48 Hours in the North Pennines AONB and Durham!
Updated: Jun 20
Our touring trip in Buzzbee the Campervan, visiting places we have never been to before, brought us to the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This includes Weardale and Teesdale. What stunning scenery in this less well known area.
Our first night was spent at Greenriggs cottage, a Camping and Caravanning club certificated site, which we loved. Electric hook up and waste facilities but no toilet block. We celebrated our completion of the Hadrian's Wall walk with a nice meal! The views were stunning, and we were surrounded by the calls of nesting moorland birds. The owners were so friendly, and full of ideas for walks and things to see. Thanks to them we discovered Lambley Viaduct in a steep gorge of the South Tyne river. 260 metres long, and 34 metres high, this huge viaduct carried the railway to Alston from 1852 until 1976. Wow! This really was a hidden gem! It is always sad to see these remarkable feats of engineering unused and forgotten about, so it is great that it is now part of the South Tyne trail, and we were able to walk beneath it and over it!
From here we drove into Teesdale, with more gorgeous scenery, and on to Brownlees Visitor Centre, with it’s excellent nature trails and café. From here there is a super 4.5 mile walk to visit 2 spectacular waterfalls, Low Force, and the taller High Force with it’s long drop. Even though we have had no rain for nearly 3 weeks, they were impressive, so must be awesome after heavy rain or snow melt.
The moorland alongside the walk was full of birdsong. Curlew, Oystercatcher and Lapwing were the stars, accompanied by skylark and a distant cuckoo. On the stream we saw a common sandpiper, a first for our holiday bird list. The water flows across peatland and is decidedly brown in colour… perhaps it should be renamed Teasdale! The post walk icecreams were yummy, and the bird feeders in the garden at the visitor centre were full of siskin.
Next, we set off across the moorland to find Wolsingham in Weardale, and the Paddocks campsite. Although located in the village, the site was next to the river, and had good facilities and friendly owners. We arrived on Thursday night, and just 4 of the 20 pitches were occupied. When we returned from our day out of Friday it was full of happy campers enjoying the sun and a weekend away!
Friday saw us head to Durham, a city we have never managed to visit for various reasons! Even this visit wasn’t ideal, as due to Covid, not everything was open to visitors yet. We parked at the Howlands Park and Ride, which is very handily situated next to the Botanic Garden. Tell the park and ride staff that you are going to the garden first, and then give your reg number to the reception at the garden, and you won’t get a parking ticket! We used our Gardener's World 2 for 1 card on the admission, and spent a lovely few hours exploring this fascinating place, set up as a research garden in 1925. Impressive and creative planting, plus some really informative notices really added to the enjoyment, as did the A-Z science quiz! A good little café too for coffee and cake!
10 minutes walk away is the Oriental Museum, exhibiting a wide range of treasures from Asian countries and Egypt! The labelling was annoyingly varied, so some items were well described, others not at all, but is still a very lovely place to explore, and currently free! The Egyptian section was our favourite.
Outside was a replica phoenecian chariot, which allowed me to pretend to be Boudicca!
Finally, we did catch the Park and Ride bus into central Durham. Just £2 each return, or free with a bus pass! Two bridges cross the river at the bus stop. The Old Elvet Bridge, built in 1160, and the New Elvet bridge, built in 1975. Guess which bridge is closed for major repairs?! Yes, the new one!
Our main objective was the magnificent Cathedral and the lovely green surrounded by historic buildings and the Castle. Slightly disappointed to find the green covered with 2 enormous marquees…. A Covid testing centre!
The Cathedral was very striking, although we couldn't access some parts so the photos were limited! Started in 1063 to house the shrine of St Cuthbert, it is the resting place of the Venerable Bede, the first person to attempt to write a history England... in 731 AD! The mediaeval painted panel in picture 2 contained daisies that looked like they were from 1960's Carnaby street!
There are lots of interesting facts about the Cathedral.
1. The amazing Norman pillars with their geometric designs, each measures 6.6 metres round, and 6.6metres high!
2. The mediaeval tomb of Ralph Neville, a Cathedral benefactor still retains some colour. The figures are of his 19 children, but one is facing inwards, said to be the one he didn’t like!
3. The Bishops chair, or Cathedra, is the tallest in the Christian world, one inch higher than the Popes. Apparently, in the 14th Century, Bishop Hatfield sent someone to measure the Pope’s chair, and then built his own higher!
4. The Sanctuary knocker, if rapped, entitled the person to 37 days sanctuary, during which time they should reconcile with their enemies, or plan their escape.
We left the Cathedral, and wandered back down the twisty lanes, full of cafes, book and curio shops. Durham is a charming city, in a unique location on a hill in a bend of the River Wear, and well worth a visit.
Back to the campsite, and then a short drive to the pretty village of Stanhope, home of the Durham Dales Centre. It’s railway station is one end of the Weardale heritage railway, which, like many things we have seen in the Northeast, has featured in an episode of Vera! Our reason for coming to Stanhope was to go out for dinner! We had a super meal at Che, a Spanish restaurant run by a very friendly Spanish family!
Not surprisingly, the food was delicious and authentic, and was a great end to our visit to this delightful corner of England.