Leader : Maz Burrows Distance : 9 miles.
The weather was spot on for walking, a lovely day indeed so even as the summer months were starting to give way to autumn we were blessed with sunshine and clear blue skies for Maz’s tramp around the ancient town of Bishop Auckland. Inextricably historically linked with the Prince Bishops its castle (known locally as The Bishop’s palace), after a troubled history still stands proud today and is the setting for the recent acclaimed extravaganza ˜Kynren held annually in the grounds.
It was from a small car park nearby that we started on our journey Setting off we crossed the A689 Crook road and for a short while we walked along grassy verges with the River Wear as our neighbour. Soon but with the river still our companion we embarked on a spell of single file walking along a minor road before turning due north onto grass land again near the site of Vinovia Roman Fort. The fort reputed to date from around AD79 and was probably established to guard the nearby Dere Street crossing of the river. Onwards and continuing north we skirted newly cut fields and crossed over the bubbling Bell Burn in a small thicket where we first encountered the profusion of beautiful, pink orchid, like flowers known as ˜Himalayan Balsam. A relative of the Bizzy Lizzie it is regarded as a major weed nuisance in Horticultural circles but nevertheless looks extremely pretty by a river bank on a sunny day.
A little more country lane walking followed until we turned off onto a lightly wooded track from where we took a sudden diversion to a tranquil riverside spot for our elevenses repast. We had now joined the Weardale Way.
Our appetites sated we set off along the way and after a mile or so having crossed to the north bank of the river we left the lightly wooded track to enter he outskirts of the village of Willington. Like many communities in the area Willington’s economy was largely based on coal mining and the closure of the colliery in 1967 therefore affected the local economy badly and, in common with many others the village has struggled to recover. It had its period of glory though in the 1950s days of Amateur Football when it ranked alongside the great teams of Bishop Auckland & nearby Crook Town. As we wandered through the village the football ground still standing bore tribute to those days.
On reaching the western boundary of the village we joined a disused railway track, a magnet for walkers and cyclists alike and our great leader decreed this would be the spot for our lunch time break. While the walking had not been arduous the warm sun and the absence of any relieving breeze made the chance of a break welcome.
Post lunch we kept company with the line for about a couple of miles eventually leaving it via a short stretch of the old Roman Road Dere Street and into green fields again to join up with the Weardale Way once more and the wooded bridleway taking us around the perimeter of the˜Bishop’s Park grounds now securely fenced off to prevent freeloaders gaining access into the Kynren site. As a further precaution a notice proclaimed that the track would be closed on Show Days.
It was not long then before we passed under he arches of the Grade II listed Victorian railway viaduct crossing the River Wear. At 105 feet high, the viaduct provides stunning views of the surrounding countryside. It was originally built in 1857 to carry the Bishop Auckland to Durham City railway line across the River Wear until, after falling into disuse, it was reincarnated in 1959 for vehicle use to take traffic on the A689 between Bishop Auckland and Crook.
We were home, a lovely walk on a lovely day in a lovely part of Durham and a lovely pint courtesy old Stanley Jefferson at the end what could be better – nowt much?