We’re Gonna Leave Old Durham Town

Having enjoyed our ice-creams and sitting in the sunshine long enough, it was time to move on to our next stopover. Driving back through the Tynemouth ‘village centre’ the bars and eateries were all full with people enjoying their sunny Sunday with friends and family.

We headed through the tunnel under the Tyne, having researched the toll system and opted for the pay later as the most straightforward (though subsequently nearly forgot to then pay by the cut off time). We knew we were in ‘Geordie’ territory when we were overtaken in the tunnel by a white van with the registration letters Y —EYE!

As we were in the vicinity, we had decided that we would make the short trip of effectively doubling back on ourselves, in order to visit the Angel of the North, the iconic Antony Gormley sculpture. I have admired his other works, particularly those in Winchester Cathedral and Stockbridge, Edinburgh and wanted to view the Angel in real life, having seen it so often on film or image. Whereas the Kelpies had more than met my expectations a couple of days ago, the Angel was a tad of a letdown for me. I think that all of the imagery of it shows it as huge in it’s surroundings, and to be fair, it is huge. But I had expected it to be much larger than it is, around double the height, and indeed had anticipated climbing a substantial hill to get to it. Rather you just about see the head over the surrounding trees as you approach. There is a dedicated car park with the usual refreshment stall, and a short walk to a hillock on which it stands. There is no denying it is an iconic piece, instantly recognisable with a strong beauty; but for me it did not really sing. The piece as with many of Gormley’s sculptures, is deliberately androgynous, but what I have liked about many of his other works is that they are literally casts of the artist himself, and as such have a connectable humanity to them in stature and pose. The Angel is based on a cast of the artist’s body but in the enlargement the connectable humanity is not there. Perhaps this is deliberate, it is the largest sculpture in Britain with it’s huge wingspan and is indeed something to behold nonetheless, and I am glad that we made the detour to visit.

Quite a wingspan
Obligatory Selfie

We had decided that we would visit Durham the next day, and Mr V had devised a circular peddle around the city by stitching together a number of NCN and local cycle routes. We had identified what looked like a pleasant park4night at a convenient point on the outskirts of the city, this turned out to be a lovely picnic spot alongside the parking area, so as the evening was balmy we made use of one of the picnic tables for supper.

On further study of the OS maps, in conjunction with the View Ranger, Mr V became rather excited to note that there were actually numerous disused railway lines which happened to converge right at the spot we were parked up. We had a lovely walk in the evening sunshine along the course of one of the old rail lines.

An abundance of former railways

We opted to peddle the next day along the Deerness Vally line, which headed out to a place called Crook. Once there we could utilise a main road to take us the short hop to Willington to meet up with the Brandon – Bishop Auckland line, and then circle back to our stopover. This would not be a full day ride, so we would then have time to peddle into Durham itself and have a look around.

We passed a peaceful night, as everyone else was either at home or with friends watching the final of the Euros, so we had the place to ourselves after about 19.00hrs. Where the previous evening had been warm and sunny, promising good things to come, alas the morning did not deliver and though it was warm, there was a heavy cloud that hung low in the sky. Not deterred we prepared for our peddle and were heartened when we thought that the sky was brightening a little. The going on the whole was good, and there was a familiarity to the route akin to others we have covered, where though there is clear evidence of the once bustling life of the line, now nature has taken over and birdsong fills the air rather than the chuffing and distinctive whistle of engines. There were a couple of steep declines/inclines where we guessed there may have previously been a bridge as a train would not be able to manage the gradients – we surmised that if that was the case they may have been removed as there would be a cost of upkeep.

We reached the end of the line, and checking maps, made our way to the junction with the line for the return journey. By this time, we realised that our optimism at some small brightening in the sky had been misplaced, the clouds remained resolutely leaden and there was a definite chill to the air outside of the shelter of the wooded cycleway. The short stretch of road which was around 4K that we needed to travel to the junction was relatively busy, fortunately though we did not hold up the traffic as the gradient was downwards and we ended up reaching some nerve wracking speeds, the cold wind whipping our faces as we hurtled along. This necessitated extreme concentration on Mr V’s part to avoid disaster, and for me to follow his lead in respect to leaning into any bends so as not to destabilise Twolula. About half way down I heard him shouting something to me, but on leaning forward to hear found it made us wobble a bit much, to his consternation. It transpired that it was not actually anything important that he was imparting, just telling me that due to not putting on padded cycle pants today, he was feeling an uncomfortable chill in the nether regions!

We reached Willington in quick time and found the junction with the cycleway. This was not at the end of the line, and we made the decision to peddle down to Bishops Auckland, even though that would mean retracing our tracks. We were aware that the town was where the palace of the Bishops of Durham was situated and thought it would be interesting to have a look around given that it was only about 3 miles down the line. The route was uneventful until we took a wrong turn, ending up on a footpath and underneath the viaduct that we needed to be travelling along, however the trusty Ranger got us back on track and we were puffing up the hill towards the town centre.

As we had got rather chilly on route, we had thought to find a nice tea room so as to have our break time in the warm. On arriving at the lovely town centre of Bishops Auckland, we were spoilt for choice, and opted for the fifties inspired tea room/gin palace rather than the trendy coffee house. By this time the leaden sky had started to shed its load and the drizzle was turning into rain, so we settled ourselves into a window seat where we could see where Twolula was locked up to the railings and reviewed the very reasonably priced menu. We opted for the treat of a cream tea, which was served on charmingly mismatched china, and was satisfyingly generous in terms of the size of scone and pot of tea.

Once we had eaten and drunk our fill, the rain seemed to have eased off, so refreshed and warmed we ventured out to investigate through the impressive gateway that was at the end of the town square. This was as anticipated the entrance to the compound of the Bishop’s Palace, and on entering we admired the new building which was almost finished, such was the obvious craftsmanship and simplicity of its lines. We peddled along the pathway, passing what was obviously excavations of the area in front of the wall, and followed a lady pushing a pram through the gates and into the immediate area around the palace. She made her way into the building, and we headed around towards the park. We noticed a gentleman waving to us and walking across the immaculate lawn, and stopped for him to catch up. Brian, as it turned out was the (proud) gardener, and after telling us that we could not be there as it was closed for a private function, proceeded to tell us why we should make a return visit when it was open. He told us that ideally we should come back in a couple of years as he was still working on the first terrace of the gardens and the excavations that were underway would be completed. Evidently there had been extensive excavations under the lawns also, but they have now been returned to their immaculate state. The new barn like building that we had noted, was the addition to the palace by this era, and was a faith centre intended to house the finds that have been excavated. There was also a modern looking tower that we had noted opposite our tea room – this has been built to afford a bird’s eye view of the compound, and also to buy entrance tickets when it is actually open. He also told us to take note of the ornate building in the town square that would be used to house the Spanish paintings which were part of the Bishop’s collection and also we understand an exhibition of miners’ paintings. It would seem that 2023 is the year to revisit Bishop Auckland.

We bid Brian farewell, and took in the sights that he had pointed out to us, before heading out of the town, being careful not to make the same mistake and miss our turning over the viaduct. We peddled back and passed the junction on to the unfamiliar stretch of the line. As we peddled back the weather had well and truly closed in and we arrived back at the three point junction where the van was parked damp through, chilly and mud splattered; the thought of peddling on into Durham itself was no longer as appealing as when the plan was formulated in the warm sunshine.

We decided that we would have to leave Durham for another day, and pumped up the pressure in the camping shower to wash off the mud, changed into warm dry clothes and put the kettle on.

Mr V likes to coast left leg down. I get the resulting splash back!

A priority for today was to top up with water as we were down to our last half a container and had used up the emergency supply that was in the shower container. We have been fortunate so far in that opportunities to fill up with water have presented themselves along the way, so this was the first time we have had to actively seek it out. Before we had set out we had thought about this issue and knew that many service stations had water, and at a push graveyards do also tend to have a tap, but there is no certainty whether this is drinking water so we bought some purification tabs. The issue today was that we could not identify a nearby service station that had water, so decided to try the nearest campsite and see if they would allow us to fill up for a small donation. We made our way to Strawberry Hill campsite, only to find that the reception is not open on Mondays, starting to feel a little desperate, despite the rain I walked around to see if I could find someone to ask. To my relief a gentleman came trotting towards me, clearly the owner, I explained our situation and asked if he would mind letting us fill up for a small donation, to be told ‘no, don’t be silly, it’s just a bit of water!’ Giving us the code for the gate and where to find the filling station, he hurried out of the rain. Relieved, we topped everything up and then set off on our way for the next leg of our journey which took us up onto to the North Yorkshire Moors where the weather left us thinking that we were definitely going to need our big coats!

We had identified a stopover that was at the edge of a forestry commission area and just a short drive to the start of our next days ride from Scarborough to Whitby Driving through the thick mists, windscreen wipers working hard, we both resigned ourselves to an evening hunkered down in the van snuggled up against the elements. However, as we descended the clouds parted and we arrived at our stopover to blue sky and a glorious view across the landscape. We celebrated by eating supper outside while the warmth of the sun was still on us.

We had the parking spot to ourselves, and such was the isolation of the place, we had an extremely peaceful night, waking to our alarm so that we could ready ourselves for an early start on what we knew would be a long days peddling. It appeared though that although much of the country was now bathed in good weather, there was a special corner of cloud that held tenaciously over North Yorkshire. Lucky us.

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