The gentle rolling hills adjoining the Skerne valley a few miles north of Darlington are well worth exploring. The green landscape is criss-crossed by a network of old trackways, all in good condition and well signed.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well signed field paths and bridleways. Little climbing, few stiles.
Refreshments: Foresters Arms and Hall Garth Hotel in Coatham Mundeville
OS Explorer Map 304 & 305
Originally published: 5 December 2014
We start this 8 mile walk from the green in Brafferton (GR 293210) half a mile east of the A 167. There's limited parking close to the village hall.
Walk along the village street, lined with mainly 18th and 19th century houses and at the end, (where there's more parking), continue ahead over a cattle grid on the tarred lane to Lovesome Hill Farm. At the farm entrance go ahead on High House Lane, a sunken bridleway.
In about 400 yards, where it bends to the left, turn right through a gate (arrowed Circular Walk 3) on a path which at first follows a line of trees before crossing a small stream. Go through a gate on the far side where the right of way follows another green lane bordered by high hedgerows down to the farms of Newton Ketton.
Turn left and follow the access lane uphill. Marked as Salters Lane on the OS map it was used by panniermen and their packhorses taking salt from coastal saltworks to inland towns. Saltergate in Dalington may be a continuation.
In about 300 yards go right through a wicket gate and keep to the right edge of the first field. Widespread views open up ahead across the Tees valley towards the Cleveland Hills. At the field corner turn sharp left and cross two fields to Catkill Lane. Turn right.
This is probably the best of the old trackways we trace on the walk. There seems to have been little research on its history, but its straight alignment and width in places of up to 40ft may indicate that it is Roman. It also appears to have been raised above the surrounding land, another feature of Roman road construction. Margary's book on Roman Roads of 1957 says that it could have been a link road to Binchester near Bishop Auckland from the Roman road which passes through Sadberge and Great Stainton.
After half a mile the green lane enters a wood. Ignore a path signed left towards Great Stainton and continue along the lane for another 200 yards through the trees before turning right on an unsigned but well used path. This soon emerges from the wood and heads across a field to the ruins of Moor House. Work has not yet started here on the 6 wind turbines for which planning permission has already been granted so we walk through an open, rolling landscape with extensive south facing views.
Beyond Moor House follow a farm track for about a mile down to Barmpton in the Skerne valley where there's a welcome seat if you turn left on reaching the village street.
Despite being only half a mile from the houses on the northern fringe of Darlington, Barmpton remains very much a rural backwater with its one row of houses perched on a low river terrace. We continue, right, through a gate in front of the hall and close to the road bridge over the river.
It's now an easy amble through grassy fields with the tranquil river a constant companion as it flows gently between steep banks. In less than a mile the path joins the southern continuation of Salters Lane where it bridges the Skerne. Do not cross but go right to a narrow 18th century bridge. It has low parapets to allow clearance for the packhorses' panniers. Today no water passes beneath its arch as the river was diverted in the 19th century to its present course in order to provide the many water mills with a faster and more reliable flow of water.
From the bridge the bridleway appears to strike across the next field but it's easier to follow the track round the right hand edge, turning left in about 300 yards when you join the tarred lane from Little Ketton Farm. The lane continues uphill with the field on the left to another junction where go right.
This new track soon passes in front of the porticoed Ketton Hall. The owner in the late 18th century was Charles Colling, a pioneer in cattle breeding and owner of the famous Shorthorn bull known as the Ketton Ox. Weighing some 200 stones and admired for its proportions it was sold in 1801 to John Day for £250. Day renamed it the Durham Ox and toured England and Scotland, showing the beast for money. Its end came when it was injured descending from its special carriage (pulled by 4 horses). A sad end, but by then it had provided a living for Day. It's still commemorated in pub names in, among other places, Yarm, Carlton in Cleveland and Crayke.
100 yards beyond the hall entrance we go left through a gate on to another bridleway. Brafferton is now visible on its ridge and the route is easy to follow though make sure that after two fields you turn half left by a pylon down across the next field to the embankment carrying the main east coast line between Darlington and Durham.
At this point we pick up a track which will take us directly to the lower end of Brafferton's village street. If you want to rejoin the river bank for a final 250 yards, then look out for a stile on the left, some 50 paces after passing opposite a tunnel through the railway embankment, The path from the stile crosses one field to a second tunnel after which bear right to the river and along to the bridge at Coatham Mundeville. By the bridge is the former flax and later corn mill, one of the few surviving of the 15 which once operated in the 19th century on the Skerne between Sedgefield and the Tees.
Turn right at the bridge for Brafferton.