This was my first high section of Isaac’s Tea Trail – so high that a cloud was sitting on it when I arrived. Obligingly it dispersed to reveal views into Cumbria and across acres of North Pennines moorland, views made possible in places by the unexpected absence of trees. The OS map has the first section of track going through forest, but clear-felling has overtaken the mapmakers.
The walk started at Clargillhead, north-east of Alston in Cumbria, and tracked across the county boundary to Ouston Moor in Northumberland. If the cloud base hadn’t lifted there would have been no navigation worries – this is a very wide, clear track. It’s quite stony at first, then VERY stony and rutted towards the end.
But along the way it’s an easy gradient and lovely walking, with wide wide views across the moor in all directions, and as far as the Cheviot Hills to the north. Tiny cars zooming along the A686 away to the left don’t spoil the scene – in fact I have to fight feelings of smugness sometimes when I’m having a glorious outdoor experience and I see travellers who are not.
So far my walks on Isaac’s Tea Trail have been among river valleys, woodland and green pasture. Up on Ouston Moor the epic reality of Isaac Holden’s travels becomes more obvious. He was walking these exposed routes in the days before Gore-tex and fleece, selling tea door-to-door and at the same time persuading people to donate to various community projects.
Descending from the moor is a bit tricky and tedious if, like me, you have a wobbly ankle and tendency to trip on any surface rougher than a rug. The track is heavily eroded and strewn with slippery stones so I was pretty grumpy by the time I got to the bottom of it, where a signpost summed up my mood.
But a tarmac lane and suddenly softer scenery restored my mood and my ability to move faster than a totter. This is the Mohope valley, where the lane meanders past Ninebanks Youth Hostel to reach a small cluster of cottages and Isaac Holden’s birthplace at Redheugh.
From now on it’s soft grass underfoot as the path follows a plateau on a tongue of land between the Mohope Burn and Green Sike. The spire of St Mark’s Church at Ninebanks can be seen on the wooded valleyside ahead, and lumpy bumpy bits of land nearby testify to this once being a busy lead mining area. Just part of the appeal of the Allen Valleys scenery – it tells so many stories, of people and of the land.
There are rudimentary stepping stones to cross Green Sike before the path heads across the flood plain of the Mohope Burn to reach a quiet lane alongside the River West Allen.
Isaac’s Tea Trail crosses the West Allen via a stone road bridge and then darts up a short steep path to reach Chapel Bank and Ninebanks Church.
In total this five-mile walk is a perfect North Pennines pick-and-mix. Such a variety of scenery and atmosphere from the airy drama of high moors and low cloud, to sunshine in a sheltered valley. Lots of history and heritage – even geography, with memories of the formation of oxbow lakes raked up from my schooldays as I studied the meanders of the Mohope. I hope Isaac had time to marvel as he trekked between customers, and draw strength from his surroundings. I certainly did.
This map is only to locate the walk. The route spans two Ordnance Survey Maps: OL31 North Pennines and OL43 Hadrian’s Wall.
If you would like more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail please go to http://www.allenvalleys.com/isaacs-tea-trail/