Wonderous Weardale discovered
PUBLISHED: 16:10 15 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:33 20 February 2013
The moors of Weardale are a perfectly poetic place to blow away the cobwebs
There is a stone arch in Weardale,
That has stood firm despite every gale,
The wind howls through,
But its stuck down with glue,
So its extremely unlikely to fail.
Every limerick Ive ever written has somehow failed to be included on the English GCSE curriculum. Obviously Im disappointed but Im slowly learning to live with the rejection. Its a pity because there is another poet who was inspired by the countryside of the Wear Valley and he did alright for himself.
It was after a schoolboy visit to Rookhope in the summer of 1922 that W.H. Auden realised that he was a creative individual. Hiking across Bolts Law he came across a disused mine-shaft. Dropping stones down the hole he was intrigued by the noise they made as they fell into water far below. In his New Year Letter of 1940 he wrote: "In Rookhope I was first aware, Of self and not-self, death and dread..."
Auden returned many times to the moors of Weardale as an adult and his mature poetry reflected his deep understanding of the area. Hopefully, after this months walk youll be inspired to return often too. However, well try and avoid the death and dread of the poets imagination.
Start in the village of Rookhope and follow the footpath on the west side of Rookhope Burn bridge. The path you are following is a small stretch of the Weardale Way, a 77-mile route from Roker on the coast to Killhope in County Durham. Continue along the path, passing through several gates to reach Smailsburn Farm. Pass through the farm and back onto the Weardale Way.
The footpath gently climbs up the slope of Hanging Wells to a derelict farm cottage at Bishop Seat. Pass through two gates and onto the open-access land of Northgate.
The landscape here is a switchback of humps and dips, carved out by the streams and burns that flow down from the moors. This is sheep country and the most common sheep farmed is the Swaledale, a hardy breed capable of thriving on rough moorland.
Cross over a stile and then through a small wooden gate, continuing to follow the route-markers for the Weardale Way. The route climbs the aptly named Weather Hill. One thing the moors of Weardale cant be accused of is lack of weather. At the top of the hill, cross over the fence using a stile, keeping the conifer plantation on your left.
From Weather Hill head toward another plantation, crossing over the tributaries of Park Burn. Cross over a ladder stile and skirt left around the trees of the plantation. Go through two farm gates and then turn right before a third, leaving the Weardale Way behind. Follow the footpath to a gate in a dry-stone wall onto a single-lane road. Follow the road downhill for approximately three-hundred yards to a rough farm track on the right.
Keep to the track as it curves around the slope of Middlehope Moor, past another abandoned and derelict farm building at Shield Close. Looking across the valley from the track you can see strange grass-covered lumps and bumps on the hills. The area around Middlehope Moor is littered with abandoned lead mines, and these lumps and bumps are all that remain of these mines.
Lead mining first began in the area in Roman times. By the nineteenth century, the moors of Weardale and neighbouring Teesdale were the centre of Britains lead-mining industry. All this industry is gone now and it is hard to imagine the moors as anything but their tranquil rural present.
At the end of the track turn right onto the road and follow it to the top of Scarsike head. On the right is Windy Hill, named, I suspect, by the same person who first gave Weather Hill its title. Continue to follow the road down as it snakes its way across Lintzgarth Common. Cut through a small cluster of conifers and from there, walk back onto the road.
Eventually the road brings you down to Lintzgarth and the sight of what at first appears to be an arched bridge, but one that does not cross over anything.
The arch is all that remains of a series of six built in the nineteenth century to support a two-mile long stone flue that ran up the slopes of Redburn Common. The area around Rookhope was once heavily industrial, with lead from the local mines smelted at a foundry that once stood near the arch. The flue was built to carry the poisonous gases up and out into the moors away from the valley floor.
Lead-mining and smelting were dangerous businesses, and constant exposure to the metal would have been highly detrimental to the workers health. Over time the effects of exposure include kidney, nerve and brain damage, and infertility. Its not pleasant at all and its little wonder that the waste from the foundry was directed as far from Rookhope and Lintzgarth as possible.
The arch is an incongruous sight now. Even by Audens time lead-mining was gone. At the end of the First World War the last mine in the area was closed.
The foundry soon fell into disrepair leaving only this single arch as a reminder of its existence.
From the arch follow the road back into Rookhope, a distance less than the flue that once crossed the moors nearby, but perhaps just long enough to finish your award-winning poetry composition.
Across the moors of Weardale
Start Point: At the road bridge in Rookhope
Grid Reference: NY 938 428
Ordnance Survey Map: Landranger Map 87 (1:50 000)
Length: 7.8 miles (12.6 km)
Time: 4 hrs
Difficulty: Difficult (rough moorland and some steep climbs)
Nearest Pub: The Rookhope Inn
Nearest town: Rookhope
Other Notes: Find out more about Weardale's industrial heritage at http://www.killhope.org.uk