A moorland path taking in Scum Hill, Shivery Hill and Black Way doesn’t sound very appealing, but the place names belie the glories of the place itself.
This is one of the highest sections of Isaac’s Tea Trail, reaching around 1,800 feet (555 metres), and tracking towards the point where Northumberland, Cumbria and County Durham meet. The walk is all on Northumbrian soil (and in Northumbrian bog), but is dominated by Durham’s highest point Killhope Law, officially a mountain at 2,208 feet (673 metres).
The walk started from near Sinderhope and headed uphill along a stony track (the Black Way, an important route in lead mining days). My regular stops to get my breath were a chance to gaze at a barn owl hunting in daylight, methodically gliding back and forth, alternately white then black as it moved from sunshine to silhouette.
As the stony track climbed it gave way to a grassy path over open country, but always with the next waymarker in sight on the horizon and classic North Pennines views to my left.
To my right the slope continued upwards, like the back of a giant sofa upholstered in heather, grass, moss and rushes. Many disused mine workings, shafts and quarries are marked on the map, but the main industry in evidence now is grouse shooting, with well-appointed grouse butts at regular intervals. Strangely, a grouse butt at the halfway point on my walk was appropriately labelled.
The track stays on the contour below Blackway Head, then rises steadily towards the end of the valley, and as it reaches the watershed it sheds a great deal of water. Vivid green cushions of sphagnum moss are a delight to the eye but a warning to the feet – mostly I could detour the wettest sections but one sly tussock tricked me into a stride which sank in above my boot top. One wet sock. Deep joy.
Actually there is much genuine joy in this walk – the feeling of wilderness, the looming bulk of Killhope Law covered in snow, the staccato cackle of red grouse, uninterrupted views of big skies and countless acres of land. It all adds up to a terrific sense of wellbeing, almost a walking meditation because the path is clear and well-marked so there’s no need to stop and identify the route. That just leaves the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other and revelling in the surrounding sights and sounds.
The walk ends with a descent across Carrshield Moor then it’s almost a shock to reach a tarmac road after such remoteness and solitude. A short walk along this road reaches Coalcleugh, where I had a ridiculous wish for a Time Machine to be parked in the layby overlooking the meagre remains of the village. This was once a significant lead-mining centre, with a population of more than 200 in the 1700s, but without going back to that time I found it impossible to picture the many buildings and the extensive mine workings. It used to be the highest village in England, with the country’s deepest mine, now it’s a vista of distorted landforms and relic structures. While I was enjoying the altitude, wide open space and blue sky I couldn’t help thinking of the claustrophobic dark and damp in the lead mine tunnel 600 feet below me.
The map is intended only to locate the route. This walk spans two Ordnance Survey maps: OL43 Hadrian’s Wall and OL31 North Pennines.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://www.allenvalleys.com/isaacs-tea-trail