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Consett Steel and the River Derwent

Along the banks of the river which first brought steel making to Consett.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 311ft (95m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths River and streamside paths with some roadside walking

Landscape Pastoral landscapes with reminders of industrial past

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 307 Consett & Derwent Reservoir

Start/finish NZ 085518

Dog friendliness Can be off lead for most of walk - look for notices

Parking Car park off Sandy Lane, off A691

Public toilets Allensford Country Park (may be closed in winter)

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the car park, walk beside the house, following the wall, and bend right to cross the river on a footbridge. Turn left along the river bank and follow it through woodland. Where the path divides stay by the river. Eventually reach an area of beech woodland where the path rises on to a wider track.

2 Follow the track, keeping left when it forks - there are waymarks on this section. The path follows a wire fence, and eventually bears right over a tiny stone bridge skirting a house to reach the A68.

3 Turn left down the hill. Go over the road bridge, passing from Northumberland into Durham. Where a road joins from the left, go left through the entrance into Allensford Country Park. Bear round to the right, and walk through the grassed riverside area to a car park. Go through the car park to reach a road by the entrance to the caravan site.

4 Go ahead across the road to a waymarked stile in a fence opposite. Follow the path, which goes up two sets of steps. At the top follow the grassy path. Where it divides, bear to the left and follow the winding path into woodland and continue downhill. When you reach a crossing path by a marker post, turn left to the road.

5 Turn right and follow the road (take care because it can be busy). It rises through woodland and then passes through a more open area. After ½ mile (800m), pass a road off to the right. In ¼ mile (400m) beyond, look for a footpath that descends on your right to meet the road, by trees.

6 Continue to follow the road for 400yds (366m). As the roads rises, take a signed footpath left, downhill into woodland. The path opens out into a track, then becomes a path again. Follow the path for ½ mile (800m) to reach a lane. Turn left here, downhill. At the bottom of the hill turn left again, following the car park sign back to the start of the walk.

Even into the late 1970s views of Consett would still be described as 'terrible and magnificent'. As Henry Thorold's Shell Guide to County Durham, published in 1980, recorded, 'Vulcan's great forges stand there on the hillside enveloped in steam; cooling towers, cylinders, chimneys, incredible and intimidating.' It was true then - just. But the steel mills of Consett closed in that very year, bringing to an end a story of growth and enterprise that began in 1837 when iron ore was discovered here. The first works opened four years later: by the 1880s the Consett Iron Company, founded in 1864 as a successor to the Derwent Iron Company, employed more than 6,000 people in the rapidly-expanded town. The closure a century later could have devastated Consett. Instead, it has reinvented itself as a place of growing service and manufacturing industry, which also looks back with pride to its history of steel making.

Dividing Northumberland and Durham, this stretch of the River Derwent was the cradle of the northern steel industry. Forge Cottage, just over the footbridge at the start of the walk, indicates that iron working had been long established in the valley. German steel makers, producing fine swords, lived in Shotley Bridge as early as the 1690s - the village later became the fashionable place for the upper middle classes of Consett to live. Shotley Bridge was also a spa - in 1841 it was said that it would soon come to rival Harrogate, Cheltenham and Leamington. As the walk approaches Allensford, there are the remains of a 17th-century ironworks near by.

Developed by Durham County Council - and right on its northern boundary - Allensford Country Park consists of 14 acres (5.7ha) of riverside grassland. As well as pleasant walks, there are play facilities for children and access for people using wheelchairs. Within the park is Allensford Wood - the walk takes you through part of it. It is semi-natural ancient woodland that is mainly of oak and birch. There has been some recent replanting with native species. A series of trails criss-crosses the wood; the routes are marked with a symbol of a walking man.

The section of the walk along Pemberton Road between the road junction (Point 5) and the path into the woodland seems quiet today. But until 1980 the whole of the area to your right, now landscaped and grassed, was one of the most industrialised in the country. Here stood one of the British Steel Corporation's mills, its huge buildings alive with noise, smoke and heat. Today it provides an area for recreation and enjoyment, crossed by paths that follow the old railway lines that served the works.

While you're there

The two 20ft (6m) high Terris Novalis sculptures stand beside the Consett and Sunderland Railway Path. The huge steel representations of traditional surveyors' instruments, on animal feet, are the work of sculptor Tony Cragg and were manufactured by local craftsmen. They took four years to make and were unveiled in 1997. Visit Muggleswick, 3½ miles (5.6km) west of Consett where, at the farm near the church, are the battlemented remains of a great medieval manor house, built as a grange in the 13th century for the priors of the monastery in Durham. From here they could look over their lands in the Derwent Valley - and today there is a fine view of Consett.

What to look for

Otters have been spotted in the River Derwent, though you would need to be very lucky to see one. Evidence of their proximity may be found though, including the characteristic footmarks, with their lopsided five-pointed toe marks that turn inwards. Look, too, for the mark of the tail dragging behind the animal. You may also spot places where otters have made mudslides into the water, or where they have scraped up sand into a mound. Adult male otters can be up to 2ft 6in (76cm) long and have a tail - which is thick and tapering and acts as a rudder when the animal is swimming - of up to 20in (50cm). Their short brown fur provides excellent insulation and otters have the ability to close their nostrils and ears to keep out the water.

Where to eat and drink

There is a refreshment area in Allensford Country Park, which also attracts ice cream vans. Otherwise you should head for Shotley Bridge, Castleside or Consett itself, all of which offer plenty of variety for hungry walkers.

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