Visit Weardale's prettiest village and stride high to see its best panoramas.
Distance 6.8 miles (10.9km)
Minimum time 4hrs
Ascent/gradient 525ft (160m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Field paths, tracks and country lanes, 5 stiles
Landscape Riverside meadow, moor and woods
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL31 North Pennines
Start/finish NY 909380
Dog friendliness Should be on leads
Parking By river at Westgate
Public toilets None on route
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 From the car park walk out to the road bridge over the River Wear. Don't cross but follow the path ahead, which goes across fields alongside the river's south bank. The path crosses a minor road close to a ford and footbridge, then continues by some cottages and across riverside meadows, passing more cottages at Windyside.
2 On reaching the main road at Daddry Shield turn right, then left, over the crash barrier and down to the Wear's south bank again. This new path stays closer to the river than before. Turn left on meeting a country lane and follow it into the village of St John's Chapel. Turn right along the main street and pass through the village.
3 At the far side of the village, turn right along the signed footpath that tucks under the old railway bridge and crosses a footbridge over the river. Beyond the crossing turn left through a gap stile to follow a path close to the north bank. Ignore the next footbridge, but instead head for the farmhouse, which should be rounded on the left.
4 Follow a grassy enclosed path raking diagonally across hillside pasture to reach a high country lane above the hamlet of New House.
5 Turn right along the lane then, after about ¾ mile (1.2km), take the higher left-hand fork which traverses the southern side of Carr Brow Moor with its disused quarries and mine shafts.
6 At its terminus turn left up the walled Seeingsike Road (track). Turn right at a junction of tracks and descend into Middlehope Cleugh. Conveniently placed stones allow a crossing of the river.
7 Turn right again to follow Middlehope Burn's east bank, past a series of lead mines. The path enters Slit Woods and comes out by a mill and some cottages on the outskirts of Westgate.
8 The lane leads to the main road where you turn left, then right past the Hare and Hounds pub, back to the car park.
When you go over the 2,000ft (610m) watershed on the moors between Allendale and Weardale you cross into Durham, the land of the Prince Bishops. Like Allendale, upper Weardale has earned its riches from mining, quarrying and farming. Both valleys have the scars to show for it, and they both have the attractive hillside pastures with crazed web-like patterns of the dry-stone walls. However, while Allendale has few villages along its length Weardale has many - charming villages built out of local stone and delightful flower-filled fields that dip into the river.
Westgate, where the walk starts, marked the western extremity of the Forest Quarter, also known as the Bishops' Park. Here the Prince Bishops hunted for deer, supplying venison for their kitchens. It was said in the 16th century that they hunted with such enthusiasm that the deer population had almost been wiped out. These powerful churchmen reigned from the early Christian times of the Romans, right through to the 1830s. After the Norman King, William Rufus, granted them regal powers they were regarded as second only to the Kings of England and ruled from a palace in Bishop Auckland and their cathedral at Durham.
The River Wear is your guide as field paths head up the valley to St John's Chapel. This is a larger village with a fine Georgian church and rows of well-to-do cottages. Now you climb the hillsides and turn eastwards along a country road. It may be tarmac, but this 2-mile (3.2km) quiet lane enjoys subtly changing views that are as good as any in the county. Now you can see how green Weardale is, a vivid green that contrasts with the stark high moors of Chapel Fell and Westerhope.
The lane ends and an old cart track takes you up on to the moors, then down into a lonely side valley that once would have reverberated to the sounds of the Middlehope lead mine. The abutment of an old bridge is a relic from an old mine railway that connected Westgate with the mines of Rookhope. Here you follow the stream to the Slit Mines. The shaft, at 585ft (178m), is the one of the deepest in Weardale, while the Slit lead vein at 14 miles (22.5km), is the valley's longest.
The valley, so far, has been a shaly one, but now it narrows and the harder limestone rock surfaces. The river gets playful and tumbles down in a series of waterfalls. You are entering Slit Woods, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The footpath weaves its way through this ancient woodland, a place filled with oaks and rowans, wild strawberries and ransoms. Like many old woods you'll see dog's mercury, wood anemone and wood sorrel, a low creeping perennial with pretty lilac-tinged white flowers. It's a wonderful way into Westgate and a fitting finale for a memorable walk.
You may notice the purple fluorspar crystals scattered around the mines' washing floors or sparkling on the stream bed. It was considered a waste product of lead mining when that industry was in full swing, but later fluorspar was found to be useful, and mined in its own right, as a fusion agent in the steel manufacturing industry.
Visit the Weardale Museum and High House Chapel at Ireshopeburn. The folk museum's displays include the kitchen of a farmer or lead miner as it would have been in the 17th to 19th centuries, a collection of local crystallised minerals and exhibitions of local history. Learn about the Weardale railways and about the visits of preacher John Wesley. High House Chapel (founded 1760) is the oldest Methodist chapel in the world in continuous use. Open afternoons May to September except Monday and Tuesday.
Atholl's Restaurant at the Cross Keys in Eastgate stands out well above all others. Here the chef, Atholl Graham, produces tasty meals like venison served with a port wine and blackberry sauce.