Another bright sunny morning greeted Footloose as they set off south again, to probably what was the most ancient church in their long list of places of worship visited during their walks in Northumbria. The church at Escomb in County Durham is reputed to be the best preserved Saxon church in England, so it was with keen anticipation that three of us set off.
The church of St. John the Evangelist is set in the midst of an almost circular churchyard in the former mining village. Built in about 675 AD, it is a simple two chambered structure (nave and apse) little altered since its first construction. Much of the stone was foraged from the nearby Roman camp of Binchester, and many of these pieces can still be seen adorning the walls, showing the characteristic diamond broaching pattern used by the Roman stonemasons.
The exterior of the building and the graveyard also show many ancient features – the two sundials, and the medieval headstones for example. We spent many moments looking around the church, but finally exited into the village and set off eastwards through horse pastures towards the Weardale Way, which runs parallel to the river at this point. The redly stained stream from local iron oxide deposits was a real surprise alongside the path, which was tricky in parts, erosion having eaten away the bank, but we eventually emerged through a wooded area onto the Eastgate – Darlington railway line, one of the first passenger and mineral lines in the world.
Primrose Villa and Glen Lea were our next landmarks, and we stopped for a coffee break a little further along the pathway. This track led us behind gardens and alongside fields, until finally emerging onto Hallimond Road near The Gables. Only a few yards further on and we arrived at California, (having only recently been a short distance from Toronto, across the River Wear !) From here, we decided to extend our walk, and so strolled along the pavement to the villages of Woodside and Witton Park.
We took the opportunity of some benches adjacent to a children’s playground to stop and have our lunch, before having a quick look at St. Paul’s church a little way down the road. The church was not open, though obviously still used fairly regularly for services, and the churchyard, shrouded in tall lime trees, had recently had its grass cut. I found this old picture of the church on the Witton Park village website.
We continued on into the village towards Paradise and the Weardale Way footpath again. The old station buildings looked impressive, but we were not able to get a really view of them from the field path along which we walked. We did have a splendid view of a female brown hawker dragonfly as it rested on a fence post though (I cannot claim credit for this photo – it comes from the British Dragonfly Society website).
A series of grass fields led us towards the outskirts of Escomb, and we passed a well-used allotment site where both hens and vegetables were the main occupants – sadly there were no flowers in evidence. We stopped briefly for a chat with a lady dog-walker and a hard-at-work allotment holder before emerging back into the village centre and the church within its walled graveyard.
Alas, there was no coffee shop for our refreshment at the end of our walk, so it was ‘Home James !’