Since its castle was built in the early 12th century by Guy de Baliol, Barnard Castle has dominated mid Teesdale and from it a network of rights of way developed to link the town with the surrounding villages.
This easy five and a half mile walk explores the land immediately south of the river which was until 1974 part of the North Riding of Yorkshire. We head first for Boldron before turning east into the valley of the Thorsgill Beck. This is followed to its confluence with the Tees at Egglestone Abbey. The return is made by the Teesdale Way on the north side of the river.
Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 3 hours
Conditions: well signed rights of way, little used around Boldron
Refreshments: Barnard Castle
OS Explorer Map OL31
Originally published: 7 April 2017
We start at Barnard Castle's butter cross or market cross (GR 051163), built in 1774 by Thomas Breaks in a commanding position at the end of the Market Place. As well as acting as a shelter for the market it has also served as the town hall, the law court and the jail.
Go down The Bank, the ancient route to the river. Some 100 yards on the left is the 16th century Blagrave's House and further down is the 18th century Thorngate House followed, in Thorngate, by weavers' houses with a long row of windows on the top - working - floor.
At the end of the street is the former Thorngate weaving mill which ceased production in 1973. Beyond is a footbridge over the river, built in 1884 after an earlier structure was destroyed in a flood.
On the south bank turn sharp right along the river to the B 6277. Cross straight over onto a footpath which climbs steeply alongside a little park to a tarred lane. Go right past Startforth's Victorian church and then, on the opposite side, the late 17th century Manor House.
In another 100 yards, at a road junction, take a path, left, which passes to the right of Startforth Hall Farm and continues parallel to a road on its right for abut 400 yards. It then crosses one field to a fork. Bear right to a field corner and Thorsgill Beck. In another 50 yards cross the beck by the packhorse Paddock Bridge and continue to Athelstan's Well which in this limestone area, is reputed never to have run dry. The well head probably dates from 1879 and was rebuilt in 2007 by the Parish History Group which has produced an excellent leaflet, available from a box on the gate as you reach the village.
From the well the 400 yard path into Boldron is well signed, emerging on to the village green close to a tiny former chapel. Turn left along the village street of limestone houses and at the end go right through a gate on a path which almost immediately turns left over a stile, continuing over the next field to intersect with a track to an isolated house. The next stretch is over open arable land where the only signs of life when I passed through was a stoat and a hare.
The right of way passes to the right of the house and crosses a number of long narrow fields where there is much evidence of the earlier medieval ridge and furrow system of ploughing. It then leaves a large barn some 200 yards away on the the right before bearing right to a prominent stile some 150 yards short of Princess Charlotte Wood.
Once over the stile go sharp left to another stile before following the field boundary on the left for some 400 yards to a plantation. Then keep the trees on your left for another 250 yards but look for an arrow into the wood on your left where the field boundary begins to curve to the right. The path drops through the trees to a disused road bridge over Thorsgill Beck. Do not cross but go right, up steps, to the B 6277.
Now go straight over on to a well signed and most attractive woodland path which for over half a mile follows the beck's many convolutions. At the end the stream is crossed twice before the path leads down to the lane from Egglestone to Startforth. Here the beck passes under the 17th century Bow Bridge, built with low parapets to accommodate the laden panniers of packhorses. Turn right along the lane.
Overlooking this idyllic scene from a little eminence are the ruins of Egglestone Abbey. Founded in 1195 for Premonstratensian canons and dissolved in 1540, it still retains beautiful tracery in its large windows whilst the church contains the huge carved tomb of Sir Ralph Bowes. The abbey makes an excellent picnic spot and viewpoint and entry is free.
Down from the abbey access lane turn right along the same lane to the battlemented Abbey Bridge, built in 1773 by JBS Morritt of nearby Rokeby Park. Its deck is a good vantage point for surveying the river which here is confined as a roaring amber torrent to a narrow gorge of grey limestone some 75ft below. In the 16th century the stone was quarried as Teesdale marble - the font in Barnard Castle's parish church is made of it.
Cross the bridge and around the corner go left on the Teesdale Way recently extensively refurbished with excellent informative finger posts.
It's a mile and half back to Barnard Castle, almost entirely along the Tees which here flows more languidly than downriver. Away to the right and at the top of the second field by the road the artist Turner painted a watercolour of the river, the abbey and the house below the ruins which at that time was a paper mill.
The path continues to a cluster of buildings by the riverside, the site of the medieval cornmill of the de Baliols. It then enters the Demesnes, now a recreation park but in the middle ages the land used exclusively by the local lords.
Head right towards the play area and then uphill to Broadgates, a misnomer as it is a narrow paved alley. Spanning it is the chapel of 1765, built by the local methodists with the practical help and encouragement of John Wesley. The path to the right of the chapel takes you into the churchyard and back to the butter market.