To the west of Barnard Castle a series of tumbling becks rush from the moors down their thickly wooded valleys to join the Tees. They are threaded by little used rights of way which are easy to follow and provide most enjoyable exploration.
This 8 mile route follows the lower reaches of Deepdale before climbing to the pastures below Crag Hill. The return is made through Lartington and down the valley of the Scur Beck.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well signed route, possible mud in Deepdale
Refreshments: Startforth and Barnard Castle
OS Explorer Map OL31
Originally published: 14 May 2010
We start below the castle at Barnard Castle by the White Swan on the south side of the venerable County Bridge, (GR 047164). The bridge dates from 1569 and until 1974 marked the boundary between Durham and Yorkshire.
Walk upstream past the riverside site of Ullathorne's Mill, where there is a small car park and picnic ground and an inspiring view back to the bridge and the castle on its sheer cliffs.
Continue ahead on the B 6277, the Middleton-in-Teesdale road, and in 200 yards turn left into Deepdale. You are immediately engulfed in trees and follow a firm path with the busy beck a few yards away on the left. In dry weather it's easy in about 300 yards to cross Ray Gill, one of its tributaries, at a concrete ford, but there's a footbridge away on the right, too.
A short walk then brings you to a bridge over the main stream after which the path narrows and can be slippery in wet conditions.
Smart Gill, the next feeder, flows down from the left. Cross it and, after a stile, bear left uphill on a well signed path which soon has the company of a deep hollow way down on the left.
Go past Smart Gill farmhouse and then bear right, behind two cottages and across two fields to the trackbed of the former railway, built in 1861, from Barnard Castle over Stainmore to Penrith. When completed it was the highest line in the country. A forlorn concrete stepped stile survives from the line's closure nearly 50 years ago.
The path continues to the scattered houses of North Field, passing to the left of the first cottages and then through the yard of the large farmhouse. It then heads straight across a series of fields where the medieval ridge and furrow system of Boldron's huge open north field is very evident.
At North Thornberry, the next farm, pass close to the house and take the long access track to Nabb Farm. All along here you are rewarded with glorious views over into Teesdale with its scattering of white farms of the Raby estate.
Some 50 yards from the farmhouse a path goes left in front of a barn and continues down to the delightful Nabb packhorse bridge spanning the still considerable waters of Deepdale Beck, here amber coloured with a pretty fall a few yards downstream. A much worn plaque on the upstream parapet records "William Hutchinson of Delroo, Esquire, whose great charity was most exemplary in all respects, so likewise in the building of this bridge at Cragg, the place of his most happy nativity, which was built in August, 1699. Edward Addison fecit". Hutchinson's gift was prompted by an escape from drowning at this point.
Cross the bridge and bear left through a dilapidated gate and then between two lines of stunted trees to High Crag, Ahead are the large fallen rocks at the foot of Crag Hill which, at over 1,000ft. dominates the open pastureland below.
Continue ahead on the track to Low Crag where bear right on the access track through the woods surrounding Crag Pond. This brings us in less than a mile to Lartington Green Lane where go right.
In about 100 yards turn left over a stile on a path which soon drops into pretty North Gill. On the far side it keeps to a wall on the left and climbs to Naby. Turn right through the farm and continue down the access lane to the B 6277 on the edge of Lartington. Cross straight over.
From here the walk follows the delightful Scur Beck valley down to its confluence with the Tees. The first half mile is through dense woodland.
After recrossing the former railway turn right at a junction to reach Lartington Hall in about 200 yards. A path signed to Barnard Castle goes to the left of the hall which dates from the 17th century. The path passes the elaborate porte cochere of 1861 which shelters the entrance and was added by the architect Joseph Hansom of hansom cab fame.
Our path crosses a stile and heads down past an ornamental pool to the beckside. On the far bank is the hall's very extensive original walled kitchen garden. The path continues downstream across the 200 year old planned parkland.
At the far end a gate gives access to a track leading to Pecknell Farm. Turn left over the beck and continue past the entrance to a caravan site. Where the lane swings to the left go right over an unmarked stile to reach a well sited seat. Now follows probably the most attractive section of the walk through Pecknell Wood in the company of the vigorous beck.
Too soon this idyll comes to an end and you reach a tarred lane close to the Tees. Turn right to follow the river downstream for the last half mile.