Esh Parish Walk

The walk commences at Langley Park which is located 5 miles west of Durham and is accessible from the A691 Durham to Consett road.

The walk is about 7 miles long and takes approximately 3 hours to complete. Apart from a steep climb near the beginning, it is not strenuous. The route is waymarked with yellow circular walk arrows and there are also 'Public Footpath' fingerposts at junctions with public roads. The route passes through working farms and along farm tracks and it can be muddy in places.

Refreshments are available at Public Houses and shops in Langley Park, Esh and Quebec.

For information on public transport, contact the Durham County Council helpline number on (0191) 383 3337.

Remember that, although this webpage describes the route as it was in January 1997, signposts, gates and stiles may change as time passes.

The Ordnance Survey maps covering the area are the Landranger (scale 1 :50,000) No.88 and the Pathfinder maps (scale 1 :25,000) No's 571 (Lanchester) and 572 (Durham). We have provided a map of the route in PDF format based on the Ordnance Survey map. Please note that the map is © Crown Copyright. All rights reserved. Durham County Council (Licence No 076589) 2003.

Route directions on this page are given in italic type and notes on points of interest to look for are given in normal type. Letters in the text, on the map and under the illustrations, refer to points of interest and landmarks.

This circular walk begins at the Lanchester Valley Walk car park (A) on the outskirts of Langley Park, off the approach road from Witton Gilbert. From the car park follow the route of the railway walk eastwards along an embankment for about 200 metres until you go down a short steep slope.

Witton Gilbert Station House (B)

The slope marks the site of a railway bridge which carried the Lanchester Valley branch line (the stone abutments are still visible), and beyond, on the left, is Witton Gilbert Station opened in 1862 and closed in September 1963. The former Station House (B) is now a private house.

Turn right and, after 25 metres, go through a metal kissing gate and then diagonally across the field. Go over a stile and follow the track for about 100 metres and then turn left at a sign post to walk beside the recreation ground and then climb the recently constructed steps heading south to Esh Hill Top Farm (C).

If the light is right or if there is light snow on the ground you may be able to detect the gentle undulations which indicate the remains of 'ridge and furrow' in the lower recreation ground. This was a method of draining the soil before field drains were used and indicates that the land was under arable cultivation in the past. As you are heading up the hill you will walk beside a line of trees, bank and hedge marking the edge of the housing development which was the ancient boundary dividing the parish of Durham, St. Oswald, on the east from Lanchester parish on the west. It still marks the boundary between Durham and Derwentside Districts and between Esh and Witton Gilbert Civil Parishes.

On reaching Esh Hill Top Farm you have climbed 70 metres from the railway and you have finished the only steep hill on the walk. Pause for breath and look at the view. Langley Park is laid out below and the valley of the River Browney runs from west to east, with Lanchester to the west and Witton Gilbert to the north-east.Burnhope TV mast is prominent to the north-west, and will remain a feature for most of the walk.

The small hamlet of Hill Top was occupied in the mid-nineteenth century by tradesmen serving the students at Ushaw College. To the west of the settlement lies the site of the quarry where stone was taken for building the College.

At Esh Hill Top Farm walk between the green gate posts on your right and follow the track between the buildings. Immediately after the white house on your left you will see a gap in the stone wall. Opposite Esh Hill Top Cottage (D) Esh Hill Top Cottage (D) walk through the gap and diagonally across the grass paddock to a stone stile in the far wall. Climb the stile and continue in the same direction for 25 metres until you reach a track. Turn left along the track, past the house on your right and then a fence, to a wooden stile in the wall. Cross the stile and continue with the wall on your left, turning left at the angle of the field boundary, until you come to a hedge on your right. On the other side of the hedge turn right and keeping the hedge on your right walk towards Ushaw College (E) which can be seen in the trees ahead of you. After crossing a stile you pass a house on your left, followed by a barn. Immediately after the barn turn half-right and follow the path through a patch of woodland called 'The Rookery' to Ushaw College.

Ushaw College (or St. Cuthbert's College) began its life as the English College at Douai in northern France, founded in 1568 to train priests to keep alive the Catholic faith in England after the Reformation, and to educate the sons of English Roman Catholic families. The College was expelled from France in 1793 as a result of the French Revolution and temporarily settled at Pontop Hall (near Dipton), then Crook Hall (near Stanley) before finding a permanent home at Ushaw in 1808, on part of the Esh Estate which belonged to Sir Edward Smythe, a devout Roman Catholic. The very extensive College buildings were built, rebuilt and enlarged throughout the nineteenth century, and many well-known architects were employed. The College is no longer a school but, as a constituent part of the University of Durham, still trains men for the Catholic priesthood.

When you reach the college buildings turn right and follow the tarmac road westwards. Passing between two houses you leave the College grounds and you will then pass a group of houses on your left.

Ushaw College (E)

Hidden among the houses are the remains of the College windmill. The tower mill was built in 1817 at the expense of the second President of the College, to ensure that the College received a supply of unadulterated flour. The mill was damaged irreparably on New Year's Day 1853.

Ushaw Farm (F) which you can see 300 metres away to the left, was built in 1851/52 as the home farm for the College. It was designed by Joseph and Charles Hansom (of Hansom cab fame) as a model farm, making use of its location on a hillside to incorporate various labour­saving features.

Continue along the track and then meet the public road at another house. Turn right and follow the roadside footpath for 50 metres. Turn left, cross the road (with care!) and follow the signposted path over a stile. The field edge path has a hedge and then a wall on its right and you will cross two more stiles before reaching Low Esh (G) Go through a gate into the farmyard and pass the farmhouse on your right.

Low Esh farmhouse has a date stone above the middle upper window with the date of 1745 and the carved initials 'E.S.' probably indicating Edward Smythe, the owner of the Esh Estate at the time.

Leave the farmyard by another gate and, after a second gate, follow a tarmac track with a hedge on your left to Esh Hall (H). Esh Hall (H)

The original Esh Hall was the home of the de Eshe family who held the estate from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, before it passed by marriage to the Smythes of Nunstainton. This medieval Esh Hall was replaced in the late seventeenth century by a mansion on an east-west aligned E-shaped plan, which was situated where the farm buildings are now sited, on the west side of the main farm drive. This house was demolished in 1857 and a new building, the present Esh Hall, was constructed 50 metres to the south, reusing some of the original materials. The seventeenth century house had a Catholic chapel in an upper room, and during the demolition an iron box containing vestments, a chalice and a missa l was found hidden in a secret chamber. All that remains easily visible of the earlier house are the gate piers with the (almost illegible) Smythe family arms, which originally flanked the steps to the house. They are now located down the farm track 75 metres northwards towards the church. The sandstone Esh Cross (I) which stands outside the gate piers was erected in 1687 but probably stands on the site of an earlier structure.

Esh Cross (I)

At the northern end of the farm buildings cross the gate on its integral steel steps and follow the track past the buildings. 150 metres from the gate the track turns sharply to the left and immediately afterwards you turn right and cross a wooden stile into a hedged track. At the end of track go through a gate and continue ahead, keeping a fence on your right to follow the field edge path.

Just after the electricity pylons are passed, the Roman Catholic Church of Esh Laude (J) can be seen 200 metres to the north-west. The land for the church was given by Sir Edward Smythe and the building completed in 1800.

You will pass through a gate and then over a stile as the path heads south-westwards and then southwards, always with a fence on your right.

At the stile pause and look back along the route you have come. The south front of Esh Hall can be seen 750 metres away, and as you look to the right you can see Ushaw College and Farm in the trees. Durham Cathedral tower can be seen in the valley of the River Wear, and further right still industrial Teesside, and beyond it the Cleveland Hills, can be seen on a clear day.

After a second and then a third stile the path becomes a surfaced track, enclosed on both sides, and descends to Heugh Farm (K) Pass the first house on your right and then turn right to follow the farm road to Quebec.

The farm road from Heugh follows the route of the Roman road, later called 'Dere Street', which ran from York to Corbridge in Northumberland. The road was built as the Roman armies moved northwards during the governorship of Julius Agricola (78 - 84 AD), and as it passed through Durham forts were built at river crossings ­Piercebridge, Binchester, Lanchester and Ebchester. When the road was built a wide strip of land would be cleared of vegetation, two parallel ditches would be dug and the soil from the ditches would be piled on the route of the road to create a low ridge, on which the road itself would be constructed.

The fields below you on the left hand side of the farm road, now grazed by cattle and sheep, are the site of Hamsteels Colliery and its accompanying colliery settlement. The colliery began working in 1867, and by the end of the century was producing 280,000 tons of coal each year, most of which was converted into coke in the adjoining coke­ovens.

As you reach the village you are coming onto the area of Hamsteels Common which, until 1774, was open moorland on which local farmers grazed cattle and sheep. The growth in population and the need to increase food production in the late eighteenth century led to pressure to use the moorland more efficiently and following an Act of Parliament, the moor was enclosed. Those farmers who had previously had rights to graze animals on the moor were allocated new fields which were marked out on the moor, and the area of the moor can be identified on a modern map by the existence of large rectangular fields.

On reaching the public road cross over and then turn left to walk through Quebec village (L) along Front Street with the Hamsteels Inn and the Post Office on your right. On your left is a view towards the Deerness Valley. After the Post Office turn right between the houses and head northwards across a grassed area before coming to a stile.

View from Quebec towards Deerness Valley (L)

Quebec village grew up in the second half of the nineteenth century, when it was mainly occupied by miners from Hamsteels Colliery and their families. At its peak it consisted of the houses on Front Street and ten terraces of houses running at right angles to them, occupying the grassed area you have just crossed. Of the latter only Church View, to your left, remains. Quebec Farm, after which the village was named, is the detached block of buildings on your right, beyond the newly ­planted woodland. To complete the international flavour of this part of the walk, Greenland Farm (M) can be seen further to the right as you descend into the valley of the Hamsteels Beck.

Continue in the same direction over a second stile and across a field to a third stile and then follow the hedge-side path over another stile until you cross a small stream and then meet another public road. Cross the road and the path passes the houses called 'Fosside' on the right and runs between hedges and fences to Biggen House Farm (N).

You are now walking along part of the western boundary of Esh parish and there are extensive views eastwards down the Browney Valley at this point. Langley Park can be seen, and also Hill Top and Esh villages on their ridge top sites.

Pass the first house on your right and turn left onto the farm road. Within 20 metres you will reach the farm complex, where you turn right into the farmyard. Once you have passed the farmhouse bear diagonally right and go through a gate. Follow the track with a wall and a fence on your left and you will pass a barn on your right. Go over a stile and continue downhill to meet the old railway line (O) which now forms part of The Lanchester Valley Walk. Turn right and follow the railway line for 2'/2 kilometres eastwards. You will pass Langley Park on your right and the site of Langley Park Colliery on your left, before you reach the finishing point at the car park.

The railway line was the Lanchester Valley branch of the North Eastern Railway, which ran from Reily Mill Junction (outside Durham City) to Consett. It was constructed to allow the transport of iron ore from the Cleveland Hills to the iron and steel works at Consett, as an alternative to the existing Stockton and Darlington Railway route through Bishop Auckland, Crook and Tow Law. The building of the line was authorised in July 1857, but the financial problems of the Consett Iron Company meant that construction did not begin until 1861. It was opened for both freight and passenger traffic, as a single track branch, in September 1862. With the growth of colliery traffic on the eastern section of the branch the track from Reily Mill to Lanchester was doubled between 1874 and 1883. Passenger services on the line were withdrawn in May 1939, but it remained open for freight until June 1966.

Langley Park Colliery was sunk in 1874 and coal began to be produced in 1876. By the end of the century the colliery, which was worked by the Consett Iron Company, was producing 200,000 tons of coal p.a., all of which was converted into coke for the Consett blast furnaces in the coke ovens which lined the railway track.

As you walk, contrast the present tranquillity of the surroundings with the noise of steam locomotives hauling heavy trains of coal and iron ore, which you would have experienced if you had walked here thirty years ago or more.

ENJOY THE COUNTRYSIDE AND RESPECT ITS LIFE AND WORK

The walk, described here, can be undertaken at any time of the year. Esh Parish Council organises an annual guided walk, around the route, on the Sunday after Ascension Day to commemorate the ceremony of 'Beating the Bounds'. Traditionally, in the days before accurate maps, the villagers would walk the boundaries during Rogationtide (the fifth week after Easter) so that the memory of the boundaries would be regularly reinforced.

If you are interested in helping to improve and maintain the paths in Esh Parish please contact the Parish Clerk on (0191) 373 6687. Esh Parish is a member of the Parish Paths Partnership. This is an initiative between Durham County Council and The Countryside Commission to provide grants to Parish Councils to improve and promote public paths.

Esh Parish Council wishes to thank a local resident Didier Cauchy for the illustrations, David Butler for the text and the owners of the properties illustrated.

We hope you enjoy the walk. Please remember to observe the Countryside Code at all times.