Post 149: 11 April 1997: Day 7 Langdon Beck Youth Hostel to Edmundbyers Youth Hostel – 19 miles
After an 800 foot ascent from the Langdon Beck Youth Hostel, the highest point of the day’s walk, Swinhope Head was reached at 2,001 feet; from here there were views to the west of the hills of Dora’s Seat, adorned with ski-tows on the northern slopes. Instead of snowing it started to rain.
A descent to Westgate and Weardale enabled us to join ‘The Weardale Way’ and follow it to Rookhope; this 78 mile long-distance walk follows the River Wear from Monkwearmouth at the North Sea to the head of Weardale, Cowshill, finishing with a circuit to Allendale. The expanses of Weardale came into view, an area that contains over forty per cent of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The valley is broad, not as beautiful as Teesdale, but with many landmarks that depict the industrial heritage of the dale. The only remaining mining in the area is fluorspar. We entered Westgate which has traditionally been a quarrying and mining area and therefore unaccustomed to visitors. However, in recent years it has become more popular, boasting a caravan park, but still has a spartan character about it, accentuated by the fact that we had refreshments on a bench in the cold and wet.
A valley railway was constructed as far as Westgate. A more difficult line was built by the Weardale Iron Company from Westgate to Rookhope, part of which we followed. As we climbed out of Westgate, ascending Peat Hill, we were made aware of the steep inclines the trains had to overcome.
The area around Westgate was used as a hunting forest by the Prince Bishops of Durham but eventually became enclosed with increasing agricultural and industrial use. It is believed that prehistoric and Roman inhabitants also hunted in the area.
It was cool when we arrived at Rookhope for another refreshment stop, this austere village once having a history of border fights and raids, but is now a quiet backwater. Historically a mining town, there are still working mines further up the dale; a borehole proved the existence of Weardale granite below ground. The remains of Rookhope Chimney are still there, approximately a mile from Rookhope, and the course of the flue can be followed up the hillside (indicated on the Ordnance Survey map). The chimneys great length provided the draft necessary to keep the smelters going and also served as a depository for the valuable particles of lead and silver swept out of the mill by the draught. On leaving Rookhope we again followed a dismantled line in an area steeped in industrial mining heritage.
After crossing open moorland, which can be very bleak in bad weather, we followed a clear track for the final 4 miles to Edmundbyers, where the ‘The Burnside Tearooms’ offered welcome refreshment and, if the hostel is full, good accommodation.
The youth hostel is an interesting place to stay being formerly Low House Inn, dating from 1600, when it was well situated for trade from Tynedale, Weardale and Allendale.
Legend has it that the hostel was haunted by the ghost of the former landlord who died of exposure while searching the moors for his wife who had gone missing. Although alcohol is no longer served, it is only a short walk to the nearby Punchbowl Inn!
It was when staying at the youth hostel on another occasion that I came nearest I ever have to dying. My walking companion had cooked steak for dinner with a steak sauce. We had each brought a bottle of red wine. I had not realised that the steak under the sauce had some fat still attached and found that the fat slithered the wrong way down my throat to my air passage. I immediately realised I was choking. The only way to clear it was to head to the toilets asap and put fingers down my throat. Fortunately, it cleared the blockage. I have never been so frightened.
We were not to find out if the ghost was in residence as we were booked into ‘The Burnside Tearooms.’ My three companions were accommodated in adjacent chalet accommodation and I was accommodated in the main house. After a welcome cup of tea, malted bread and Wensleydale cheese I was shown to my accommodation. The bathroom was a large as my living room, the bath three times the size of mine, and the shower had two seats. As I lounged in the huge bath for about three blissful hours, I couldn’t help but ponder on the use of two seats in a shower?
This attractive village is ideally situated for exploring the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. St. Edmund’s Church has some fine interior woodwork from churches elsewhere in the country. The altar is of a single slab of stone, forbidden in 1571 when it was removed. It wasn’t destroyed; then, after being buried, it was restored in 1855 to its former use. Some of the church stonework may be Saxon and some is definitely Norman.
We decided to visit the nearby Punch Bowl Inn for a meal and well-earned liquid refreshment. Archie, Dick and Alan left the Burneside Tearooms, ahead of me as I was attending to a blister. As I left, a car pulled up offering me a lift to the inn.
‘Thanks very much,’ I said, ‘are you walking in the area?’
‘No sailing,’ he replied.
‘Sailing? I didn’t know that went on in this area?’
‘Yes, there is a large competition at the nearby Derwent reservoir.’
I had previously come across mountain bikers in Edmundbyers as it is on the coast to coast cycle route, but never sailors. As we entered the inn the place was full of them with bleached hair, ruddy complexions, bright stripey T-shirts, white plimsolls, and Guernsey pullovers. The conversation, was for once not about walking, drinks flowed and were consumed so quickly, it felt as though it was last orders on the Titanic. As we left the inn we had developed ‘sea legs’, not arriving back at the tea-rooms until well after closing time. As I entered the house, I bumped into a very pretty young lady about to have a supper who, like me, had a passion for geography. We chatted about our passion. However, I was tired and it was too late to talk at length about passions.