North Pennines Cycling
  Cycling Rides in the North Pennines

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Weardale

Upper Weardale          West Blackdene Bridge
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             Red Admiral c John Graham    
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.

Frosterley Marble
Frosterley Marble

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
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.
Weardale Tapestry

The Weardale Museum is the home of the Weardale Tapestry depicting life in the Wear Valley through the ages. www.weardalemuseum.co.uk/

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 early 1800s.

Killhope lead mining museum       
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 found. www.killhope.org.uk/

Nenthead Mines
Nenthead Mines
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 preserve.

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          Green fluorite from Rogerley Mine Frosterley
Fluorspar from the West Blackdene Mine and Green Fluorite from the Rogerley Mine Frosterley

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.

http://www.ukminingventures.com/

West Blackdene Mine 1965   
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.

limekiln
Lime Kiln at West Blackdene

Lime Kilns

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 Railways Stanhope Station          The 3-30 from Wolsingham c John Graham
Weardale Railway Stanhope Station & Steam Train at Wolsingham
Enjoy a 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/

Dales Centre Stanhope
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 North          Bunhope Dam
Burnhope Reservoir
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..

 

Lintzgarth Arch            
Rookhope Arch
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 c John Graham        
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.

www.forestry.gov.uk/hamsterleyforest

Derwent reservoir
Derwent Reservoir
Derwent reservoir is on the road between Edmundbyers and Ruffside.
A popular area for sailing, walking and picnics.


 

 

 

Local Information                
Chatterbox Cafe

Chatterbox Cafe

St Johns Chapel

Cycling cafe, an essential stop in Weardale


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Beware falling sheep! 

Beware falling sheep!
 

 


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