Walking the Wannie Line railway

Wannie Line walk

Wannie Line walk

Walking the Wannie Line in the heart of some of England’s most beautiful and unspoiled countryside is a treat on a glorious summer’s day.

With lovely views of the Simonside Hills, I was puzzled how this picturesque country walk had remained a well-kept secret.

I discovered it by chance when I spotted a poster on a visit to Wallington in Northumberland last week.

I knew there’d been an old railway line in Rothbury but never realised you could actually walk the closed line.

So it was time to grab our ruck sacks, walking boots and a picnic lunch for a walk with a difference.

The Wannie Line

Walking the Wannie Line

Getting on track

Before leaving it was time to check out some local history. I was puzzled why a railway line was built in this remote location.

In the mid-19th Century railways were king and new lines sprung up all over Britain. Even rural Northumberland, with its farmland and sparse population, saw the arrival of the rail roads.

The Wansbeck or ‘Wannie’ Line opened in 1862 at the height of the steam age, running for 25 miles through Northumberland from Morpeth to Reedsmouth.

Wannie Line

The old railway route

Sir Walter Trevelyan, owner of Wallington Hall, was one of the driving forces behind the building of the railway with two of the lines crossing his estate. He saw the benefits of being better connected to the wider world.

The line was developed by the Wansbeck Railway Company, with backing from the Trevelyan and Ridley families plus Earl Grey.

Later it became part of the North British Railway, a long-forgotten name that conjures up images of railway’s golden age.

Trains steamed along the route, carrying Wallington’s stone, lime, coal and livestock as well as passengers.

Stations or halts along the way were located at the small towns and villages of Meldon, Angerton, Middleton, Scots Gap and Woodburn.

Even Charles Parsons, the steam turbine inventor, had his own private platform near his home at Knowesgate.

Wannie Line walk

The overgrown line today

Despite its early popularity, huge numbers of passengers never really flocked to the railway line.

There were only three daily trains between Morpeth and Rothbury whilst freight traffic was mainly agricultural or connected to local collieries and quarries.

Here’s a video about the historic railway made by BBC Look North a few years back.

Sadly, this rural service started to hit the buffers in the 1940s. The outbreak of World War Two resulted in a reduced service with only two trains a day.

Competition from car transport spelled the end for the Wannie Line and the passenger service was withdrawn in September 1952. The last goods train ran in 1966 from Morpeth to Woodburn.

Tammy on the Wannie Line

Tammy on the Wannie Line

Walk the line

With a head full of history, it was time to set off on the seven mile walk which takes you onto the Wannie and Rothbury lines.

We started the walk at the car park behind the former National Trust Regional Office at Scot’s Gap, 1 ½ miles north-east of Wallington on the B6343.

After walking along a short path, we dropped down some steps onto the Wannie Line itself.

The Wannie Line

The start of the Wannie Line

We walked along the old railway track until it split and then took the right fork onto the Rothbury line from which there are beautiful panoramic views from the top of the embankment.

As we strolled along the Rothbury Line we were struck by the tranquillity of the scene. Once steam trains would have thundered through several times a day but now there’s only the sound of birds and a gentle breeze.

A skylark soared overhead whilst willow warblers sang their trilling songs in the hawthorn bushes.

The Wannie Line

Top of the line

We carried on over two old bridges, the only signs that there was once a railway line running through this quiet countryside.

When we reached the Delf Burn we followed the route pinpointed by a waymarker which took us down off the line and along the burn.

Near here a tragic accident happened when a train with six passenger wagons and eight empty limestone trucks was derailed and crashed down the embankment in 1875.

Four people were killed including the guard and a mason who had just finished rebuilding nearby Rothley Lake House.

It’s so tranquil today that it’s hard to imagine such a scene of devastation.

The Wannie Line

Remnant of the rail age

Peace, tranquillity and bulls!

As we followed the path through the Delf Burn plantation, the countryside became wilder and even more beautiful.

A stream cut its way through the landscape with colourful wild flowers carpeting its banks including speedwell, greater stitchwort, forget-me-not and red campion.

It was a perfect, quiet glade with a plantation of trees along one side.

It didn’t look like many people had come through this area for a long time. It was like nature’s secret garden.

This is a brilliant place if you’re looking for solitude and relaxation. We didn’t see any other walkers on the trip in three hours. Not a single one.

Wannie Line walk

Babbling stream

As we left the plantation through a gate into a field, we got a bit confused about the directions as the signs temporarily ran out.

So we walked up the hill and through another gate until we reached a field full of young bulls. Crossing the field seemed like a good idea until the bullocks started to get excited.

A small stampede headed towards us. We retreated as fast as we could towards the stile at the end of the field.

It felt like a narrow escape. I had visions of newspaper headlines the next day – “Tammy Tour Guide trampled to death by bulls”.

The Wannie Line

The ‘bullock incident’

Tony assured me that the bullocks were just curious but the sight of 30 large males didn’t make me feel very confident!

Crossing over the stile we entered an old quarry, a strange, knobbly landscape with a group of old lime kilns.

Beneath the Wallington estate lies high quality limestone which is ideal for burning into lime for use in farming and other industries.

Lime kilns

Lime kilns

The quarry was once the main source of the estate’s limestone. Miners and workmen lived in cottages along the track at High Hartington. It’s thought that some of the lime was exported on the railway.

As we continued up a hill towards a small woodland, Tony was still in an intrepid mood, taking me across a large field of thistles and nettles.

For some reason, even the easiest of our walks seem to turn into Ray Mears-style adventures!

The Wannie Line

Tony tramples through the prickly thistles

I’m not sure that this was the route we were meant to take but eventually we found ourselves back on track.

By now, I was starting to get a little tired and sunburned. It was time for a picnic. Luckily, there was a perfect rock by a pretty stream just up ahead.

Picnic on Wannie Line walk

Picnic time

Charging ahead

Having recharged our batteries with sandwiches and cake, we continued onwards and eventually re-joined the old railway line after leaping over several stiles and kissing gates.

As we crossed the road at Rugley Walls, we dropped back down onto the old Wannie line and this section of the route appeared wilder. A belt of trees lined the way – and clearly they’d been planted after the railway closed.

The Wannie Line

The Wannie Line’s wild side

It’s an idyllic scene and it’s hard to believe that trains once steamed down this old, railway line. As we walked up onto a raised section of the old railway there were a couple of remnants of its past history.

A small furnace and two railway posts were amongst the only signs we’d seen of the railway’s working days.

As we finished the walk, it was interesting to look over the old railway bridge down to the old Scots Gap railway station.

The Wannie Line

The old Scots Gap railway station

The building has been changed considerably since the heyday of the railways but you can see part of the old station platform.

Sad really, but times change. I mourn the loss of the railways but you need people to sustain them in a rural area like Northumberland.

Today the railway could have been a tourism and heritage attraction but the lines are too grown over, the tracks torn up and the infrastructure has been lost.

Little remains of the railway and there’s not much to see of the stations or halts along the line.

The Wannie Line

Fragment of the The Wannie Line

The Wannie Line wasn’t even a victim of the Beeching cuts – it started its decline much earlier. But the history of the railway lives on and hopefully more people will discover its history.

So why not ‘walk the line’?

Although I’m not a railway buff, this walk along the two old rail lines is a fascinating trip back in time.

Wannie Line walk

Looking back at railway history

Tammy’s Wannie Line walk

The Wannie railway line can be walked as a seven mile circular route starting at Scots Gap in Northumberland. Allow about 3-4 hours for the walk.

There’s car parking at the old National Trust office in Scots Gap where the walk starts. Take an OS map or GPS and print-out of the railway walk. There’s also a map at the start of the route.

But the signposting is ‘hit and miss’ and runs out in places so an OS map is really important if you’re not going to get lost.

The Wannie Line

Start the Wannie Line at the National Trust office

Don’t forget to take the right kit – walking boots are a must together with bad weather gear in case things turn wet and windy.

Watch Tony’s video about the Wannie Line and its wildflowers.

If you’re a very energetic walker, you could opt for the linear walk from Scots Gap to Rothbury, a route of around 15 miles.

Picnic on Wannie Line walk

Get kitted out!

Other nearby attractions include Wallington Hall and gardens where you can visit the home of one of the Wannie Line’s backers, the Trevelyans.

As you drive over to the Wallington estate look out for several railway bridges which were once part of the Wannie and Rothbury railway lines.

Wallington - house and nature

Wallington Hall


15 replies »

  1. my family worked and lived in this area many years ago and my great aunt always used the term ‘in the wilds of wannie’ when referring to something isolated or in the middle of nowhere. she did explain to me that it was in reference to the wannie line and it is a term that i still use today and apparently was a popular saying in the local area. i remember walking some of the line 35 years ago on my own and was amazed that it had pretty much been forgotten. its a beautiful part of the world.

    • What a fantastic story, Phil. I’d never heard the expression before and think it’s a very apt description. Thanks for sharing that memory.

  2. I live at Kendor Grove Morpeth a section of Wanny is behind my house in the Cottage Hospital grounds it originally connected to the main line to the station , a bridge was pulled down in the 1960s over the road beside my house , unfortunately developers have bought the land and pulled the hospital down , the line which had become a wildlife corridor will be dug out to make gardens despite our objections , I found a piece of metal line buried in my garden and remember waking up the closed line with my Granda, Uncle and dogs , once I fell down in the coke very painful I would have been three , gradually the metal track then wood and finally come dissapeared until it became a country lane

  3. I have tried to do this walk today, using National Trust’s directions/instructions which now seem to be years out of date. The only car park I could find was the one at the auction mart. I couldn’t access the railway line from there because the road bridge is fenced/gated. Looking through that fence, the old railway beyond seems to be overgrown. Walking around the hamlet I couldn’t find an alternative access, even asked a couple of people who didn’t know.
    I attempted to drive in the direction of Rothbury and find alternative access, to no avail.
    Disappointment doesn’t come close to how I’m feeling as I had driven 35 miles to get to Scot’s Gap.

    • Hi Stuart,

      Really sorry to hear about your frustrating experience on the Wannie Line railway walk. That would have made me very annoyed too. It’s two years since I wrote the blog post and did the walk – and even then the NT directions in the middle section of the walk are a bit sketchy, to say the least. But I’m surprised to learn that the start of the walk is problematic too- and I’d be happy to talk this up on your behalf with the National Trust, if the access has changed recently. I also had a response to the original blog post from a nearby neighbour overlooking the walk line so perhaps they can also advise? I’ll chase this up too. My main question is this, though… did you try to start the walk at the back of the former National Trust building car park in Scots Gap where there is an access path leading to the start of the walk? The building is not far from the main bridge on the main road – there is a gate and tarmacked path at the start of the walk. It has a car park with a walk sign to the rear of the land. It can be seen on the OS map – which is essential to walk the line on the ground as the signage is poor on the ground once you get past the first mile of the track. – Grid ref: NZ037864.

      Please let me know if I can pursue this for you… I’d be very happy to help. The Rothbury end of the walk does look much harder to access so perhaps we should pursue that with the NT too?


      • Hello Tammy, thanks for your response. I did ask the people I found if they knew “the former National Trust Regional Offices” (I had printed the NT instructions and taken them with me) but they didn’t. As is often the case, the quoted postcode covers a large area of the hamlet. At the time I was there, the petrol station and shop opposite were both shut. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have taken my OS map with me, but I always like to travel as light as possible and thought the map on the NT directions would have been sufficient. Lesson learned!!

        I did read that the Gateshead Ramblers have walked the Wannie Line, but that was few years ago as well.

        Best regards, Stuart.

  4. For anyone who is interested enough to read this thread, my wife and I together with some friends walked this trail today. It was a beautiful sunny day and this is one of the best walks I have ever done in an absolutely beautiful part of the country. The walk is well signed with orange National Trust arrows and it appears to be reasonably well used by locals/dog walkers etc. The National Trust office albeit unoccupied, is still there and we parked our car round the back where the trail begins. For anyone unsure of how to locate the office, it is on the opposite side of the road to Robson and Cowan country store and is visible on Google maps

  5. I have been looking forward to walking this route since I vaguely googled walking routes in the area. I’m a local, living about 6 or 7 miles to the east.
    For the car park access… it is still perfectly fine to park on the site of the old NT offices. It’s not obvious it’s an ex NT property as there’s no sign at the roadside of course, and maybe folks think it’s residential property. As you’ve said, it’s opposite one of the entrances to Robson & Cowan (on the western side of the bridge) and it’s the only property on the northern side of the road, on that side of the bridge. On entering the drive, I believe you can park outside the buildings (they seem to be empty) or drive a little further into the actual car park (not visible from the road (but as said, can be easily seen using google maps).
    I chose a lovely sunny day for the walk (well, at least the first half) which matched a lot of walking out in the open. Even though I am familiar with the area, the views were new to me as seen from different angles for the first time and are fabulous. I do agree that after the Delf Plantation, signs get a bit vague. The NT walk details do help, as does the appropriate map. Occasionally, you just have to go with instinct a bit and it falls into place.
    My favourite part of the walk was the section just after your “bullock incident” and the lime kilns, in the part where you drop down to the road. A beautiful short section lined with trees.
    I was keen to try this walk as soon as there was any hint of spring and prolonged sunny spells, but I didn’t anticipate it being quite so wet & muddy in places. Also, a keen wind, disappearing sun and eventual tiredness meant that the final stretch was more of a slog, but I will definitely walk it again, later in the year. Overall, one of the best walks I’ve done.
    Thanks for your interesting account and pictures.

  6. I grew up in Morpeth and I recall my dad taking us on a hike, the entire length of the Wannie from Rothbury to Morpeth, in about 1972. Your pictures bought the memories back, we stopped for our sandwiches in an old railwayman’s hut with a fireplace like the chimney stack that you saw – possibly the same one! There was a short stretch where an old station cottage and platform was a private house and I recall my dad being told we were trespassing when we tried to walk through what they would have seen as their garden. I was only about 11yrs old at the time and I recall hobbling in to Morpeth late on a summers evening, feet very sore, but feeling like we had accomplished a great fete.

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