Weardale Way – Frosterley to Wolsingham

The morning rush hour

“Can I order a pot of tea please?”

The young landlord of the Black Bull had finally returned to the bar and I was relieved that I could place my order in good time before my bus arrived.

“No.”

He looked bashful as my face obviously registered disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” he explained, “We’ve got no electric in the kitchen so I can’t boil the kettle. The electrician is out the back now trying to sort it.”

“Ah,” I said, “No worries” and chose a soft drink instead from the refrigerated cabinets that sat behind the bar.

“Are you the ‘new management’ of the signs outside?” I queried as he added ice to my glass and flipped the lid of the bottle.

“Yes,” he rolled his eyes heavenwards. “the kitchen is 4 weeks late in being ready and the electrician has found some more problems.

“Ah,” I repeated, “that’s not helpful.”

Disused quarry near Frosterley

We were interrupted by the arrival of 3 walkers; older men of varying indeterminate ages who clattered in with sticks and bags in disarray. Bright ruddy faces, wind crafted hair and damp waterproofs suggested that they had been walking a while.

As they exploded clothing, kit and comments into the bar, we traded notes on routes and I discovered that they had been exploring the opposite side of the valley to me – wandering along the fells around Tunstall reservoir and clocking up 12 miles in the process.

I finished my drink as the walkers ordered some cask ale and left them to complain about the temperature it was served at with the patient landlady, who’s eye rolling was rather similar to that of her son’s earlier.

Harehope quarry

The pub in Wolsingham was well named, coming as it did after a walk that included a lot of cattle. The route from Frosterley started by winding its way through an array of quarries. I counted four in what was just a square mile of land next to the Wear opposite the town as well as the remains of a lead mine. All quiet and disused now, it must have been a heavily industrial area in its day.

Well, that’s fairly clear!

The Weardale Way then focuses on today’s industry; that of agriculture and shooting. I was taken up through high pastures where sheep and cattle grazed. I need to add a cow and sheep identification book to my list that still includes a reminder to buy wildflower and bird guides.

Bulls, cows, bullocks and heifers in varying autumnal shades of black, grey and russet gazed at me nonplussed as I strode through their fields. I don’t take their presence lightly as I’m rather aware of the injuries that they can cause when unsettled. So, I stayed out of their way, watched their behaviour and pondered an escape plan if necessary! All was well.

Path from West Biggins up onto the moor

This section of the route tops out on the optimistically named Sunnyside Edge which, ironically, coincided with the only shower of the day. It marks the border between farm and moor and is where I traded cows for grouse. The heather hid them well but they still made their presence felt with sudden flight and a cackling laugh of an alarm call. I’d have had enough for a big pie if I’d taken a gun.

The Edge does offer lovely views across the valley and the moorland provides an isolated flavour to the route as well as a reminder of how close the valley’s residents live to nature on the wild side. It isn’t a place where humanity has the upper hand; the microclimate and the river and its environs will always have the final say with a population who know how to adapt accordingly.

And I walk here with this in mind too. It is Pennine upland with its own meteorology and has to be treated with respect. I check the forecast, watching for troublesome fronts that need accommodating in my route choice. I’ll happily own up to being a fair weather walker simply because I know the misery of soggy plodding and challenging route finding in low cloud. There are better things to be doing.

I walked 7 miles today in just under two and a half hours but my journey back from the pub end point in Wolsingham to my car in Frosterley took all of 8 minutes. I asked the bus driver if there was a stop near the co-op in the village.

“Is that where you want to get off?” he replied.

“Yes, I think so, my car is just along from there in the car park.” I explained, a bit puzzled by the question.

“Righto,” he said.

We sailed straight past the co-op and he stopped a hundred yards further on at the car park entrance. There was no designated bus stop. No lay by for him to pull into. Just my car.

It made my day.

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