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Tees Banks Woods, Barnard Castle
Barnard Castle is a delightful market town at the entrance to Teesdale in County Durham.
The River Tees loops around the town in a horseshoe bend. The town lies at the centre of numerous country walks.
Tees Banks Woods are on the east bank of the River Tees and run for c.1 mile upstream from the town blanketing the steep valley sides. They comprise mixed woodland of all ages as the woods are managed in the lower reaches. The Woods run from the town itself upstream as far as the dismantled viaduct of which only the butresses remain.
Good footpaths follow the riverside and also along the top of the valley side. The west side of the river is open fields set to grazing.
 Notable Species
Other regulars throughout the year are Common Dipper, Eurasian Nuthatch, Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Willow Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Grey Wagtail, Treecreeper, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Birds you can see here include:
Feral Pigeon, Stock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Common Cuckoo, Common Swift, Eurasian Skylark, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Northern House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Common Wren, Dunnock, European Robin, Common Redstart, Eurasian Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Wood Warbler, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Common Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Spotted Flycatcher, European Pied Flycatcher, Common Magpie, Eurasian Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin, Eurasian Linnet, Northern Redpoll, Lesser Redpoll, Common Crossbill, Eurasian Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Nuthatch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Willow Tit, Tawny Owl, Chaffinch, Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Goosander
 Site Information
Whilst any time of year is worth a visit, the best times are winter and spring through to early summer as viewing is very good until leaves and vegetation become too dense.
At the bottom of the hill there's a bridge across the river, locally known as the 'pipebridge' a wide footbridge - the timber decking covering water pipes makes an ideal spot to sit a while. Downstream there's good views of the castle and a weir. Upstream the river is straight for just over a mile. Kingfisher, Dipper and Grey Wagtail are regulars and in Spring Common Sandpiper and Spotted Flycatcher often give close views as do Swift, Swallow and Sand Martin. Looking upstream check out the area of stones on the right. Wagtail and Dipper frequently feed there as well.
Instead of crossing the bridge return to the east side and turn left. The path leads around a bend to a narrow footbridge. Crossing the beck leads to the 'bandstand' an area of grass with seats. Again worth a check as the same bird species mentioned above feed freely on the stones at the river edge or quite close to the seats in the sparse bushes and trees.
Carrying on upstream the path goes through Willow and thorn bushes, always a good chance for Blackcap, Marsh Tit and Willow Tit, Willow Warbler etc. Follow the path through the woods numerous birds can be heard in the dense foliage which can be difficult to spot. Look at every knot hole and you'll be suprised just how many birds are nesting in them. Tawny Owl and the odd Barn Owl are also worth checking for in the trees. It's also worth keeping an eye on the river itself where Goosander are often seen. On the far bank there's a small rocky cliff area called the 'Gent's Swimming Pool', Kingfisher are a real possibility as they feed off the overhanging trees on both sides of the river. Above the Gent's is the start of 'Waterboatman's Island' a shingle area, again popular with many feeding birds, especially the Dipper and Wagtails off the stones.
At the the top of the island where the stones finish, look for Pied Flycatcher. They seem very territorial and if disturbed return to the same branch within a few minutes. Wood Warbler also breed here and offer good views. The mature trees often hold Treecreeper and Nuthatch. On the approach to the old viaduct there may be Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the mature trees. On reaching some stone steps the path forks here - turn right following them up to below the arch of the viaduct or carry on upriver.
Taking the lower path and within a few hundred yards there's an area of pine trees, a spot favoured by Wood Warbler in Spring. The path bends right following the river - ancient oak trees line the left side of the path - often used by Common Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Spotted Flycatcher. The path then forks again as it starts to rise.
The Woods continue upstream from here and lead into different habitats, and some deightful scenery but by now you are one mile from the town and it's worth considering the return journey.
The choice is to retrace your steps or take the right fork which leads you back to the viaduct and the 'top path' coming out beside the first Percy Beck Bridge. This is a pleasant walk, and being along side the arable fields can give a different selection of bird species. Generally though, being more exposed, fewer birds are seen.
A minor detour is worth mentioning as a half mile upstream from this fork there's a very pleasant waterfall with pools above and below. All sorts of birds hang around here. Crayfish are common in the summer and devoured remains are easily found or live specimens under the stones. A few yards upstream are about thirty steps carved from the cliff face known locally as 'Cat Steps' well worth a look. From here, unless you want to continue to Cotherstone another 2 1/2 miles, it's worth heading back to Barnard Castle down the river.
Basically it's a question then of retracing your steps back to the town.
 Nearby Sites
 History & Use
Plans are now afoot to turn it into a tourist attraction by stringing a suspension bridge across the span between the old buttresses. The design idea stemmed from the Capilano Bridge in Canada. 'Barney Bridge' as proposed, will be wider and higher. The old viaduct used to make a superb circular walk of about two miles from the town. At present, it means an eight mile one via Cotherstone. Still a nice walk but a little lengthy. The plans appear to have stalled for the moment (2007).
 Access and Facilities
The town is on the A67 around 14 miles west of Darlington and the A1.
On entering the town, head for the 'Post Office corner' and turn along - Flatts Road passing between the Post Office and a small park with a monkey puzzle tree. Follow to it's end then dog-leg left and right into Raby Avenue and park up. There is loads of parking available along both roadsides or in the town centre.
Walk back to the dog-leg in the road and take the metalled road down a slight bank and on reaching the edge of the woods after a few yards turn right again and head down the hill. Many birds and squirrels feed freely in this section. The bungalow immediately on the right has a bird table and all manner of birds make use of it. Follow the path down to the river checking the mature trees for birds.
The town is a pleasant location to visit any time of the year.
There are plenty of shops in the town and ample car parking - mostly free.
 External Links
Article by IanF