A Tursdale walk

(First published in Bowburn Interchange no. 58, March/April 2011)

Start at the motorway service station and walk eastward down the track just south of it. This used to be the back road to Coxhoe. Before the motorway was built, it went straight to Four Mile Bridge, at the bottom of Coxhoe. In 1968, it was diverted when the motorway was built, via a bridge a little to the south.

In the field on your right, there are signs of mediaeval ridge and furrow (“rig and fur”) agriculture. These are even more pronounced on the other side of the motorway, which split this field in half. But today we’re going the other way…

Don’t go over the bridge but keep straight on. Cross the first of several poorly maintained stiles to enter the fields round Cornforth Moor Farm. Proceed alongside the motorway till the end of the first field and then follow the field edge to the right. You are now on another path diverted when the motorway was built (via the same bridge). It was once used by miners walking from Bells Houses (near Newton Villas at Park Hill) to Tursdale Colliery.

The path continues fairly straight towards the site of this former colliery. Two pits were sunk here, by Bell Brothers, between 1854 and 1859. South Pit was immediately opposite you, when you reach the main road; the conifers show where the pit heap was, to the right (north). It was originally proposed to call this Hoggersgate Colliery, named after the farm in which it was sunk. It is said that one of the directors’ wives objected to this “uncouth” name and that “Tursdale” – the name of a farm a mile north west of here – was chosen instead.

At the point where our footpath reaches the main road, but now buried beneath it, is the site of a mediaeval moated manor house, called Standalone. This is believed to have been the home of Eustace de Balliol, who fought in the Battle of Lewes (between Henry III and the Barons), in 1264. It was a farm until early in the 20th Century, after which it was occupied by miners.

Follow the road south, towards the last remaining street of Tursdale Colliery houses, Ramsay Street. (Though the houses in this street are numbered 48 to 67, it has never had more than 20 houses. Numbers 1 to 47 were in School Street and Old Row, since demolished.)

Cross over the A177/A688 and walk south round the edge of Tursdale Business Park. This was formerly Tursdale NCB Workshops, which repaired mining machinery from all over the region and, later, the country. The road itself was once part of the main Bowburn-Tursdale-Cornforth road but is now one of five “ox bow” lay-bys created when that road was straightened, first in the 1950s and then in the 1980s. It is now mainly used by fly-tippers.

Follow the track round the business park till you come to the railway, then cross the high stile. The first line, the Leamside Line, has been disused since 1990. But it was once the original East Coast Main Line – till 1872, when a new route was completed through Durham City. Till the 1960s, it served Bowburn Colliery, a mile to the north.

Cross this first line and then turn left, before you get to the second – the “new” Main Line! The path descends to a beck. Follow this under the railway bridge and round the field beyond. Although cultivated now, this was the site of Tursdale Sewage Works, till the larger Bowburn treatment works were opened at Peat Edge in the 1930s.

Cross over the beck and follow the path right, round the edge of the field beyond. (Technically, the right of way cuts off the corner of this field, but this is not maintained.) The path now goes north-westerly and passes along a valley below Broom Hill Farm buildings.

At the next stile, turn left. This path takes you past an old quarry, which was filled with colliery waste from Metal Bridge Drift. It was a useful source of coal during the 1970s miners’ strikes.

Turn right when you get to Leamans Lane. Walk past Falls Farm and the road to Hett, on the left. Continuing north, you pass the site of Metal Bridge Drift and then, at the top of the bank, that of Hett Mill Farm, both also on the left, both now gone. And at last you reach the Hett Mill level crossing on the “new” East Coast Main Line.

If the gates are closed, make sure you stand within sight of the CCTV camera, so the crossing keeper can see you and open them – if there isn’t another train coming!

The mill which gave the crossing its name was once beyond the railway, by Tursdale Beck, where a house now stands. It was originally a corn mill but was also a paper mill before 1800 and continued as such till the 1850s. It is likely that the 1872 railway removed the mill race.

Follow the track down, over the beck and then up the other side for some 50 yards. Then turn right, taking the footpath into the woods, alongside the beck. Out into the fields again, you pass Tursdale House farm buildings on the hill to your right. The farmhouse (not visible from this path) was built in the 17th century. Though much modified since, it is the only listed building in Cassop-cum-Quarrington.

The path follows the beck westwards, round the edge of two cultivated fields, crossing a track on the way, till it reaches the Leamside Line railway embankment. Cross over that and then walk up past Bowburn Sewage Treatment Works, which are currently being upgraded to cope with the increased size of Bowburn and Coxhoe, as well as today’s environmental requirements. Beyond those, you are on a tarmac’d track up past Peat Edge Farm.

In the field on the right were, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Crowtrees tileworks. The last house on the left, up this lane, is Crowtrees. Although extensively altered, this house rivals today’s Bowburn Post Office for the title of Bowburn’s oldest building. It was the home of the tileworks owners, in the 19th century, and of Henry Ridley Yarrow and then John Charlesworth, successively managers of the colliery cottage / estates department, at the bottom of Steavenson Street, where Charlesworth Close now stands.

You are now back at the A688, where you started.

Length of walk: about 4 miles. It is mostly on the level but has some awkward stiles.