I felt I should curtsy when I first met Roger Morris, in honour of his renown as the inventor of Isaac’s Tea Trail. Thanks to him the story of Isaac Holden is being kept alive, the rich history of the North Pennines is being celebrated and walkers are being directed to a truly wonderful route.
It all started as part of a project to raise the profile of the youth hostel at Ninebanks in 1999. Roger was then working in Careers Guidance and volunteering at the Youth Hostel so he became secretary of the newly-formed Friends of Ninebanks Youth Hostel. “We wanted to give the place some momentum and encourage people to come and stay the night at the hostel,” Roger says. “My interest was local history and I knew the area had a story to tell. Somehow Isaac Holden stepped out to meet me and I stepped forward to meet him. The Tea Trail was something I could bring to the Friends group while others were doing the website and the magazine.”
Ninebanks Youth Hostel was originally the headquarters of a lead mine (see blog entry ‘Isaac and Pauline and Ian’) and Isaac Holden was born just down the road in around 1805. He worked at the mine as a boy, then he and his wife ran a grocer’s shop in Allendale. Isaac, a devout Methodist, would walk for miles selling tea door-to-door and raising money for local good causes (see blog entry ‘Home sweet home for a horse-drawn hearse’).
He was also a founder member of the Penny Savings Bank in Allendale – now a gift shop.
In plotting the 36-mile route of Isaac’s Tea Trail, Roger linked many of the locations associated with Isaac’s life and also researched historic documents. He has lists of people who donated money to Isaac’s clothing club for poor women and children, and their addresses give an idea of the geographical area Isaac covered. The Tea Trail links Allendale, Nenthead, Alston and Ninebanks, touching on different strands of Isaac’s life and his wider family origins. It can be started at any point around the circuit, although Roger’s guide book begins the walk in Allendale – at the well Isaac installed to bring clean water to the cholera-ridden village.
Several buildings around Allendale have Isaac connections, and throughout the whole route there are constant reminders of the Methodist influence. “Methodism gave Isaac direction and drive,” says Roger. “The world was falling apart with the decline of lead mining, cholera epidemics, worries about jobs and security, and his faith had a power and energising effect. It gave him the philanthropic element. He was a strange little chap but he achieved a great deal.”
Isaac is buried in the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s in Allendale, and there’s a stone memorial to him there praising his ‘untiring diligence in originating works of charity and public usefulness’.
I have walked most of the Tea Trail now and I agree with Roger when he says its essence is variety. As well as contrasts in scenery, Roger says the hand of history is ever-present. “The shape of chapels, farmsteads and field patterns tell us a lot, lead mining evidence is never far away, the Romans left their mark, and today tourism, farming and game shooting influence the land,” he says. “Devising the Tea Trail and writing the guide book were a pleasure – I’ve enjoyed the North Pennines for years and it was payback time. It’s nice to be able to give something in return, and we’re all custodians of the rights of way so I hope people walk the Trail and enjoy it.”