In 1863, the miners at Sunnybrow went on strike against the method of payment for the coal they’d hewed. The system at the time was that they would only be fully paid for a full tub of coal. So, to try to ensure that a tub wasn’t considered as “slack”, they rocked it, to settle the coal. There was a man, however, who was paid a commission every time he discovered a slack tub and so, he discovered as many slack tubs as he could, whether they were slack or not. The hewers starved and lost the strike and there were evictions in December 1863. A heinous act, never forgotten and commemorated in a memorial on the brow of a hill overlooking the River Wear. Eventually, this evil scam was replaced by a more honest check weigh system. Yesterday, I lead a Co Durham County Council guided walk to the memorial and nine people, three stewards, (including a Compulsory Dave) and me set out in a thunderstorm to slop through the riverside mud towards Bishop Auckland, passing the ruins of Furness Mill, up a steep bit and back along the Bishop-Brandon walkway, on the old railway line built in 1856, or four minutes to seven… including a short diversion to see the memorial.
Me and the dawg had done three reccies of this route over the last weeks – Bruno, at one point being stamped on by a young horse, apparently without any physical damage being done and a decision made to avoid a likely plunge down a muddy slope into the deep and cold Wear, by a short and much safer diversion. the weather on all of these occasions, was ‘orrible (cold, wet, windy, sleety, muddy..mad horses…..)
And then it was The Solstice. I had determined to mark this in some way and the some way I’d determined was a camp-out. A site was picked. The son-in-law was notified in case he wanted to join in, and a small bottle of scotch was obtained to celebrate the longest night. The weather, however, was, once more, ‘orrible…. but…maybe…the MET office seemed to have a little pause in the gales, roughly from about 8:00 pm till the next morning. So, at roughly eight o’clock we set off hopefully from somewhere near White Kirkley and plodded the couple of miles up the hill in the wet and the wind to our camping spot behind a wall on the edge of the moors overlooking Weardale.
It was nicely sheltered, but the wind roared through the beech trees and flapped the tarp we’d put for the jinkies party. A small kindling fire was lit and scotch and sherry sipped to the sophisticated sound of classical music drifting from a little radio. A big, orange moon appeared through the tree branches. My camera told me that it’s batteries were exhausted, so I couldn’t manage a picture.
The gale battered on through the night and in the grey morning, in snow squalls we ran out of useable supplies of gas, but found more camera batteries. I just managed a brew, but the cooking of the sausages was unlikely to be possible. So we left as the hilltops began to turn white.
..And another thing… tonight, I was mainly wearing a baselayer courtesy of Damart. Tony Bennet recently mentioned how his venerable Damart kit had lasted and lasted… and this one was, new but toasty – in fact, on the low level walk, it was too warm, but the council don’t like their walk leaders ripping off their baselayers during guided walks, so I put up with the sweat running down into the crack of my bum pro tem. But on a cold winter’s night at 420 metres in an atlantic gale with snow squalls, it was grand. I’ll be doing a proper review of this shortly AND I have an unworn set – still in it’s packaging - for sale, which was part of the deal with Damart. I’ll be trying www.walkersforum.com gear auction facility for selling these trollies and top and the money will go through the Virgin Moneygiving site in aid of Mind. Good eh? Its a nice bit of kit, though, so watch out for the review and the auction.
In the meantime, here’s a pic of Willington
War Peace memorial