What is it about hills, sun and blue sky? I was so tempted to do a Maria von Trapp and pirouette across the fells singing and celebrating today. After weeks of seeming house-arrest, jailed by eternal cloud and rain, at last there is fair weather for a fair-weather walker to get back to the North Pennines.

I’m walking sections of Isaac’s Tea Trail, a 36-mile circuit linking remote farms and hamlets where Victorian grocer Isaac Holden used to sell his tea door-to-door. A devout Methodist, Isaac raised money as he went along, using it to fund a variety of community projects. Fit walkers have completed the trail in a couple of days, a fell runner did it in one day (see blog posting ‘Isaac and Will’), but I’m taking the short-distance approach to a long distance trail. Isaac’s Tea Trail in small sips.

Eventually the blog material will all come together on the website of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, as part of the work of the Allen Valleys Landscape Partnership. The blog aims to give an impression of what it’s like on the trail, rather than a ‘turn left, turn right’ guide to the walk. More details of the route can be found in the book ‘A Guide to Isaac’s Tea Trail’ by Roger Morris, and the circuit is marked on OS maps.

Today was a VERY small sip of the Tea Trail – 2.3 miles, from St Mark’s Church in Ninebanks north to Gate House, linking the sections described in blog postings ‘Home Sweet Home For A Horse-drawn Hearse’ and ‘New Boots Meet The North Pennines’.

Isaac Ninebanks to Gate House 017

To add to the many other delights, this route has quite a few of the quirky teapots that are nailed to waymarkers and stiles all along Isaac’s Tea Trail. The walk begins with a steep climb up from the road, following a tarmac farm track then heading across pasture alongside an earth and stone embanked field boundary.  Then it’s uphill again, but no complaints because the views across the valley just get better and better.

Isaac Ninebanks to Gate House 011

The route levels out after the climb, but there’s a warning in the name of a nearby house: Boghead. Bright yellow sigonposts show the way across a very wet section and I was grateful for the frosty conditions holding some of the mud firm. Playing hopscotch on the tussocks of reeds also helped keep my socks dry.

Soon there was a danger of playing helter skelter down a very steep bank to reach a contender for World’s Cutest Footbridge. This was apparently used by the pack ponies carrying lead from the mines – they must have had the precision footwork of Darcey Bussell to negotiate such a narrow bridge.

Isaac Ninebanks to Gate House 027

Of course it’s a rule of hillwalking that what goes down must go up, so after the bridge the route ascends again, beckoned by a waymarker on the horizon, to reach a stoney track. This more or less follows the contour, making a welcome almost-level walk and a chance to gaze once more at the views across the valley and for miles to the north.

Then a most unexpected sight in a farmyard – the fuselage of a plane alongside all the usual tractors, cattle wagons and quad bikes.

Isaac Ninebanks to Gate House 033

I love the fact that you never know what you’re going to see when you head out into the countryside.

The route soon crosses Leadgate Bank to head across fields to Gate House, thus completing the ‘missing link’ of my current Tea Trail so far. Yet again, a truly wonderful walk.

This map is only to show the location of the route. Full details are on the Ordnance Survey map OL43 Hadrian’s Wall.

You can find more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at


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