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Witton Gilbert and River Browney – 22nd January 2017

In our North East group as elsewhere in GOC we keep going all year with our monthly walks, although in the winter the shorter days and brisker weather means we can sometimes excuse ourselves with shorter walks and some added conviviality and home comforts.  With this in mind on this occasion our walk focussed on a pub lunch in a village not far from Durham.

We gathered next to the “Man on a Horse” in Durham city centre: he turned out to be a statue of the much-reviled coal owner the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry, on display in the market place, a good landmark for two newcomers to our group to find us.  The river Wear winds around the prominent cathedral and castle in the centre of Durham, and our route set off across one of the ancient bridges across the peninsula before passing under the railway viaduct and then rising towards the west end of the city.  Already we were following a quiet path up a narrow wooded valley, well away from the centre.

We crossed and followed the original Great North Road for a short distance before entering fields and proceeding along a hedgerow with widening views across the valley of the River Browney.  We could see the former pre-glacial course of the river as well as former mining villages on the far side of the valley, now showing a much more rustic aspect.  Eventually on reaching the side of the river the path became a bit muddier with some spikey hedges, but we persevered and the path rose towards a wooded churchyard on the edge of Witton Gilbert, where we paused a while to explore and take photographs.

With a helpful sheet of notes supplied by our walk coordinator we learned more about this attractive location.  The church in its rural setting dated in part back to 1170, and the surroundings included interesting graves from the early 1700s.  The village is on the original main road between Durham and Consett, and although it became a community linked to mining it has retained some of its pre-industrial character.  On the short walk from the church to the village we were entertained by a lively horse and cart trotting past at some speed.  In the village pub a Sunday lunch replaced our more usual pathside sandwiches, with muddy boots duly removed to a safe place.

On leaving the pub we made our way back down to the river, which we crossed and then climbed to the far side of the valley.  We reached the remains of the Durham-Consett railway which closed in 1965 and is now used as a popular path for walkers and cyclists, part of an extensive network of similar routes extending to many parts of County Durham.  We were thus now able to follow an easy route back towards our starting point, again with views across the valley from the opposite side to earlier in the day.  We saw the remains of Beau Repaire, a medieval manor house and park used by monks from Durham cathedral, as well as the now wooded former pit heaps of local collieries.

After a mile or two we arrived at our walk coordinators’ residence, conveniently located close to the former railway, where we were welcomed in with afternoon tea and cake.  Afterwards we dispersed, at the end of a relatively short but most interesting winter day.

Thanks are due to Charles and Paul our facilitators for organising today’s event, and we were also thankful for the well-prepared notes and route plan provided to all participants, which have been very helpful in compiling this report.

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