A Quarrington-with-Cassop walk

(First published in Bowburn Interchange no. 67, June 2013)


Start under the motorway bridge and walk up to Old Quarrington.


The first bit of road was new in about 1969, when the motorway was built. The old road came up from the A177 from behind the Pit Laddie Inn (now under the Junction 61 roundabout). That road is now just a cul-de-sac, to Bowburn Cemetery (1945) and the Coxhoe area telephone exchange.

Beyond the new A688 link road bridge, there is a footpath alongside the road on the right, between hedges. If that is overgrown, and you choose to walk on the road, watch out for traffic.

A book could (and should) be written about the hamlet of Old Quarrington, but only a few snippets are possible here. For decades known locally as “Heugh Hall”, after the colliery that was sunk here in the 1830s, this was the capital of mediaeval “Queringdonshire”, which stretched from Sherburn to Tursdale. The township of Quarrington, like that of Cassop, was later part of the parish of Kelloe, which also took in Coxhoe, Wingate and Thornley, and its parish church was St. Helen’s, at Kelloe.

Then, in 1865, a new ecclesiastical parish was formed by combining Cassop and Quarrington, and a new church, St. Paul’s, was built at Quarrington Hill in 1867. (The civil parishes were combined 20 years later.)

The first building you pass, on your left, is the old vicarage, built in 1870. It was re-named “Grey Gables” after being sold by the Church in 1956.

The 16 houses in Heugh Hall Row, next on your right, were some of the first council houses built by Durham Rural District Council, in 1938, but sold in the 1970s. In the mid-19th century, the much smaller houses in Heugh Hall Street, occupying the same space, housed nearly 40 mining families.

Heugh Hall colliery itself was beyond, on your left. 

There were once two farms here, Quarrington Farm and Quarrington Grange Farm, and a third one, Hill Top Farm, was up on the hill to the left. Now all are one, with a new farm house built just recently.

Follow the road and then the track bearing right and then left, through Old Quarrington.

Just beyond the last house on your right is a private farm track. This was once a wagonway down to Crowtrees Colliery. It first took coals from Heugh Hall Colliery towards an inclined plane over Quarrington Hill to Cassop, and thence to Thornley and Old Hartlepool, in 1841.

When you reach the tarmac’d quarry road, turn right. While you can still do this (June 2013), go past the track down to your right, which leads to Cold Knuckles Quarry and the Crowtrees Local Nature Reserve, and keep straight on, past the entrance to Old Quarrington Quarry, and up the track towards Quarrington Hill.

This is probably a very ancient road, connecting West Durham to the coast, long before it was the main road between Quarrington and other parts of Queringdonshire and later to the parish church at Kelloe. After the new parish church was built in 1867, it will have continued to take all local traffic, including the vicar himself, coming from his vicarage. It is now a bridleway.

It was closed temporarily in the 1970s, because of fears that illegal quarrying at Cold Knuckles (to the right, i.e. South) had made it unstable. It will disappear altogether soon, after Tarmac Ltd’s plans to join Old Quarrington and Cold Knuckles were approved in 2011. You will then have to take the lower track you passed earlier, and rejoin this route near the churchyard.

As you pass the last quarry-shielding mound on your left, you have a splendid open view of Quarrington Vale, to the right. The “castle”, the concrete engine house of Crowtrees Colliery, is clearly visible, as are the ponds in the local nature reserve. More distant views can also be enjoyed, but they are even more impressive if you pause a bit later on this walk.

Just before the road, on your left, is the churchyard of St. Paul’s church. Part of this is still in use, though the church itself was demolished in 1993. Its last service was on Christmas morning, 1990. Graves here date back to 1868.

Turn right on the road. Just past the first road hump, there is a depression in the footpath, though that in the road was evened out when the road was re-surfaced in 2012. Here a bridge used to take the road over a railway cutting, where coal wagons were drawn up the inclined plane from Crowtrees Colliery (and beyond). It was opened in 1839 but was no longer shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1897.

Just before the first houses, cross the stile on your left and climb to the top of Beacon Hill – one of many hills that will once have been mounted by beacons, to warn of national emergencies. Be sure to stop and look back at the view, and perhaps picture how far away the beacon would have been visible. Then pass between the water reservoir and the telecoms mast. The 19th century winding engine, for the incline, stood on this hill but now leaves no signs of its location.

Go through the steel kissing gate, bearing left. The track to your right is the old waggonway from Crowtrees to Cassop; it is a public right of way and can give you another walk, past Cassop Hill Farm, another day. Our path takes us along what must also have been a wagonway. Though it is not shown on the first OS map (1857), it is shown on the second (1897). Was it used to take coals from Cassop Colliery, to go down the incline towards the Clarence Railway? Or perhaps it was used by quarries in Cassop Vale. Part of the line goes through a cutting, cut through stone.

When briefly out in the open, bear right (but not sharp right, which takes you towards Cassop Hill Farm) and follow the farm track as it zig-zags down through the woods.

At the bottom, turn right. (The bridleway to the left would take you up to the Heather Lad Inn.) Then turn left almost immediately. (The track straight on would take you past the site of Cassop Colliery and up to Cassop village.) Our path takes us across to the other side of Cassop Vale. Turn left when you get there. (Straight on would take you up to Old Cassop; right would take you to “New Cassop”, via the Cassop Vale Site of Special Scientific [biological] Interest.)

You are now on another former wagonway – that linking Whitwell and Cassop, about which more was said in the “Whitwell Walk” in Bowburn Interchange no. 59.

When you reach an open area, with an apple tree on your right, you are on the site of Cassop Vale Colliery. The track to the right would take you up to the road to Old Cassop but we’re bearing left. The 19th century shaft was still used by Kelloe (East Hetton) Colliery until the 1970s, as an emergency or inspection shaft, using a mobile winder, but today there is no sign of the brick building that then stood above it, to your left. Signs of other colliery buildings can be seen in the uneven ground in the woods on your right, however.

When you reach the Old Cassop road, you can cross a high stile to continue along the wagonway route, along the side of the narrow field in front of you. Or, if it is the season of excessively-interested heifers or bullocks, you may prefer to bear left and follow the road. If so, beware of traffic, especially when you reach the road from the bottom of Red Briars. There is a fine sideways view of the heugh, from here. This is the spur that juts westwards from the magnesian limestone escarpment that gave Heugh Hall its name.

Do follow the footpath across the field to your left, though, before you reach the new Cassop Moor roundabout. Here there is striking evidence of mediaeval ridge and furrow farming, on either side of the wagonway (itself just a wide gentle mound, now).

When you reach the new A688 link road, pause to consider the site of the third Cassop colliery – Cassop Moor, which was just beyond the old road from Bowburn – and where the hamlet of Cassop Moor once stood, with Dolly Cook’s pub, the last remains of which were lost when the new road and roundabout were built.

Turn left along the footway beside the A688. This takes you straight back to the start of your walk – past Big Wood, on the end of the heugh, on your left, and Heugh Hall Farm, on your right; then past the site of the original Heugh Hall Colliery (see “An Old Colliery Walk” in Bowburn Interchange no. 57), in the large pasture field that slopes up towards Old Quarrington, on your left. Back at the bridge over the Old Quarrington road, there is a path down on the left, just before the bridge, and another on the right, a short way beyond it.

Total distance: About 7km (4.5 miles).

Walking: moderately easy, with stiles and gates mostly good, and a few steep slopes.

A digitised map of all public rights of way in Durham County can be viewed at: http://www.durham.gov.uk/pages/prow.aspx