These long dry warm summer evenings are a perfect for a post-work bicycle ride, so taking the tourer I set off for Finchale Priory (pronounced “Finkel”). The Priory is at the end of a very long metalled road with no escape at the end for motor-vehicles. As I rode along I noticed lots of overgrown low buildings in the field next to me.
A quick bit of research found this forum discussion with more photographs and it seems that (according to Alan Turnbull of secret-bases) it is a derelict munitions dump, “It’s laid out in the classic ordnance depot pattern and you can see the main train line running past to the west. Before the prison was built, the depot would have been connected into this line with a spur. Indeed, the land on which the prison was built would already have been owned by the Govt as it would have been all bought up during WWII.” I found a layout on the OS mapping website, from my OS map it just looks like a housing estate by the road, no reason to suspect anything else.
At the end of the road is a touring caravan park, with barriers and a fee of £3 to escape, that is, for motorists. Cyclists and pedestrians go free – yay. There is a private road, but the entrance to the priory faces the river and there is a small English Heritage shop. It is a bit late in the day to stop and look around the priory so I’ll come back another time.
Behind the shop I found a wooden bridge crossing the River Wear and I believed there was a path which would lead up through Cocken Woods, to Cocken Rd, where I hoped to resume my cycling. I was also treated to a great view of Finchale Priory too.
Heading into Cocken Woods I was clear that this is a no-cycling area, and I can only assume that the bike tracks in the mud were from others pushing their bicycles too. There are steps which you could carry your bike up, but a lovely little trail zig-zags its way to the top with only a 10 minute walk. The surface wasn’t conducive to 700×28 tyres.
I popped out onto Cocken Rd and followed the tarmac east towards Leamside and after a short road climb had wide open views back over the Wear valley to Newton Hall and Sacriston. I crossed over the A1, and I’ve always felt there was something special about criss-crossing main arteries of this country. I was also rewarded with a crossing of the East Coast Mainline too. A little jig at the dual carriageway A690 and I was onto more quiet roads, although slightly wider and slightly busier, towards Pittington and eventually Sherburn. I think there are national cycle routes around here and the roads are quiet enough. At Sherburn I tried to find cycle route 14 into Durham and headed back out on cinder tracks into the open countryside again. I passed under the East Coast Mainline now, through the small tunnel on Renny’s Lane. The lane was splattered with tiny bits of broken glass – one of the main reasons I prefer to cycle in traffic. However the view of open countryside was worth the risk of a puncture.
This cycle path ended with a rather grubby looking bridge and I slunk out into the equally grubby side of an industrial estate and then took a right turn past a huge supermarket. We don’t call them hypermarkets, they get called “extra” or something… but hypermarket would be fairly honest – it just might not get planning permission. And now I was into busy Durham traffic and slightly disappointed that the riverside path by the Wear into Durham has been closed – note to cycle tourists… Cycle Route 14 and Cycle Route 70 are closed at the moment:
However once I’d battled through early evening traffic I managed to snap this picture between rushing cars… Durham is a beautiful city.
I enjoyed this sunny summer evening exploring Durham and I’m delighted to have taken the time to look at Finchale Priory and discover the abandoned munitions dump. It is wonderful what you can find when you are moving slow enough.