Charles Harries

| Walks

Witton-le-Wear to Escomb

The Way meanders through forests and fields along here, with the rumble of A roads in the background always present, but not without a couple of peaceful wooded stretches, and finishing at the Saxon church in Escomb.

On a sunny day at the beginning of April, just as lambing season started spooling up, we decided to make the short trip back down to the Weardale Way between Witton-le-Wear and Escomb for a stroll across the County Durham countryside.

Typical views of County Durham on a sunny day in March
Typical views of County Durham on a sunny day in March

This part of the Way is pretty rich in landmarks, from Witton Castle near the start of the walk, to some beautiful views over lower Weardale in the middle, to the Saxon church in Escomb at the end. It's relatively even walking across this whole part of the trail, and, barring a bit of a muddy spot and a little stream crossing, eminently doable over an afternoon in a pair of sturdy shoes (unless it's been raining lately).

There's plenty of street parking in Witton-le-Wear, so we left the Clio by the side of the road and set off, dropping down quickly between a pair of houses to a crossing over the Weardale Railway. As of the day of our walk, the railway is still closed: there's a "considerable program of work to complete" on restoring the railway and stock before a planned opening over Easter 2022. If you're walking after then, make sure to keep eyes & ears peeled for sightseeing locomotives.

Over the railway, the trail crosses a couple of sheep fields, with fences considerately erected between walkers and animals—a couple of excited black lambs hopped & rollicked around & clambered all over their long-suffering mothers. At length we arrived at Witton Bridge, where we crossed the river and followed the road up towards Witton Castle.

Witton Bridge: remember to cross it and not continue on the left side of the river
Witton Bridge: remember to cross it and not continue on the left side of the river

Witton Castle's one of those manor houses with like crenellations on it, castle mostly in name only. Apparently it suffered a massive fire that gutted the place in the late 1700s; nowadays it suffers a caravan park on its grounds (& encroaching disturbingly on the house itself, if you ask me). At any rate, the Way skirts around the edge of the grounds never really in full view of the house; your best chance for a view is to clamber up onto a concrete block and stretch your arms as far as they'll go in hopes of a decent picture.

The result of the author in just such a position
The result of the author in just such a position

There was a bit of a muddy spot past here as the trail dropped us off the left side of the road at a gap in the wall; past here, a short walk through a stand of pine trees and then onto one of those Victorian suburban forest walks that you find just about everywhere in County Durham. At length we popped out of the forest at a long sheep field, crossing it to the road at the other side. There's a bit of pavement at the side of the road here, leading us into Witton Park. Seems likely that this was originally the grounds of the castle, long behind us; now it's a built-up estate. We followed the signs for Paradise (a fishing spot), but cut right along a muddy road towards Escomb. We found a big cattle farm along here, with young highland cows lowing at each other across wire fences; more young animals bounding with the enthusiasm of ruminants who have just discovered that the ground is made of food.

Some highland cows & cowlets just outside of Escomb
Some highland cows & cowlets just outside of Escomb

Just past here we started to hear the calls of chickens at the allotments outside of Escomb, and shortly emerged near The Saxon Inn; dubiously Saxon, but just across the road from the verifiably Saxon church for which Escomb is regionally famous. The church was built in the late 7th century and hasn't changed much since then, with the addition of a couple of windows, a porch or two, and a few dozen folks in the churchyard in the intervening 1300 years. Stone for the church was apparently sourced from a nearby Roman fort, so in the masonry can be seen inscriptions for the Sixth Legion; the chancel arch too is "typically Roman". It's a lovely spot for a bit of quiet contemplation & prayer before the walk back to Witton-le-Wear.

The interior of Escomb Church, with Roman chancel arch
The interior of Escomb Church, with Roman chancel arch

The walk back to Witton-le-Wear followed the same route we took in; if you've got a bit of extra time, you could head north out of Escomb and make a tour of the Wadsworth Angling and Conservation Centre, rejoining the Way at Witton Park.

A dateless, nameless headstone in the Escomb churchyard
A dateless, nameless headstone in the Escomb churchyard