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Posh coffee, a spa visit and a planning meeting – 11th December 2016

Sometimes our walks involve the use of a local bus to reach our starting point, so that we can undertake a one-way route back to where we initially gathered.  Today we met in the centre of Darlington, to find our enthusiastic and dedicated facilitator had misremembered the meeting time and gone to the bus stop an hour early; creditable perhaps for a cold Sunday morning in December but he’d been a bit despondent thinking nobody had turned up for his carefully-planned event!

Nevertheless with all confusions and misunderstandings resolved nine of us boarded the bus to the edge of the town and alighted close to a golf course, across which we started our walk which would take us along a C-shaped route eventually back to the town centre.  The river Tees flows close to Darlington, along quite a sinuous course which means I think that you can sometimes encounter it a bit by surprise, and not running in the direction you might expect, and you sometimes forget whether you are north or south of the river.  Anyway, after a mile or so we did cross the river, into the historic county of Yorkshire, where we stopped at the Croft Hotel for morning coffee.

Croft is an interesting village, being the place where Lewis Carroll of Alice’s Adventures fame grew up (perhaps he was confused by the river as well) and we noticed this reflected in some of the street names, including Carroll Place, Lewis Close and I think there was a Dodgson Terrace.  The Cheshire Cat was apparently inspired by a carving in the church.  The railway station on the nearby East Coast Main Line, closed in 1969, was named Croft Spa, and visitors from afar came to the village to cure their ailments and diseases.  We could still see the site of the sulphurous spring.  The hotel where we stopped for coffee was warm and comfortable; not our usual practice but a nice winter treat for us on this occasion.

At the end of the village we crossed an ancient packhorse bridge, and ascended very gradually to a stretch where we could see across the valley back to Darlington and the church spire close to where we had started.  Eventually we emerged at Stapleton, on the “original” A1 road to the south which had an attractive village green and pub, and where we could have caught a bus back to Darlington had the weather been too bad to continue walking.  The road took us back across the Tees, and next to the bridge we saw the old toll house that marked the boundary between Yorkshire and Durham.

Back on the outskirts of Darlington we followed a route through woods and leafy suburbs, and then close the contributory river Skerne and through the town’s municipal park.  The park had a varied and well-maintained landscape, popular with Sunday strollers, and we saw a wide flat area which had previously been subjected to flooding as well as the site of the former football ground now under development with new housing.

By now dusk was approaching on the short December day, and we arrived back at our event facilitator’s residence where we were treated to tea and a fine selection of nibbles including seasonal mince pies.  We took the opportunity to draw up an outline for our programme of walks for 2017.  Each of us has knowledge of different parts of the north east region, and we succeeded in finding volunteers to offer ideas for walks and dates.  We finished with what we hoped would be a varied and inspiring selection to suit everyone.  At this stage we wouldn’t claim our list is set in stone and we would always be open to suggestions for additional events, particularly from newcomers who might be able to offer new knowledge or perspectives.

Thanks are due to Ian our facilitator for organising today’s event, and for hosting the planning meeting at the end of the walk; also to Ivor for the photographs.

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