Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Travel & Holidays in later life


Visitors inspect the water-wheel at Killhope Lead Mining MuseumA holiday break in Weardale - part of County Durham - opens up a wide range of interests. 

Much of the River Wear valley forms part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) and also of the Global Geoparks Network. 

Geoparks are locations where you can explore fascinating geology, and where the rocks, landscapes, minerals and fossils are part of active tourism.

The charming grey-limestone villages and market towns scattered along the River Wear formerly made their living from lead mines and limestone quarries, backed by hill farming. 

Travel Facts


Travel Insurance for over 50s

Visit our  holidays, breaks and travel options pages


Tourist Information: Dales Centre, Stanhope, County Durham DL13 2FJ. Tel: 01388 776688. Web: www.durhamdales.

Email: durham.dales.centre 

Contact North Pennines AONB Partnership, Weardale Business Centre, 1 Martin Street, Stanhope, County Durham DL13 2UY. Tel: 01388-528-801. Email:
for your Discovery Guide which focuses on the North Pennines AONB and Geopark. 

Specialist brochures and leaflets cover Wildlife, Hiking, Biking and Geological Trails. "Birdwatching in the North Pennines" costs 4.50 (cheques payable to Durham County Council) but other publications are free.

A "Visit Wear Valley" brochure is produced by the Wear Valley District Council. 

Travelsphere escorted holidays


Lead was mined from Roman times, and the region became one of the world's major lead-producing areas. But virtually all the mines were finally closed early last century by competition from Australia. 

Today, the biggest single tourist attraction of Weardale is the National Leadmining Museum at Killhope, located high up the valley. It's the best preserved lead mining site in the entire North Pennines. 

The highlight of industrial archaeology is a magnificent 33-ft diameter overshot wheel, built in the 1870s to mechanize the separation of lead ore from waste. A century ago there were many similar water-wheels in the Dales. 

A visit starts at the restored lodgings for the miners, where men slept two or three to a bunk. Breathing rock dust all day, most miners died young from lung troubles.

Today's visitors, kitted out with hard hat and wellies, are guided into the Park Level Mine. A tunnel cuts across 14 lead veins which were worked from 1853 until 1910. 

Above ground are the oldtime machines that separated lead ore and other minerals from the rock. But the surroundings offer great scenery, with red squirrels thriving in the adjoining woodlands. 

In Upper Weardale you can 'Wake up to Wildlife', with rich birdlife around the pastures and the edge of the heather moorland - golden plover, grouse, snipe, partridge and short- eared owl. 

In the chapel founded by John Wesley Just a few miles down the Dale is the Weardale Museum, for another insight into the lead-mining life. Here in 1760 the preacher John Wesley established what is now the world's oldest Methodist Chapel in continuous weekly use since its foundation. Wesley visited the chapel 13 times on his circuits of the north.

In more recent times, the adjoining minister's cottage was vacant until local volunteers restored it in 1985 as a museum of local life. 

A downstairs room is packed with all the basics of cottage life in Victorian times - kitchen equipment, tin baths, mangle and the fireplace as the focal point of family living.

Upstair rooms now display aspects of the work of lead miners, and what happened when the jobs collapsed. Many families moved to industrial towns. Others emigrated by the shipload. 

Typically, in 1879, 60 locals sailed off together to New Zealand. 165 local men were killed in WW1. You begin to understand why so much of Weardale has since been recaptured by nature. 

Further down-river, Stanhope is the heart of Weardale tourism. The Dales Centre features small specialist shops, including a mineral store selling semi-precious stones and minerals, and a Tourist Information Centre. 

Next door is St Thomas' Church, which displays a fossilised tree 250 million years old in the graveyard. The 12th-century church is known as 'the little cathedral of the Dale'. 

Tracks or minor roads lead off the main A689 highway that follows the river. Many grey limestone farmhouses have diversified into B&Bs and self-catering, often with horses or bikes to hire. 

You get gorgeous scenery with foreground cattle, sheep and lambs grazing amid a three-dimensional pattern of small fields enclosed by dry-stone walls. Farm buildings are sheltered among the belts of trees. 

It all makes great territory for hiking and biking. Miles of quiet lanes and public footpaths have been mapped by the Wear Valley District Council. The National Coast-to-Coast Cycle Route passes through the heart of Weardale. 

Whilst all this is about the freedom of the hills, you can experience a unique piece of cultural heritage that has been lovingly rescued and restored in the small village of Howden Le Wear. The Mighty Wurlitzer at Howden Le Wear Co Durham

The North East Theatre Organ Association has renovated its former Methodist Chapel and converted it for use as their headquarters and a home for the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ that once entertained cinema audiences at the New Victoria Theatre in Bradford.

Still further southeast is Auckland Castle, the official residence of the Bishop of Durham. Set in 750 acres of parkland, this was the medieval Prince Bishops' main country residence from the 12th century.

Open to the public, guided tours include a unique gallery of paintings by the Spanish 17th-century artist Francisco de Zurburan, depicting Jacob and his twelve sons. 

Saxon Church at EscombClose by is Escomb Church, the oldest intact Saxon church in Britain, dating from 680 AD. It's built of stone taken from Binchester Roman Fort, a mile or two north of Bishop Auckland. 

The original Saxon architecture has not changed during the past 14 centuries. Some of the stones still display Roman engravings. The graveyard was circular so there were no corners for the devil to hide.

Read about other areas of the North East

LEEDS - Soap trail around Emmerdale 

NEWCASTLE - Cultural capital of the North

NEWCASTLE - Down memory lane at Beamish open-air museum

NORTHUMBERLAND - Go furthest north in England, Alnwick to Berwick

TEES VALLEY - Exploring Captain Cook Country

YORK - follow the Vikings and the ghosts

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

North Pennines - Teesdale and Weardale (OS Explorer Map Active) - An Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale detailed map shows numerous attractions and all footpaths, bridleways, roads and lanes. The series is aimed mainly at the experienced map user.

Francis Frith's County Durham (Photographic Memories S.) - a collection of 150 photos from the publisher's archive.

Pub Walks in County Durham and Teesside (Pub Walks S.) - Twenty circular routes all based on good local pubs. Includes walks near Darlington, Bishop Auckland and Durham city. With maps and photographs.

Lead Mining Landscapes of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - the title says it all, showing the relationship between the scenery and the former lead mining industry.

Back to



Visit our Pre-retirement Courses section here on laterlife or our dedicated Retirement Courses site

back to laterlife travel

Site map and site search



Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti