By Luke Payne
Durham hosts many fantastic feats of beautiful engineering and one would struggle not to include its viaduct amongst them. Completed in 1856, its eight mighty archways standing 40 meters high and spanning 213 metres across are an impressive sight. But this isn’t the iconic Victorian infrastructure that cuts through the north west of Durham city centre. This viaduct crosses the Wear just North of Durham and was once part of the railway branch that connected the North Eastern Railway (now the East Coast mainline) with the former Leamside Line which connected Durham to Gateshead, South Shields and Sunderland.
Surrounded by trees and spanning the deeper Wear valleys found north of the city, the Belmont Viaduct, also known as the Brasside Viaduct, is only accessible by foot along the muddy footpaths hugging the river as it snakes out of Durham.
After hiking through the woods and seeing little but river, rock, mud and trees, it is quite surprising to be staring at such a monolithic man-made structure. It’s easy for you to feel as if you have just discovered something important, old and forgotten out in the middle of nowhere.
Apart from bushes and vines growing up the viaduct’s stone bricks and contributing to its “lost temple” look, the structure appears to be good condition. The Wear’s waters calmly pulse through the viaduct’s impressive archways and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of visible damage. Perhaps, indeed, a testament to levels of over-engineering present in much of what was built in the era.
Access to the top of the viaduct is thoroughly sealed off from the west by a various fences of different ages and design. A bastion of cows and sheep quietly keep guard in the surrounding farmers’ fields. However, it has certainly been demonstrated that access from the east side is possible, a number of videos and photos have been posted online by those so determined to stand upon the crossing. After 40 years of lying in disuse, plans for a new cycle path that would reopen the viaduct emerged in 2007. The path would connect Belmont with Durham City centre via Newton Hall. Following a large campaign, £500,000 of funds were acquired from the People’s Lottery Fund to initiate the project.
The Viaduct remains steeped in stillness
However, after several years of delays, the funds were directed elsewhere in 2012 due to difficulties securing land at Belmont that would have enabled the project. The regeneration group behind the original project (amongst others), Durham City Vision was scrapped, and so hopes of its regeneration collapsed.
Today, the Viaduct remains steeped in stillness, disused. However, those strolling North of the city, along the banks of the Wear, encounter a magnificent, towering stone crossing. If you are one of them, take the opportunity to stop, sit, listen, and take in the beauty of Durham’s forgotten viaduct. In the silence, it stands as witness to the past.
Photographs by Sam Bailey