Length: 5 miles Ascent: 600 feet Time: 2.50 hours
Map: Explorer 307 Consett & Derwent reservoir
Start: Take the bus to Rookhope from Stanhope Market Place to the “terminus” next to the pub.
(To make this a circular walk there is an easy to follow road walking route as follows: Leave Stanhope on the A689 towards Eastgate and after a mile, just after the sign for the Greenfoot caravan park, turn right on to an unsigned minor road. This is one of those quiet and wonderfully scenic roads in which Weardale excels. (It was a gated road until about the year 2000 when cattle grids replaced the two gates to keep in the free range sheep). At the road junction just before Rookhope turn right to reach the pub after half a mile or so. This extension adds 5 miles and 700 feet of ascent to the original walk.)
Description: The austerity of the moorlands of Stanhope Common contrasts with the beauty of Stanhope Dene, where nature is reasserting itself over industrial pillage. All on solid well drained tracks.
Directions: From the bus stop in Rookhope turn uphill to take the track opposite the shop. Turning left at two track junctions reach the fell gate and follow the track upwards through a cutting (this is the route of the famous Rookhope Incline railway). After about half a mile take the obvious track which curves up to the right and follow this over the watershed and down left into the valley of the Stanhope Burn. At the bottom of the descent is a Shooting Lodge surrounded by pines and rhododendrons. Cross the bridge over the Smiddy Burn and go through a gate.
The track now runs on a flat path high above the Stanhope Burn for about a mile, the scenery becoming gradually less bleak. (The old railway track to Sunderland is running on your left just below the horizon). The patchwork effect of heather squares on the hills is created by the controlled burning of areas of older, leggy heather in the winter and spring on a rotational cycle lasting years. To prevent fire damage to the underlying peat, burning takes place when the heather cover is dry and the peat is wet and when the wind is light but constant, to keep the fire moving steadily. The heather roots are left undamaged and heather seed in the soil is given a clearer run. The older heather plants provide cover and shelter for grouse and other birds while the new growth stimulated by burning produces young, succulent food for birds and sheep.
Beyond the fell gate the enclosed track bears left to a T junction where you turn left to cross the bridge over Stanhope Burn and then right through the ruins of Stanhopeburn Mine. This mine started as a lead mine in the 18th century, ceasing production in 1879 when competition from new, nearer surface Spanish lead mines forced closure. In 1906 the Weardale Lead Company reopened the mine but now extracting fluorspar. It continued off and on as a fluorspar mine changing hands regularly until 1982 when Chinese competition led to its closure. The complexity of its ownership arrangements over the years is matched by the proliferation of levels and shafts driven to different veins in various of the limestone layers. See the Mine Explorer Society website for more details.
Follow the track ahead through Stanhope Dene. The dene offers a variety of habitat in a small area from the wooded, steeply sided banks of the Burn, to the limestone cliffs of the old quarries, whose mini waterfalls feed wonderful quarry lakes, to the spoil heaps of the mineral extractors and the waste heaps produced when the railway line on which you are walking was driven through. Exit the track on to the Crawleyside Bank road.
Turn right and then, at a way marker, almost immediately left through a gate to walk along a wide track through woods above Stanhope. Just after a second gate turn right on a very narrow, awkward path running down by a fence on the right. After 200 yards it widens and runs between the cemetery and allotments. At the road turn left, then right, then left again on to the A689 to return to the market place.