Leader : Sylvia Esack Distance : 6.5 miles.
A change in Dales for this walk on a beautiful July day as we swopped the likes of Yorkshire’s Wensleydale and Wharfedale for the lead mining countryside of Durham’s Weardale and in particular the little village of Westgate. Situated some 3-4 miles west along the A689 from Stanhope and part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Beauty Westgate along with its near neighbour Eastgate originally marked the boundary gates of Stanhope Park, the hunting ground of the Prince Bishops. Today with the lead mines long gone its wonderful countryside is popular with tourists in general and walkers in particular- the reason we were there.
Our walk started at from the parking layby opposite the well known caravan park and after a short stroll west we turned off right past the Primitive Methodist Chapel, one of the best preserved examples of its kind in the north, and following a series of twists and turns and little bridges a kissing gate led us Slitt Wood. The narrow riverside path had clearly not been subject to a risk assessment recently and was in places a little challenging but was nonetheless delightful. The flow of the tumbling Middlehope Burn which was stained peaty colour in places was regularly interrupted by a series of waterfalls adding sound to the otherwise quiet of the wood.
It was not long before we encountered evidence of the area’s industrial past when we entered a clearing housing relics of the disused Low Slitt Mne. Clearly judging from the extent of the old workings this had been a very large mine and indeed the lead vein was the longest known in the North Pennines.
Following a brief stop for a cuppa we left the wood and the waterfalls and took to a track the deep ruts caused by animals and constant erosion over the years making passage a little troublesome. Once on firmer ground again we were at 1300 ft the highest part of our ramble. The prize was the first of many magnificent views west over Weardale with St John’s Chapel nestling on the valley floor below. A minor road then took us past a couple of small farmsteads with the cheerful local children playing out in the sunshine and then lunch was called. Sitting in the lea of a drystone wall the views were quite simply magnificent so much so that there was a marked reluctance to move on. But move on we did and gradually began our descent of around 400ft to the road below. We passed through small hamlets including East Blackdene where some of the old stone built houses seemed like so many others to be designated holiday homes to rent.
Soon passing through St John’s Chapel we made neighbours of the River Wear and followed its course through fields and along narrow riverbank trails interrupted at regular intervals by a series of kissing gates, much more walker friendly than the more traditional stiles..
A lovely day out, a little shorter walk than normal but enjoyable nevertheless and culminating in the traditional post walk aperitif in the Pack Horse in Stanhope where the world and its neighbours were once again put in line.
A lovely day out