- Start: Escomb Church
- End: Escomb Church
- Country: England
- County: Durham
- Type: Country
- Nearest pub: The Saxon Inn, Escomb
- Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer 305
- Difficulty: Easy
At first glance the west coast of the United States of America doesn't have much in common with the Wear Valley in County Durham
It doesnt seem likely, but remarkably the west coast of America and Wear Valley have at least two similarities. You can visit a place called California in both localities. And they both boast ancient and venerable buildings for the interested tourist to visit.
Well okay, in the case of the USA, were talking relatively ancient and venerable. An American friend once told me that some of the buildings where he lived were, gosh, at least thirty years old. Imagine that.
Were going to start this months walk outside Escomb Church which is little bit older than thirty years old. In fact its one thousand, four hundred years old and it is still in use today.
Escomb is one of Englands oldest Anglo-Saxon churches and is one of only three that are still intact. What is even more remarkable is that the stone used to build the church came from the nearby Binchester Roman Fort. On the north wall of the church is a Latin inscription denoting the Sixth Legion of the Roman Army. Recycling is far from a new thing, it would appear.
From the church, follow the road in front of the Saxon Inn west, until you reach a meadow and a signpost for the Weardale Way. Walk through the meadow following the route of the Weardale Way past a series of lakes to the village of Witton Park.
The Weardale Way is a seventy-seven mile route through County Durham following the route of the river from its source in the Pennines to Roker on the northeast coast. The small stretch that we follow on this walk is unique in the number of lakes that cluster close to the river. There is good fishing to be had in these lakes (with a permit of course) with the likes of carp and roach having made their home here.
When you reach a tunnel under a railway line, go through, and continue on to a main road. Turn right and follow this road through Witton Park. At the end of the village continue along the road, following the sign for Howden
Approximately 200 metres from the end of Witton Park cross over the road and follow the sign for the Weardale Way across a field. Continue along the Weardale Way until you reach Holme Wood. Cross over a stile and follow the path through the wood. The path eventually drops down to the banks of the River Wear. The going here is less well-defined than previously and there is a certain amount of scrambling over rocks to reach a clear path again.
Leaving the river behind continue on through Holme Wood. The path emerges through the wood to wend a way between a series of meadow fields and the edge of Holme Wood. After 500 metres the path meets up with a track. At this point we leave the Weardale Way, which continues westwards.
Turn left and follow a bridleway, keeping the edge of Castle Wood on your right. Castle Wood is named after Witton Castle, a fourteenth century building owned by the Chaytor family. The Chaytors benefited financially during the nineteenth century thanks to the abundance of coal on their land. Today the grounds of the castle are less industrial and more peaceful, which the inhabitants of the caravan park that nestles in Castle Wood must be truly thankful for.
Continue along the bridleway to a point where a public footpath crosses over and take this footpath east along the edge of a field. At a stile, cross over and continue along this path on the opposite side of the field wall.
After crossing several fields you will reach the track that leads to East Park Farm. Cross over the track and continue eastwards to the bottom end of Witton Park. Turn right onto the village road and walk briefly uphill before turning left and following the road to Woodside.
Once through Woodside (and sadly, before reaching California) follow a path on the left signposted the Mineral Valleys Walk. As previously mentioned, this area was a rich source of coal.
Once youve crossed over a railway bridge you will be close to the site of the Old Etherley Colliery George Pit. During the nineteenth century this pit dominated the village of Escomb. At the height of its productivity over seven hundred tons of coal per day were mined at the colliery. The human cost of this yield was forty-eight fatalities during the operational life of the pit. In 1920 the pit was closed, and after reclamation the site was given over to recreational use.
What was once no doubt thought to be a permanent part of the landscape
has gone for good. It is strange to think that some of mankinds creations survive the uncertainties of history and others are here today and gone tomorrow. As you enter Escomb to complete your walk, be grateful that it is a small
church built during Britains dark age that outlasted a grim monument to industrial progress.
Start Point: Escomb Church
Grid Reference: NZ 189 301
Ordnance Survey Map: OS Explorer 305
Length: 5 miles (8 kilometres)
Difficulty: Easy (one uneven stretch near the River Wear)
Time: 2 hours
Nearest Pub: The Saxon Inn, Escomb
Nearest town: Bishop Auckland
Other Notes: To find out more about Escomb Church visit www.escombsaxonchurch.com
Join David on one of his popular one-day or residential workshops over the summer and autumn. For more details visit his website www.davidtaylorphotography.co.uk