On its journey from the wild Pennines to the North Sea, the River Wear flows through some of the North East’s most scenic landscapes. From the dales at the heart of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to the verdant pastures of County Durham and its ancient university city, the Wear is a river rich in natural beauty, human endeavour, fascinating history and spellbinding wildlife.
The Weardale Way is a 79-mile (127 km) long-distance trail that joins this great river on this journey. Between the popular seafront at Roker near Sunderland and the Killhope Lead Mining Museum high in the Durham Dales, the river’s story is slowly revealed with each step. It’s a trail suitable to all levels of experience and never strays too far from civilisation.
The route has plenty to hold your interest. There are cosy tea rooms and charming boutiques to discover in historic market towns like Chester-le-Street, Bishop Auckland and Wolsingham; engineering feats to marvel at in the viaducts, bridges, mining infrastructure and railways that characterise much of the route; there’s the desolate splendour of the open moors; the grandeur of Durham Castle, Durham Cathedral and the remains of Finchale Priory; and there’s the atmospheric hush found on the trails and in the villages nestled high in the Dales.
This Collection starts at the North Sea and ventures inland, up into the North Pennines AONB. I’ve chosen this option as I find it preferable that an adventure heads away from, rather than towards, urban areas. Of course, this makes the Way more strenuous, as you ascend from sea level to around 1,500 feet (450 m) during the course of the seven stages mapped out here. However, the gradients only ramp up in the latter stages and even then are fairly gradual. All that said, there’s nothing to stop you from reversing the journey.
The seven stages range from 7.5 miles to 17 miles. The longest stage, through Sunderland and its suburbs, is tackled first and after this the Way is predominantly rural. Nevertheless, each stage ends in either a town or a city during the first half of the trek, while the latter stages end in villages. As a result, there’s always somewhere to eat and somewhere to rest your head at night. Where options are more limited, I name specifics in the Tour descriptions.
The nature of a riverside trail in North England dictates that decent hiking boots and waterproofs are a prerequisite. The Way is doable all year round, though in winter conditions are liable to be quite wild once you reach the Durham Dales. Spring and summer see colour invade the meadows and nature reserves, just don’t forget to bring your sun cream and shades. Autumn is a glorious season for tackling the Way, when the trails are quieter and mist hangs low in the mornings, hopefully lifting to make way for pleasant sunshine in the afternoon.
The start of the Way is relatively easy to access, just a couple of miles from Sunderland’s mainline station.
The end of the Way is much more challenging to access by public transport and the best option is probably getting someone to pick you up by car. However, it is possible to get from the end point to Bishop Auckland using a couple of buses, though you have to make a request in advance for the bus to continue past Cowshill to Killhope Lead Mining Museum. See weardale-travel.co.uk for more information.
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Last updated: April 18, 2023
Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.
The first stage journeys from the sea wall in Roker to join the Wear, following it through Sunderland and out to the market town of Chester-le-Street. From the industrial architecture of this great port town to the picturesque riverside suburbs, it’s a walk full of interest as you transition from urban…
During the second stage, you follow in the footsteps of the Community of St Cuthbert, who completed this same journey towards the end of the 10th century when they carried the uncorrupted body of the Patron Saint from Chester-le-Street to Durham. This is a grand pilgrimage that ends in the historic city…
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This stage ventures south on gentle riverside trails through woodland and farmland, taking you alongside country parks, grand mansions and peaceful villages. After leaving historic Durham behind, the hike is gorgeously rural, serene and full of interest. Eventually, you arrive at Bishop Auckland, a lovely…
This stage sees you continue through gentle rural pastures, following the Weardale Railway to Wolsingham, on the edge of the Durham Dales. There are some delightful riverside sections, as well as open fields, forest tracks through plantations and quaint villages that time seems to have forgotten. Gradients…
The Way enters the Durham Dales during this stage, gradually climbing to around 1,200 feet (360 m) above Wolsingham, where the so-called Elephant Trees form an interesting backdrop. The Way descends towards Frosterley, before following Bollihope Burn to the south west, ascending across the sharp nose…
During the penultimate stage, the Way ventures further into the Durham Dales region of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is not as strenuous as the previous stage but still involves a good deal of rough walking below the atmospheric moors. Rather than following the relatively…
The final stage is short but strenuous, as you ascend through upper Weardale to finish at the Killhope Lead Mining Museum. With the wild moors of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) rising on either side of the valley, this is a hike in increasingly wild surroundings, with some…
Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield
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