|Total distance:||26.9 km||16.8 miles|
|Average speed:||4.1 k.m.h.||2.5 m.p.h.|
|Height gained:||653 m||2,123 feet|
|Maximum altitude||359 m||1,167 feet|
|Total time:||6 hours and 35 mins|
“I don’t like Consett” said the unnamed walk leader. “Well”, I replied, “who does?” But as there was no pub in Castleside able to accommodate us, Consett it was.
I had planned an intricate walk around the western side of the town. As we got off the bus the sun came out and we set off down through North and South Snods and past the Derwent Manor Hotel. Two metal reindeer in the grounds prompted calls from some members of the group for an early coffee stop but we pressed on, over Allensford Bridge, along the banks of the River Derwent to find a sylvan spot by a waterfall on the Wharnley Burn. By now the sun had disappeared behind the clouds and when we stopped walking it got cold very quickly. So we soon set off, climbing out of the valley onto the Waskerley Way.
It’s impossible to walk around Consett without ending up on a disused railway at some point. As the railways around here began to close in the mid-1960s Durham County Council, in an unusually progressive move, converted them into walking and cycling routes. The result is the county now possesses an excellent network of traffic-free routes which make for easy, if sometimes rather boring, walking.
But whilst the walking may have been flat it was certainly exposed and with a bitterly cold wind whipping across the moors we pressed on quickly. Lunch was taken at the old Waskerley Station, but it was no place to linger and soon we were off, marching down Nanny Meyer’s Incline. Nanny Meyer, Steve informed us, was a farmer’s widow who in the 1850s opened a pub at the bottom of the incline where, no doubt, she relieved the local railway workers of much of their hard-earned pay. The pub would have been welcome on a day like today.
Walking on we came to a substantial new development at Low Horsleyhope. Unfortunately this was followed by a diversion around the farms of Middle and then High Horsleyhope. Quite why the diversion had been authorised was not clear. Perhaps the farmer was a completist who felt walkers should do the circuit of all three houses.
Heading back down into the Derwent Valley we reached a minor road. By now it was becoming obvious that we were running behind schedule. We therefore took a short-cut, during which I took a comfort break, ending up some way behind the rest of the group and on emerging back onto the road they were nowhere to be seen. Mild panic ensued – it’s considered bad form for a walk leader to lose his whole group. But a ‘phone call established that they’d gone on ahead, obviously considering they could dispense with my services.
When I caught up with them we had a short debate about the afternoon tea stop. Several people were in favour but others, beginning to worry about a lack of drinking time, were not. In the end we did stop but the quick onset of the cold meant that barely had we got out our flasks than we were on the move again, crossing over the Wharnley Burn and up the hill to Castleside.
Walking through the village we came to the site of the Horse and Groom, the pub we had originally planned as our finishing point. Here it was immediately obvious why they’d never answered the ‘phone when I rang as the pub was boarded up and surrounded by wire fences!
Turning right off the A68 we joined another railway path heading into Consett itself. By now it was beginning to get dark and the pace quickened even more. We crossed our last notable landmark, the spectacular Hownsgill Viaduct. Built to carry the railway that ran from Consett to Stanhope it is 700 feet long, 150 feet high and can be seen from several miles away. Unfortunately when walking across it the most notable feature is the high steel fences erected on both sides. These were fitted in 2013 following a spate of people jumping off the bridge – one person every two weeks in the first half of 2011.
This perhaps induced a slightly gloomy feeling in the group to match the rapidly fading light and the sense of tiredness several of us were feeling by this point. Eventually we reached the pub at 4.45, just in time to grab a quick drink, or two, before getting on the bus.