The Yew Tree Walk - 2 miles (3.5km) between 1.5 - 2.5 hours. Follow the Yew markers. Not suitable for pushchairs. Sturdy footwear recommended. Steep in places. Avoid visiting during high winds. Disabled access is very limited due to natural features. Please call in advance to discuss.
From the car park at Oakerside Dene lodge, pass through the kissing gate and follow the broad path down the hill and round the bend to the left (ignore the first path by the wooden bench). At the foot of the hill, do not cross the bridge, but turn left along the broad path along the valley bottom.
Continue ahead, from here the woodland becomes more natural, with descendants of the oaks, yews, ash and wych elms which arrived here after the last Ice Age. Many of the skeletal trees that lie rotting on the woodland floor are the victims of Dutch elm disease, which destroyed many of England’s great elms. The cavities and holes in old trees are also a great place for the Dene’s resident bats to roost.
The path crosses a bridge (Dungy Bridge) and a little further on across the valley, you can see at first hand how soft magnesian limestone rock is continually breaking away from the cliff face, causing landslips. Ignore the 2 footbridges on your left.
The huge Devil’s Lapstone stands on the left of the path. Legend tells how the Devil offered to help build Durham Cathedral. He planned to make the foundations of rock so crumbly that the building would collapse, killing everyone inside. As he flew up the Dene, a strap of his leather apron snapped and his favourite stone fell. He grabbed at it again and again, leaving scratch marks which you can still see. His last attempt ripped a nail from his finger – look closely and you can still see the blood stains.
After passing two large stones on the right known as ‘The kissing frogs’ turn right just before the hump backed ‘Garden of Eden’ bridge and begin to climb upwards (if you carried straight on here you’d eventually reach the coast). In spring this is a great spot for snow drops.
As you climb Craggy Bank, listen out for the clear, sharp ‘twit’ of nuthatches as they walk head first down trees searching for food. You may also hear the high pitched call of the goldcrests up in the tree tops.
The great yews that soar upwards give the Dene an increasingly mysterious atmosphere. For hundreds of years these trees were believed to have magical powers and are now known to live for several thousand years, but don’t forget that they are poisonous, so make sure children don’t eat the berries, and dogs don’t chew the sticks.
When you reach the top of the bank turn right, follow the path with the edge of the Dene on your right and fields on your left.
You will by now have joined the upper path known as Miss Mary’s Walk, which was named after one of the daughters of the Burdon family. This is also one of the best places to see roe deer, the Dene’s largest mammals. The best time to catch a glimpse of these shy animals is early morning.
At a fork turn right to follow the path as it drops down, passing through more yew woodland. Where important trees grow across the path they have not been cut back, so you may have to clamber over, or duck under, a few.
Throughout the forest there is plenty of dead wood. In fact, in a natural woodland, up to a quarter of the trees may be dead and rotting. Both living and dying trees are home to fungi and insects which feed many woodland birds. In autumn toadstools spread across the deadwood, while in spring it reverberates to the familiar drumming of woodpeckers.
Eventually, you meet another path, bear right. At the next junction turn right, heading downhill until you cross Castle Bridge. Bear slightly left to walk uphill, turning right at the ‘T junction’ uphill back to Oakerside Dene Lodge.
Route supplied by Castle Eden Dene National Nature Reserve.
- Distance: 1-5 Miles
- Grade: Moderate
- Route Surface: Off Road
Parking & Transport
- Car parking
- On site parking
- Parking (free)
- Toilets - Open during office hours - Mon-Fri 8am-4pm.
- Distance (0-5 Km)
- Forest Location
- Grade (Moderate)
- In countryside
- In town/city centre
- Time (1-2 hours)
- Time (2-3 hours)