Two miles below Wolsingham the River Wear changes its easterly course to flow south east towards Witton-le-Wear. Our 8 and a half mile walk cuts across the area of land within the curve of the river. It scales the heights of Knitsley Fell (over 900 feet), before descending across pastureland to make use of the footbridge near Low Harperley. The final one and a half miles is along the river bank.
Distance: 8.5 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: little used field paths and tracks
OS Explorer Maps OL31 and 305
Originally published: 16 September 2016
Leave Wolsingham's busy market place along the Stanhope road, the A689. In about 200 yards on the left you come to some of the town's oldest buildings, the imposing Whitfield House, built by Matthew Whitfield in 1700, and the adjoining cottages of 1677. Turn left here down the Causeway.
This leads in a quarter of a mile to Wolsingham's girder bridge of 1894. On the other side go sharp left on the lane which leads to the station. The Weardale Railway was opened as far as Wolsingham in 1847 for the exploitation of the local limestone quarries, and was closed in 1993 when the Eastgate cement works ceased production. An ultimately successful campaign for restoration started soon afterwards. Since 2004 passenger trains have been run in the summer from Wolsingham to Stanhope and there are plans for a service to connect to Bishop Auckland. The privately owned Station House survives as a fine example of Victorian railway architecture of 1847.
Our walk continues along the lane which soon crosses the track. In another 200 yards go left over a ladder stile and, after one field, strike half right uphill past a lone tree to rejoin our lane at a gate. Turn left to reach the 17th century Wiserley Hall.
Leaving the farm buildings on your right go straight ahead and through a gate where the farm drive turns sharp left. The path soon descends to a ford before climbing half left. Near the far end of the next field look out for some wooden steps and a stile. The ruined farmhouse of Crowsfield will be seen another field distant. There are fine views back from here to Wolsingham and upper Weardale.
The path continues ahead, leaving the farmhouse on the right. After the next gate follow an indistinct track around to the right to another gate before heading for a ladder stile across the next field. From the top of the stile the trig point on Knitsley Fell is visible. Head for it across the heather to enjoy a spectacular panorama. Particularly striking are the views to the right over Hamsterley Forest and those straight ahead down lower Weardale with the scarp of the Cleveland Hills in the far distance. On a clear day little white industrial clouds reveal the existence of Teesside.
Leave this vantage point by going straight ahead on a well defined path through the heather to a metalled road. Turn right along it to Howlea Lane which links Wolsingham to Hamsterley. Turn left. Over the wall on the right are a number of rocky pools where gannister was once quarried. Almost pure silica, it was crushed and used in steel smelting.
In a quarter of a mile turn left along the drive to Shipley Moss Farm. For the next mile of descent there are glorious views ahead into the wooded Wear valley. Our route continues beyond the farm across three fields and down to a curious ruined circle of bricks, no doubt built to protect the spring which rises here from fouling by cattle.
Here the right of way joins a farm track which drops down to Monkfield. Just before the house go through a gate on the left marked with an arrow. Then follow the hedge on the left side of the field to a stile. On the other side the path continues to an impressive footbridge, the only river crossing between Wolsingham and Witton-le-Wear. The river here is some 50 yards wide with a current flowing fast over its stony bed. It is popular with herons too.
The path now goes upstream for a few yards before turning right over the railway. From the level crossing head across one field to Low Harperley, another 17th century farm with stone mullioned windows. Turn left here to follow the access drive to the main road, the A 689. Turn left.
In about 50 yards go right over a stile and up across a field past a power pole to a gate in the far corner. The path continues across 2 fields to Old Park, so called for one of the extensive deer parks of the medieval Bishops of Durham. Cross the access track and pass below the farm buildings. After one field turn left along the edge of Old Park Wood to reach Bradley Hall. The path is well signed around the right side of the hall back to the main road.
The hall, however, merits a pause for it is one of the most interesting buildings in Weardale. Its history is outlined on two excellent noticeboards, one of these being over a ladder stile and in the 15th century vaults of the earliest house on the site. The moat too dates from the middle ages as does the pillow mound where rabbits were bred for their meat and fur. Of the 16th century mansion built by Sir George Bowes little is left.
Go right when you return to the A 689 and, in 100 yards, just after crossing Bradley Beck, go left through a gate down to the gates of the local sewage works. The path goes sharp left here and after crossing the railway rejoins the Wear.
Turn right upstream for the last mile and a half, a delightfully tranquil walk through the woods in the company of the busy river. I saw herons again and four dippers too on this stretch. The railway is recrossed where a branch leaves the main line for the depot and sheds of the Weardale Railway Limited. Turn left when you reach the main road on the edge of Wolsingham.