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TRAVEL NORTH - 32: A MEDIAEVAL LEGEND AND AN IRON ROAD - Central County Durham's Historical & Recent Past
Source of a legend
The legend of the Lambton Worm grew around John Lambton,
a young man who one Sunday thought he would give church a miss and go fishing instead. The story goes on that he merely caught what he took to be an elver, a young eel. As he went home the 'eel' grew to a monstrous creature with poisonous fangs. A game young fellow, John fought it in spiked armour. The creature was pierced as it coiled around him. That's the tale in a nutshell. If you'd like to read the full, unexpurgated version just tap in 'Lambton Worm' on your Google search.
Coming back to reality with a bump, the district has an equally interesting past. The railway trackbed you will follow was part of the Consett & Sunderland Railway line. Around here was the Consett Steelworks that closed in 1980 after around 140 years. The Consett Iron Company was established in 1864 as an enterprise successor to the Derwent Iron Company of 1840. Previous to this the population of the village of Consett had been less than 150. At its peak in the 1960s the works employed 6,000+. Before complete closure the rolling mills closed in the 1980 there were 3,700 employed by the British Steel Corporation (nationalisation had come during a previous Labour Government's term of office). Margaret Thatcher's government saw in Consett's closure the first step in their strategy to revitalise British industry on the premise that Consett was outdated and cost relatively more to run than neighbouring Teesside, sited close to the Tees. They had a point, Consett's iron ore was transported by rail from Tyne Dock up a tortuous series of switchbacks in specialised wagons that dated back several decades, and could only be operated by a vacuum fitted locomotive, where most railway locomotives were air braked. To look at the area now, you'd hardly guess it was a centre of industrial activity on the scale achieved by the mid-1960s. There is an industrial estate, certainly, but the heaviest manufacturing is on Medomsley Road where a range of snacks is made under the brand name of 'Phileas Fogg'!
You can walk this 26 mile route (42kms) or cycle it. If walking you will need to make an early start, and it may not be wise to park a car at the Metro Centre if you plan to make an overnight break at the halfway point. if cycling the route can be completed in around five or six hours. Also, the route finishes several miles from the start point, so you need to get your transport organised before setting off.
Beginning at the Gateshead Metro Centre turn right onto Handy Drive, and right again onto Cross Lane, passing under the railway bridge. Take a right turn onto the National Cycle Network route 14. This length of the route is Keelman's Way and it wends into Derwenthaugh Park, linked in turn to the Derwent Walk Country Park. This location was the site of the 20th Century coke works. On passing Blaydon Tennis Club, posts marked with white circles mark the red kite trail. A little way on from a viewpoint bridge pass Thornley Woodlands Centre, Lockhaugh Meadows and Far Pasture Wetlands.
You have now passed the six mile point at the end of the park. Turn left onto the traffic-free former railway path past the Derwent Park Caravan and Camping Site. Make your way for a short spell along Burnopfield Road before taking a right fork into Derwent Walk, which begins at a viaduct. There is a steady incline as it passes through peaceful woodland. Care must be taken when crossing the B6310. Leaving the Derwent Walk cross Durham Roadand turn left on St Aidan's Street, leading into Blackhill and Consett Park.
Route 14 signs take you around Consett to bypass a steep climb on the narrow Park Road. On achieving the town centre follow Route 7 signs for Stanley. Looking towards the Derwent Centre, zig-zag right, left and right to Consett Medical Centre, then left again and rejoin the traffic-free path over and along the A692. This is your sixteen mile 'checkpoint'.
A long, easy descent brings you to the Lambton Worm. The C2C/Route 7 markers bring you by the Jolly Drovers public house to Bantling Lime Kilns - home to the Common Pipistrelle bat - where scrub and rough grassland is home to small animals that draw Kestrels. Greencroft Woodlands provides another resting place before coming to Annfield Plain where large 2-10-0 9F steam locomotives pounded the long incline with their trains of 56 ton heavy bogie iron ore wagons with vacuum-fitted discharge doors. There is a well-marked public footpath here that forks right off the route you were following. The Lambton Worm is four miles beyond Stanley. Look for a sandstone bridge dated 2001 with black iron railings above its square-portal tunnel. Having passed through the tunnel on the left is the Worm's Tail. To see this best climb the next bridge embankment and view back.
Having reached the twenty-four mile stage carry on over a railway bridge and at the next road bridge above the Wheatsheaf public house leave route 7 by descending the bank and turning left along the North Road cycle lane (on foot keep to the footpath, naturally). Past the Lambton Worm Hotel at Chrester-le-Street watch for Station Road to your right halfway along the town centre.
Mostly the surface is tarmac or gravel pathway. Hybrid or Mountain Bikes are suitable, but road bikes are just as good as the way is hardly testing. For walkers good boots are a must, and take waterproof overwear whether walking or cycling. Remember that although on spring or summer days it can be warm, winds in the region can seem to blow straight through you in the early or late part of the year, so wrap up warm.
Getting there by car park at/near your destination and make your way by public transport back to the start at the Gateshead Metro Centre. There are fast local buses between Gateshead Metro Centre and Chester-le-Street (check timetables). Sustrans www.sustrans.org.uk
Refreshments along the way at The Jolly Drovers, Leadgate, Consett, 01207 503994
Ordnance Survey Landranger map 88, Grid reference NZ 215-627
Excursions, diversions and days out:
Blaydon Burn Nature Reserve, from the Black Bull leave the B6317 Blaydon;
Thornley Woodlands Centre, Rowlands Gill, NE39 1AU, 01207 545212;
Beamish Open Air Museum, Beamish DH9 0RG, 0191 370 4000, closed November 2nd-January 3rd;
The legend of John Lambton and the Lambton Worm that was caught as a 'tiddler' and grew to be a life-threatening monster. The Lambtons were the local nobility who with the Joycey family would later own many of the coal mines in Central County Durham until the establishment of the National Coal Board in the mid-20th Century.
The Legend of the Lambton Worm
Consett Works, an epitaph to its time
The history of steel-making at Consett that lasted less than a century, wound up by the British Steel Corporation in 1980 because the sums no longer added up. Originally set up in a favourable location, by the 1950s local materials had petered out and everything had to be brought in. Even moving molten steel by rail from Teesside couldn't save the plant - the site is now more famous for exotic snacks.