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Sunday, 1 March 2009

Messing about in Weardale

I nearly went to Swaledale today. Instead, I responded to a call from Nenthead Brian for a bit of a radge around Harehope and Bollihope in Weardale.

But first, I had to visit the co-op for a radging banana and some chocolate buns for the cheering-up. At the co-op, there was a big, yellow “crumpet-mobile”. This was not, as you might imagine, a sort of mobile dating service, but a caravan full of crumpets and people dressed in yellow outfits with “Flora” written on them. I assumed that they weren’t all called Flora and yes, it was confirmed, as I was collecting my free crumpet that they all had indeed heard each and every crumpet joke in the entire world. So I went to Frosterley and met Brian.

Our first exploration was the little hidden valley of the Bollihope Burn. This contains several interesting industrial archeological thingies including some very extensive limestone quarries and ancient limekilns – for the sweetening of acid pastures into lovely green swards, the trackway of a light railway, with bridges and stuff, and, what appears to be an ironstone and galena mine which follows the line of a very large mineral feature called Slit vein. This provided a few moments of scrambly fun and a brief opportunity to wear hard hats. I managed to crawl into the entrance into an open “lobby” area which had two sequential rocksteps of fairly greasy but sparkly rock. By the liberal use of bad language, blasphemy, profanity and an accidental emanation of wind, I managed to climb up the first step, but couldn’t manage the second. Getting back down was interesting too.

The little valley is a gem of a place, though. Its well wooded and sheltered and has good paths and footbridges. There are several small ponds where, I expect, you would normally see plenty of frogspawn at this time of the year. Not yet, though. I don’t think they’ll be long.

So, after a lunch, we followed the beck downstream for a while and passed by a string of ten limekilns. These were lit constantly and provided agricultural lime for most of the North of England for about 130 years up to 1975. The area is also quite close to the Durham coalfield at Crook, and this limestone, plus the ironstone and the coal is the reason for the local steelworks at Stanhope, Wolsingham, Tow law and Consett. So its historically quite important.

A bit further down is another lead mine with an old mine shop or dormitory, the remains of a miners’ privy and the footings for a waterwheel. Apparently, inside the mine there’s lots of water and lovely brown mud and a pre-fabricated horse gin, never assembled. A trip was planned. But I need a wet suit, apparently.

Further downstream we came to Harehope quarry which is now an outdoor educational centre for teaching carboniferous geology to sproglets who are interested in carboniferous geology. They do a lot of interesting stuff here, including providing a playing area for the local school rock groups (cos its rock, see….?) Its all fab stuff.

A pint of Scruttocks Old Dirigible at the Black Bull ended the expedition. Swaledale tomorrow. Probably.
Incidentally, one of the pics is a bit blurred. This is because I thought I was about to fall off....
Further incidentally, Slit Vein is a vein of various minerals several metres wide and many more metres deep which runs across Weardale for about 20 kilometres. Its been well dug up over the centuries but in some places, they've left the central "plug" of the vein in place and mined the iron and lead and other stuff around the sides. It can be quite impressive in places. In other places, its just a line of bell pits.

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