Leader : Chris Hollis. Distance : 8 miles.
Left click map to enlarge
A bit like good odds on a horse race, the men were outnumbered 4:8 on the chilly and slightly misty day when we assembled in the picnic area at the bottom of the famous Nanny Meyer’s incline for our day out on Muggleswick Common. But the ladies were very tolerant and looked after us well. Ahead of us near the disused Waskerley railway station lay the quaintly named Smiddy Shaw Reservoir destined to be the highlight of the day.
Our great leader Chris gave us a potted history of the walk route including how the enterprising Nanny Mayer established her tavern to serve the multitude of labourers constructing the new limestone railway incline adjacent her farmhouse. He explained that the ‘self acting’ incline (with a had a gradient of 1 in 12) meant that wagons loaded with calcined limestone were lowered down the slope pulling up empty wagons by a very long cable.
With all this knowledge bundled into our heads we set off with the old track bed ,firm underfoot, making for comfortable walking. The eventual climb was about 2 miles in length but the gentle gradient made life easy and part way up we paused, a bit like old Nanny’s patrons, to service our thirsts. Onward and upward we tramped the line with evidence alongside where the rocky outcrops had been blasted to form the way.
At about the 2 mile mark we turned South West adjacent Bee Cottage Farm and for a short while left the hard standing to ‘enjoy’ a spell of mud plodging where cattle had turned the grass fields into something rather messy. But this did not last long for we soon happened upon firm ground again as we walked due west to pass the disused Waskerly Station on the Waskerley Way which follows the course of the western end of the former Stanhope and Tyne line opened in September 1845 by the Stockton & Darlington Railway.
By this time Smiddy Shaw was in sight and shortly after passing the station we headed north to reach the waters edge. The origin of the name is obscure but speculation has it that as the word ‘Smiddy’ is a colloquialism for a Blacksmith’s ‘Smithy’ and ‘Shaw’ in some circles indicates a small wood or copse so perhaps this gives some idea of its previous incarnation. One of three sister reservoirs it was completed in 1872 to supply water to a local treatment plant and thence on to the local populace.
A pleasant circumnavigation of the reservoir followed with the tranquillity only briefly disturbed by caged tail wagging canines barking a welcome as we passed what must have been the Reservoir Keeper’s dwelling. The circle once complete we then halted tor our lunchtime repast in the lea of a stone building whose bulk provided welcome shelter from the prevailing wind.
Our return leg began with the first and only climb of the day over fairly comfortable ground until we arrived back to the top of our initial incline and retraced our steps downwards towards home. We shared the track at times with speeding cyclists some of whom seemed happy to share while others were not so accommodating.
A traditional post walk drink at a local tavern brought to an end a really nice bracing day out in the rugged Durham countryside, enjoyed immensely by all.