Thirteen of us gathered to meet with our event coordinators Martin and David, on a bright morning at Piercebridge, a short way to the west of Darlington, for a good walk through quiet lanes and field paths. To put this in context: Piercebridge is located on the north-south Roman road known as Dere Street at the crossing of the river Tees; it was one of four Roman forts on the strategic route leading towards Hadrian’s Wall. The Old Queen that had lured us here would, we were told, might be encountered later in the day.
After introductions were completed we set off alongside the preserved remains of the fort and across the river on the 1789-built stone bridge across the Tees. Climbing gently through a wooded section we were soon into open fields where the views opened out and we could see for miles across the country, including to the new windfarm on the other side of Darlington which we had passed on last month’s walk.
We passed fields where excitable sheep were being moved around, and we remembered this was likely to be a busy time of year for the rams. We encountered some small horses on the other side of a fence which appeared very enthusiastic and expectant of our attention; they seemed to know where the gaps in the fence were so each time we passed one of the gaps they raced ahead to meet us again at the next one.
After a short section along a quiet road we stopped for lunch on the village green in Eppleby; a bit early for lunch perhaps but with convenient seats and a shelter it seemed a good opportunity. Several villages in these parts were centred on a large green, and this one was further enhanced with a public house, shop and tea room which would have been handy had the weather been less amenable.
On leaving the village we crossed the remains of a railway line leading to nearby quarries, and then reached the edge of the much older Stanwick iron age fortifications. Excavated during the 1950s and now looked after by English Heritage, this was (we were told) the stronghold of the pro-Roman Brigantian queen Cartimandua, who having split with her rebel husband and taken up with his charioteer continued to trade with the Romans from her fortified and no doubt highly prestigious base.
We could see from the map that the fortifications enclosed a substantial area of land round about, one of the largest Iron Age settlements in Britain and enclosing the medieval village of Stanwick St John, towards which we next proceeded. It seemed likely the population of the village was formerly greater than now, but the church remained and we spent a few minutes wandering around the graveyard and inspecting the interior, still consecrated but no longer used for services.
Passing on through more fields we continued by way of the hamlet of Carlton and the larger village of Aldbrough, featuring a historic packhorse bridge and another large green in the centre. From here we turned northwards along more paths and through fields, again with wide views across towards Darlington and beyond. We eventually arrived back at the bridge across the river Tees where we had started, and a friendly teashop in Piercebridge supplied us with welcome tea and cake to round off the day.
As on previous recent occasions today’s company included a mixture of regular participants and relative newcomers and we enjoyed a good walk, conversation and informative guidance from our event facilitators Martin and David. We look forward to another gathering next month. Thanks as always to everyone, including Ivor again for providing some of the photographs.