Although blessed with a beautiful landscape of undulating pastureland and wooded side valleys, all surrounded by high moors, Weardale attracts fewer visitors than the neighbouring national parks. On a sunny bank holiday I met only three other walkers when I researched this 12 mile route.
Distance: 12 miles main route with 1.5 mile diversion
Time: 6 or 7 hours
Conditions: well signed paths and quiet lanes
Refreshments: Eastgate, Rookhope, Westgate
OS Explorer Map 307
Originally published: 26 June 2009
We start in Eastgate, from the free car park next to the village hall, (GR 953388), 300 yards up the lane leading from the A 689 and past the Methodist chapel of 1891 and the parish church of 1887.
Continue up this same lane which soon becomes a farm track leading to Hole House, set high above the valley of the Rookhope Burn. From here a path continues across one field before passing a ruined wall and then looping around a hillside. It soon enters a wood, (carpeted with primroses in spring), and only then descends to the burn where it passes through a mini gorge with busy falls and peaty brown pools. After crossing a side stream we pass the substantial remains of the 19th century Brandon Walls lead mine and reach the valley road between Eastgate and Rookhope. Turn right.
In 300 yards you are welcomed to Rookhope by a tiny waggon once used for the underground haulage of lead ore, now painted red and planted with blooms. The village's heyday was in the 19th century when it had a population of over 700 and its mines were amongst the most productive in the dale. Nowadays it's reinventing itself for tourists and when I passed through was full of mountain bikers using the former railway lines which converged here.
Probably the most famous line was that which ascended the Bolts Law incline to become the highest standard gauge track in the UK. It leaves the village from the corner where the road turns sharp left.
I made an extra diversion of 1 and a half miles from the inn at the village centre to Rookhope's other industrial attraction, the arch at Lintzgarth, sole remnant of the lead smelting works. It was once connected to a 1 and three quarter mile long flue which carried the noxious fumes up on to the moor top where there was a chimney. It was regularly cleaned by young boys in order to recover the condensed lead inside which was then re-smelted. To get there follow the road through Rookhope until the arch comes in sight. The ruined flue is readily visible as it heads up the moorside.
To return take a path from a stile on the left some 200 yards from the foot of the flue. Turn left after crossing the beck and follow the track of the railway line which once served the smelt mill, back to a large car repair workshop where you will rejoin the main walk.
Our main route leaves the Rookhope Inn and in about 50 yards along the village street goes left to the workshop. Bear left, in front of it, on the Weardale Way which crosses the site of the Boltsburn Mine, Rookhope's largest. For the next 4 miles, almost into Westgate, we follow the Rookhope to Middlehope railway which once brought ironstone from near Westgate and limestone from Heights to be taken up the Bolts Law incline to the ironworks at Tow Law.
It's an easy walk, becoming a green track beyond Smailsburn Farm, with panoramic views into Weardale. Near the ruins of Bishopseat, on the edge of Northgate Fell, it's worth a pause to reflect on how many medieval bishops of Durham must have spent time here, contemplating their vast, enclosed hunting park which stretched down to the Wear. Entry into the park was made from Eastgate and Westgate.
In another 2 miles you will reach the vast Heights Quarry, still worked for aggregates. The right of way is carefully signed across the access road and continues along the former railway line with a diversion where the bridge over Park Burn has disappeared. Three more fields follow to reach a stony track. Go left along it and then almost immediately right along Side Lane to a group of houses set high above the valley.
Having savoured the spectacular views into upper Weardale we follow the lane down into Westgate, emerging on to the A 689 by the Hare and Hounds. (Regular Weardale Motors buses, every two hours, every day, will take you back to Eastgate if you wish to cut the walk by about 3 and a half miles).
Our walk goes left and almost immediately right on the lane to Brotherlee. In a few yards turn left on a delightful path which follows the Wear as it flows over a succession of shallow falls linked by a series of deep pools. In just over a mile, and after climbing almost back to the main road, the path returns to the riverside, crosses a handsome new footbridge and ascends a deep, green lane to Brotherlee.
Turn left here along the 'back road', a little used alternative to the A road, but once the main artery of Weardale. It's about 2 miles back to Eastgate, the way enlivened by fine views down the dale. In less than a mile you will pass Westernhopeburn, with two of the finest of Weardale's houses, dated 1606 and 1671. They were originally built as early as 1410 when the then bishop agreed to turn some of his hunting lands over to farming.
In another half mile you will be warned not to risk a path on the left as there is no means of crossing the river. Instead, continue ahead and take the first lane to the left to cross Hag Bridge to return to Eastgate. And take time at the foot of the lane leading to the car park to look at the Roman altar, copy of one found nearby in 1869. It records the killing of a boar of outstanding size and is proof that the Romans recognised good hunting country long before the bishops.