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Esh Winning: a walk in the west Durham hills – 18th June 2017

On planning our walks we usually plan to meet somewhere accessible to all, including those without their own transport - as well as offering to share transport for the more remote meeting places – and on this occasion we gathered at the bus station in Durham for a morning journey west into the nearby countryside.  Our itinerary today promised an undulating but not too steep a route back to Durham, with extensive views and a “truly scrumptious” café, and with promising weather we were all set for a grand day.

We alighted from the bus at Esh Winning, a former mining village in the foothills of the north Pennines, where attractive wooded slopes had long since replaced the former industrial landscapes; only the terraced miners’ houses, now occupied by commuters and, as we were told, artists and musicians, remained as a reminder of the past.

We crossed one of Durham’s many converted rural railway lines, now a long-distance rural cycle and footpath, and climbed steeply though the woods, to emerge to more open country, and views soon opened up for us across the valley in several directions.  It’s likely the ancient cobbled nature of part of the path gave a clue to its former use as access to the industrial locations of the past.  Now the open slopes were occupied by well-tended farmland and sheep paused their munchings to greet us as we passed.

At the top of the hill we reached a quiet road which followed a high ridge with even more extensive views, towards the Cleveland Hills 30 miles away, the distinctive Penshaw Monument towards the coast and Sunderland, and a little later across the Wear valley, the town of Bishop Auckland and the further North Pennines.  Eventually we descended a little past a farm and a more sylvan footpath to Brandon village, where we stopped a while for a lunch break.  We were told Brandon is a pre-industrial village, once part of the estate of nearby Brancepeth Castle, and the area where we stopped with its greenery and pub retained some of its former character.

After Brandon we were downhill through fields, steeply down towards the river Browney where the footbridge had been reconstructed after the flooding of recent years.  Now the watercourses were relatively dry, along a stretch of path that we could see would have been difficult after rain.  We crossed the railway footpath again and ascended to another ridge, between the Deerness and Browney valleys, and again the views opened up.  Going down into the Browney valley we reached a series of fishing lakes, beside which the Truly Scrumptious café had recently opened up.  We naturally stopped for tea, and home-made cream scones and cake were consumed with enthusiasm.

From the café we followed another railway path, past a thriving stud farm and then across the river and up past two friendly donkeys.  By now we were back close to the outskirts of Durham city.  We crossed the busy A167 on a zigzaggy metal bridge with a height that was perhaps not for the nervous but which again offered surprisingly extensive views back towards the hills.  After crossing the main railway line we disappeared into a series of narrow paths through trees and past suburban gardens, eventually descending back towards the city centre.  Durham’s famous railway viaduct commanded the scene at the conclusion of our walk.

Thanks are due to Charles and Paul for planning today’s event, and for providing well-prepared notes which have been useful in compiling this report; also to Ivor for some of the pictures.  As always we have much appreciated the company of all the participants on the day.

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