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 hasĀ  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.

DSCF0824
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.

DSCF0812
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.

DSCF0809
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.

DSCF0821
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.

DSCF0831
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.

DSCF0823
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.

 

Advertisements

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:

DSCF0346DSCF0347DSCF0348

(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.

VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110
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.

VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110
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.

DSCF0290
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.

VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110
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.

VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110
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.

DSCF0307
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.

DSCF0278
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