Once a small agricultural town in upper Teesdale, Middleton was transformed in 1815 by the arrival of the London Lead Mining Company which established its northern headquarters here and constructed workers' houses, offices, a school and chapel. Its prosperity came from the exploitation of the rich lead veins in the surrounding hills and valleys. Many of Middleton's buildings date from this era.
Our 8 mile walk takes us through part of the 19th century town before we head north into the Hudeshope valley where much remains of the industrial past. We then traverse a short moorland tract to Newbiggin in the Tees valley. The return is a delightful 3 mile down the dale and close to the river.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well signed valley paths, few signs on short moorland stretch
OS Explorer Map OL31
Originally published: 22 July 2016
We start from the pretty cast iron fountain in the cattle market, (GR 947255), which was erected in 1875 to mark the retirement of Robert Bainbridge, the company's superintendent. Follow the B 6277 signed to Alston. It goes through the market place with the remains of its cross at the far end. The road then passes a huge monkey puzzle tree on the left. After crossing Hudeshope Beck continue straight ahead up The Hude.
In 100 yards, just beyond Chapel Cottage, (formerly the Baptist chapel), and just before Middleton House, (the company's imposing headquarters), go right up steps, following a sign partly obscured by a hedge. Within 100 yards you have left the grey stone houses of Middleton for the leafy Hudeshope valley.
The popular path descends gently through trees and crosses the beck to join the narrow road which threads the valley. Go left here and follow the road to its end at the Miners' Bridge. Just before the bridge and up on the hillside to the right are the extensive remains of the Skears limekilns, the earliest of which dates from the 18th century. They closed in 1960 after two centuries of producing lime for dressing the soil and for the building trade and other industries.
Cross the bridge and continue upstream on a track with the noisy beck in a scoured channel now on the right. In 300 yards the right of way crosses a stream by a little footbridge and then goes left. However it's worthwhile exploring a little further upstream for in about 100 yards you will reach the point where the beck emerges as a torrent from a narrow defile between the fearsome crags of Skears Scars.
Return to the little bridge and follow the path as it climbs up a steep flight of steps and out of the trees. In the first field go left up to a gate on the left of a barn. From here the path continues up to a power pole to the right of a prominent leadmine spoil heap. Cross a wall stile and follow a track on the other side past the mine entrance and up to a tarred lane.
There's a good view from here of the upper Hudeshope valley and especially of the Skears hushes, the deeply eroded gulleys which scar the opposite hillside. They were created by miners who released gushes of water from moor top dams in a bid to expose new veins of lead ore.
Cross the lane and continue up along the wall on the left leaving Hardberry Farm to the right. After two more stiles open access moorland in entered. In a few paces, where the wall turns sharp left, walk straight ahead and cross a bed of reeds at its narrowest point. Then bear slightly left over a rise to a stile in a fence which does not appear on the OS map.
From here the path goes half left down over the next field to a wall stile next to a ruined sheepfold. In the next field go to the left of a black barn and then via two ladder sties and a ruined farm to the junction of 3 tarred lanes. From here you will enjoy what a local man assured me were "the best views in Teesdale", a panorama of green pastures, gentle wooded slopes, the distinct crags of Holwick Scars and the distant outlines of the Pennines, all at your feet.
Go straight ahead at the junction and in 100 yards turn right over a stile and down a couple of fields into Newbiggin.
Turn right along the village street for a few yards to the historic Methodist chapel. In 1759 the villagers were inspired to build a permanent place of worship after several visits by John Wesley to Teesdale. Inside is the document of purchase of the land for £5, signed by 4 miners and 3 itinerant preachers. It now claims to be "the oldest Methodist chapel in the world in continuous use". Keys are available in the village and there's a welcome seat by the sheltered south door.
Our walk continues down the lane from the chapel gate to the B 6277 where turn right. In 150 yards, and just past the village hall, go left across a field with views ahead to the grand mansion of Holwick Lodge, built in the late 19th century by the MP, Cosmo Bonsor. The path continues over Bow Lee Beck down to Scoberry Bridge over the foaming, peaty waters of the Tees.
The river is even more turbulent if you go right, upstream to Low Force, but this will add an extra mile to the walk.
Otherwise turn left on the Pennine Way back to Middleton. It's a gentle 3 mile stroll between hedgerows and across some of Teesdale's famous flower meadows. The river provides company for two stretches and there are constantly changing views of the dale scattered with the white farmhouses of the Raby estate. Recross the Tees when you reach the B 6277.