A designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
The Northern Pennine hills are a wild area brought bib by bit under stewardship by landowners over the centuries. The landscape around Weardale however is less stark than the high moorland you’d see beside the top of the M62 motorway, and less rugged than the rocky outcrops in the Cheviots further North in Northumberland.
Weardale villages have revealed continuous settlement since the C7-C8 – as seen in an early Saxon cross found recently in Stanhope, with evidence even of bronze age activity. Throughout much of this history, huge areas of the land fell under the rule not of the King but of the Prince Bishops of Durham. With the rights to mint coins, pass laws and levy taxes in the area between the Tyne and the Tees, they were the second most powerful men in England during most of the middle ages.
Much of the Weardale moorland was owned by the Bishop, with the villages of Eastgate and Westgate being the entrances to the Episcopal hunting grounds! That of course all changed at the Reformation and land passed to other local families, such as the Bowes, Fenwicks, Lambtons and others.
Its not just the rough grasses that created the wealth for the landowners – but what lay underneath. For centuries, people have mined lead and Fluorspar in the area, though from the mid C18 this grew to an industrial scale and settlements like Rookhope and other nearby villages grew to house the miners.
Around Rookhope, as with other villages, there are traces and remnants of this industry; the Rookhope Arch just up the valley is testament to the value of the mining activity, and there are the trackbeds of railways visible – and being used as roads and farm tracks all around the village.
The North Pennines AONB is managed by the North Pennines partnership who coordinate all who have an interest in the region.
The roads up in the hills are as you’d expect, very different to the urban landscape so particular care needs to be taken. There are always a lot of cyclists and walkers in the hills and quite a few sheep roaming free on the open moors past the cattle grids. It may seem an obvious thing to say to watch out for them but every year we see several lain by the roadside having been hit by a car. Sheep can react unexpectedly and run straight in front of your car, so always approach with care!
Winter in the hills usually means seeing more snow than nearer the coast and local people have taken advantage of this with WeardaleSki club even having a proper skilift set up. Most of the valley is accessible even in the worst of the weather; Rookhope is a priorty as there is a school in the village which means access is pretty much guaranteed.
Pocket Guide Download
Download your copy of the 2014 pocket guide to the Northern Pennines AONB