HEATHERY CLEUGH. Heathery Cleugh. There have not been too many reasons to mention Heathery Cleugh in these pages, so let’s make the most of this one.

The parish of Heathery Cleugh is up the western top of Weardale. It is just before you reach Killhope Lead Mining Museum, although it doesn’t really exist.

“There is really no village of Heathery Cleugh, though there are a few cottages near the church,” said an 1894 directory. And that was before the church was dismantled when quarrymen wanted to take the stone from underneath its very pews.

A “cleugh” is a dialect word for a ravine with water running down it, and the Heathery Cleugh plunges down the side of the dale into Killhope Beck. Killhope Beck passes the hamlet of Copthill and the village of Cowshill before joining the Burnhope Burn at Wearhead. Together, the two waterways form the River Wear.

The road which follows the dale bottom is the A689. It was built by a turnpike committee, and so is lined with mileposts to enable travellers to know how much they had to pay for using it (the iron mileposts are unique in this area as they are painted black with white lettering rather than the other way around).

The turnpike road crosses Heathery Cleugh on a tall, five-arched bridge built in 1810.

A parish church for Heathery Cleugh was built beside the road about half-a-mile from the heathery ravine in 1823 at Copthill. In the 1880s, it was extended to seat 400 and it was lined with fire brick throughout.

But a few years later, a whinstone quarry was opened beside it and the ground fell away. It was decided to move the church, dedicated to St Thomas, brick by brick onto more stable land in Cowshill. Lord Barnard laid the foundation stone in July 1911 and the Heathery Cleugh church was consecrated in February 1915.

There is one other building of note beside the Heathery Cleugh bridge: a Barrington school.

Bishop John Shute Barrington was the penultimate Prince Bishop who in 1819 gained a £70,000 windfall (more than £6m today) when a court agreed he had sold the Weardale leadmining rights too cheaply to the Beaumont Mining Company.

The bishop was concerned with the march of Methodists up the dale, and he noted that the area’s other big company was the London Lead Company which was Quaker and had founded Quaker schools in Middleton-in-Teesdale.

So he spent £2,000 of his windfall creating “Barrington” Church of England schools at Heathery Cleugh, Boltsburn, Stanhope, St John’s Chapel, Westgate and Eastgate. These schools were expensive to run: the seven schoolmasters’ salaries came to £375, although two masters were sacked for drunkenness and a third had £2 deducted from his wages until he replaced the missing school furniture and door. Nevertheless, in 1847, remote Heathery Cleugh school was attended by 66 young scholars.

“The inhabitants of this district, which is wild and little cultivated, are principally engaged in the mines, making a livelihood by having a few acres of fell land upon which they graze a cow or a few sheep,” said the 1894 directory.

Leadmining soon fell away, as did the land around the Heathery Cleugh church, and the dale is still wild and little cultivated, but most visitors return quite captivated by its qualities and pleased to be able to say that they have been to Heathery Cleugh.

BY the River Wear near Cowshill is a place called Melon Isle. Who can explain this fruity name?