Weardale in County Durham was somewhere I’d heard spoken of with great affection for many years. My friend’s dad Gilbert is a regular visitor as his mother was born there and he’s always waxed lyrical about what a special place it is. So, when coronavirus put a pause on his train journeys, I shared the driving to take him up there for a few days. And was very pleased I got to see wonderful Weardale with it’s beautful scenery, picturesque villages and friendly people.
Our base was Eastgate, for the first night at the Cross Keys, a village pub with comfortable rooms and then for three nights at Horsley Hall, a gorgeous manor house set in a valley on the south side of the River Wear and surrounded by farms and moorland. It’s usually let as a whole house to large groups or to grouse shooting parties, but with the coronavirus restrictions on household mixing in place we were able to book indivdual rooms.
As soon as we arrived at Horsely Hall and our luggage was wiped down, we knew every precaution was in place. Owner and chef Liz is the perfect host and along with her husband Derek, daughter Angela and their small team they gave us a lovely Weardale welcome and made sure we were very well looked after. With their care and atention, the fabulous food and the beautful manor house rooms we quickly felt like we were living in Downtown Abbey!
Not far from here is the market town of Stanhope where we stopped off at the Durham Dales Centre. It’s a interesting place with a range of attractions including a tearoom, gift shops and speciality craft shops, as well as a function room and business offices. It’s set in what was originally the gardens of Stanhope Castle, so it’s also worth a wander around the gardens where you’ll find a Gothic Gaezebo that was part of the castle.
Stanhope is the largest town in upper Weardale and it’s best known atraction is probably the Fossil Tree which is built into a wall at the 13th century St Thomas Church. The tree grew in the Carboniferous Period, 320 million years ago and was discovered in a sandstone quarry near Stanhope in 1915. It had to be transported in large pieces to be reassembled in the churchyard and the sandstone has formed a perfect cast of the tree so that even the detail of the bark can be seen.
About 10 minutes drive from here is another Weardale market town, Wolsingham. It was easy to park in the centre, so we stopped off for lunch at a very nice coffee shop No 10 and a browse around Sixes and Sevens, a really lovely shop with lots of unusual gifts, cards, books and clothes.
The countryside around Wolsingham is lovely and there are lots of nice walks, so we explored the area both that day and the following one when we headed off on the Black Banks walk which has great views of Wolsingham, Weardale and beyond.
After that three hour walk we were ready for lunch and decided to head to the friendly Chatterbox Cafe in St John’s Chapel. It’s another favourite spot that Gilbert loves to visit on his trips to Weardale and it was the perfect place for a filling panini and salad.
Not that we needed to eat much while out and about as the food at Horsley Hall was so good. Every morning at breakfast we were given the menu to choose our options for the three course dinner and the standard was exceptional. Even the wine was better than we’d anticipated and we made short work of their Provence rose stock!
On our last day in Weardale we woke up to pretty rainy day, but decided to head out anyway and had a very misty drive across the moors. Fortunately it had eased up when we dropped down from the moor to visit the beautiful Low Force Waterfall. The nearby Bowlees Visitor Centre is also worth popping into. As well as a cafe and shop you can find information and get advice about things to see and do across the North Pennines.
From there we headed onto Barnard Castle, a Teesdale market town that is bigger than the Weardale towns we’d visited with a historic centre that has lots of shops and plenty of cafes. We had a very nice lunch at Penny’s Tea Rooms in Market Place which has a great view of the town’s landmark octagonal building, the Market Cross. It’s known locally as the ‘Butter Market’ and was given to the town in 1747. Two bullet holes in the weather vane are said to be the result of a shooting competition between a volunteer soldier and a local gamekeeper.
The road opposite Penny’s is Newgate and leads up to the Bowes Museum, an impressive French-style château, built in the late 19th Century by John Bowes, and surrounded by beautiful gardens and parkland. The museum houses a collection of European fine and decorative arts and is said to be one of the most significant museums outside London.
After dropping Gilbert off for a walk around the museum, we headed back into the town centre for a meader around the shopping streets. Most were closed as it was Sunday, but as well as a few chain stores there are lots of nice independent shops selling antiques, home décor, second-hand books, designer clothes, local crafts and gifts.
Between the town centre and the River Tees is the ruined castle that gave the town its name. It’s an English Heritage property that was founded in the 12th century and given to Richard 111 as part of an inheritance in 1474. It’s believed he undertook some work on the castle but after he died it was neglected. Just behind the castle is the arched ‘County Bridge’, so called because it was formerly the boundary between County Durham and Yorkshire.
We walked back to Market Place for our final stop in Barnard Castle, the No 15 Coffee House & Deli, a great little place to have a coffee which we were able to drink while sitting on comfy chairs in the window of the lovely bookshop next door.
The drive back across to Weardale was a lot nicer than in the morning and we stopped off to just enjoy looking at the beautiful heather covered moorlands. Then it was back to Horsely Hall for one last opportunity to enjoy the views of its gardens and wonderful Weardale countryside beyond.
Click on an image below to view more images in the gallery and visit the UK section of the blogs for more staycation ideas.