2018_02_10 Tanfield Railway

Leader : Elaine Anderson       Distance : 9.3 mile



Left click map to enlarge


It was a cold and frosty morning
Beamish, squeezed between the Lambton Worm and Bobby Shafto in north east folk culture terms and the home of pioneers in world railway terms, was in our sights for the day. The latter was significant as the starting point for our ramble was the Tanfield Railway carpark at Andrews House. The railway, now very much a tourist attraction runs on part of a former colliery wooden wagonway, later a steam railway and claims to be the oldest railway in the world.. Originally built to transport coal from the collieries of County Durham, to the staithes on the River Tyne, the oldest part dates from 1647 and was in continuous use until final closure in 1964. Our route for the day was to circumnavigate dear old Frank Atkinson’s visionary and now internationally acclaimed Beamish Museum.
We set off passing through the old shunting yards and soon began the 150 feet descent in to the Causey valley with the River Team trundling along in the bottom. A pleasant walk affording fine views of the arch ahead followed the river’s course for a while with countless bridges to cross on our meandering route. Indeed it could be said that the river has more bridges than most of us have had hot dinners. Soon though we climbed the steep stairs out from the ravine and having crossed the wonderfully named Bobgins Burn in the process arrived at the high point (at least historically) of the day, The iconic Causey Arch, the oldest surviving single-arch railway bridge in the world, and a key element of the industrial heritage of England.
A pause for a cuppa, where probably countless others past and present have also taken on sustenance, gave us the chance to admire the bridge from above.
The bridge was built in 1725–26 by stonemason Ralph Wood, funded by a conglomeration of coal-owners known as the “Grand Allies” at a cost of £12,000. and when completed it was the longest single-span bridge in the country with an arch span of 31 a record it held for thirty years until 1756 when the Old Bridge was built in Pontypridd, Wales. Folk law has it that after he designed the bridge, Ralph Wood was so afraid that his arch would collapse that he committed suicide, but the bridge still stands today.
Refreshments consumed we moved off again passing through light woodland and over open ground but with underfoot conditions slowly starting to deteriorate as a result of recent precipitation. Déjà vu came to mind. We were also being challenged by a series of stiles as we trundled along. beautifully constructed articles almost Chippendalesque compared with the rustic offerings two weeks ago. But after all these had pedigree, they were Durham, Land of the Prince Bishops stiles.
Soon we reached our point of no return when we emerged from the woodland into the conveniently placed picnic area adjacent the roadway to the museum. Time for lunch.
The second part of our trip began with a stroll down towards the museum but before reaching the entrance a right turn took us past the famous Shepherd & Shepherdess pub with its symbolic Napoleonic sculptures adorning the entrance. Surreptitious mutterings were heard from certain corners that it might be a good idea to call it a day and enjoy the comforts of the hostelery but our leader would have none of it-so we pressed on

Shortly after forsaking the pub we commenced a period of rough undulating woodland where mud soon became a constant companion. It was here that the afternoon entertainment was provided by the ladies again when Kate on all fours got up close and personal with a rather muddy incline and Elaine elegantly slipped onto her backside while trying to walk and follow her sat nav at the same time. Multitasking- it’s for the birds. Thankfully both ladies emerged with only dignity bruised.
Out onto open ground the myriad of tracks and paths kept us on our toes lest we should go astray but all ended well when we once again reached the A6076 and our journey’s end.
Despite the chilly start to the day conditions improved so much that a degree of disrobing was essential before the end.

A lovely bracing day out in the Durham countryside..

No trains today so alongside a dip into the past from a one we walked earlier