I am a compulsive collector of leaflets and travel articles. Tell me whereabouts you’d like to go and you can be sure I’ll dig deep and find the very leaflet to take you there and show you everything there is to see. Trouble is, I end up with far more leaflets than places I’ve been to. So life with me is a constant struggle to keep up with the leaflet collection- just ask my husband! But sometimes we end up in the most beguiling places.
Take Tuesday, for instance. A bit of a grey and murky one, but that hint of Autumn colour’s still out there. How long will it take us to get to Wolsingham? I ask the unsuspecting husband. My motive? One of the prettiest train rides I’ve ever taken.
Wolsingham is a pleasant market town on the River Wear in the North Pennines, an area of truly outstanding natural beauty. The railway station is on the edge of town and was completely deserted when we arrived. The conductor was more than happy to discuss options. It was a designated Heritage Day, which meant that a steam train would be running at intervals throughout the day. We were more than happy to climb aboard the waiting diesel, certainly the first time we’d ever had an entire train to ourselves. How could this railway line pay for itself we asked the conductor. He explained that it had been purchased primarily for freight, but that in Summer it was easily viable.
We were soon to see why. The railway closely follows the River Wear along the valley and we were constantly rewarded by chuckling, gurgling stretches of water. At one point the guard was required to climb down from the train to manually open the crossing gate- when did I last see that happen? We were heading for Stanhope, just 20 minutes away, but first we would pass by Frosterley. We had noted from the timetable that if we wanted to disembark there we needed to tell the guard in advance. Just as well we didn’t as I later discovered that the Black Bull Inn, one of the main reasons to go there, only opens Wednesday to Sunday.
Fully restored in 2005 to a traditional English pub of the 1800s, with flagged floors and open fires, the food looks fabulous. Interestingly this is the only pub in England with its own peal of bells, housed in an adjoining building.(Telephone 01388 527784) On the website www.blackbullfrosterley.com the links More and Bells will lead you to “The Bellringers Tale”.
Passing through thickly wooded slopes, the friendly conductor told us that the views of the river were better at this time of year. In Summer they would be lost in leafy foliage. Camera in hand, I tried hard to capture the abrupt splashes of red, but never quite made it. A couple of weeks earlier we would have been bathed in an amber glow.
In no time at all we were gliding into Stanhope station. I had previously walked the river banks and crossed the stepping stones here. Today’s excitement for me was the train, but Stanhope is a lovely small town. The Tourist Information office is situated in the Durham Dales Centre on Front Street, an interesting venue in its own right. A happy hour or two could be spent here on one of those cold, dreary days that sometimes hit this part of the world. The café sells a good array of warming food and there are several craft shops to browse.
Further along Front St you have fine views of privately owned Stanhope Castle, while 12th Century St Thomas Church overlooks the Market Place. A real crowd pleaser, the 320 million years old Fossil Tree stands in the grounds, while the Victorian font is made of Frosterley marble. Dropping down The Butts will bring you to the riverside walk and Castle Park, home of the county’s only open-air heated swimming pool (May to August). Or you could walk (or drive) to beautiful Tunstall Reservoir.
Back at the station the steam engine is warming up for the journey back to Wolsingham. Manned chiefly by volunteers, steam events take place throughout the year. From 26th November the Santa Specials take to the rails. For full timetable details and the history of the railway: www.weardale-railway.org.uk The railway continues on to Bishop Auckland, a short walk from the main-line station.
In Wolsingham we park at the Demesne Mill picnic area and wander back to the High St. All is quiet and peaceful and we pop into Peggotty’s Tea Room, off Market Square. Mince cobbler, a favourite of mine, is on the menu for £6.95, and in the attached bakery a variety of Tiffins are displayed. Cranberry and white chocolate is barely resistible for 99p.
Time to return home, just an hour down the road, and move the leaflet to the bottom of the pile- mission very happily accomplished!