The Weardale Railway runs from Bishop Auckland to Stanhope in the Durham Dales. A quirky throwback to the glorious age of steam it is run by volunteers, and is perhaps less well known than say the Grosmont to Pickering railway in Yorkshire. Despite it being a rare and glorious summer day in August our trip up the line was shared only by a few smiley people – mainly the over 60’s the under 6’s (and those in charge of them) Chugging along in the Pullman carriage with its huge plush armchair seats, I surmised that this has got to be the only rail journey in the country where you can travel first class for £2.50!
There was no fat controller in sight (the face of capitalism for the under 5’s) but a very friendly Inspector who I strongly suspect may double up as Father Christmas for the Christmas Santa ride. I expected Skimbleshanks the railway cat to come down the line at any moment! Our locomotive was called Wilbert, who is apparently a character in the Thomas the Tank engine stories. In it’s first incarnation however, Wilbert the engine is of the Hunslet design of the War Department’s “Austerity” tank and was produced to assist in the invasion of Europe.
We did try to walk some of the Weardale Way, which we assumed would be well signposted.I think we managed about 50 yards of the actual route before losing our way into some fields and encountering bulls, private paths, spiky fences and and even dangerous sludge lagoons! Have you ever heard of anyone going for a walk on a sunny day and running into a sludge lagoon?
In the end, it was more of a Way-off-the-Weardale-Way walk. I think we’ll need a map next time.
Other interesting signs which we came across on our ramblings included one which said ‘FAC private fishing.’ This seems a little harsh on this popular pass time to me. Another sign at the station declared the pronouncements of the ‘Movement Authority.’ Who are they when they’re at home?
A final highlight of the day was when we encountered an amazing example of a Panther Cap (Amanita Pantherina) mushroom which is a large, rare and poisonous mushroom which you would not want to put into your omelette under any circumstances…