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Winston to Whorlton in Teesdale

Whatever the season the middle reaches of the Tees valley are always worth exploring on foot. It's a gentle landscape of fertile farmland and extensive woodlands with, on this 7 mile route, the majestic river as an ever changing companion.

Distance: 7 miles, just over 6 if you start from Winston Bridge, 4.5 if the bus is used

Time: between 3 and 4 hours

Grade: easy

Conditions: well signed field paths and quiet lanes, few stiles

Refreshments: Winston, Ovington, Whorlton

OS Explorer Map 304

Originally published: 15 December 2017

Whatever the season the middle reaches of the Tees valley are always worth exploring on foot. It's a gentle landscape of fertile farmland and extensive woodlands with, on this 7 mile route, the majestic river as an ever changing companion.

Our walk from Winston to Whorlton follows country lanes and footpaths south of the river and returns along the Teesdale Way on the north bank. If you wish to shorten the distance then there is an hourly X76 bus service (not Sundays) on the A 67 from Winston to Whorlton lane end (close to Black Bull farm). It's an easy downhill mile from there into Whorlton.

Our walk starts from Winston village hall, 100 yards from the Bridgewater Arms (GR 143168). Walk up Church Mews to St. Andrew's, high above the Tees. It was mostly rebuilt by John Dobson, the Newcastle architect, in 1848, but has some stones in the chancel which came from Roman Piercebridge. The wide ranging views are a taste of what to expect on the walk.

From the church gate take the path down across the village's Millennium Green to where a whinstone erratic, brought by glacial action from some 25 miles away, has been erected as a focal point. Its companion, a beehive cell of local sandstone, is a recent construction by Ewan Atkinson.

The path then drops to the riverside to join the Teesdale Way. Go right for about 400 yards to the imposing Winston Bridge, built in 1763 by Sir Thomas Robinson to provide ready access to Yorkshire markets for coal from local Durham pits. At 37 yards it was said to have been Europe's longest single span when completed. Adjacent is a lay-by which, if used, would save nearly a mile of walking.

Cross the bridge and turn right by a barrier into the riverside woods. Almost immediately the path divides. Take the narrow path, left, up through the trees to the edge of a field. Cross this, aiming for a gap  on the far side, some 20 yards to the left of a prominent road sign protruding above the hedge. Then turn right along Ovingtoane which leads in about a mile into the 'Maypole Village'. The maypole was first erected in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The present one, from Finland, dates from September, 2016 after its predecessor had been blown down in a storm a year earlier. Close by is a modern sculpture. Opposite is the more venerable Four Alls Inn with an explanatory signboard for its unusual name - "The Queen, I govern all; A Soldier, I fight for all; A Parson, I pray for all; A Farmer, I pay for all".

Some 100 yards beyond the green the lane curves left. In a similar distance look out for a path on the right. This crosses two fields before turning left. At this point, seen away to the right, are the prominent bulwarks of Cockshot Camp, an Iron Age hill fort. The path continues over two more fields to a tarred lane where go right.

In some 250 yards the traffic free lane passes the imposing entrance to Wycliffe Hall. In another 50 yards go right through a kissing gate on a path which descends through trees to the 13th century Wycliffe church, built close to the riverside and noted for its medieval glass, fragments of Saxon stones including a hogback tomb, as well as monuments to the Wycliffe family.

Its most famous son, born here in 1320, was John Wycliffe, the religious reformer, who challenged the power of the church and spent three years in translating the Bible into English. His followers, the Lollards, spread his ideas among the poorer classes.

From the church walk through the tiny cluster of houses and on to the riverside track where there are exquisite views, downstream, of the river running over a rocky bed beneath the high cliffs of the north bank, The houses at the end of the track mark the site of a former ferry. From here a path continues upstream where the Tees swirls over rocky ledges into deep pools, once a popular lido.

Ahead is Whorlton suspension bridge, designed by John and Benjamin Green of Newcastle and built in 1831  after a partly built bridge had been swept away in the great floods of 1829. Tolls were once levied, ranging from a penny for a pedestrian to 4d for a horse and carriage and threepence-halfpenny for a horse and cart.

Over the bridge we join the Teesdale Way and there's a choice of routes, both mapped. The shorter is to the right where, at a bend in the road, the Way continues ahead downstream, crosses Whorlton Beck by stepping stones and then climbs through trees before turning east through fields as a cliff top path.

The slightly longer route is up the steps from the bridge on to Whorlton village green with, at the far end, the welcoming Fernaville's which recently replaced the Bridge Inn. It's open every day! Just beyond, and opposite the road to Barnard Castle, go right between farm buildings on a track which crosses Whorlton Beck and then becomes a broad path high above the beck. It joins the Teesdale Way where it enters fields to the left.

From here it's an easy, well signed path which for most of its length stays high above the river. The recently installed signposts mean that you can hardly lose your way. In any case the Tees is visible for most of the time, to begin with down through the trees as it rushes through its gorge below. There are good views of Wycliffe and its hall on this stretch too. Beyond Graft's Farm the views open out down the valley and towards the Vale of Mowbray.

In another mile the path joins a field track heading for Osmond Croft. Make sure you leave some 100 yards short of the farm buildings. Half a mile further and the path descends briefly to the riverside, the enviable site of a cluster of holiday chalets. Bear left past them and in 100 yards go right across one field and through the riverside woods to Winston Bridge.


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