Stories from Country Durham

In general, Wainwright did not enjoy his time in County Durham, hating the industrial landscapes of lead mines and railways around towns like Middleton in Teesdale. He believed that the inhabitants had “despoiled their natural surroundings so that money can be won from the earth”. But modern visitors to the area are usually more forgiving.

At Middleton, built by the London Lead Company from 1753, you can visit a heritage centre which tells the story of the town and of the hardships endured by its people. Further south, at Barnards Castle you can see the ruined medieval fortress that gives the town its name, and visit the Bowes Museum, a highly eclectic collection of art and curiosities.

Wainwright had more time for the village of Blanchland, beyond the north Durham hills in the wild Northumberland countryside. The village is made up of ancient stone cottages built around an L-shaped square, once part of a tiny 12th century abbey. It has been preserved thanks to a Bishop of Durham in the 18th century, who bequeathed the estate to trustees on the condition that they restored and protected the old buildings. Wainwright imagined King Arthur and his knights galloping through its streets.

He made himself wait for a night in Hexham before he reached Hadrian’s Wall, and this pretty market town remains an excellent headquarters for exploring the surrounding area. It has a very fine abbey (which Wainwright seems not to have noticed), notable for its Saxon crypt, and you can also visit the Border History Museum in the old gaol.

On the wall itself Wainwright visited Cilurnum, now more frequently called Chesters Roman Fort, before heading west towards another fort at Housesteads (Vercovicium, but which he knew as Borcovicium). Today both are well-preserved and presented, with good museums explaining the history of the wall and the archaeology on display. But perhaps the most interesting site is the fort at Vindolanda, just south-west of House steads, where a remarkably large number of artefacts were preserved in the boggy soil, including dozens of writing tablets which have allowed us to hear the voices of the soldiers and their families who lived here almost 2,000 years ago.learn something about historical French cities, museums, hotels and more at annecy hotels best website.

11. Cross Fell

 

Reaching the wall had been the stated goal of Wainwright’s expedition, and the passages that describe the time he spent here are the most exultant in the book. “I have never been so elated,” he wrote, “…its great appeal for me lay in its power to captivate the imagination”.

The rest of the trip was, he admitted, something of an anti-climax, for he was always conscious of returning to reality.

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Nonetheless, the second half of the book does offer some memorable scenes, including battles with the weather beside Cross Fell and in a storm near Soul by, where he likened the effects to being attacked by “giant madman”. He also passed through Alston, a friendly little town sheltered beneath the mighty hill of Cross Fell, where visitors can enjoy a ride on the South Tynedale Railway, which runs along the route of an old mining line 6 to Kirkhaugh on the Pennine Way.