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Piercebridge to Barforth, Winston & Gainford

In its middle sections the Tees flows through rich farmland punctuated by dense woodland. It makes for easy walking in a most attractive landscape with the river rarely far away.

Distance: 11.5 miles though can be reduced to 6 (bus from Winston) or 9 (bus from Gainford)

Time: 5 hours

Grade: easy

Conditions: field paths and bridleways, mostly well signed

Refreshments: Piercebridge, Winston, Gainford

OS Explorer Maps 304

Originally published: 4 December 2015

This 11 and a half mile route from Piercebridge to Winston Bridge and return consists of quiet lanes and bridleways on the south bank and a tree lined riverside path for much of the return. Hourly weekday buses (every two hours on Sunday) run along the A 67 between Winston and Piercebridge if you wish to reduce the mileage.

We start from the green in Piercebridge (GR  210157) which is built within the 4th century Roman fort of Morbium. Excavations have revealed its east gate and defensive bank which give a good idea of its strategic importance as one of string of forts built along Dere Street, the road north to Hadrian's Wall. Remains of a contemporary bridge which carried the road south across the Tees from the fort can be visited some 200 yards from the George Hotel on the south bank.

Our walk crosses the present bridge which is of 16th century origin. On the other side a path on the corner climbs the wooded bank before heading on a well defined hollow way with Cliffe Hall across the fields to the right.

After two fields turn right along a tarred lane past the tree lined entrance to the 19th century hall. In a mile, at a crossroads, continue ahead on the farm track to Low Field. The track bears right, around the buildings before crossing a deep cutting once used by freight trains taking limestone from the quarry at Forcett to Middlesbrough's steelworks. In another 400 yards it ends at Chapel House Farm.

Keeping all the buildings on your right bear left to a standard steel gate (no sign). In the next field stay close to the hedge on the right. At the end of the field go through a gate on the right and follow the same hedge, this time to your left. After the next gate you have the hedge on the right again and at the field end, you pass,right, through the hedge for the last time before heading straight across the next field to the tarred access lane to Low Fields Farm. 

Follow the lane, left, to a junction where go right and almost immediately left, signed Barforth. In half a mile you come to the scanty but poignant signs of what must once have been a thriving community. The tumbled ruins of the 13th century St. Lawrence Chapel stand on a bluff overlooking the river. Nearby is a sturdy round late medieval dovecot, typical of mid-Teessdale (another may be spotted across the river in the grounds of Gainford Hall). Close by is a tiny bridge across Chapel Gill. The prominent arch ribs are typical of the 14th century. No one knows when the settlement was abandoned or how it acquired its alternative name of Old Richmond.

It was once linked to Gainford but the ferry ceased in the 1950s and neither of the two visible bridges is usable by walkers, the road bridge being condemned as unsafe only recently. We continue down the lane to the venerable Barforth Hall with its wide 15th century entrance arch visible from the right of way.

Some 100 yards before the hall look out for a bridleway arrow attached to a large barn. Follow it left, around the barn, and continue down a track on to a broad arable field. Where the track ends turn left along the field side to reach the river in less than half a mile. Continue along a farm track to Hedgeholme farm and follow the access lane through a gate and in another few paces bear right, across one field, to the imposing Winston Bridge, built in 1763 by Sir Thomas Robinson.

On the far side turn right following the Teesdale Way downstream. For those who wish to catch the bus in Winston take the permissive path left, some 250 yards from the bridge, climbing across Winston's Millennium Green and into the village.

The main walk continues along the Teesdale Way in trees and close to the river, here almost 100 yards wide. It's interrupted by a short climb to a lay by on the A 67 before returning to the river bank where there's a couple of well placed seats.

At a blocked off railway bridge which once carried the line from Darlington to Barnard Castle we turn left, back to the main road. Turn right here and use the pavement for about 500 yards before taking a path on the right which returns you to the riverside and the site of Gainford Spa, a sulphur spring developed from 1834 when 'taking the waters' was all the fashion. The spring was restored in 2003 as a stylish drinking fountain. The water still tastes sulphurous.

We now follow the path along the water's edge once used by countless Victorians seeking a cure for their ailments. The main road is rejoined on the outskirts of Gainford. After the first few houses go right, down Low Lane, past the early 17th century hall and its dovecot and on to the spacious village green.

There are many attractive houses to appreciate here as well as the medieval church of St. Mary, partly constructed with stones from Roman Piercebridge. On the north side of the green is the former Gainford Academy where Stan Laurel was a scholar. It is now a restaurant and tearoom.

Continue through the little town back on to the main road and follow it past the gaunt buildings of the former Roman Catholic Poor Law School of 1900. A few yards further and the Teesdale Way leaves the A 67 for the last time. Follow it, right, across one field and under the former limestone railway by a tunnel with elegantly splayed arches. It continues below the distinctive 18th century Snow Hill and across nearly two miles of riverside meadows into Piercebridge.


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