Even Mary Berry couldn’t achieve the white iced perfection of Cross Fell and Killhope Law viewed from the high points of this route. Isaac’s Tea Trail is truly a walk for all seasons, and nothing characterises being on the cusp of Winter and Spring so much as snow underfoot and genuine warmth from a sun in a blue sky. A cluster of icicles tried valiantly to maintain their form but I could tell their days were numbered.
This was another very short section of the Tea Trail – just 2.7 miles from Coalcleugh to Nenthead. The whole route is more than 36 miles, but I’m taking it slowly to savour every step. I began along a track past Sunnyside house and the strangely soothing sighs of its wind turbine. A peaceful atmosphere, but the views tell a tale of noise, industry, commerce and community. From the mid 1700s this was a highly successful lead mine with a thriving village around it; now all that remain are the scars.
The track quickly gained height, and became a path across wide open moorland covered in patchy snow. It’s quite boggy across the plateau and I was hoping that the frost would keep the ground firm but the sunshine had done its job and softened the surface. So every single step was a judgement call – did I trust the mound of moss …. or the snow surrounding it? I could almost hear Clint Eastwood saying: ‘You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?’ Mostly I was lucky – the deepest snow that gave way beneath me only came up to my shins, and most moss had a bit of substance to it and allowed me to progress.
I was glad I could always see the next waymarker because the snow was obscuring the path and I didn’t want to wander too far from the route. The map of this area is peppered with dozens of disused mines, shafts, shake holes and pits. If you do manage to stay above ground, though, the views are amazing.
The path descended to a gate in a drystone wall and I passed from Northumberland into Cumbria. A notice beside the waymarker warned of boggy conditions for the next section and the official right of way was part stream part bog part snowdrift. However, it was fairly easy to pick my way alongside it and head slightly downhill towards a couple of ruined farm buildings. This was Roughside, and it’s easy to imagine just how rough life must have been up here.
Then after so much bog-hopping and snow-sliding it was bliss to be back on a proper track and a gradual descent towards Nenthead, with yet more mine shafts on either side. The stony track lead to a tarmac lane which dropped steeply into the village, passing the old school, built in 1864 as part of wide-ranging social provision by the London Lead Company which was run by Quakers. Nenthead had the most productive lead mine in the country in its heyday, and there was also mining of zinc and silver. Apparently there are hundreds of miles of mines underneath this wonderful landscape. I’ve seen recent underground photos taken by mine explorers – thanks guys, but I’m very happy with what I saw on the surface. Very happy indeed.
This map is just for general guidance to locate the walk – please use Ordnance Survey OL31 North Pennines to follow the route in detail.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at allenvalleys.com