Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Railway Gadgies   by Ben Steine
January 6th

с Новым Годом 

Happy New Year!
  After the decline of mining and heavy industry in the North East of England and
thanks to the cuts of the Beeching Axe* many branch and mineral lines in Durham were abandoned by the railways. Some have been transformed into well surfaced walks or cycle paths and today's walk follows one of them, from Lanchester to Durham.
 This is a linear walk so it is ideal for gadgies. Five of us caught the bus from Eldon Square bus station (X30/31, leaving at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour and taking about one hour). Arriving in Lanchester we soon found a coffee shop, through a gift shop heavily scented with pot pourri, and up the stairs. Bacon butties available, or toast, or cheese scones.
  I have decided to inaugurate a system of "flitches" for cafes offering bacon butties, similar to Michelin stars but of more use. On a scale of one to five I am awarding this establishment 4.5 flitches. Service was excellent, staff were friendly, the bacon was real, not the watery pink plastic stuff from supermarkets, the tea was plentiful, and strong but I do like to be offered brown sauce, especially HP. (See High Cantle 11-11)
 Lanchester is a pretty little town, not much bigger than a village. You can do this walk without a map but should you want to take one the walk crosses OS Explorer Maps 308 and 307 and the centre of the village is at GR165473. In the South East corner of what is almost a village square, with the parish church on your left on the road back to Durham look for a sign saying Lanchester Valley Walk and follow the track into Durham. That's it. Simple.
Lanchester was called Longovicium by the Romans and their fort is about a mile South West of the present town. It was really a Services Area on the Romans' equivalent of the M1, known as Dere Street, housed about 1000 soldiers and is now on private land so you can't get into it.
Back to the walk; shortly after leaving Lanchester the walk passes the sewage works, which was pretty ripe on our walk, but after that the old line is in fairly open country, quite attractive and as it is a railway, sloping gently down, making the walking very easy, allowing time for chat.
 As wise old gadgies we talk on many subjects from aardvarks to zymurgy. ( Look this one up in a dictionary and you will see why it is important to us unless you already know of course) . Too often about education and frequently about politics. A bunch of gadgies with similar yet differing political views is always guaranteed to give rise to a heated but friendly discussion and as we shared the pork pies today the chat veered towards trade unions and their place in politics and society.  Having all lived through the days when unions had more power than today, and having all been in a union we have a real interest. Somebody asked the question "Should the government pander to the unions?" and Brian brought the serious side of the discussion to an end by quipping; " It is not really a black and white issue." A good one I thought but explanations are available if needed. We also discussed the true meaning of "floating voter" when the opposite action of floating is sinking. We can be trivial.
  Shortly after the pie and coffee break we passed Langley Park, famous for being the birthplace of Sir Bobby Robson, footballer, manager of several clubs including Newcastle and England, and a gentleman, much loved by football fans and many others too.
 Langley Park is also home to "Diggerland" paradise for small and not so small boys who like the opportunity to drive an assortment of construction machinery. I took my Canadian nephew there a few years ago.It was the best thing he had seen in England, better than the Harry Potter tour of Alnwick Castle, better than playing with cousin Kate's cats.
 A couple of miles after Langley Park there is the opportunity to visit Bearpark. There is a track off the railway walk that leads to Bearpark Farm at GR239440. But in the grounds of the farm are the remains of the Bishop of Durham's summer residence. Built as the Priory of Beaurepaire (Beautiful retreat) it got knocked about a bit in the various border wars and was eventually destroyed in the English Civil War.(1642 -51) It is now a pile of stones and bits of wall.
The track is now approaching Durham and at Baxter Wood you have a choice; continue on the old railway line, clearly marked Bishop Auckland (and somewhere else but I have forgotten) or turn left following the path signed Durham. Go through the farmyard, cross the river Browney and immediately over the bridge (watch out for trolls) is a marker on the right saying "Small Pilgrims Path". Crouching to join them, follow the path alongside the river until you emerge on the road near Neville's Cross. ** Turn right and after a hundred yards there is a large, light controlled intersection. Cross  with care and take the Darlington Road (A167). Almost immediately there is a footpath (or ginnel as we quaint Yorkshire folk say) between houses. take it onto Geoffrey Avenue. Walk down the avenue and on the left is another footpath between houses. Follow it across a football field and through a new estate behind the old Nevilles Cross training college and down Clay Lane. At the road turn right, walk past buildings belonging to Durham School, along Grove Street and into South Street, a terrace of interesting, individual older houses. The view on your right hand side now makes the whole walk worth while. Sitting magnificently on its peninsula is the Norman/Gothic Durham Cathedral and the castle. At the end of South Street turn right for the centre of the town. Turn left up the hill for a Wetherspoons and the bus station.
  The Norman Cathedral was begun in 1093 and the main body of the church was built in 40 years, although additions were made over the next four hundred years, the Gothic West Towers in the 12th and 13th centuries and the massive central tower in the 15th century.

Durham Cathedral of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Cuthbert, the third most important bishopric in the Anglican Church after Canterbury and York
A World Heritage Site too, quite rightly.

  The Cathedral houses the remains of St. Cuthbert and the head of St. Oswald. (see St. Oswald's Way November 4th). It also has the mortal remains of the Venerable Bede.
On a lighter note it was the subject of one of the funniest editions of Blue Peter***
I can never decide which is my favourite building, St. Pauls in London or Durham. Different in architectural styles but both beautiful.

 The signpost in Lanchester said Durham 9 miles. My super new iphone App measured the walk at 8.75 miles, Ben's wrist GPS claimed 8.65. ( I started mine before he did though) and the old tech Higear came in at 7.8 miles. Naturally I believe the iphone.
* The Beeching Report into British Railways in the 1960s resulted in the closure of many little used non profitable lines.
**Neville's Cross. Originally the site of a Saxon Cross. In 1346 King David II of Scotland, attempting to aid Philip VI of France who was at war with England under Edward III, marched into England, burning and pillaging as armies do. They got Bearpark! At Neville's Cross he was defeated by an English army under the command of the Archbishop of York.
*** Blue Peter;  a childrens' programme on BBC TV. Famous for making things from sticky back paper and used washing up liquid bottles. Also for elephants and cathedral sanctuary knockers.

OK, so you didn't look it up; It means the chemistry of brewing.