Stanhope at the heart of Weardale, set between two pretty tributary burns and surrounded by moors, is an excellent centre for walkers. It's worth an exploration of its own too. The church has a Roman altar to the god Silvanus discovered on the moors and a highly polished font of the local Frosterley marble. Look out too for the 250 million year old fossil tree standing on the churchyard wall in the Market Place, the starting point of our 7 mile walk.
We're heading first for Stanhope Dene, one of the town's many beauty spots. Walk up Church Lane to the right of the churchyard. Facing you at the top is the 17th century Stone House, the former rectory. Turn left past the Methodist chapel and in some 200 yards go right up the side of allotments. Above rise the steep faces of the former Ashes Limestone Quarry - we shall get a better view of them later in the walk.
Distance: 7 miles
Time: 4 hours NB: 4 hour parking limit at Durham Dales Centre near the Market Place
Grade of walk: moderate
Conditions: well signed woodland and moor paths, two short climbs, few stiles
OS Explorer Map 307
Originally published: 1 November 2013
The path passes through a kissing gate and goes left through a large steel gate along the track of one of the tramways which fed the limestone to the kilns where it was reduced to lime for the iron industry. There are excellent views all along here up the dale to the distant Pennines.
In some 400 yards cross the B 6278 on to a lane. Here at Lanehead were sited the kilns and the start of a remarkable railway, one of the oldest in the country, built in 1834, which transported the lime up a steep incline on to the moors. There a conventional railway continued to ironworks on Tyneside and, later, Tow Law. The original company was taken over in 1845 by the Stockton and Darlington Railway - you can see one of their S&DR marker stones in the wall on the left 30 paces along the path signed up the drive of Kiln Cottage.
Our walk continues along the lane which soon enters the wooded Stanhope Dene. Some 200 yards into the wood look out for a path on the left which drops down to Stanhope Burn. Cross the bridge and turn right on a path which soon climbs a flight of steps away from the stream before following the edge of the wood. It then bears left high above the rocky cleft carved out by the tributary Reahope Burn. The bridge is spanned by a bridge built to carry lead ore from local mines to a smelt mill in Stanhope Dene. Its massive proportions can best be appreciated by peering through the undergrowth as you climb towards it.
Cross the bridge and follow the track past Shield Hurst Farm. Ahead on the far hillside it's easy to spot the two flues which carried the poisonous fumes from the smelt mill out on to the moor. Our track now bears right and descends to the valley floor and the derelict buildings of a mid 20th century fluorspar mine.
We now leave the valley by a rough track to the left of the largest building. It climbs to a gate where turn right along the Velvet Path which after an initial stony section lives up to its name with a smooth surface of green turf. It then crosses open moorland and in half a mile reaches the B 6278. Cross straight over and in 20 paces turn right down the Crawleyside Incline. The top of the incline is visible half a mile behind you at Weatherhill. The original steam powered engine from Weatherhill still works as a huge prominent exhibit just inside one of the entrances to York's National Railway Museum.
We continue downhill on a slope of about 1 in 13. At the foot bear to the left of the Crawley Engine house and then along the wall which surrounds the site. This engine brought the trucks up an even steeper slope of 1 in 8 from the kilns and through a tunnel still visible over the wall.
From the wall we bear left on a well used path with outstanding views. The path continues along the top of the crags of Crawley Edge overlooking Ashes Quarry which operated from 1840 to 1950. Today the great holes and gashes have greened over and resemble the banks and ditches of a gigantic Iron Age hill fort. If you are looking for a short cut back into Stanhope then bear right on a sloping path into the quarry some 400 yards along the edge.
The main walk continues along Crawley Edge with good views ahead down the valley. It then descends past ruins behind a high buttressed wall and joins a hard core track before reaching a tarred lane at a gate. Turn left.
In a few paces, at Hill Crest, the old isolation hospital, go left through another gate. Follow the fence and wall on the right past the cottages and then down across open moorland into the valley of the Shittlehope Burn. The tiny stream is easily crossed and the path continues down the pretty valley with the burn on the right..
After passing a small dam the right of way hugs the water's edge for about 150 yards to another crossing with rudimentary stepping stones. It then enters a deep wooded ravine and a third crossing is made over a footbridge. Just downstream, and visible from the bridge, are limestone caves called the Fairy Holes. Our path continues through dense foliage and past a couple of seats which indicate the popularity of the area over the years. We then emerge from the trees, recross the burn and head across one field to Woodcroft Gardens on the outskirts of Stanhope.
Turn left to the A 689 and then left again past Weardale Motors bus garage. In 200 yards turn right towards the river Wear. In a similar distance go right on a path across fields to the Weardale Railway. Opened in 1862 it fell into disuse and was closed for many years in the late 20th century. Now restored it is used for the occasional special service.
Beyond the line head to the left of the football posts in the next field and then through one gate before recrossing the tracks. The lane beyond takes you back into the Market Place.