Sedgefield is described by H. Thorold in the Shell Guide to County Durham of 1980 as a 'small town of Georgian houses and wide greens in the green open country between Durham and Stockton'.
Distance: 6 or 4.5 miles
Time: 4 hours
Conditions: well signed paths and bridleways, few stiles
Refreshments: Sedgefield, Bishop Middleham, Hardwick Park
OS Explorer Map 305
Originally published: 24 March 2017
In this 6 mile walk we explore some of that countryside and return across the restored pleasure grounds of Hardwick Park.
Until the building of the A 177 Sedgefield by-pass the park stretched unimpeded for over a mile from the edge of the town to Hardwick Hall. However East Park is still a huge area, very popular because of its access from the town centre.
The walk starts from the large green in front of the entrance to the parish church of St. Edmund (GR 3552870). Walk away from the church gate across the green to the T junction of High Street and North End. About 50 yards down North End turn left through the arch of the Hardwick Arms and across the inner courtyard. This leads to an entrance gate into East Park.
Go straight ahead to a couple of gates and then bear right on a path which heads for the kennels of the South Durham Hunt, a white, red roofed building a quarter of a mile distant, After a gate the path passes to the left of a marshy tract of land before continuing to another gate giving access to the A 177.
Cross the road to a gate to the left of the kennels and continue along a path which enters a long strip of woodland. The right of way then emerges from the trees and turns right down a track and across Sedgefield Golf Course. Continue ahead when the track bears to the right, re-entering woodland which provides protection from stray golf balls. Turn left after about 200 yards and follow a possibly muddy path to a bulrush fringed lake.
This was once a storage site for coke, produced at the nearby Fishburn coke ovens before being transported by train to the steelworks on Teesside. Today there are seats to enjoy the tranquil scene and the birdlife. At the crossing of paths by the lake you could also reduce the length of the walk by over a mile by following the old railway line, now a walkway, left, to rejoin the main walk in less than half a mile (mapped).
The main walk continues ahead, signed Bishop Middleham, on a track which crosses the River Skerne by an iron bridge. Bishop Middleham is visible ahead on a little ridge. After a gate the track bears right into trees which mask the site of the coal mine which was worked from 1842 to 1948. In another 200 yards go left over a stile on to a green path which curves to the right before climbing by steps into the village. Turn left.
There is much of historical interest in Bishop Middleham, starting with some of its quaint street names. Look out for Roast Calf Terrace, Perm Lane and Muck Back Alley, all passed before the two pubs, the Cross Keys and Ye Olde Fleece.Continue down to a cross roads and turn left into Church Street where, up on the wall of the building on the left, is the Dun Cow, carved in stone and painted, described in Pevsner's 'Durham' as "very attractive 18th century folk art". On a little hill is the 13th century parish church. If you are lucky to find it open then look for the memorial to Robert Surtees, the renowned 19th century local historian. Outside, below the bell turret is Bishop Bek's 14th century Cercelee Cross.
Beyond the church turn left through a farmyard to reach the limestone bluff on which the medieval bishops of Durham built their castle. There's little left except foundation stones and humps in the ground but an information gives a good summary of its history. Look out left to a sturdy wall wrapping itself around the hill on the other side of the little valley below. It is the boundary wall of the bishops' deer park. Judging by the huge episcopal parks further west in Weardale the bishops were very fond of venison.
From the castle site there is a good view down to Castle Lake which only appeared a few years ago from local springs and floodwater from disused mines. There's no sign of it on my OS map. To reach it turn your back on the castle ruins and walk across the field ahead before dropping down to a stile giving access to a farm track. Turn left.
The track passes to the right of the lake which is now a major bird watching site. I spotted wigeon, shelduck and pochard as well as curlews, swans and cattle egrets in the short time I spent in the bird hide some 200 yards along the track (www.durhambirdclub.org.uk for information on using the hide).
Our walk continues along the track down across The Carrs to recross the Skerne and rejoin the railway. Turn left to meet the shorter walk in some 200 yards. Turn right signed Hardwick Park.
The right of way is easy to follow. at first along the edge of woodland and then across a couple of fields where the ridges and furrows of medieval arable cultivation are evident. It then continues down the side of another wood and along a farm track which heads towards Brakes Farm. Some 250 yards before the farm go left through a gate and across a couple of fields.
Ahead on a little rise is Minerva's Temple in Hardwick Park, the finest of the eye catchers in the landscape created by the architect James Paine for John Burdon between 1754 and 1758. Badly neglected in the 20th century, the park's present popularity is a tribute to Durham County Council's restoration work after a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Continue to the right of the temple and over the Serpentine Bridge to the Visitor Centre for its excellent map which will help you appreciate the park, its water features and monuments.
To return to Sedgefield head from the Visitor Centre to the right of the tall Gothic Tower and then under the A 177. Go through a gate on the other side and continue straight across the park, passing between two large overgrown copses surrounded by iron railings. After a gate the path bears right to complete the circle.