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The River Wear has it's source on Burnhope Seat, a moor situated along the two thousand, nine hundred foot high Cross Fell, situated on the eastern slopes of the Pennine Mountain Range in County Durham, England. The river travels in an easterly direction for sixty miles before it enters the North Sea at Sunderland.
The river begins life as a series of small streams, two of which make up the Killhope and Burnhope Burns, before forming the River Wear proper at Wearhead, where the river goes on to make it’s way along the Weardale Valley, an area which incorporates part of the seventy mile long Weardale Way walking path and the eighteen mile long Weardale Valley Railway, all of which make up part of the North Pennines AONB - Area of outstanding natural beauty.
The river proceeds through both bleak moorland and the rolling, green hills of what was County Durham's once thriving industrial areas, where today the remains of it's former coal, iron and lead mines and limestone and dolerite quarries are no longer in evidence.
The river flows through the market town of Stanhope, where it runs along the route of the Weardale Valley Railway line, the market town of Wolsingham, the town of Bishops Auckland, where it passes the twelth century Auckland Castle, home of the Bishops of Durham, Auckland Deer Park and Binchester Roman Fort. It goes on to flow through the city of Durham where it passes the city's UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral, the town of Chester - le - Street where it passes the thirteenth century Benedictine, Finchdale Priory, the town of Washington, where it forms part of the Washington Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Reserve, the suburbs of the City of Sunderland, where evidence of the city’s past industrialisation and former shipyards are still in evidence, before eventually flowing into the North Sea between the city's Roker Pier and New South Pier to form part of the Port of Sunderland’s harbour basin.
The river has several tributaries, including the River Gaunless, which it joins at Bishops Auckland, the River Browney which it joins at Croxdale and the Cong Burn which it joins at Chester - Le - Street.
From Stanhope to Bishop’s Auckland the river changes course to a south, easterly direction, before changing route again between Bishop’s Auckland and Chester - le - Street to flow in a north, easterly direction, where it has cut a ninety eight foot deep gorge into the area's limestone landscape. The river becomes tidal at the point of Lamb Bridge, which is situated on the Grade II Listed Lambton Castle Estate, situated between Chester - Le - Street and Washington.
The river is served by two weirs, both of which are situated in the City of Durham. The Old Fulling Mill, now the site of the University of Durham's Museum of Archaeology, was built for use during Durham’s cloth making industry. Fulling is the word attributed to the act of cleansing woollen cloth. The weir at Millburngate Bridge, now implemented as a salmon leap and fish counter for monitoring the river's salmon and trout stocks, is on the site of where the Mill Burn was re – routed. The Mill Burn is a small stream which now runs beneath a culvert and rejoins the River Wear further up river.
The river is spanned by several bridges with the river's two oldest bridges being the Grade I Listed, ten arched, sandstone, Elvet Bridge, situated in the City of Durham which was originally constructed in 1160 and the Sunderland Bridge, situated at Croxdale, a fourteenth century, four arched, sandstone bridge.
Other interesting bridges that span the River Wear include the three hunded foot high, Queen Alexander, steele truss bridge which links the Sunderland suburbs of Pallion and Southwick via the A1231 road which was opened in 1909 and the stone, multi arched, Victoria Railway Viaduct situated in Washington, which opened in 1838.
The last two bridges to cross the river at Wearmouth, are the three hundred foot high, box girder and tied arch steele, Wearmouth Rail Bridge, which was the longest, single span bridge in the world upon it’s completion in 1879, and it's near neighbour the Wearmouth Bridge, a Grade II Listed, single span, steele arched road bridge built in 1929, which carries two lanes of the A1018 road.
The river’s newest bridge, opened in 2002, is a cable stayed cycleway and footbridge situated in the city of Durham. Originally named the Millenium Bridge, the bridge’s name was changed to Penny Ferry Bridge, in memory of a former ferry crossing situated on the same stretch of river, which cost one penny to cross.
The River Wear discharges into the North Sea at Wearmouth in Sunderland where the mouth of the river is situated between the Old North Pier and the Old South Pier, which between them encompass a half tide basin and the Hudson and Hendon Docks. This inner harbour is further encompassed by the sweeping arch of two larger piers which enclose the fifty three hectare, harbour basin of the Port of Sunderland.
The 2,880 foot long breakwater of Roker Pier and it’s granite lighthouse took twenty two years to construct and was opened in 1903. Situated on Wearmouth’s north bank is a two hundred berth marina, Roker Beach, the St Peter's Campus of the University of Sunderland, which incorporates the National Glass Centre and museum and an open air, sculpture park. The north bank is also home to one of the country’s oldest churches, the seventh century, Anglo – Saxon St Peter’s Church, built in AD 674 by Benedict Biscop, now the patron saint of the City of Sunderland.
Wearmouth's New South Pier was nineteen years in the building and opened in 1912. The Wearmouth's south bank incorporates the seventeen quays and berths that make up the Port of Sunderland.
After two centuries of serving heavy industry, the River Wear had become one of England’s most polluted rivers, but in the last decade the river has been subject to a massive clean up campaign leading to the river being one of the country’s top ten success stories in terms of environmental progress. Today the river is a source of salmon, sea trout and a host of other coarse fish varieties, always a sure sign that all is well within a river's waters.
The River Wear is the setting of the legendary myth known as the Lambton Worm, sometimes portrayed as a dragon like creature or a large worm like creature depending on who is telling the tale. The legend is the north, east of England’s most famous piece of folklore, which has led to the story being the subject of many books, a play, an opera, a film and a song. The River Wear passes Worm Hill in Fatfield, just outside Sunderland, the legendary place of the worms demise.
The River Wear is the longest river in England to run from source to sea, entirely within the boundary of one county.
There are four areas within County Durham with the prefix wear -
Weardale / Wear Valley – The dale or valley carved by the course of the river on the east side of the Pennines. The valley is situated between high fells and grouse moors and is historically linked with County Durham's lead mining industry. Situated in the valley is the North of England Lead Mining Museum at Killhope.
Wearhead - A village situated at the head of Weardale, positioned 1,104 feet above sea level, and named after the nearby source of the river.
Wearmouth – The part of the city of Sunderland where the river runs into the sea. Wearmouth is historically linked to the areas once thriving, ship building industry.
Wearside – The urban area formed by the City of Sunderand and it’s metropolitan boroughs of Seaham, Washington, Hetton – Le – Hole, Houghton - le - Spring and Ryhope.
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Title image – The River Wear passing Durham Castle before flowing beneath the medieval, Grade I Listed, Framwellgate Bridge.