A dense network of rights of way radiates from Wolsingham, a testament to its historical importance as a focal point in Weardale. Our 8 mile walk uses one of them as it heads north along the side of the valley of the Waskerley Beck. A stretch of moorland follows before a wooded section along the shores of Tunstall Reservoir. The return is field walking in the valley itself.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Grade: moderate with one short climb to Baal Hill
Conditions: paths good, a few more signs needed
OS Explorer Map OL31 and 307
Originally published: 2 April 2010
The starting point is the car park in the Demesne Mill picnic area off the B 6296 road to Tow Law, some 250 yards north of the market place, (GR 077374).
From the car park return to the road and turn left over Waskerley Beck and then go left again in the gap between Cotherstone House and no. 15, Upper Town. From one of Wolsingham's many cast iron kissing gates the path crosses the grassy mounds known as Castle Walls, the site of the medieval hunting lodge of the bishops of Durham. You continue to a tarred lane. Turn right and in 50 yards pass left through another kissing gate.
The path climbs steadily and after two fields follows a hollow way through trees to reach Baal Hill House, of late medieval origin, named for the lead smelting which once place near here, and once the home of the bailiffs of Wolsingham deer park.
Go through the gate to the right of the farm and in about 30 paces strike off left across a large field to a gate close to a wood. For the next mile the route is easy to follow through a series of gates with good views left into the valley. Just before Spring Gill the ridges and furrows of medieval arable farming are evident.
Beyond the gill glimpses of Tunstall Reservoir appear and in another 300 yards Backstone Bank Farm is reached. Here the walk could be shortened by 2 miles by turning left, downhill along the access track to the reservoir where the main walk is rejoined, (mapped).
The longer route turns sharp right through a gate just before the farm. As a stony track it then follows a wall on the left and climbs gently over rough pasture for some 400 yards to a gate giving access on to land which in the 19th century was enclosed for pasture but which has now reverted to moorland.
Turn left to follow a wall past Ninety Acre Plantation. There are expansive views ahead to the moors and left, down into the valley. In less than a mile and at a height of over 1,000 feet, the path reaches the trackbed of the railway which once connected Tow Law with Consett to the north and Rookhope to the west. Built by the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company in the late 1840s, and thus one of the oldest in the country, it carried ironstone and limestone to the ironworks and the finished product in the opposite direction. It closed in 1952 and now makes a wonderful cycling and walking route.
Ignore paths marked to the right and through the trees on the left, and instead continue ahead through a gate and along the railway. After about 250 yards look out for the second gate with arrow. A distinct path heads down over more rough pasture with Tunstall House Farm as a marker ahead.
In less than half a mile the path skirts the edge of Quarry Wood to reach the reservoir. It was built in the 1850s to provide lime free water for the locomotives of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and was later piped to villages in Weardale and beyond. On its eastern bank the oaks of Backstone Wood from medieval times supplied the bishops with timber for building and, as charcoal, for their local lead smelting operations.
Our walk follows the delightful path through the wood, parallel to the shore.
We join the short cut at the far end of the reservoir. Go right, across the dam, where a line of seats is a walker's delight, all south facing with wonderful views down the valley and protected from any sneaky northerly by a sturdy wall.
At the far end go left along a tarred lane for about 50 yards. Take the first path on the right which bears left across the first field to a gate in a line of trees. It then crosses the next field diagonally to a wall stile.
Cross the next field to a gate and continue along the edge of a wood to a track leading, right, up to High Jofless Farm and, in another 200 yards, to Jofless Cottage. At the next gate go right, along the field side and up to a small plantation. The path climbs round the edge of the trees to the scanty ruins of Park Gate Farm. Climb the stone stepped stile over the wall on the left to the enclosed area in front of a barn.
The farm is named after Wolsingham Park, created in the late 12th century as a hunting preserve by the Norman bishops of Durham. It had a perimeter of some 8 miles and enclosed most of the valley of the Waskerley Beck. As late as 1450 there were still 140 deer in the park and another 200 in Weardale Park higher up the dale with which it was connected. However by the 16th century much of the park had been let to tenant farmers for cattle rearing.
From the gate in front of the barn the walk is now all downhill with the park boundary wall to keep you company on the right The views down to Wolsingham and beyond down Weardale make a pleasure of every step. After half a mile or so, where the path crosses one or two little hillocks, make sure you continue close to the wall and its attendant line of mature trees.
After a road crossing the iron kissing gates reappear and the path descends to the beckside and continues past some pretty falls and the site of the bishops' Demesne Mill to the car park.