Whatever the season the rights of way of the middle reaches of the Tees valley are always worth exploring. Good paths run close to the river which, if not always visible, is usually within earshot. There are rapids and longer placid sections, deep wooded gorges and rugged cliffs complemented too, by a variety of fascinating historical and literary sites.
Our 9 mile walk starts from the pretty village green in Whorlton, (GR106147), and follows the south bank westwards to Barnard Castle. A shorter walk of 6 miles is mapped too.
Distance: 9 or 6 miles
Time: 5 or 4 hours
Conditions: well signed paths, mostly on Teesdale Way
Refreshments: Whorlton, Barnard Castle
OS Explorer Map OL31 and 304
Originally published: 17 December 2010
With the green on your left follow the road south out of the village and, a few yards past the last house go right down a flight of steps to cross the suspension bridge of 1831. It was designed by John and Benjamin Green of Newcastle after a partly built bridge had been swept away in the floods of 1829. Tolls were once levied, ranging from a penny for a pedestrian to fivepence for a score of cattle. Below the bridge the river swirls over ledges of rock with deep pools, once the site of Whorlton Lido.
Some 100 yards beyond the bridge take the first footpath on the right. Head up the slope to a gate to the right of a house at the far side of the field. The path is now easy to follow for the next mile to Mortham Tower, a most picturesque late medieval pele tower, (the southernmost in England), with castellated curtain walls and fortified gatehouse. It was once the home of the Rokeby family.
Bear right down the drive to Dairy Bridge over the River Greta. A few yards downstream is the Meeting of the Waters where, amidst huge jumbled boulders, the river joins the Tees. The famous painting of the scene by Turner and the description of it in Sir Walter Scott's ballad 'Rokeby', helped to make Teesdale popular with visitors in the 19th century.
Continuing along the track you may glimpse on the left the ochre towers of Rokeby Hall, built in the 1720s, where much of Scott's poem was written. Just before a road junction turn right on a path which soon joins the wooded riverside. Here the tumultuous Tees is confined to a narrow gorge of grey. limestone blocks, quarried as 'Teesdale marble' in the 16th century.
At the end of the gorge the river is spanned by the battlemented Abbey Bridge. built in 1773 by J.B.S. Morritt of Rokeby Hall. It makes an excellent vantage for a view into the gorge with its amber coloured torrent some 76ft below. Cross the bridge if you have decided on the 6 mile walk and follow the busy road for some 200 yards uphill to rejoin the main route by taking a path on the right just below Mains House.
Our main walk continues along the lane on the south bank to stately Egglestone Abbey, set on a green knoll above the river. Founded in 1195 for Premonstratensian canons and dissolved in 1540, it still has beautiful tracery in its large windows as well as the huge carved tomb of Sir Ralph Bowes. It makes an excellent picnic spot and entry is free too.
Further along the lane look out for the small, sturdy 17th century Bow Bridge over Thorsgill Beck, built with low parapets to accommodate laden pack horses. Nearby are examples of the metal half bollards created by Richard Wentworth in 1996 to mark the parish boundaries in this area of Teesdale.
In another 200 yards we leave the lane by a path to the right which soon has spectacular views across to the French chateau-style Bowes Museum. The path then joins a lane down into a caravan site. Bear left through the caravans, following the 'dipper' symbol of the Teesdale Way to the riverside. Continue upstream to Thorngate footbridge which gives direct access past the former Thorngate Mill into Barnard Castle. The town's best known landmark, the Butter Market of Market Cross of 1747, is visible ahead at the top of The Bank. The market place lies beyond.
The return leg of the walk starts from the bottom of The Bank. Go right along Gray Lane and out across The Demesnes, the land retained for the exclusive use of the lords of the castle after its construction in the early 12th century. At the foot of the field was the lord's watermill which all townsfolk with corn to grind were obliged to use.
The track becomes a riverside path after passing through a gate and continues beyond the sewage works and across two fields. It then divides. Take the broad green path up to the left. Close to where it joins the road down to Abbey Bridge Turner painted a watercolour of the river and Egglestone Abbey. The painting also shows the paper once made at the house below spread out to dry on the river bank. Go down the road for a few yards and turn left over a stile to join the shorter walk.
For the first mile we lose sight of the river as the walk follows a winding path through the trees. The next section of four fields involves two wall stiles. Soon after there is a fine stretch of almost a mile over a rocky limestone outcrop with good views of the Tees in one of its tranquil stretches some 70ft below.
A deep ravine is then crossed by a footbridge followed by a further cliff walk along Whorlton Banks high above the river. The village is reached in another 200 yards.