New walking and cycling routes are due to be created along an historic railway path thanks to a multi-million funding boost. 

Active travel links between County Durham communities will be improved from this summer along a 19-kilometre stretch of the former Stockton and Darlington Railway. 

Durham County Council is investing more than £7million into the creation of the routes from its share of levelling up funding.

Walking and cycling paths between Witton Park and the council’s boundary with Darlington, south of Newton Aycliffe, will be created. They will take in the train stations of Shildon, Newton Aycliffe and Heighington; and the National Cycle Network as well as linking to the Locomotion rail museum.

It is hoped the route will include Gaunless Bridge, the world’s first iron railway bridge, which was designed by ‘father of the railways’ George Stephenson. The authority recently secured funding from Historic England for restoration of the bridge’s abutments.

Work is due to be completed by March 2024 in time for the 200th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 2025. The funding is part of the £20m the authority received for the Bishop Auckland area in the first round of the Levelling Up Fund. 

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, the council’s cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “A lot of work has gone into developing this project since we were awarded the funding and I’m delighted that we will be in a position to start work in the months ahead.

“We hope that what we will be delivering will encourage more people to walk and cycle, with obvious benefits for their health. The routes can also help reduce reliance on cars, which can only benefit the environment.

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“The paths will help connect communities along the route of the line, creating new active travel links to culture and heritage sites.

“This active travel project ties in with exciting developments at Locomotion to mark the bicentenary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and we’re looking forward to these projects providing lasting legacies beyond the celebrations in 2025.”