Upper Weardale and West Blackdene.
Weardale is a dale or valley, of the east side of the Pennines in County Durham. Large parts of Weardale
fall within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) - the second largest AONB in England and
Wales. The upper valley is surrounded by high fells (up to 2454 feet at Burnhope Seat) and heather grouse moors.
Before climate change its winters were typically harsh and prolonged with regular snow, taken advantage of by
skiers using a ski run at Swinhope Head.
Sea Trout at West Blackdene waterfalls And Red Admiral on Marjoram
Wildlife includes an important population of Black Grouse along with the more usual upland birds.
Sea-trout and salmon run the River Wear. Adders are sometimes encountered on the moors. The flora is not as
remarkable as that of neighbouring Teesdale, but in season is beautiful enough: some species-rich meadows remain,
and the wood cranesbill (Geranium sylvaticum) and meadow cranesbill (G. pratense) are easy to spot in summer while
the mountain pansy (Viola lutea) is a characteristic plant of the shorter grass round the upper dale. The tiny but
beautiful spring sandwort (Minuartia verna) may be seen around old lead workings, enabled by its high tolerance of
lead to colonise ground where contamination inhibits other species.
History: Past occupation or activity by man is attested by evidence such as the Heatheryburn Bronze Age
collection of gold and other objects, now in the British Museum; altars placed by Roman officers who took hunting
trips out from forts in present-day County Durham; and the use from Norman times onwards of "Frosterley Marble", a
black fossiliferous layer of limestone occurring near that village, as an ornamental material in Durham Cathedral
and many other churches and public buildings.
The dale's principal settlements include the small towns of Stanhope and Wolsingham These appear to have existed
as Anglo-Saxon settlements before 1066 and the Norman Conquest. The Normans extended farming in this part of the
dale, and later in the Middle Ages the upper dale was cleared for "vaccaries" - farms for pasturing cattle. The
Bishops of Durham owned the mineral rights: the Church retained these throughout the effective life of the lead
industry, miners and companies being lessees.
Weardale Museum & High House Chapel Ireshopeburn
In the c18 John Wesley visited the dale on a number of occasions and the valley became a Methodist stronghold.
High House Chapel near Ireshopeburn has been claimed to be the Methodist chapel with the longest history of
continuous use in the world, and contains the Weardale Museum (not to be confused with the Lead Mining Museum at
Killhope) which includes a room devoted to Methodist and Wesley memorabilia.
The Weardale Museum is the home of the Weardale Tapestry depicting life in the Wear Valley through the ages.
As a youth between the World Wars the poet W.H. Auden walked amid the wild countryside and the relics of the
lead mining industry in and around Weardale and found these a lifelong source of inspiration. One place he visited,
Rookhope is also the setting of a ballad called "The Rookhope Ryde" which describes in some detail how in 1569
Weardale men drove out a party of cattle-raiders who had come down from the Roman Wall area .
Among contemporary works, Helen Cannam's "The Last Ballad" is a lively historical novel set in the dale in the
Killhope Lead Mining Museum
Lead Mining: Weardale was historically important for lead mining and there is a lead mining museum
incorporating the preserved Park Level Mine at Killhope (pronounced "Killup").
At the North of England Lead Mining Museum at Killhope one can see a huge working water wheel, known as the
Killhope Wheel This was installed in the 1870s to power the crushing of grit in tanks in an adjacent building, so
as to complete the separation of lead ore from worthless stone. The Museum also exhibits a fine collection of local
minerals, as well as "spar boxes" - display cases made by miners to show crystal specimens they had themselves
Nenthead is less than five miles from Alston- the highest
village in England. The Heritage Centre occupies former mine workshops that have been restored by the North
Pennines Heritage Trust. Here you can explore the geology and history in the Heritage Centre, and explore the site
through self-guided trails. www.npht.com/nentheadmines/
The first documented evidence of mining in the Northern Pennines dates from the 12th century, and records the
presence of silver mines in the areas of what are now Alston Moor, just west of Weardale, and Northumberland.
Weardale was at this time a forested area and belonged to the Bishops of Durham, who used part of it as a hunting
preserve. The villages of Eastgate and Westgate mark the former Eastern and Western entrances to this forest
Lead mining in Weardale reached its greatest levels during the 18th and 19th centuries, when the London Lead and
Beaumont Companies dominated mining throughout the region. During the 1880’s the declining prices for lead forced
both companies to give up their leases in the area, though the Weardale Lead Company continued lead mining and
smelting until 1931. 28 separate lead smelting operations were active in the region during the height of mining in
the 19th century, but by 1919 the last major commercial mine had closed.
Fluorspar from the West Blackdene Mine and Green Fluorite from the Rogerley Mine
A major by-product of lead-mining was various crystals including the decorative coloured fluorspar, for which no
industrial use was known till the later 1800s. Thereafter it was used in part of the steel-making process and also
in the manufacture of non-stick frying pans, CFCs for aerosols, and other products. It is not a precious stone but
fine samples are prized by collectors.
Entrance to the West Blackdene Mine (now closed)
The Blackdene Mine is located just north of the River Wear, between the villages of St. John's Chapel and
Ireshopeburn. Lead mining on many of numerous veins in this area dates back to at least the early 15th century.
Fluorspar was mined from both the Blackdene and Slitt Veins during the early 20th century, but the mine appears to
have been abandoned when acquired by United Steel in 1949. Weardale Mining and Processing continued to operate the
mine until 1987 when it was finally closed. Most of the mine is now inaccessible due to flooding and what is still
accessible is badly understoped.
.Not only lead, silver and fluorspar were extracted from Weardale. Large amounts of ironstone were taken
especially from the Rookhope area during the Industrial Revolution to supply ironworks at Consett and other sites
in County Durham. Local deposits of other minerals were also found on occasion.
Lime Kiln at West Blackdene
Agricultural improvements of the time were widely adopted, especially the use of lime to improve the soils. To
this end many lime kilns and associated quarries, were built across the North Pennines. Limekilns are often constructed into a
hillside so that they can be filled or charged by tipping a mixture of limestone and a combustible material such as
coal, charcoal or wood into the chamber through a hole in the top, which also serves as a flue. The finished
quicklime could then be extracted from the open arch at the base of the kiln. Limekilns of Roman and later date are
well known in almost any areas where suitable stone for making quicklime occurs naturally.
Places of Interest
Weardale Railway Stanhope Station & Steam Train at Wolsingham
leisurely journey alongside the gentle river Wear following in the footsteps of the Stockton & Darlington
Railway. The Weardale railway runs trains throughout the year from Stanhope to Wolsingham, the line is soon to be
opened to Bishop Auckland. Weardale railways are hoping to have a steam locomotive in service for the Santa
Specials from 26th December until 3rd January. The lovingly restored award winning station incorporates a gift shop
and station buffet . www.weardale-railway.org.uk/
Durham Dales Centre
The Durham Dales Centre at Stanhope contains a first
class information centre and cafe surrounded by ample outdoor seating areas in a very attractive setting. There are
ample parking facility's, toilets and local craft shops. www.durhamdalescentre.co.uk/
Burnhope reservoir can be reached from Wearhead and
Cowshill. This little known Pennine reservoir dominates the valley above Wearhead. Very quite most times of the
year, their is a 2.7 mile walk round the perimeter and picnic facilitys..
A local landmark is the Rookhope Arch at Lintzgarth, a few hundred yards west up
the valley; one of the few remaining parts of the two mile (3 km) Rookhope Chimney. This "horizontal" chimney
(parallel to the ground, which actually rises steeply to the moors) was used to carry poisonous flue gases from the
Rookhope lead smelting works up onto the high moor. Periodically, lead and silver carried over in the gases and
deposited in the chimney were dug out and recovered, rather than going to waste.
Hamsterley Forest & Bollihope Burn
2000 hectares of mixed woodland lying
between the Wear and Tees valleys on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Hamsterley
is a delightful oasis of broadleaved and coniferous woodland, sprawling along the sides of a sheltered valley.
Visitors to Hamsterley have no shortage of options when it comes to activities. With way marked walks, cycle routes
and horse riding trails.
Derwent reservoir is on the road between Edmundbyers and Ruffside.
A popular area for sailing, walking and picnics.