Geoff's Old Colliery Railways Trail
Updated: Feb 18, 2021
By Geoff Morrison
This walk of about 6 miles involves quite a long climb.
For hundreds of years, coal has been mined in this area with much of the output going to the South by sea-going colliers. The problem for the mine owners was getting the coal from the pits to the staiths on a river where the coal could be loaded onto the ships.
The solution was originally wagonways. Horse-drawn carts on wooden rails but by the early 1800’s this was replaced by steam powered, metal rail systems. Locomotives replaced the horses on level terrain but steam powered winding engines moved wagons on steeper ground using long ropes. Occasionally gravity-incline planes used the weight of full wagons to pull empties back up a slope.
This walk traces two important railways in this area. The Pelaw Main Colliery Railway running from Ouston to Pelaw (Bill Quay staiths) with junctions to pits in the Team Valley and the Bowes Railway running from Dipton to Jarrow staiths.
Start at the carpark for the Angel of the North (only accessible on the northbound carriageway of the A167).
I am a volunteer at the Bowes railway Museum and have an interest in the history of the wagon ways in my area. So this walk satisfies both my need for physical activity and a chance to explore the old wagon routes.
Angel of the North
I like to take this walk early in the day so as to finish by lunchtime.
After admiring Anthony Gormley’s “Angel of the North”, I cross the road at the traffic lights to be on the east side the A167 where I turn left.
Ravensworth Ann Pit
(the building in the foreground is still there)
Immediately on my right is the site of an old colliery, known as Team Colliery (or Ravensworth Ann Pit), but the area has been landscaped so no trace is visible. After 100m or so I turn right through a gap and circle round to the left to go through a tunnel under the A167. I am now on the line of the Pelaw Main Colliery railway. I walk down the track until it meets Smithy Lane. I can see where the line ran across the road on its way to Allerdene Pit, but I turn left along the footpath where the Lane soon bridges the A1. Just before it crosses the bridge for the East Coast mainline, I turn sharp left into Long Acre Wood.
Keeping to the major path through the wood, I follow the red “walking man” signs and the general direction of the East Coast main rail line.
In the springtime these woods are resplendent with the sight of bluebells and the smell of wild garlic. They are a haven for wild life too, I often hear woodpeckers in the wood.
The path eventually exits at the south-west corner very close to the railway. I take the lane up to a gate and Long Acre Farm where I walk on the grass verge beside this busy road for a couple of hundred metres to cross a brick bridge. I turn left down steps on the far side of the bridge and turn right onto the track.
This is the Bowes Railway track (now a cycle and footpath) coming from Dipton, Burnopfield, Byermoor, Marley Hill, Blackburn Fell and Kibblesworth Collieries to the west, en route to the staiths at Jarrow.
This is the start of a long uphill section. It was too steep for locomotives to pull wagons, so they were moved by rope haulage. This section was controlled from the Black Fell hauler at Eighton Banks which I will glimpse at top of my climb.
As I ascend I keep looking back as view unfolds (good excuse to have breather!). In the distance I can pick out the television transmitter tower at Pontop Pike. This is close to Dipton Colliery at the western end of the Bowes Railway.
As I reach the top of the bank I can see a narrow metal bridge where rail tracks begin and Black Fell hauler house in the distance. This is where I leave the Bowes track and return to the Pelaw Main railway.
After one last look at the view across the Team Valley with views of the Main Rail line, the A1 and the buildings of Birtley I turn left down the bank and glance back under the metal bridge. This is where, in 1855, the Bowes railway was built over the older Pelaw Main line (dating from the first decade of the 1800’s).
I continue north on the Pelaw Main track until it makes a sharp left turn to skirt the field edge. However, the railway went straight on towards the buildings on the hill.
Mount Moor Colliery & Black fell Hauler (1912)
The field I am going round was the site of Mount Moor Colliery, which was one of the reasons for the construction of the Bowes Railway in 1826.
I skirt the edge of the field until I reach the road opposite the “Engine Room” pub. This is where I like to get a coffee when the pub is open but at present it is good place to open my flask and enjoy the magnificent view.
I am now back on the rail track walking up the path alongside the pub until the ground levels out. Here I stop to admire the proficiency of the Victorian engineers, for here was another Hauler Engine house, just to the right of the track, pulling the full wagons up the steep incline I have just walked.
A stone structure on my left is a “Kip”, an artificial hill that the wagons travelled over to enable the rope to be disconnected.
A sharp dip in the track as I pass the Mount Chapel is where there was a tunnel to allow the congregation to access the chapel without crossing the line.
At the Wagon Inn I cross the rail lines again. To my right, the line is a 1950’s addition to allow the Pelaw main traffic to divert back to the Bowes line and down to status at Jarrow rather than Pelaw.
I continue along the gravel path until I cross the rails at a level crossing just before the line ends. Going immediately to my right up a short slope and following the path between some houses. I then come out onto the road opposite the Wrekenton Health Centre (where yet another colliery was situated : Stormont Main Colliery) Crossing the road and heading diagonally right I proceed along a track to the right of the houses facing me. This path comes out on an open area which was crisscrossed by numerous wagonways. I take the second left, heading north. When this path intersects another I turn left alongside a steel fence. I am now back on the Pelaw Main line.
The path meets Old Durham Road where I cross and almost immediately turn left onto a footpath/cycleway. Continuing downhill alongside Ravensworth Golf Course with views opening up of the valley below and plenty of evidence of birds in the hedges alongside. Until the path brings me back to the Angel and my start point.
My exercise for the day and great views on an historic route. I thoroughly recommend it.
Old map of part of the Pelaw Main (green) and Bowes (red) systems