The Best of Non-Golf: North East of England p. iii

Aycliffe village is old, with a church partially dating back to saxon times. There are a number of pubs in the village. Do not confuse it with Newton Aycliffe, a new town close by which should be avoided at all costs!

Barnard Castle is a handsome little town sitting on a hillside running down a hill to the castle and the River Tees.

The town itself is generally rather handsome, notably the Butter Market. I haven’t been for some years but the area is renowned for its cheese. Whether it is available locally I cannot say.

But THE building of Barnard Castle is the Bowes Museum, an extraordinary 19th century French chateau opened in 1892. It has 10,000 beautiful things housed in 22 exhibition rooms, with paintings by El Greco, Goya, Boucher, Courbet, Sassetta and Tiepolo, French 18th century furniture, tapestries, period rooms and dolls and doll’s houses. Stupendous!

Billingham is a vast industrial area of factories, more factories and even more factories. Yet hidden away is a tiny fragment of antiquity, St Cuthbert’s Church, founded in 860 and with an Anglo-Saxon tower and Anglo-Saxon nave. Remarkable!

Bishop Auckland was an industrial town, but much survives from earlier, not least the Bishop’s Palace (home of the Bishop of Durham) and its attendant Bishop’s Park (open to the public). The Palace is well served artistically.

The Chapel of St Peter is renowned.

There are two fine parish churches in Bishop Auckland. St Andrew’s and St Anne’s run jointly under one vicar.

Bishop Auckland Golf Course is unusual in having a front nine with four par fives (including three consecutively), three par threes (including two consecutively) and only two par 4s, one very short of its kind.

The church of St Helen’s, Auckland can also boast a long history.

St Helen’s Hall is a handsome building of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Bishop Middleham once held a favourite seat of the bishops of Durham, but the house no longer stands. However the church of St Michael is nearly all 13th Century.,_Bishop_Middleham.html

The historian Robert Surtees worshipped at St Michael’s. He is buried in the churchyard.

For most of us Brancepeth Castle is the name of a fine golf course, notable for its many hazardous crossings of deep chasms, many qualifying for lavish, military style bridges. One of the most imposing sections comes around the turn when back-to-back par threes, each over 200 yards, play too and from the walls of Brancepeth Castle. Heroic stuff!

Also abutting the golf course is St Brandon’s church with its fine Cosin style woodwork as well as much history.

Chester-le-Street is old. It was an important Roman garrison. Nothing really remains of the old, although the present church of St Mary and St Cuthbert was begun in the 11th century.,_Chester-le-Street

County and international cricket is played at Chester-le-Street.

From the cricket ground there are good views of Lumley Castle.

Also nearby is the fanciful Lambton Castle.

I shall mention Consett as the third highest market town in England. It was a place of huge steel making industry. It is now largely a ghost town.  It was the first town in the world to have a Salvation Army band.

Darlington is synonymous with the Stockton and Darlington Railway from which most of the railways of this land developed.

The first engine to carry passengers was Locomotion No 1.

It is now preserved at the Head of Steam Museum along with three other locomotives.

The spire of St Cuthbert’s church is described as ‘sharp as a needle’. This is an old church dating back in part to the end of the 12th century.

The attractively named Edmonbyers is a centre for outdoor pursuits in isolated country near the Derwent reservoir.

Egglescliffe is a small village, facing Yarm, across the river in Yorkshire. I have never been, but various guide books single out a church which is given a separate name in each. St Mary’s, St John the Evangelist, and St John the Baptist. Whatever it is called it appears to be an interesting church.

Escomb is one of the most complete Anglo-Saxon churches in England and is VERY IMPORTANT!

St Godric is reputed to have lived at Finchale Priory until he was 105. After his time the Priory was considerably enlarged for the use of the monks of Durham. It is now in ruins, but they are handsome ruins and well worthy of visit.

Frosterley is a village in Weardale which for centuries produced marble, used in cathedrals and churches throughout the world, notably in Durham Cathedral. Sadly, the quarry closed in 2016.

Gainford is a rather pretty village, mostly Georgian in style.

It is recorded by Sir Timothy Eden that in St Mary’s Church, on three successive days, the vicar married a Pigg, christened a Lamb, and buried a Hogg.

Dr Johnson referred to Gateshead as ‘a dirty lane leading to Newcastle.’ Even by the start of the 19th century it was little more than a village, oak trees and 11 windmills. The Wikipedia entry lists most important things and people in Gateshead’s history.

Room should be found for a bigger entry about the Angel of the North, which divides opinion.

I have sung at the Sage theatre in Gateshead and I can vouch for the lovely quality of sound to be found there. And it  is home to the Royal Northern Sinfonia, one of the friendliest groups of professional musicians around.

Gibside Chapel near Gateshead is the remains of a larger house now in disrepair, but lovingly restored and the fine gardens of Capability Brown.

Greatham has been known for its salt for centuries.,_County_Durham

More recently it has been famed for the Hospital of God.

Until 1962 Greatham Hall was the largest house in the village.

The church of St John the Baptist dates from the 12th century but has been largely rebuilt through the years. It has a Frosterley marble altar.

Hamsterley Forest is a vast acreage of some of the finest forest in the country, with tourism promoted.

Hart, close to Hartlepool, is the town’s mother church. It is reputed to be part Anglo-Saxon although it has had much modernisation in the millennium and a half since it was first built.,_County_Durham

Hartlepool is a strange place, partly industrial, partly maritime, partly shabby housing and a golf course that is hidden away under a huge viaduct with a single, exceedingly narrow, tunnel entrance. The first entry may seem a bit arbitrary, starting with restaurants and hotels (of which Hartlepool has few – and none of interest) but it gradually gets into the history and gives you a fair view of what Hartlepool is really like!

Haughton le Skerne is a suburb of Darlington but has a fine parish church.,_Haughton-le-Skerne

Heighington is a village with a particularly large village green.,_County_Durham

St Michaels Church is fine, ancient and has a rare oak pulpit.,_Heighington

High Force is England’s highest waterfall.

Cow Green Reservoir is partly in Durham and partly in Cumbria. From it flows Caldron Snout tumbling 200 ft down the hillside.

Houghton-le-Spring was a mining town, but its older associations were particularly with St Michael and All Angels church and with Bernard Gilpin, the famous evangelist, in particular.

Hurworth was the birthplace of the mathematician William Emerson.

Hurworth Place, nearby, boasts the old Croft Bridge.

Hylton Castle is a historic gatehouse, castle or keep.

Jarrow was a shipbuilding town, famous for being the ‘the town that was murdered’ following the desperate hunger march after the shipyards were closed.

Of greater spiritual interest, however, is the double monastery of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, a great centre of early religious learning, spearheaded by the Venerable Bede.–Jarrow_Abbey

The Roman fort of Longovicium was located where, later, the town of Lanchester was founded close to Consett. There are some Roman remains in the parish church.,_County_Durham

Marsden Rock is a mass of weathered limestone on the Durham coast, frequented by kittiwakes, fulmars and cormorants. An iconic lift takes visitors down the cliff to the beach bar of Marsden Grotto which specialises in seafood.

Middleton-in-Teesdale was founded in the early 19th century when the London Lead Company moved its headquarters there from Blanchland. The Lead Company has gone, but the town retains most of its old buildings.

Monkwearmouth’s connection with monks at Jarrow is famous, as also is the Stadium of Light where Sunderland football club now ply their trade.

The village of Norton is a part of Stockton-on-Tees. There are some nice old buildings in it. St Mary’s church is the only Anglo-Saxon cruciform church in the north of England.,_County_Durham

The Penshaw Monument is a folly erected to honour  the Earl of Durham, who was also the first High Commissioner for Canada. The views from it are very fine.

Peterlee is a ‘new’ town of some awfulness. You can read about it here:

Castle Eden Dene nearby, however, is a grand walk in good weather.

There was once a Roman fort at Piercebridge, the largest in Durham. The remains of the foudations are impressive as are the stones of the former Roman bridge.

On the Yorkshire side of Piercebridge stands the George Hotel, in which can be found the Grandfather’s clock celebrated in the song by Henry Clay Work, the words of which we all know even though we probably cannot name the author.

Pittington Church is very old, Anglo-Saxon, and very rewarding to visit. The north arcade is quite spectacular.

Roker is an affluent suburb of Sunderland which enjoys a promenade and sandy beaches. The early 20th century church of St Andrew in the arts and crafts style is well regarded.

Ryton was once a colliery village but is now a pleasant suburb of Gateshead. The church of the Holy Cross has a fine spire.,_Tyne_and_Wear

Seaham was designed as a port to ship coal, which it no longer does.

Seaham Hall was the scene of the unfortunate marriage of Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke. Byrob loathed Seaham, writing to a friend, ‘Upon this dreary coast we have nothing but county meetings and shipwrecks; abd I have this day dined upon fish, which probably dined upon the crews of several colliers lost in the gales.’ The Hall is now a luxury hotel.

Sedgefield is an agreeable place with a number of fine buildings. For many years Tony Blair was its MP. It is a great hunting centre.

Hardwick Hall near Sedgefield had descended to being a workers’ training centre and maternity hospital, but rescue work by Durham County Council has led to a fine restoration of James Paine’s buildings and gardens which include an octagonal temple, a banqueting house and a sham gatehouse.

Shildon possibly had Roman origins and was certainly mentioned in Anglo-Saxon times. However it was rarely more than a few cottages until the coming of the railway. This transformed Shildon.

Recently (2004) a branch of the National Railway Museum was opened in Shildon. It contains permanent exhibits and, often, visiting locomotives.

South Shields was established in the first century AD. Indeed, the Roman fort of Arbeia is the first port of call for most visitors.

Staindrop has two calling cards, St Mary’s church and nearby Raby Castle.

Raby Castle is magnificent.

Stanhope is known as the capital of Weardale and famous for its lime trees.,_County_Durham

Stanhope Castle is from the 18th century.

St Thomas’s Church is interesting.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Stanhope was the discovery in 1843 of a remarkable collection of Bronze Age tools found by workmen building a tramway for a limestone quarry.

Stockton-on-Tees has a number of interesting facts but its chief claim to historical fame is its open air market on Wednesdays and Saturdays which has been in operation since 1310. It has more than 100 stalls.

History was made at Stockton when the Stockton and Darlington Railway opened in 1825.

John Walker in 1827 made the first friction matches in Stockton.

Other interesting facts about Stockton can be found at:

Sunderland is Durham’s largest town. It has been a ship-building and glass-making town, but its fortunes have changed immensely, as reflected in the far from happy downward spiral of its football team.

Ushaw is a former catholic seminary founded in 1808. Its status changed in 2011, allowing greater public access and events.

Washington has connections with George Washington, first president of the United States, but most of it today is a drab new town, much occupied by the Nissan factory.,_Tyne_and_Wear

Whitburn is a little seaside village with a part 13th century church. Apparently it was the custom to offer newly married couples a hot-pot of mulled ale and spirits.,_South_Tyneside

The church of St Andrew at Winston is worthy of investigation, particularly its remaining 13th century features.

At Witton-le-Wear Witton Castle stands, having suffered dismantling and fire. It remains in the form of a grand leisure park with attendant facilities.

Wolsingham is an old village with number of charming old houses. Peace was interrupted from 1864 to 2008 with the opening of a big steelworks. But it has now been flattened

We end with one of ‘loathly worm’ tales from County Durham.

The End