The Weardale Way – Stanhope to Frosterley

Frosterley church spire rises above the trees – from the remains of the quarry near Ridding House

“Flippin’ ‘eck,” exclaimed Helen quietly, “it’s like watching a rat up a drainpipe.”

She and I had watched Linda move surprisingly quickly in the direction of the ice cream van after what had been a very hot and energy sapping walk. Even joining the long rag tag queue of nearly naked children and their negotiating parents didn’t seem to change the new-found bounce in our tired driver’s mood.

“There’s very little that I’ll let come between me and an ice cream,” Linda explained, her eyes roaming hungrily around the pictorial menu on the side of the van.

We had pulled up on the side of the road by the Bollihope Burn on our way home, where an ice cream van was doing a roaring trade on a hot Bank Holiday Monday. Usually a parking area for walkers, today the burn had become a cooling off spot for many families whose cars and children were filling every available space in and around the small river.

We settled on a trio of 99s whilst watching, with some amusement, the various luminous and marshmallowed creations that the youngsters were endeavouring to eat before the iced artistry lost the battle with the heat. And I have to say that our ice creams slipped down a treat too.

We’d begun the walk on a train at Frosterley station. The heritage railway line runs a weekend service between Bishop Auckland and Stanhope from Easter to the autumn half term and we caught the 11.58 into Stanhope for the start of our walk. A whole 9 minute ride relayed us along what would be a 5 mile or so afternoon walk back to the car. It was a lovely way to travel; a brief sojourn into yesteryear with a young conductor whose hitched up black trousers and baggy white shirt suggested that eating a few more ice creams wouldn’t do him any harm.

The Weardale Way weaves its way out of the town and up through pastures onto the moorland above the valley. Part of the attraction of walking in and around communities is in seeing some of the sights that are hidden from main thoroughfares. Gardens especially are a talking point; show stopping vegetables and blooms quietly jostling for position in terraced back yards alongside the petrol mowered hum keeping expanses of Wimbledon-like lawns in submission.  We found ourselves in the middle of a vintage tractor rally at one point and marvelled at the pristine vehicles enveloping all observers in clouds of fumes as they belched up the lane in front of us.

The path took us uphill into an incessant summer heat; there was very little cooling breeze on the top and it was slow going as a result. Route finding wasn’t that straightforward either. The area is a rabbit warren of paths, all created by the miners as they commuted to work and now preserved as public rights of way; it is a walkers’ paradise as a result.

Helen views the disused quarry near Ridding House

We stomped up to the same quarries for pleasure that many would have done for work from the 1840s. From our green and verdant pastures, I tried to imagine the industrial valley that it had been; the smell and shock wave of blasting punctuating the constant chisel, pick and hammer chorus steadily nibbling away at the limestone, creating vast amphitheatric scars along the river. It wouldn’t have been a pretty site and, if this type of open cast mining was tried today, it would no doubt generate a stream of protest. Now, however, the landscape clothes the scars with a cloak of multicoloured greens fastened with buttons of crystal mirrored quarry dams. Its beauty is more poignant as a result and, ironically, part of Weardale’s attraction is now in its history. We are indeed a perverse species.

The final section of our walk saw us continue the challenge of route finding through blocked and hidden paths on farmland, gardens and driveways as we moved through Hill End to Frosterley but we were successful in locating The Black Bull and some very welcome cold refreshment in the sticky heat.

And that cider most probably explains Linda’s nimble footed alacrity once faced with the possibility of an ice cream.

Climbing up above Peak Side

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