The Hetton Colliery Railway was one of the earliest commercial railways in history, and the first without any form of animal power. Designed by George Stephenson, it transported coal from the Hetton mine up to the River Wear in Sunderland itself. Opened in 1822, the railway was in operation for over 130 years before closing in 1959.
Although the railway itself no longer exists, within Sunderland itself its former route has since been transported into an elaborate footpath which spans through a portion of the city. We refer to this route as “The Hetton Colliery walk” and it commences from the border of Farringdon and Doxford Park, right up past Gilley Law, Silksworth Lakes, Plains Farm and through the Barnes and into the city centre where it terminates behind the Ship ISIS pub. This is a long, but extraordinary historical route
Part 1: Doxford Park, Farringdon and Gilley Law
The modern footpath itself begins between Doxford Park and Farringdon Silksworth Row. Starting here, the path cuts past the Farringdon Country Park (Foxy Island) area, passes the Secondary School and eventually Gilley Law on the right hand side. It then reaches North Moor Lane and takes you into Silksworth Park (a slight diversion) but it will lead you back to the original path.
Part 2: Silksworth Park, North Moor and Plains Farm
Once you pass the beautiful artificial scenery of Silksworth Lakeside Park, you should come down into a long and open flat grass plateau where the path proceeds forwards again along a direct route (akin to its railway past). This area was historically known as the “North Moor Engine” which was a key depot on the former railway. As you follow the footpath straight along, you will see the suburb of Plains Farm on the left hand side, and more of the park on the right hand side, as well as the Hendon Burn stream which flows through it. The grassland area is populated by wild grey rabbits, so make sure you look out for them on the way
Part 3: The Barnes
The direct route alongside Plains Farm will eventually go uphill, and you will need to cross the road at Premier Road to keep going (be careful as this can get busy). The foothpath will then take you through a lush assortment of trees coinciding again with the Hendon Burn stream, sandwiched between houses on both sides. The route then takes you through a tunnel which will bring you onto the A690 in front of the Hong Kong Wok Chinese takeaway and Downey’s Fish and Chips. Head North and regroup with the footpath just off Richard Avenue.
Part 4: Onwards to Millfield and the City Centre
From here, the footpath heads straight north along a thin route with housing on both sides and a small patch of grass. It will bring you to Chester Road (A183) where it will appear to terminate. Cross the road and follow a back lane upwards which will lead you to a bridge over the Metro railway. Once you reach the other side you will discover the footpath is back again. Continue to follow it all the way until you reach a road known as “Railway Row”. You will then discover the rear Car Park of the Ship ISIS!
Part 5: Congratulations!
You have now completed a direct walking route all the way from the outskirts of Sunderland to the city centre itself. If you timed it well, it will have probably taken you about an hour. This is the route of the former Hetton Colliery Railway line. If you wish, you can cross the road at the A1231 and proceed onwards into Riverside Park, where the footpath continues up to the River itself.