Consett and the River Derwent




4.75 miles (7.7kms)

490ft (149m)
1hr 45min

About the walk

Even into the late 1970s views of Consett would still be described as ‘terrible and magnificent’. As Henry Thorold’s Shell Guide to County Durham, published in 1980, recorded, ‘Vulcan’s great forges stand there on the hillside enveloped in steam; cooling towers, cylinders, chimneys, incredible and intimidating.’ It was true then – just. But the steel mills of Consett closed in that very year, bringing to an end a story of growth and enterprise that began in 1837 when iron ore was discovered here. The first works opened four years later: by the 1880s the Consett Iron Company, founded in 1864 as a successor to the Derwent Iron Company, employed more than 6,000 people in the rapidly expanded town. The closure a century later could have devastated Consett. Instead, it has reinvented itself as a place of growing service and manufacturing industry, which also looks back with pride to its history of steel making.

The Derwent Valley

Dividing Northumberland and Durham, this stretch of the River Derwent was the cradle of the northern steel industry. Forge Cottage, just over the footbridge at the start of the walk, indicates that iron working had been long established in the valley. German steel makers, producing fine swords, lived in Shotley Bridge as early as the 1690s – the village later became the fashionable place for the upper middle classes of Consett to live. Shotley Bridge was also a spa – in 1841 it was said that it would soon come to rival Harrogate, Cheltenham and Leamington. As the walk approaches Allensford, there are the remains of a 17th-century ironworks near by.

Allensford Country Park

Developed by Durham County Council – and right on its northern boundary – Allensford Country Park consists of 14 acres (5.7ha) of riverside grassland. As well as pleasant walks, there are play facilities for children and access for people using wheelchairs. Within the park is Allensford Wood – the walk takes you through part of it. It is semi-natural ancient woodland that is mainly of oak and birch. There has been some recent replanting with native species, and a series of trails criss-crosses the wood.

Steelworks site

The section of the walk along Pemberton Road between the road junction and the path into the woodland seems quiet today. But until 1980 the whole of the area to your right, now landscaped and grassed, was one of the most industrialised in the country. Here stood one of the British Steel Corporation’s mills, its huge buildings alive with noise, smoke and heat. Today it provides an area for recreation and enjoyment, crossed by paths that follow the old railway lines that served the works.

Walk directions

From the riverside parking area, return to the main lane and go left. After 0.25 miles (400m), watch for a waymarked path dropping back left to a bridge across the Derwent. Turn upstream above a pretty gorge, shortly passing the bridge by the parking area. Beyond paddocks, keep left through trees beside the river. Later pass more pasture before entering beechwood, where the path rises to join another from the right.

At a fork towards the top, branch left above a steep wooded bank, subsequently winding down through trees to a stone bridge. The path skirts around cottages to emerge onto the A68.

Walk down over a bridge, crossing from Northumberland into Durham. Immediately before a cottage, leave through a gap in the left wall into Allensford Country Park. Head away above the river. Approaching a children's play area at the far end of the park, bear right past a small car park out to the road beside the entrance to a caravan park.

Cross to a stile opposite into Allensford Woods nature reserve. Climb away through young plantation to the top of a rise. The path continues towards a fence, but before reaching it, go left on a fainter path into mature wood. After following an embankment, descend to a gravel path. Go left back to the road.

Being mindful of traffic, follow the road right for a good 0.5 miles (800m) over the shoulder of a hill, passing a junction. Ignore the first, gated, track off to the left and continue to a second one, leaving just a short distance further along.

Where the track immediately forks, keep ahead along a path, which runs pleasantly downhill along the valley for 0.5 miles (800m) through woodland and beside pastures. Although sometimes looking unkempt, they are managed by light grazing and without fertilisers to encourage spring and early summer wild flowers such as primrose and bluebell. Emerging onto a lane, go left past cottages, shortly reaching the track back to the car park.

Additional information

River and streamside paths with some roadside walking, 1 stile

Pastoral landscapes with reminders of industrial past

On leads

OS Explorer 307 Consett & Derwent Reservoir

Riverside car park off minor lane at Shotley Grove

Allensford Country Park (may be closed in winter)

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About the area

Discover Northumberland

If it’s history you’re after, there’s heaps of it in Northumberland. On Hadrian’s Wall you can imagine scarlet-cloaked Roman legionaries keeping watch for painted Pictish warriors while cursing the English weather and dreaming of home. Desolate battlefield sites and hulking fortresses such as Alnwick, Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and Warkworth are reminders that this, until not so very long ago, was a contested border region. The ruins of Lindisfarne bear witness to the region’s early Christian history.

Northumberland also has some of Britain’s best beaches. On summer days, and even in winter, you’ll see surfers and other brave souls making the most of the coast. Inland, there are some great walks and bike rides in the dales of the Cheviot Hills and the Simonsides – just hilly enough to be interesting, without being brutally steep. There's dramatic scenery in the High Pennines, where waterfalls plunge into deep valleys, and there are swathes of heather-scented moorland. Northumberland National Park covers over 400 square miles of moorland and valleys with clear streams and pretty, stone-built villages. It’s just the place for wildlife watching too. You’ll find flocks of puffins, guillemots and other seabirds around the Farne Islands, and seals and dolphins offshore.

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