Winter is definitely with us. No clear blue skies and frozen ground though, at least not today. Instead we had North Pennines winter conditions of soft snow, peat hags, low cloud and drizzle.
We started at Burnhope Reservoir just up from Wearhead at the top end of Weardale. It was deserted, perhaps unsurprisingly on a damp Wednesday in December. The reservoir was built between 1931 and 1937 and flooded the former village of Burnhope. It’s a smallish reservoir with a newly built path around it, a pleasant enough spot with good views along Weardale.
We were headed for Burnhope Seat which at 746m above sea level was the highest peak in County Durham until the county boundaries changed in 1974. Until then County Durham covered the area south of the Tyne and north of the Tees, a large area known mostly for the coalfields and the historic city of Durham. In 1974 it lost South Tyneside and Sunderland to Tyne & Wear and it also lost Hartlepool and Stockton to Cleveland. It gained the old Startforth Rural District Council from North Yorkshire which covered the area between the River Tees and the Pennines. In this latter area was Mickle Fell which at 788m became the new highest peak in County Durham.
We walked along the side of Burnhope Reservoir and then onto hunting tracks leading south west over the moorland. These tracks made the ascent much easier over what would have been boggy ground. Eventually we reached Scaud Hill, where there was a small cairn surrounded by peat hags.
From Scaud Hill to Burnhope Seat we followed a fence line, marked on the map as a boundary rather than a fence. The peat hags were full of soft snow and it was slow going. Just below the final ascent up Burnhope Seat and at the border with Cumbria we came to an interesting old boundary stone with neat inscriptions on each of the four sides. One inscription read GH, another DC, a third EC and the last was 1880 which presumably was the date the stone was erected. We had no idea what the inscriptions could mean, guessing that DC might be Durham County. In fact, the boundary stone shows the names of the landowners with GH being Greenwich Hospital, DC being the Duke of Cleveland and EC being the Ecclesiastical Commission, all big landowners in the 1880s. It’s amazing what you can find out on the Internet.
And so onto Burnhope Seat where there was a trig point but no view. No matter, we continued through soft snow and peat hags northwards to Sallygrain Head where we picked up another good shooting track that took us quickly back down to the reservoir.
A good walk despite the weather and the conditions underfoot. I’d never walked in this area before so some good is coming from Tier 3 restrictions. Every cloud has a silver lining. That doesn’t mean I won’t be straight back to the Lakes and Scotland as soon as I can though…..