4 of the best walks in County Durham

‘111 Places in County Durham’ author Elizabeth Atkin shares four top walks in the region, from Weardale to Teesdale to the Durham Heritage Coast…

3 mins

1. Frosterley Marble Walk

Bollihope Burn (Shutterstock)

Bollihope Burn (Shutterstock)

One of the best County Durham walks encompasses the idyllic Weardale village of Frosterley, taking the walker on a journey through fields and footpaths, past an abandoned quarry, in search of Frosterley Marble – a unique type of limestone pockmarked with fossils, that can appear near-black when shined up.

The easiest way to follow the trail is to download the PDF created by the Mineral Valleys Walk Project, via Durham County Council. There are three trails of varying lengths (from 2km to 7.5km), all starting from the same point, depending on how much time you have to walk.

You’ll begin at Frosterley Station (where the platform has a shined-up example of the marble) and pass over the River Wear, before passing through old spoil heaps. From there, the trails diverge and you’ll have the option of reaching Bollihope Burn, Bishopley Lime Kilns and Harehope Gill Lead Mine if you embark on either of the two longer trails. Look out for the marble in the riverbeds.

2. Low Force to High Force

High Force waterfall at Bowlees (Shutterstock)

High Force waterfall at Bowlees (Shutterstock)

A walk between Low Force and High Force in blissfully green Teesdale is a well-trodden route, already featured in Wanderlust’s guide to top North East walks. For good reason, too – it’s almost impossibly picturesque, even in grey or cloudy weather, with plenty of wildflowers to admire, along with the 295-million-year-old Whin Sill dolomite over which both waterfalls flow.

A useful starting point is Bowlees Visitor Centre – often dubbed the gateway to the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which is a UNESCO Global Geopark. Here, you can have a quick cuppa or detour to nearby Gibson’s Cave and lesser-known Summerhill Force, before following the signs to Low Force. Marvel at the waterfall pluming into the River Tees, then cross the old (and, crucially, single-file) Wynch Bridge. You’ll then make your way the spectacular 21m-tall High Force, which is often dubbed as England’s largest waterfall, before circling back.

Post-walk, the charming town of Middleton-in-Teesdale is a zippy six minutes away by car, while Barnard Castle is around 25 minutes away. Both are ideal for antiques shopping, or enjoying a cup of tea in a cosy cafe.

3. Wolsingham to Tunstall Reservoir

Tunstall Reservoir is neatly 150 years old (Alamy)

Tunstall Reservoir is neatly 150 years old (Alamy)

Wolsingham is a wonderland for walkers – this petite Weardale town has even been designated as a specific ‘Walkers are Welcome’ area, as part of a national initiative, and local group Wolsingham Wayfarers have devoted themselves to hyping up nearby walking opportunities and providing detailed trail guides to visitors.

One such trail they’ve devised is a moderate, 12km loop starting from Demense Mill car park. You’ll pass countryside and a farm cottage, until you spot the 143-year-old Tunstall Reservoir. You’ll walk around most of it, then turning to Backstone Bank Wood. Currently a Site of Special Scientific Interest, it is also known as land that would likely belonged to the Prince Bishop of Durham (historically, a powerful nobleman in charge of the county) in the 14th century.

You can follow the Wayfarers’ route using a trail guide and map here.

4. Along the Durham Heritage Coast

Blackhall Rocks on Durham Heritage Coast (Shutterstock)

Blackhall Rocks on Durham Heritage Coast (Shutterstock)

Magnesian Limestone grassland and cliffs are the geological highlight of Durham’s Heritage Coast, along with the birdlife and unique flora that comes with it. Its beaches are less busy than you might expect, and are known for their dark gold or reddish-brown sand, in part due to the coast’s decades-ago past as a dumping ground for colliery waste.

From Seaham’s sandy shores (where you can hunt for swept-up sea glass) and the reddish Blast Beach, to the north, to quiet Horden and the otherworldly Blackhall Rocks, further south towards Hartlepool, the entirety of Durham Heritage Coast can be explored via a 17.7km footpath. Find the trail guides on Durham Heritage Coast’s official website.

At the southern end of the coastal trail is Crimdon, where you might spot a rare Little Tern from May until late summer. If you happen to be in the area, the nearby Hart to Haswell Walkway is another great walking route – highlighting a local nature reserve that has developed along an old railway line. 

Elizabeth’s book, 111 Places In County Durham That You Shouldn’t Miss (Emons Verlag), is out now via Amazon, Waterstones and in most major bookshops.

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