Walking from Romaldkirk

It’s funny isn’t it? You see a placename on a map or a signpost. You have no idea what the place is like. Then you go there and wonder why you never made the journey before? So let me put it on record. Romaldkirk, high above the banks of the River Tees in County Durham is a beautiful village in an area blessed with stunning scenery.DSCF0818

County Durham has some great walks, though I suspect most British walkers don’t know that. But get up into those Durham Dales and I just know you’ll be impressed. We’ve been walking sections of the Teesdale Way this year. A great walking route, with – very often – alternative routes on both sides of the river. If it’s not on your walking to-do-list put it there today and elevate it to the top.

Now for Romaldkirk – a lot of English villages have a village green. But Romaldkirk has  three, with beautiful cottages, a couple of pubs and even a village stocks for ne’er do wells like me!

The village takes its name from St Rumwold, a Saxon prodigy who got his sainthood for preaching the gospel immediately after being baptised. He actually seems to have originated in far away Buckingham, and there seems to be only other one dedication in the country. Some parts of the church date back to Anglo-Saxon times. Inside is the tomb of Hugh Fitz Henry, who died of wounds in Edward I’s Scottish wars.

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The Tomb of High Fitz Henry (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The paths are beautiful too, especially on gorgeous autumn days when the colours are at their best. We followed the Teesdale Way down to the river. On the way we passed the derelict farm of Low Garth – a place that was, now sadly deserted and boarded up. I suspect its fate was sealed by the fact that it stands out in the fields with no access for motor vehicles. But what tales those old walls might tell – how families lived and died there for centuries, the laughter and the tears. Folk adding their own stories to the history of this place.

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On

Through woodland then, and down to the River Tees. And some of the finest riparian scenery I’ve seen in England for a very long time. The path rocky, some times close to the water, then high above it. The river sometimes still in deep pools, then the swirl of white water.

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On the Teesdale Way (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The path climbed and we came to a farm called Woden’s Croft – now there’s a name to conjure with, named for the Norse god Woden, the Anglo-Germanic version of Odin. Long before Christianity came to Teesdale, Saxons and Norse would have worshipped the old gods in this wild landscape, which probably wasn’t too different to the land we see today.

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Eggleston Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Below the village of Cotherstone (see blogs passim) we halted at the confluence, where the River Balder (another terrific Saxon name) meets the Tees, before crossing the footbridge over the Tees, to take the variation of the Teesdale Way to Eggleston Bridge.

This path runs high above the river, giving you a grand view over the whole of Teesdale, right up to Middleton. The wild countryside of the Pennine Fells in the distance, before coming back down to the river.

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The village stocks at Romaldkirk (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Eggleston Bridge probably dates to 1450, and once – as many bridges did – had a chapel built upon it. The present bridge was constructed in the 17th century, though there have been recent restorations.

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Romaldkirk Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We crossed the bridge and followed easy paths back into Romaldskirk, finishing our day by exploring the church and graveyard, visiting the tomb of Hugh Fitz Henry, and reading the inscriptions on many of the outside tombstones. People who would have known and walked the same paths that we had explored.

 

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Teesdale Way to Cotherstone

A splendid walk along the Teesdale Way to the village of Cotherstone. From Barnard Castle the path by the Tees was particularly scenic, sometimes very rough, narrow above the water, suddenly ascending and then dropping back to the river edge. Then wider stretches through very pleasant woodland. A wild bit of river too, the kind of water where birds and otters lurk.DSCF0344

Soon after Tees Bank Wood, the Teesdale Way took us high above the river, then along the headland paths of airy fields through the two old farms of East and West Holme.

From Cotherstone Crag, there were grand views over the river towards the village of Cotherstone. We wandered down to the water and crossed on the footbridges before strolling up to the village itself. A charming little place, though little sign of the old castle that once dominated the river gap. One of those quiet villages where time seems to pass very slowly. The residents were holding a scarecrow festival, and many of the gardens had splendid examples.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

We walked out to the Tees Railway Path – another old train line that should really have been kept. The route of the single-track line was quite overgrown, with just room for single-file walkers. Hard to imagine the steam locomotives, blustering and noisy in the nicest possible way coming along where we now walked through such quiet countryside. The wild flowers – and there was a quite a variety – bringing colour against the fresh green of the trees.DSCF0341

We left the track and crossed it by an old railway bridge before walking to Grise Beck Wood. The waymarking was rather poor here, and we had to rely on the map a great deal to find our way along the footpaths – all duly reported on the Ramblers Association website (please do use it if you come across similar problems – it’s very easy to use.)DSCF0349

At Towler Hill Farm, we hit one of the alternative versions of the Teesdale Way, down through the very pleasant Pecknell Wood and then through the Tees end of Lartington Park. Soon the castle of Barnard Castle came into sight, on its high point above the town. A good ten mile walk which gave glimpses of countryside places still to be explored.

And here’s some Cotherstone scarecrows:

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(c) J and A Bainbridge

Teesdale Way to Whorlton

After rain in the night, we set out on a clearing morning from Barnard Castle, following the River Tees downstream to Abbey Bridge and then following the Teesdale Way. A strong scent of wild garlic as we wandered down the river bank.

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River Tees near to Whorlton

A very pleasant stretch of woodland walking, then out on to more open country as we entered Rokeby Park, although the house – the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s famous poem – is not in view.

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The Meeting of the Waters

But below the house is The Meeting of the Waters, where the River Greta meets the Tees. A delightful spot. If there was a road anywhere near it’d be a honeypot for tourists. Fortunately there isn’t. You have to walk and make an effort to see it – and all the better for that. Above is Dairy Bridge which crosses a deep gorge of the Greta – a place that was painted by both Turner and Cotman.

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Mortham Tower

On then through the estate parkland of Mortham Tower – the house a very attractive stately home, complete with Peel Tower. The path winds across fine and airy country, looking across fields to the River Tees. I find it quite interesting that many of the grand houses of the north preserved public rights of way. In some parts of Britain the landed gentry did all they could to keep the peasants (most of us!) out. Not here, happily.

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Whorlton Suspension Bridge

We crossed the River Tees on the Whorlton Suspension Bridge, which was opened on the 7th July 1831 – a toll bridge until 1914. We stood where, during World War Two, Winston Churchill stood to inspect troops training on an assault course on the steep cliffs of the northern bank, in those days when we fought fascism. The original toll house, still displaying its original charge board, stands empty on the far side.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Up a stretch of steep steps to Whorlton village, originally Querington, a very peaceful and attractive place, though the church only dates to 1853, when it replaced a chapel of ease, which dated back to Norman times.

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The Old Toll House

We returned to Barnard Castle, following the Tees upstream along the opposite bank to our journey out, though mostly high above the river, following the headland paths of fields. There were lots of sheep lazing in the sunshine and very long views across the dale.

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On the Teesdale Way

At one point, the path crosses the Sledwich Gill, where the waters of a tiny beck have carved a very deep gorge through the limestone, making the parish boundary between Whorlton and Westwick, with impressive parish boundary markers made by the artist Richard Wentworth.

After several fields the Teesdale Way plunges back into woodland on the northern side of the Tees at Tees Bank Plantation.

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Detail from a tomb in Barnard Castle Churchyard

A stretch of garlic smelling woodland brought us back to Abbey Bridge – another toll crossing in its day, where we crossed the road and took our original path back to Barnard Castle. At the Demesne, at the start of the town, we cut up through the churchyard, reading some of the ancient gravestones – the last resting place of men and women who would have known so well these same fields, woodlands and river banks.

Text and pictures copyright A and J Bainbridge

 

Walking the Tees at Barnard Castle

When I was a boy, growing up in the industrial Black Country of the English Midlands, I remember school geography lessons which presented the River Tees in the North of England only as a river flowing through similarly industrial towns and cities.

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Barnard Castle (c) John Bainbridge 2018

And so it still does – though callous governments have destroyed much of the traditional industries of County Durham.

But there’s the other River Tees – the wild river which flows down from the lonely Pennines through some stunningly beautiful and deep woodland valleys. And we’ve been exploring the river’s upper reaches along the Teesdale Way – a quite splendid long-distance path.

If you look at my blog for May 11th, you’ll see the first walk we did – to the atmospheric ruins of Egglestone Abbey.

We’ve based our first few walks on the town of Barnard Castle – a place renowned as a stronghold of King Richard III, visited by Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War, and the base for Charles Dickens’ explorations for his novel Nicholas Nickleby.

This walk used but a brief section of the Teesdale Way along the Tees. Unspoiled and dramatic it is as we followed the river upstream through a wooded and rocky gorge. This is a beautiful stretch of river, through wild countryside – the haunt of a variety of birdlife and the kind of place where you might glimpse an otter if you linger for long enough. Within yards of leaving the town you are in the peace and quiet of this lovely valley.

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The Path above the Tees (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Our time right by the Tees was short. A steep path took us up above the woodland to another public right of way leading back towards the town, running along the top edge of the trees alongside very pleasant pastures. There is almost an airy downland feeling to this countryside – you feel higher than you are. It feels fresh and pastoral.

Railway lines once crossed the valley here, and the remains of the viaducts may still be seen. Some of the old tracks are now walkable, though what a pity that the trains have gone. The short-sighted twentieth-century destruction of so many branch lines was a colossal disaster for the countryside. Some, at least, should be brought back.

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Shelter near the Red Well (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Our path descended steeply back into the valley, to the Percy Beck (now there’s a name to conjure with – the Percy family certainly left their mark of England’s history.) The beck itself, almost on the edge of Barnard Castle, is very attractive – the paths on its banks much used by local people.

Then, as we emerged from the tight valley, we found ourselves alongside one industrial complex which has survived and clearly employs a lot of people. The huge manufactory buildings of GSK – a massive pharmaceutical undertaking, surrounded by tall high fences, topped with razor wire – a boundary fitted with trembler alarms.

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(c) John Bainbridge 2018

So forbidding, I had to fight hard not to try to test their security by breaking in…

At Harmire Bridge, a footpath leads through an overgrown field to the Red Well, which stands rather forlornly facing this giant commercial enterprise. The Red Well takes its name from the colour of its waters and was recommended by the Victorians for its laxative qualities. We weren’t tempted to give it a try.

The place has an air of neglect. It would be grand if the good folk of Barnard Castle could do more to care for it – and the grass on the public footpath could do with cutting back as well.

Our way lead back alongside the GSK fence, where I suspect every step of our way was monitored by the surveillance cameras of its security department.

Under another old viaduct and past the school. We could hear the kids and smell the school dinners cooking – it reminded me of just why I so often bunked off school to go walking…

We followed the streets back into the heart of the town. An interesting short walk. The stretches by the Tees quite splendid, though the Red Well needs tending.

Next time, we walk a more remote section of the Teesdale Way.

 

 

 

In the Steps of the Egglestone Abbey Monks

When you walk out from the little County Durham town of Barnard Castle to the ruins of Egglestone Abbey, you are not just walking in the steps of the Premonstratensian monks who lived there, but also following in the tread of Charles Dickens and JMW Turner, and many other Victorian luminaries.

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Barnard Castle (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Turner painted scenes on the River Tees here, as did other Victorian artists such as my great favourite Atkinson Grimshaw. Charles Dickens stayed at Barnard Castle while researching northern schools for his novel Nicholas Nickleby, the original for Wackford Squeers of Dotheboys Hall lived not far away. Thomas Humphrey who inspired Master Humphrey’s Clock had premises in the town. Oliver Cromwell also visited during the English Civil War.

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The House where Oliver Cromwell stayed (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The town was a favoured place of King Richard III, who even today is held in great affection by the locals. Ignore the Tudor propaganda – as medieval kings go he was positively enlightened, and beloved in the North of England.

Some of this walk was in the past in Yorkshire, but county boundary alteration has moved this area firmly into County Durham.

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Green Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

One of the best ways of visiting some ancient abbey is to walk to it – there’s something reminiscent of pilgrimages in such journeys. And undoubtedly the medieval monks of Egglestone Abbey would have used the very same paths we trod.

The path we took out is now part of the Teesdale Way, which follows the River Tees along its travels to the North Sea. Only a couple of miles out to the abbey, but well worth it.DSCF0112

We crossed the Green Bridge footbridge below the town – the metal bridge, made in Darlington in 1882 is an impressive structure; originally the Tees was crossed here by stepping stones –  and followed the true right bank (true right or left is defined by having your back to the source of the river). There are some lovely properties in the little suburb of Lendings. Soon we reached a residential caravan site. The Teesdale Way could do with rather better waymarking here, though a helpful employee told us the way – steer right away from the river following the exit signs. Just as you reach a football field, take the Teesdale Way opposite.

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Bow Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

This is really beautiful pastoral countryside, the River Tees not far below. Some grand woodland and old pastures.

The paths reached a quiet lane which took us down to the river, where we watched the trout feeding. Just into it comes the its tiny tributary the Thorsgill Beck – now there’s a Norse name to conjure with: the Thor perhaps from the Norse god of thunder, though just possibly from thorpe, meaning a small settlement; the Gill, a narrow valley, from the Norse original gjel; the Beck, a small brook, from the Norse bekkr. You are certainly brushing with history on this walk.

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Egglestone Abbey (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Just before the beck meets the mightier Tees, it is crossed by the present-day road bridge, itself quite old, but also by a more original crossing – Bow Bridge, a hump-backed packhorse bridge, which dates at least to the 1600s, but is possibly even more ancient.

On high ground above are the ruins of Egglestone Abbey, dedicated to SS Mary and John the Baptist, founded by the Premonstratensian canons between 1195 and 1198. Never one of the great abbeys of England. In fact in the 1200s there was an attempt to downgrade it to a priory. It retained its abbey status, though it was always a poor foundation.DSCF0134

There were turbulent times in the years following: the Scots ravaged it in 1315 and on several other occasions. And of course it was put out if existence as a religious house following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1548, the site was granted to Robert Strelley by Henry VIII. He turned it into a farm, but over the following centuries it  gradually fell into ruin.DSCF0137

Today it is run by English Heritage and there’s free admission during daylight hours. Despite its troublesome past, there is an air of tranquility about the place. We were the only visitors, apart from some jackdaws who were nesting in the heights of the old walls. There are a few ancient grave markers, and the tomb of local worthy Sir Ralph Bowes, who died in 1482.

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The Tomb of Sir Roger Bowes (c) John Bainbridge 2018

So peaceful were the ruins of the old abbey, that it was hard to tear ourselves away, but more architectural joys awaited us.

A little further down the lane we crossed the Tees at the impressive Abbey Bridge, which doesn’t date to the nearby monastery but only to 1773, when local landowner JS Morrit wanted better access to his country estate at nearby Rokeby.  Rokeby, by the way, inspired the long poem by Sir Walter Scott, who was much enthused by this part of Teesdale. This was still a toll bridge until well into the 20th century. It can be quite busy so cross with care.

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Abbey Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We followed the opposite bank back towards Barnard Castle, through riverside meadows, passing on the way an old flax mill, called Low Mill, which probably made fibres for twine and thread for sewing shoes and gloves.

An interesting walk through history. We’re planning more walks through history on the Teeside Way, so do keep following…