The offer of an extra walk this month gave us a good opportunity to put new year’s resolutions into practice and to get out into the countryside on a cold but sunny day, for a shortish but invigorating winter walk. A very creditable eighteen eager participants appeared at the start, including many of our regulars, and a number of recent newcomers who we are pleased are demonstrating an enthusiasm which bodes well for the future of our group. Our event facilitators Martin and David introduced themselves, and encouraged everyone to say hello and have a chat with everyone else during the course of the day.
Winston is a small village about ten miles to the west of Darlington, on the banks of the river Tees. On setting off we found ourselves immediately on a path above the river and passing the photographable village church of St Andrew on its elevated setting. On descending by a circuitous route to the river bank we then followed by means of pleasant if occasionally icy footpath. Ice meant slippery surfaces in some places, although less mud to cake the boots. We soon reached a stone arch across the river known as the Spitfire Bridge in commemoration of the aircraft which, we were told, once flew under what was once the longest single span in England, and it was a good spot to pause for another photograph and to gaze up and down the wooded valley.
Now on the south side of the river we passed through Ovington, another small village with a pub called the Inn of the Four Alls, opposite a village green with a tall maypole. The pub wasn’t open on a Sunday, but the owner nevertheless spotted us and presented us with a sheet of information about it, including an explanation of the unusual name: the monarch rules for all, the minister prays for all, the soldier fights for all and the farmer pays for all! Our onward route led us past Wycliffe Hall, a grand-looking country house with well-maintained walls and grounds, and we crept alongside the boundary to emerge at another smaller church, St Mary’s at Wycliffe.
Still following the south riverbank, we noted the fairly fast-flowing nature of the water, with its picturesque rocky outcrops and pools, and wondered whether at this time of year we might see a few leaping salmon as some had seen reports of them in news articles etc. None were spotted on this occasion but we did see a party of colourful canoeists on their way downstream.
We soon reached the Whorlton suspension bridge and crossed it back to the north bank. This is known as Britain’s oldest suspension bridge relying on its original chainwork; a commemorative notice told us a first bridge was commenced here in 1829, only to be destroyed by floods before completion and replaced with the present sturdier construction two years later.
We followed the north bank back downstream along a secluded wooded path, crossed some stepping-stones and sat for a while for our lunchtime break, close to the site of a ferry which had existed before the bridge had been built.
Suitably refreshed, we followed the north bank of the river at an elevated level, passing attractive woodland and fields back towards our starting point at Winston. At one point we passed a number of secluded wooden holiday cottages, empty at this time of year but no doubt a good place to spend a weekend or longer period as a base for country walks and visits to local villages. By this time most of the ice had gone, and the path was correspondingly muddier in places; however the sun continued to be bright and cheerful. We passed the Spitfire Bridge again, and the church at Winston became visible at its prominent location some time before we reached it, giving us some confidence that we were going in the right direction, and we were soon back at our starting point.
We thanked our walk facilitators Martin and David for having organised today’s event at relatively short notice, said our goodbyes and on dispersing looked forward to our next gathering. Thanks once again to Ivor for several of the photographs accompanying this article.