Length: 30 miles
Time taken: 13 hours
The walk from Sunderland to Hemsley in North Yorkshire was arguably the hardest and most testing physical challenge of my entire life, far more so than the previous one to Bamburgh due to the terrain involved. However, it nonetheless brought a wealth of experience in all the places passed through and discoveries made along the way. Here, I detail the first day of the journey which involved travelling south through County Durham and ultimately crossing the River Tees to Yarm.
Setting off at 7.30am, the first part of the journey involved exiting Sunderland via Doxford Park and crossing over the A19 footbridge. Here, you are led onto the very distinctively named “Hangman’s Lane” and pass through the area of Warden Law. On the way you can see the ancient hill itself the area is named after, which has a large cross etched into the top of it, as well as the remnants of a neolithic stone circle at the top. As you continue to walk down the lane, you can also see the twin barrow burial mounds sitting on either side of the road, coated with trees.
After passing several farmsteads, the map led me onwards to the village of Easington Lane. The most distinctive feature of this village was its impressive cenotaph, which was far larger than a typical village of its size. Following the main street southwards, I then turned onto Salter’s Lane, a long winding historic route named after being a transit point for salt mines, linking together a number of County Durham villages on the way. This led me on a single straight route for approximately seven miles.
The Pit Villages: Haswell, Shotton, Wingate and Station Town
On taking the Salter’s Lane, I passed through a plethora of County Durham former pit villages, all of which have struggled through tough times and fondly remember the legacy of the collieries which gave birth to them, and the miners who lost their lives in the process. These villages included Haswell, Shotton Colliery, Wingate and Station Town. Out of the four of them, Wingate was the largest. In going through them you do feel the pervading sense of “loss” that these places have suffered and see first hand the small acts the communities undertake to try and give a sense of hope or comfort. After having left Station Town, it was now time to enter the Huworth Burn Railway footpath…
Huworth Burn Railway Footpath
The Huworth Burn Railway Footpath is a very, very long walking route built of course on the site of a former railway lane. The path covers a huge expanse of open land crossing East Durham which ultimately takes you into the area of Teesside. On the way, you pass the Huworth Burn Reservoir, pass through some forests and then eventually reach the village of Thorpe Thewles which marks your entry into the borough of Stockton on Tees. On this path you will also see the historic former railway station of the village which has been converted into a cafe.
After reaching the village of Thorpe Thewles, you continue onto another former railway footpath which spans out of the village and towards Stockton itself. This path comes with a few geographical obstacles, including a number of very steep banks to go up and down. It also has a more dystopian feel about it as you see elements of urban decay on the route such as large pipelines, graffiti, etc and of course at this point in time the sun had already set so the mood felt a lot more tense and scary. Eventually however, the footpath came out into the outer suburbs of Stockton on Tees.
Stockton to Yarm
This was the hardest part of the journey because by now it was night and also the pain in my feet and legs had really set in after a long day of walking. I navigated round the outside of Stockton without entering the town and pressed southwards through what is known as “Durham Lane.” This was excruciating as there was no public footpath which meant I had to carefully navigate the side of the road, or the grass ledges next to it, while facing rush hour traffic in total darkness. This continued for a long time. Eventually, after passing an industrial estate I then reached the town of Eaglescliffe and passed the railway crossing on foot (this was funny as on the way back the train home would stop here). Eaglescliffe, sitting on the River Tees, is part of the final frontier of County Durham.
After walking down a large bank, I approached the riverside and crossed the River Tees over the bridge to reach the town of Yarm at around 8pm. This was a big moment as it meant I had stepped out of the North East of England and into the region of Yorkshire and it is fair to say the say the feel of the place was very different, as no longer was I in the post-industrial region of Teesside but was now in a historic rural town with a very classical feel about it. This marked the end of part one of my journey and I would spend the night in a guest house.
The next day however, was going to be far tougher, longer and more challenging than I could ever possibly imagine…