West Auckland - Ramshaw - Cockfield - Hilton - West Auckland

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West Auckland - Spring Gardens - Ramshaw - Cockfield - Wackerfield - Hilton - West Auckland

West Auckland has one of the largest village greens in County Durham and is famous as the 'Home of the first Football World Cup', when an amateur team from the town beat much higher-profile teams from Switzerland and Italy in the first two World Cups of 1909 and 1911.

The first section of the walk from West Auckland along the Gaunless Valley is on the trackbed of the former Haggerleases Railway. At Spring Gardens the route diverts around a newly created earth dam in an area that has recently been redeveloped with the introduction of flood defences to combat any future flooding of the notoriously flood-susceptible River Gaunless. At the heart of the defences is a 15-metre high dam that stores water during flood conditions, then releases it slowly. Hundreds of saplings have been planted and a wildlife wetland complete with a network of nature trails has been created upstream of the dam.

The railway walk emerges at Cockfield Fell, a rare lowland fell extending southwards from the River Gaunless to Cockfield Village. The fell, about two miles in width from east to west, has been worked extensively for coal and stone since the 14th Century, as evidenced by the many mounds and indentations, although the majority of the workings date from the last two centuries. The following final verse from a locally penned poem written in 1878 sums up the condition of the fell in those industrious times:

No lark sings in the sky
Upon Cockfield Fell.
Not a struggling crow will fly
Upon Cockfield Fell.
E'en a peewit can't live there,
Nor a rabbit nor a hare
Ever makes its hidden lair
Upon Cockfield Fell.

The fell today is a very different place, for although many of the scars are still visible the area is predominantly grassy, with an abundance of wildlife.

The walk leaves the fell and passes the east end of the ancient village of Cockfield, the birthplace and early home of mathematician, astronomer and surveyor Jeremiah Dixon, who along with Charles Mason was responsible for establishing the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland in the USA, more famously known as the Mason-Dixon Line.

From Cockfield the walk passes through a corner of the Raby Estates to emerge from a lovely old deciduous wood to a magnificent view of the medieval Raby Castle, set against a backdrop of the hills of the Yorkshire Dales to the far south. The castle was formerly the family seat of the Neville family, a dynasty of knights who fought under the banner of the all-powerful Prince Bishops in protecting mainly the northern flank of the Kingdom against the rebellious Scots. Cecily Neville, who was the mother of English Kings Edward IV and Richard III, was born here. The castle and estates were forfeited to the Crown after the Nevilles led the failed Rising of the North in support of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Catholic pretender to the English throne. The castle is now the home of Lord Barnard, who owns the huge Raby Estates. From the castle gatehouse a long section of road-walking follows on wide, grassy verges.

From Wackerfield through Hilton and back to West Auckland, the route covers field- and lane-walking including a short section of roadwork on a quiet road without a pavement. The terrain is undulating, with good panoramic views in almost every direction from the fields above Bolam. The views approaching West Auckland and Bishop Auckland from near Brusselton Wood are also worthy of a mention.

England - North England - Durham - Countryside

Features

Castle, Flowers, Great Views, Hills or Fells, Industrial Archaeology, Pub, River, Wildlife, Woodland
07/08/2016 - C Davies

Despite some excellent views, especially of Raby castle and around 21, we spent much of the walk dicing with death on the main roads (14-15, 26) or struggling down overgrown paths (particularly 7-8, 27). The edges of many fields growing crops were left overgrown also, where uncut hedges met crops and there was nowhere to walk safely. Also chained bridleway gates at 21 and frequently obscured/overgrown/missing footpath signs throughout. Some stiles were broken and we couldn't find a clear route around 22 as the area seemed to have become an almost impassable thicket. The verges on the A688 were unmown and full of unseen mounds, litter and drainage gratings necessitating us walking on the road - not suitable for children! The discovery of the snack van in the A688 layby was wonderful - the best tea ever and a welcome respite. We were attacked by gorse, wild roses, brambles, raspberries, thistles, hawthorn and nettles....and I was bitten by a dog!

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