Crossing the Lambley Viaduct on the South Tyne Trail

PUBLISHED: 11:41 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:50 20 February 2013

Flowers growing in a grassy area opposite Softley Low Wood near Lambley

Flowers growing in a grassy area opposite Softley Low Wood near Lambley

For the keen walker, the dismantling of the railways vastly increased the number of pleasant country routes - like this one across Lambley Viaduct<br/><br/>Words and pictures by David Taylor

Theres a persuasive argument to made that the Victorians were overachievers. When not creating the biggest empire the world has ever seen, they spent their spare time inventing a lot of the useful stuff we take for granted today. Take the railways for example. What a marvellous idea to tame the kettle, stick it on wheels and then use it to move people and goods around the country.
What was also needed to get the steam engine moving around doing useful stuff was an infrastructure on which it could run. This was particularly tricky in the undulating North East of England. However, once again the Victorians came up trumps. The bridges and viaducts needed to get the railways across our deep river valleys are by and large still in use.
Today however, these structures are not always used for the benefit of the train. The contraction in the number of rural branch lines in the 1960s put paid to that. For the keen walker though, the dismantling of the railways has vastly increased the number of pleasant country walks, as we shall discover this month.
Start at the public parking space north of the village of Coanwood. Cross over the road following the sign for Lambley Viaduct and the South Tyne Trail. The trail shadows the River South Tyne from its source near the village of Garrigill to the town of Haltwhistle. Part of the route well be walking today follows the South Tyne Trail along the old Alston to Haltwhistle branch line, the history of which well get to in just a minute.
The path cuts a ruler-straight line through woodland, evidence that this route was indeed once a railway. This becomes more apparent at the first landmark, a slightly incongruous large iron-framed buffer. This is followed closely by the remains of Coanwood station, of which only the stone platform is now apparent.

However, the most breathtaking of the railways legacies comes when the trees thin and suddenly you are high over the South Tyne Valley and walking across Lambley Viaduct. If you dont like heights, here are a few facts to distract you as you cross to the other side. The viaduct was built in 1852 for the Alston spur of the Newcastle to Carlisle railway. As well as passengers, this line was used to transport lead and coal mined in the Weardale district.
The centre section of the viaduct is (whisper it) 32 metres above the valley floor. After the closure of the Alston line in 1976 the viaduct decayed to the point where it was structurally unsafe and in danger of reaching a point when repairs would be uneconomical.
If youre beginning to wobble a bit at this point, a final few facts may reassure you. In the late 1990s the structure was repaired and made safe by the engineer Charles Blackett-Ord and handed over to the safe keeping of the North Pennine Heritage Trust in perpetuity. So theres absolutely no danger and you can walk the 240m length in complete safety, and hopefully not with your eyes shut.
At the end of the viaduct the path descends a set of stairs to lead to a crossroads and a fingerpost. Take the route marked South Tyne Trail (South): Slaggyford. The path takes you downhill under the viaduct before climbing again to rejoin the route of the railway line.
Continue along this path for approximately one and a half kilometres until you reach another fingerpost. We now leave the railway behind to take the route for the village of Eals. Follow the path down a set of overgrown steps and along the edge of Softley Low Wood. After crossing a footbridge over a stream, continue on to cross another footbridge, this time over the River South Tyne (only a few feet over the river you may be pleased to learn).
At the end of the bridge turn right and continue along a farm track. Before you reach the village of Eals, cross over a dry-stone wall via a stile next to a fingerpost pointing to Towsbank. Follow the footpath markers to Towsbank Wood and make your way into the wood, crossing over a footbridge at the edge of the treeline.
The path upwards through the wood is initially tricky to follow but eventually you will reach the remains of three giant iron boilers, rusting and abandoned and more proof that once the countryside was considerably more industrialised than we now realise.
This area was once an anthracite drift mine, and as well as the boilers other industrial remains, such as railway tracks and other machinery, can be seen in the undergrowth. The coal has now gone or is uneconomical to mine but it is strange to think that the quiet of the woods today is a relatively recent development.
From the boilers, continue uphill along the path until it levels out and becomes broader and less uneven. Continue north through the woods, ignoring a footpath marker youll come across, pointing uphill to Towsbank.
Eventually youll reach a break in the woods and view up to the village of Ashholme from a gate into a farm field. Follow the track through Hag Wood to the left of this gate. When you reach a footpath marker, follow the path downhill to the river and then right from there to the foot of Lambley Viaduct.
Continue along the path under the viaduct and then north along the river to a footpath marker on an embankment. Follow the arrow on the marker along a field edge to a bridge over a stream. Cross the bridge and walk uphill along a farm track. The track will take you back to the South Tyne Trail and from there
it is only a half a kilometres walk north to the car park and the end of this months walk.

Join David on one of his popular one-day or residential workshops over the summer and autumn. For more details visit his website

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