Causey Arch and the Tanfield Railway
Starting at the Causey Arch Picnic Area, this delightful walk follows the line of the Tanfield Railway, along the picturesque valley of the Causey Burn, before crossing the oldest surviving railway bridge in the world along the course of an old waggonway which was used to transport coal to the river.
The Railway was opened in 1725, and is now the oldest operating railway in the world. It was constructed to take coal from the pits around Stanley and Marley Hill to the River Tyne. Originally, waggons, or more correctly, chaldrons, filled with coal, were hauled along a wooden track by horses before being replaced by metal rails and static winding engines in the early 1830s, and by locomotives in 1881. (A chaldron was an English measure of dry volume, mostly used for coal; the word itself is an obsolete spelling of cauldron.) Most of the line was closed in 1970 but it is now run by a group of steam enthusiasts.
Causey Arch is the oldest surviving single arch railway bridge in the world and spans the gorge of Causey Burn. Constructed in 1725-6 to provide a link between collieries at Tanfield and the main waggonway to the River Tyne. The original design of a wooden track was crude, but nevertheless, effective.
It was commissioned by a powerful group of local coal owners known as the “Grand Allies.” The Arch was designed by Ralph Wood, a local Stonemason, has a span of 100 feet and stands 80 feet above the valley floor. Tradition has it that Wood was very apprehensive about an earlier timber bridge which had collapsed!! Fearing that a similar fate awaited the stone structure, he leapt to his death from the top of the Arch.
On the western side there was a Toll House, where lines to other pits branched off, the remains of which are still in evidence.
There is ample parking at the Causey Arch Picnic Area; or arrival by public transport can be achieved via Stanley. Great care is required at all times: the train tracks are to be crossed three times; there are tree roots, steep sections and tall steps to be negotiated, but on a lovely sunny day, it is a magical walk – walking back in time itself.
With a lot of help from the internet, I have been doing research into local heroes. Here is an offering about Henry Hotspur.
Henry Percy, "Hotspur", is one of Shakespeare’s best-known characters. In Henry IV, Part I, Percy is portrayed
as the same age as his rival, Prince Hal. In fact he was 23 years older than Prince Hal, the future Henry V who
was a youth of 16 at the date of the Battle of Shrewsbury.
The name of one of England's football clubs, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, acknowledges Henry Percy,
whose descendants owned land in the neighbourhood of the club's first ground in the Tottenham Marshes.
Henry Percy was born 20 May 1364 at either Alnwick Castle or Warkworth Castle in Northumberland. He was
the eldest son of Henry Percy, 1 st Earl of Northumberland and Margaret Neville, daughter of Ralph de Neville,
2nd Lord Neville of Raby, and Alice de Audley. (Ralph Neville led the victorious English army at the Battle of
He was knighted by Edward III in April 1377 together with the future Richard II and Henry IV. He was
appointed Warden of the East March either on 30 July 1384 or in May 1385, ] and in 1385 accompanied Richard
II on an expedition into Scotland. As a tribute to his speed in advance and readiness to attack on the Scottish
borders, the Scots bestowed on him the name "Haatspore".
In April 1386, he was sent to France to reinforce the garrison at Calais and led raids into Picardy. In
appreciation of these military endeavours he was made a Knight of the Garter in 1388. Reappointed as
Warden of the East March, he commanded the English forces against James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Douglas, at the
Battle of Otterburn on 10 August 1388, where he was captured, but soon ransomed for a fee of 7000 marks.
In spite of the favour that Henry IV showed the Percys in many respects, they became increasingly discontented
with him. Among their grievances were:
Spurred on by these grievances, the Percys rebelled in the summer of 1403 and took up arms against the king. It
is thought that the Percys were in collusion with Owain Glyndwr, in his campaigns against the English.
The circumstances of Percy's death differ in accounts. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham stated, in his
Historia Anglicana that "while he led his men in the fight rashly penetrating the enemy host, [Hotspur] was
unexpectedly cut down, by whose hand is not known". Another account states that Percy was struck in the face
by an arrow when he opened his vizor for a better view. The legend that he was killed by the Prince of Wales
seems to have been given currency by Shakespeare writing at the end of the following century.