This walk, mostly on field paths or riverside tracks, affords spectacular views of Durham City as well as passing sites associated with its long history.
Distance: 6 miles
Time: allow 3 hours for the walk although a whole day could be spent in visiting some of the many attractions en route
Conditions: good. There could be some mud after rain on the waggonway.
OS Explorer Map 308
Originally published: 18 May 2001
Start the walk at Shincliffe bridge, south of the city on the A 177, the road to Bowburn. Take the path on the right bank of the River Wear and head downstream towards Durham which, though only two miles away, is obscured the bulk of Whinney Hill. In half a mile, by a footbridge, turn right over a field to cross Old Durham Beck and pass under a former railway line. The path now turns back towards the river but notice, on the hillside to the right, the gardens of Old Durham.
These were originally planted by John Heath as a walled formal garden in the late 17th century and have been painstakingly restored by the city council in the last few years. They are occasionally open and well worth a visit.
Within a very short distance of regaining the riverside, Durham Cathedral and the castle are.seen ahead on their promontory, creating one of the finest skylines in the country.
The next mile is ·a delight and a revelation of why the Norman prince bishops chose this prominent site as the capital of their county palatine.
The footpath remains semi-rural until you have passed the next footbridge. The bridge beyond that carries modern traffic away from the heart of the city but is then followed by Elvet Bridge, one of two surviving from medieval times.
Elvet carried the traffic south and must have witnessed the entry of all new bishops as they arrived to take charge of their diocese. The present bridge, modified over the centuries, probably dates from the middle of the 14th century though there was an earlier one.
From here, the river winds below the city in a very tight loop, leaving a neck of land, the peninsula, so narrow that it is only half a mile from Elvet across the neck tot he other bridge, Framwellgate.
Our walk follows the loop under the soaring Kingsgate Bridge, built by Ove Arup in 1963. Old prints show intensive gardening on the slopes facing south; now they are tree-covered.
Rowing is popular on this stretch as the river is sluggish, being held back by a weir just beyond the next bridge, Prebends, builtin in 1772. Look out by the bridge for the two modern sculptures by Colin Wilbourn.
By the weir a fulling mill was built in the 18th century. It is now the archaeological museum.
Our walk continues to Framwellgate Bridge, originally built in about 1120, though much of the present structure is probably of the early 15th century. It was once the main road out of the city to the north.
Cross the bridge and go down steps by the Coast and Eight pub to the left bank to return up river. The cathedral and castle tower above you, the best view probably being at the former corn mill by the weir.
A couple of hundred yards beyond this point and close to Prebends Bridge is another modern sculpture, by Richard Cole, using recycled stone from one of the recently-replaced cathedral pinnacles.
Here you should leave the river, climbing right on a broad track that must have changed little since the 18th century. Turn left at Prebends Cottage and at the main road, by a charming stone cottage with lattice windows, turn right. Within a few yards a stile, left, gives access to a rough field. Cross it, then by a stile at the top left hand corner, enter a tiny new plantation.
Beyond a further stile, follow alongside a hedge which climbs in a curve, left, to reach a kissing gate. A sunken path now leads up to a road where you turn left and then almost immediately right into Elvet Hill Road, which you follow past St Mary’s, Trevelyan and Van Mildert colleges of the university to South Road. This is the only road section of the entire walk.
Now turn left and then almost immediately right following the signs to the Botanic Gardens, reached in about a quarter of a mile. Beyond the gardens the route continues along the quiet Hollingside Lane downhill through woods.
In half a mile, in front of a 5 barred gate, turn left down steps and thought he trees to join what was once the waggonway built to take coal from Croxdale colliery. It is now part o fate Houghall discover trail which criss-crosses our route, and, with its information boards, is well worth exploring.
After following the waggonway for 300 yards, the path joins a lane linking Houghall Farm with Shincliffe bridge. Just before the bridge and the end of the walk are Houghall Gardens, yet another of Durham’s many visitor attractions.