to a woodland walkway that was one a railway line. This lovely tree lined pathway is much used by locals for dog walking, cycling and running and the traffic is probably greater than in its steam heyday!

The path leads us to the spectacular Wylam Railway Bridge spanning the Tyne at this bend in the river. An elegant wrought iron arch that is redolent of its more well-known descendants the Tyne Bridge and Syndey Harbour Bridge, the Wylam Bridge was built in 1876 to carry a local branch line but is now a pleasant footbridge with spectacular views.

cropped-wylam-bridge-from-above.jpg

Retracing our footsteps, we headed back though the village allotments that occupy the area that was once an old colliery. This part of the UK was riddled with small scale coal mines in the early 19th century and this area was the site of the Wylam Colliery (Haugh Pit). Continuing past the vibrant local sports field we returned to the centre of the village and crossed the 1836 road bridge to eye up on of the world’s oldest working railway stations (see first picture).

Returning across the bridge we linked up again with the wooded former railway line, walking due East to George Stephenson’s cottage.

stephensonscottage

This tiny house was shared with three other families and was Stephenson’s childhood home from 1781. Climbing up a farm track we passed through a cluster of stylishly converted before rejoining the houses of Wylam via a scrubby woodland and retraced our steps to the car park.

5 miles

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A Christmas walk at Corbridge 16th December

christmas walk 1

With many of our children at University or already graduated and out in the big wide world, this is the walk when we are guaranteed to see them all together. For the last few years we have started from Corbridge on the last walk of the year and finished off in a local pub for a Christmas feast.

This year we had seventeen oldies and young ‘uns gathered together for the traditional photo by the market cross.

christmas walk market square

We set off north up the Stagshaw Road for quarter of a mile, before taking a right at Cow Lane and up to the footpath that runs alongside and below the A69. Having crossed under the A69 we joined Milkwell Lane briefly, before turning East along a footpath that crosses three fields and leads to a narrow belt of trees fringing the Corr Burn.

christmas walk oldies

This footpath took us over the Burn and then up to the ruins of Aydon Castle where we stopped for our traditional Christmas nibbles and fizz. This 13th Century fortified manor house is a lovely place to visit in the summer.

christmas nibbles

After suitable refreshment, we continued the walk, circling the castle and heading back down through woodland to cross the Corr Burn once again. After crossing a sloping field we found ourselves by the tiny hamlet of Ridley and turned right to cross the B6321. We crossed two more fields to reach the busy A69 and negotiated a safe crossing. This is such as busy road and we were thankful for the refuge of the central reservation. After crossing two more fields we found ourselves in the tiny hamlet of Thornbrough with its pretty stone cottages and imposing manor house.

The footpath took us West out of the hamlet and back towards Corbridge and a mile of comfortable pavement walking brought us back to the market square. From there, it was on to the Robin Hood Inn for our Christmas feast!

christmas meal 1

5 miles

 

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Tommy Armstrong Walk, Tanfield 9th December

 

cropped-tanfield-wetlands-grass.jpg

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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