There is no more springlike place in the whole district than the old Roman road at Dinsdale on which more than 100 years ago an avenue of several hundred lime trees was planted and in between which a couple of decades ago about 10,000 daffodil bulbs were inserted into the ground.

Even on a grey, drizzly March day this week, when all the fields down to the Tees dripped with muddy dampness, there was a golden glow in the gloom as the daffodils burst brilliantly through.

The Northern Echo: The Over Dinsdale daffodil and lime avenue in the gray of this weekThe daffodils of Over Dinsdale

It seems likely that we have the Romans to thank for this amazing landscape. Rykeneild Street is said to have run from Brough-upon-Humber to Chester-le-Street and marched dead straight down to the river where there was “pons Tisa” – a bridge, or crossing, of the Tees. This street then climbed up the Durham bank into Middleton St George, where streets are still named “Pountneys” which is a corruption of “pons Tisa”, and thence to Sadberge.

However, it was a Sunderland ship-builder who planted the avenue of limes, three-quarters-of-a-mile long, along the street.

The Northern Echo: ECHO MEMORIES - THE LONG AVENUE OF TREES AT OVER DINSDALE - D25/04/03SNThe avenue of limes in late spring as their leaves come out

He was Robert Thompson who took charge of his grandfather’s small shipyard on the Wear at North Sands and developed it so that from 1885 to 1900 it had become the largest yard in Sunderland, employing 1,600 people, and, in terms of annual output, it was for three years at the end of the 19th Century the fourth largest shipyard in the world.

Robert was a Sunderland councillor and a director, and financial backer, of Sunderland FC. He was the president in 1893 in the middle of the club’s most successful spell in which they won the First Division Championship three times in four seasons.


He then decided he fancied “a place in the country” and he bought the Over Dinsdale estate through which the Roman road ran and which was centred on an old manor house.

A family blog says: “He proceeded to pull it (the manor house) down, much to the locals' fury, and build in its place a 'stockbrokers' Tudor' style mansion which some described it as a ‘monstrosity’. Built to shipyard standards, it had extra thick walls, and great care was taken that all the rooms were perfectly square, level, vertical etc.”

The architect of his monstrosity was Hugh Hedley, of Sunderland, where he is best known for building the landmark Peacock public house and the library.

The construction of the hall finished around 1907 with Mr Thompson planting the avenue of limes along the old Roman road.

The family blog continues: “However, as soon as the house was finished, he had a stroke and was never able to enjoy his creation. He died January 1, 1908, at his new estate, Over Dinsdale Hall, near Darlington, at age 57.” He left an estate valued at £159,804, which the Bank of England Inflation Calculator says is worth £15.9m today.

And Over Dinsdale Hall – with six bedrooms, two bathrooms, five receptions and more than five acres including fishing rights on the Tees – is now a very valuable monstrosity (actually, it looks pretty good in a mock-Tudor, half-timbered sort of a way). In 2021, it was the only property in the Darlington area to fetch more than £1m when it sold for £1.4m.

The Northern Echo: KATHLEEN TWIST ,LENA DUFFUS, AND MARGERY SEVERS IN THE LIME TREE AVE LOW DINSDALE.Kathleen Twist, Lena Duffus and Margery Severs in the avenue in 1997

However, all the credit for making Over Dinsdale the most springlike place in the district goes to the ladies of Girsby Women’s Institute. To commemorate their 50th anniversary in 1991, they embarked upon their “Golden Heritage” project led by Kathleen Twist, Lena Duffus, Margery Severs and Anne Leferve.

That autumn, in memory of loved ones who had passed away, they bought 30 25kg bags of mixed daffodils – Carlton, Rembrandt, King Arthur, Dutch Masterpiece, Golden Harvest – for £400.68, and set about planting them. They dug seven holes between each pair of limes, five bulbs went into each hole, about 10,000 bulbs in total – a truly Wordsworthian number of daffodils – over the course of several weeks.

"That first spring,'' Margery Severs told The Northern Echo in 1997, "was simply breathtaking. Unbelievable.''

More than 30 years since planting, Over Dinsdale’s daffodil avenue is still one of the most breathtaking spring sight in the district.

The Northern Echo: Daffodils outside the St John the Baptist Church at Low Dinsdale where the daffodil service is being held tomorrowDaffodils outside the St John the Baptist Church at Low Dinsdale where the daffodil service is being held tomorrow

TO enable Over Dinsdale estate workers to cross the River Tees to reach Low Dinsdale’s St John the Baptist Church, in 1839, the vicar built a little toll bridge, to which we shall return in the near future.

Tomorrow (Sunday, March 24) at 4pm, the church holds its annual Daffodil Service. All are welcome. Refreshments will be served afterwards, and there will be a box for foodbank donations.

The Northern Echo: A billboard for Sunday's daffodil service propped up on a mounting block outside St John the Baptist church, surrounded by snowdrops which have gone overA billboard for Sunday's daffodil service propped up on a mounting block outside St John the Baptist church, surrounded by snowdrops which have gone over

The Northern Echo: William Wordsworth

IN 1799, William Wordsworth (above) stayed for seven months in Sockburn with the family of his wife-to-be, Mary Hutchinson, who farmed there, when he was becoming a celebrity poet. Sockburn is in the same parish as Low Dinsdale.

In 1804, Wordsworth published his most famous poem about the spring bulbs of the Lake District, but practically every detail of it fits the daffodils of Over Dinsdale in their never-ending line beneath the trees:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.


The Northern Echo: Bouquet of beautiful daffodils on white background