Hart to Haswell Walkway Part 1….

Start at South Hetton
Information board at South Hetton

June last year seems an age away, but its legacy is still living strong in our lives into 2013.  Kel and I still cannot believe an injury acquired by simply stepping off a bunk bed ladder can be so painful and so life changing.  I mean, we’ve spent hour after hour falling off rocks, slipping down slopes and jumping off rock faces with only scratches and a few bruises as a result.  We have, in the past, just brushed ourselves off and laughed.  But this has totally altered the way we live for over half a year and the doctors still cannot put their finger on what’s causing Kel so much pain in her ankle.  As you can imagine, walking has been a ‘no no’ since that day at Ennerdale Scout camp.  I have done a few local walks but I can’t imagine what is going through Kel’s mind, especially as it now is having a detrimental effect on work life.

Nice straight route heading to Haswell
Nice straight route heading to Haswell

However, Kel was going to work today and I was going to be at a loose end.  There are plenty of walks in this area of Durham but I decided to have a leg stretch at one of the more famous designated routes in the county, ‘The Haswell to Hart Walkway’!  This flat, fairly easy walk stretches from (officially) Haswell village to Hart Station near the border between Durham and Cleveland.  It’s the route the old railway took which fed the neighbouring collieries throughout the coal era.  It passes through Shotton, Wingate, Castle Eden and Hesleden.  However, if you want to add an extra mile to the 9 mile walkway you can start it at a little village called South Hetton and walk to Haswell where the official route starts.

I planned to start the route fairly late in the day, as I wanted a much needed lie in and Kel wasn’t going to work till after lunch and I needed her to drop me off at South Hetton.  Another problem associated with linear routes, logistics are a pain when it comes to transport.  So I packed and repacked my day sack, taking only water proofs and basics, and as I put on my old faithful walking boots, I saw Kel putting on her Magnums wishing she was putting her Scarpa’s on and joining me.

We arrived in South Hetton and I jumped out and got my kit out of the boot, a peck for Kel and she drove off to work.  I crossed the road and saw her pull to a halt about 50 metres up the road, she jumped out of the car and slammed the boot shut, she gave me that look…. that “you dickhead” look!  I gave her a feeble wave as if to say I was sorry.  She drove off and I set off on the first unofficial section of the Haswell to Hart Walkway.  The wind had not let up and it was blowing like ‘a good un’ as I strode along the well-used track, which is also a national cycle route.  This initial section is fairly exposed with farm fields on both sides and its only protection is a variety of bushes and small trees.

Information board at the Haswell crossing.

The view is quite good and the wildlife plentiful with a good few birds ranging from kestrel, which was struggling in the wind, to Thrushes, Blackbirds and a few smaller Tits and Finches.  It climbs ever so slightly but nothing that’s going to get your heart pounding.  It has a good all round view and with South Hetton in the distance I plodded on towards the road crossing and the official start/finish (whichever way you do it).  At this point there is one of the numerous sign posts that furnish the route, but like all the others, it is in bad repair.  It gives a brief history of Haswell, which is approximately quarter of a mile further down the road crossing.  But due to half-wits that use this part of the walk as a drinking spot occasionally, the once very well set out sign is now hardly readable.

Signs of old railway still present

The start of this section is pretty much similar to the South Hetton section, it is lined with farmland and wildlife is plentiful.  On a good day a good clear view of Durham city is possible and the acres of wheat fields that act as a foreground to the great city.  To the left the disused quarry dwarfs the surrounding landscape, there’s still a few clues to the past of this little route if you look carefully, odd cuts leading to nowhere.  Stacks of old railway sleepers that seem to have escaped the sticky fingers of passing white vans and their occupants.  The path dips ever so slightly with Pesspool farm very prominent to the right and another crossing of a farm track leading to its 19th century out houses and the old farm house.  There is a right turn here onto a footpath leading through the farm into Haswell, but it is a path seldom  used as it goes bang smack in the middle of the farm houses and a couple of awaiting farm dogs that have teeth!!

The path is best avoided and carry straight on, the farmer ploughing his field can be seen at this time of the year, a late plough probably due to the weather.  The said dogs chasing the seagulls that follow the tractor as they scrape for the unearthed insects.  Ive walked this route before and at this point you can sense you have company everytime.  As you stride back up the small incline there is a presence, a small black Patterdale Terrier  follows but keeps a safe distance yapping as if to say, “YEAH YEAH keep walking, this is my land!!”  He’s a lovable little dog and it adds to the character of the walk.  As long as his mates don’t join him you’re fine!!

The wooden boardwalk approaching Shotton
The wooden boardwalk approaching Shotton

Along the route there are a few strategically places boulders along the side, ideal for plonking your backside down and enjoying the view which is very nice and if youre not too offended by ‘KEEP OUT’ signs that Farmer Brown has placed to stop hikers from deviating from the given route.  The path surface is very well kept which gives you a false sense of security for the up and coming section of the walkway that is not for the faint hearted.  I small dip takes you into the wooded part of this ‘picturesque’ where a junction states you can now deviate towards and the less ‘dog patrolled’ path into Haswell.  This wooded section is sheltered by steep banks lined by trees and with this the wind stops dramatically and leaves you with an almost ‘blowing brushwood’ kind of feeling as you enter a darker, colder corridor as you start the entrance to the Shotton stretch.  Initially you are greeted by a lovely boardwalk which the council have painstakingly provided to help you through this year round, flooded section of the route.  It is the home of much wildlife in the warmer seasons;  frogs, toads, newts and wagtails plus the usual critters.  Old remnants of a another rail crossing bridge (I think) and what looks like an old station again make you think this is another twist to this stretch of an old artery that fed this part of the North east.

Then it happens, just as you enter Shotton (which you can’t see) there’s a bridge that goes under a main road running through the old pit village.  It should be white and introduce you to an area that, by the older villagers, is considered a great old pit village.  This is where the legacy of Maggie hits home!  If you do take the time to read this, and past blogs you know I’m not a Tory by heart, but I did think Thatcher was a good leader (bosh, there goes a few followers on Twitter).

One of many vandalised signs
One of many vandalised signs

She was strong and kicked arse, something a certain someone should be like, but that’s by the by!  Anyway, this bridge is a monument to the death of someone who crashed his off road bike at this particular spot fatally injuring him and the council are too scared to cover up the ‘graffiti’ In case it offends I guess.  However, this is just the start of about ½ mile of, what I can only describe as the most disgusting, litter ridden part of the North East I’ve ever seen.  The path is an assault course of burnt mattresses, plastic bags full of rubbish and drug paraphernalia.  It is bloody disgusting!!  The banks that line the route are the end of resident’s gardens, and it looks like some of the occupants have decided to throw their rubbish over the back fence to blight this supposedly picturesque walkway instead of putting it in their bin!  The walk emerges briefly to cross the main road running through the village then drops back down to more rubbish and graffiti.  At this part you are able to see the wonderful countryside on the left hand side of the path.  But looking right only depresses and reminds you that not all people appreciate the lovely countryside that surrounds their village.

It’s a shame this part of the walkway spoils what is generally a very good leg stretch.  It doesn’t clear up either for a good half of mile.  The ‘Thornley Crossings’ industrial estate now takes the place of the squalor on the right hand side of the walk.  Graffiti is the name of the game here as the industrial estates towering walls sport various daubing’s and again ‘crap’ thrown over the walls tarnishing the route.  The estate walls disappear and trees take charge of the scenery as you come to a junction where you could, if you wanted, walk to Wheatley Hill by taking a right turn.  This junction would be an ideal rest stop, as the previous mile or so was a little bit too disgusting to have a break.

Rubbish litterung this part of the route
Rubbish litterung this part of the route

The council must have thought this at one stage as they had erected what I believe to have been a bench on a nice grassed area.  However, whatever once stood at this location is now a pile of ashes and all that’s left is the charred wooden post that I think supported an information board.

At this point there is some good news, the bird song has increased and the rubbish has cleared.  We are now, I think, entering Forestry Commission land and very well kept.  For the next half a mile, there is a marked difference and you really have to look for any litter.  The track is surrounded with huge coniferous trees and the wind is greatly cut.  It’s a very straight section and you can see other walkers and cyclists coming a mile off.  The trees give way to farm land and the sound of the A181 and a steep bank upon to the very busy main road, which you cross with care as the traffic is treacherous.

Back on the walkway and it’s clear that recent maintenance is an attempt to improvement the surface of the route, but yet again, it’s the signs and the occasional graffiti that needs the attention.  There are information boards scattered along the way which have been vandalised.  There’s a small plaque which displays a proud collection of agencies that manage the route, but it’s the little things that spoil your walk that these agencies appear to be overlooking.  The drug paraphernalia, the litter and the damage to the information boards all need some attention, but the council seem to have paid more attention to the surface, which was perfectly acceptable before the work.

In my job it is true that I would inevitably see the bad in everything and I’m probably pointing out things that would annoy me on a personal level.  But if I can go a full week walking in the Lakes or the full length of the Weardale way without finding any faults, maybe I have a good point about the walkway……