One feature of this part of the north-east coast is the ‘dene’, a steep-sided wooded valley with a ‘burn’ or stream running through it. Castle Eden Dene near the town of Peterlee is a National Nature Reserve, its jumble of trees, rocky outcrops and steep cliffs providing a habitat for many species of birds, over 450 varieties of plants including yew trees, oak and ash, and mammals such as roe deer and fox. The Eden part of the name derives from the Saxon name Yoden, meaning ‘Yew Dene’, while the castle which was built here was established in the 12th century. The dene borders on the town of Peterlee, a New Town established in 1948, providing housing mainly for mining families. In fact, the town is named after the miners’ trade unionist Peter Lee. Nearby Blackhall Colliery was an early casualty of the rape of the British mining industry during the Thatcher years, closing in 1981. A bit further north, the village of Easington gained notoriety during Elizabethan times when two men were hanged on the village green for their involvement in a bid to replace Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots. The adjacent mining settlement of Easington Colliery lasted somewhat longer than Blackhall Colliery, closing in 1993. In 1951 an event occurred there which served as a grim reminder of the dangers of mining, when no less than 83 men died following an explosion in the mine.
Map of the area.