Lonely Weardale is often overlooked by visitors to the Pennines. Softer than its neighbours – Teesdale and Swaledale to the south, and Tynedale to the north – the gentle slopes of this classic Pennines valley seem to catch more daylight in winter.
The east of the valley is classic dales country, with farmsteads linked by busy overgrown villages and towns. But head further west and you will discover where the land was always worked harder, with pockmarked quarrying scars running along its rugged flanks.
This walk, roughly in the middle of the valley, allows the hiker to see both aspects and switches back and forth across the River Wear. It starts in the village of St John's Chapel. Start the walk by the war memorial and head downhill past the town hall alongside Harthope Burn to turn left across a stone footbridge, right through a gate, then diagonally across the field, waymarked as the Mineral Valleys Walk, to cross the River Wear.
Keep ahead and at a crossing of paths turn left and go over the stone stile and head half-right uphill behind a house. Keep straight ahead through a gap in the wall and through three fields to reach a group of houses. Go straight across the crossing of paths for 30 yards, then turn right up steps to cross a stile and head uphill, through a gate and uphill again, with a wood on your right, to reach a road.
Turn left and wind your way uphill. As you pass the second house, turn right through a weathered metal gate and keep going uphill again. You'll soon come to Rakes Sike, a tumbling stream. The ground is hard-going here, through crumpled and raised turf. The best route is to keep tight to the wall on the left, with the stream to your right. You'll need to squeeze over a stile at one point before following the path and wall to a stile and a paved road.
Keep ahead here and follow the path to Allercleugh farm, with superb views on all sides. After the farm, take the waymarked path half-left, cross the field to a wall gate, and then bear half-left below High Whitestones Farm to join a lane. Here, you should turn left and head downhill through Low Whitestones Farm and onwards through a field to find a gate at the bottom right-hand corner.
Cross straight over the road, following the right-of-way though the drive of the house opposite, through a gate, then follow the waymarkers right to a gate, waymarked for the Mineral Valleys Walk. Head downhill through the field, go down the steps to the left of the houses, turn right along the lane, then left over the River Wear.
Turn right, following the Weardale Way. This is a beautiful section following the broad river across several fields and through one enclosed lane to reach Wearhead, where the two tributaries of the Wear converge.
Cross over the road and keep ahead, sign-posted for the treatment works and bear right through a gate and follow the Wear again and then Burnhope Burn though a delightful section, hemmed in by a high bank to the left.
Climb up to the field, walk through it to a footbridge where you turn left rather than cross it. In front of the farmhouse, turn left through the gate then half-right across the field to another gate. Cross the road, go through the gate and bear half-left to a gate then straight ahead over the mound to another gate before making for a field-gate in the top corner below deserted Low Rigg Farm.
Keep ahead, passing the farm ruins, then immediately turn left through a gate before bearing half-right to Irestone, where steps take you over a stile.
Walk around the front of the houses and bear half-right towards the wood, where more slate steps take you over the wall and through the wood. Keep straight ahead through gates for half a mile until you reach a gate to the right of houses that leads down to a small lane.
Turn left and follow the lane into Ireshopeburn, where you keep ahead along the A689. Walk right through the village and turn left, sign-posted for New House, in front of the Weardale Museum (which will remain closed until Easter).
Cross Coronation Bridge and turn right to follow the riverside path. Keep to this path for a mile – you will pass a ford and bear left through a farm on the way – to reach the crossing of the paths that you encountered at the start of the walk.
Here, turn right and cross the bridge over the Wear for the last time to reach St John's Chapel.
Distance: Six miles
Time: Three hours
OS Map: OL31 North Pennines
Mark Rowe stayed at Bradley Burn Cottages, Wolsingham, Weardale (bradleyburn.co.uk), which offers self-catering cottages from £210 per week. Short breaks are also available. For more information on walking in County Durham, go to visitcountydurham.com/site/outdoor-activities/walking.
Win a walking holiday for two to the Lake District, courtesy of The Outdoors Show and Ramblers Worldwide, including seven nights' accommodation, all meals and guided walks. To enter, go to OutdoorsShowExtra.co.uk/lakes