Far from being ‘undiscovered' Weardale was visited by Mesolithic hunters from the 8th millennium BC, as the ice melted and the vegetation re-grew.
These nomadic hunters roamed the hills for 5000 years with their bows and arrows in search of prey including red deer.
They were followed by Neolithic farmers who deforested and occupied the upland fells for 1400 years
Their primitive flint arrowheads, scraping tools and stone axes were the tools that made hunting and farming possible.
The Bronze Age spear-head is all that we have of a rich Heatheryburn collection found in Weardale and now in the British Museum.
Two altars to Silvanus and a handful of coins confirm that the Romans used Weardale for hunting.
A Royal Hunting Ground
A Royal Charter of 1109 granted to the Bishop of Durham the Forests between Tyne and Tees, the Forest of Weardale being one of them.
In the earlier middle ages, the Norman kings and barons were keen huntsmen, and it was part of their status to be able to display their fondness for and skill at hunting.
The substantial and intriguing archaeological remains at Cambokeels in the centre of the old park suggest that it may have been the site of a mediaeval hunting lodge of the Bishop of Durham.
Exhibits include iron spurs, horse shoes, buckles, chains and knives. There are also remains of pottery, bones, antlers and a boar’s tooth.
Recent excavations at Westgate have revealed the large foundations of the Bishop’s Castle - a story yet to be told.
The Weardale Chest
The Weardale Chest bears witness to a quarrel between the farmers of Weardale and one of the most powerful men in Cromwell’s England, Sir Arthur Hesilrige.
During the Civil War 1642 the Bishop of Durham’s lands were confiscated by Parliament and in 1650 Sir Arthur Hesilrige bought the Manor of Wolsingham quickly setting about changing the tenancy agreements of the occupants.
When he tried to evict a tenant and install his own man the farmers of upper Weardale petitioned parliament, collecting together all of their documents to defend their rights.
The case dragged on for 7 years and was unresolved at the time of Charles II ‘s restoration, and Hesilrige’s imprisonment in the Tower. From then on the tenants secured evidence of ownership in a special chest.