Thursday, February 17, 2011

Backstone Bank Wood

Today's Guardian Country Diary describes a late winter walk from Salter's Gate, high on the moorland above Tow Law in County Durham, down to Tunstall Reservoir and Backstone Bank wood. The most picturesque way to approach the wood is to first follow the route of this old railway line, part of the old Stockton and Darlington railway that was opened in 1845 to carry passengers and coal to the ironworks at Consett. The line closed in 1939 but it must have been a great train ride in its day ....

... with wonderful views down to the reservoir, built in 1879, .....

... and across wild moorland of Wolsingham Park Moor.

When you leave the rail track and follow the stony path downhill it takes you down past larch and spruce plantations, that have a wonderful scent of resin on a winter's day.

After heavy rain, all the way down you are never far from the sound of water cascading down from the hillside in the feeder streams that drain into the reservoir

...until you reach Backstone Bank wood, an ancient semi-natural woodland of oak, holly and birch that's now an SSSI.

The path through the woodland skirts the edge of the reservoir and is popular with birdwaters. There are sandpipers here in summer, geese and ducks on the reservoir and woodland birds that include redstarts and pied flycatchers. This, incidentally, is the point where we crossed paths with that magnificent pheasant that I mentioned in an earlier post.

At this time of year the brightest green is confined to the woodrushs - still flattened from the winter snow - and new growth of mosses.

The humidity makes this a good spot for lichens like this Cladonia...

... and in late winter many mosses, like this Polytrichum species, produce new growth before the leaf canopy develops in spring and casts them into shade.

The oaks are rooted in poor soil in a severe climate so growth is very slow. Near the end of the walk through the wood we came across this stump that had been cut, presumably to remove a tree that had blown down in the recent gales. We gave up counting the annual rings after we got to 100 but they are each notably narrow - testament to the short growing season.

When you emerge from the wood the path crosses the dam wall, with this view of water overflowing and cascading down the spillway into Waskerley Beck, which must have extraordinarily well oxygenated headwaters. It eventually flowers into the River Wear at Wolsingham, at the bottom of the valley.


  1. Thanks for this.......I wondered what it looked like..........we walked it in misty drizzle, never saw a thing.

  2. Hi, beautiful pictures.. that seems to be a nice place.. the views are great ))

  3. What a beautiful walk. Thank you for showing me another part of the world, so different from where I am.

  4. Hi Adrian, It's at its best in spring, just as the trees are coming into leaf and the sun is rising over the hill

  5. Hi Dejemonos sorprender, it's particularly attractive when all the woodland wild flowers are blooming in spring - I plan to go back then...

  6. Hello Masha, it's a beautiful place - but I do envy you your sub-tropical climate at this time of year!

  7. Hi Phil,

    I live in Tow Law and use Google news alerts for a few different subjects, particularly volcanoes. However one new alert from Google tonight bought me here. Your blog looks like it's going to be on my regular reading list from now on.

    Very nice writing style, very informative and beautifully illustrated too. Photography is a hobby of mine so it's great to see all these photogenic and unusual places here on my doorstep in Weardale.

    Many thanks, Ian

  8. Thanks for visiting Ian. If you're interested in nature this is a great part of the world to live in, isn't it? All the best,