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Weekend walks: Around Rowlands Gill on the Red Kite Trail

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  • by CHRIS ROONEY
 

THERE has been a settlement in Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear, for several centuries.

The town really came into its own, however, in 1867, when the Derwent Valley Railway was built.

It was the starting point for my trek, following the Red Kite Trail north through Sherburn Green Wood.

I had certainly chosen a great day for my walk.

Glorious sunshine brought out all the colours of the forest, evergreens speckled with bright red winter berries and rich brown bracken.

There was the sound of tumbling waters to enjoy, and blue skies visible through rustling leaves.

After 10 minutes or so of trekking uphill, I stopped to take breath and look back down at Rowlands Gill.

The town gets the first part of its name from Robert Rowland, who owned the estate in 1621.

The word Gill refers to a rivulet in a steep ravine. As I was to discover, this is a very apt description!

The railway ushered in the end of an era and closure of some of the area’s ancient roads.

Rowlands Gill had, for centuries, been served by two such routes.

There was Rowlands Gill Turnpike and another very old route that had followed the course of a waggonway to Burnopfield from near Rowlands Gill Railway Station.

A Toll House was situated on this route. The charges were a halfpenny for a donkey, one penny for a horse on its own and threepence for horse and vehicle.

Trundling wagons, horses and their riders, cattlemen and shepherds, all used this road for centuries.

The nearby Towneley Arms was a popular haunt for drovers and farmers.

The Industrial Revolution meant a growth in population, with rows of houses and their earth closets.

Disinfectant, for use on these, was kept at the inn.

Having enjoyed a cuppa, I put the flask back into the rucksack and left the main trail to follow a footpath into the gully and to Spen Burn, a burbling silvery thread amidst red-brown bracken and pine needles.

The stream was deeper than I had expected and so I had to search for a way across the water.

Fortunately there were plenty of boulders that could serve as stepping stones.

Better be careful though, I thought, some of those rocks didn’t look steady and they were slippery with age and moss – I didn’t fancy going for an unexpected swim!

I stepped tentatively onto the first boulder.

A loud grating noise followed when the rock shifted alarmingly under my boot, and I can confirm that your life really does flash in front of your eyes!

However, I stepped nimbly onto another rock and then another, and so made it safely across the stream.

I was standing now in the bottom of the gully and amidst a cathedral of trees.

Tall slender pines towered into the sky, sunlight streaming through foliage and branches.

Every rock and blade and grass, every flowered bough, seemed to glow with its own light.

I stayed a while, enjoying my surroundings before taking a steep flight of wooden steps up an escarpment and into even denser forestation.

It was mid-morning when I arrived at the Low Spen road and this took me to Ashtree Lane.

From here, were great views of the Derwent Valley and a huge green shadow that was Chopwell Wood. It dwarfed the forest I had just trekked through!

My route took me along Ashtree Lane for a couple of miles and then onto the footpath through the forest that covers Spen Banks.

From there, it was a leisurely wander into High Spen.

My lunchtime pint was enjoyed at the Bute Arms, and then, before heading off on the second part of the walk, I decided to go for a wander through the village.

It has a particular reason for taking pride in its past.

Like so many towns and villages during the First World War, High Spen’s young men joined the Army and went off to the Western Front.

They included Lance Corporal William Dobson of the Coldstream Guards and Private Thomas Young of the Durham Light Infantry.

Both men were awarded the Victoria Cross for their courage.

I made my way downhill through Hooker Gate and Highfield.

Before me, the Derwent Valley was as bright as an emerald under the westering sun.

I rested my rucksack against a tree and took in the views, with the breeze buffeting me and the light on my face.

Out there, in the ripples and folds of the landscape, a light mist had gathered.

It had been a glorious day’s walking, uphill and down vale, along sunny country lanes and across gushing streams.

On the final trek into Rowlands Gill, something else I noticed was the powerful scent of thousands of trees. This was Chopwell Wood.

The forest towered into the sky, waves of sunlight gliding red over the tree tops. Faintly, the haunting noise of many birds could be heard.

The forest enjoys a commanding presence in every way!

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