During my project to complete Isaac’s Tea Trail in short sections I’ve done walks ranging from 5.9 miles down to 2.3 miles. Then this week I managed my shortest section ever – just 160 yards. For once the abbreviated distance wasn’t because of my feeble endurance; it was to give a tiny taster of the Tea Trail to 27 representatives of Northumberland’s tourism industry.

They were out on a coach trip organised by Active Northumberland as part of their ‘Know Your Northumberland’ programme. On board were people from B&Bs, tearooms, promotional websites, museum staff, information centre staff, and people aiming to volunteer as Town Hosts when the Tall Ships come to Blyth in August.

Previous trips had taken them to many of Northumberland’s Greatest Hits – the coast, Hadrian’s Wall, Kielder, the Cheviots – and this week it was the turn of the North Pennines AONB. As well as being driven through the Outstanding Natural Beauty, the group had a hands-on history lesson at Killhope lead mining museum, and visits to other tourist attractions.

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The ‘Know Your Northumberland’ course isn’t just a series of fact-finding trips; it aims to help people who are in the frontline of the tourism industry inject infectious enthusiasm into their chats with customers. A first-hand recommendation and accurate description of a tourist attraction or an area should mean a great day out for visitors.

Walking a short bit of Isaac’s Tea Trail wasn’t on the itinerary until near the end of day, but parts of the trail could be seen from the bus windows at various points during the tour. One of the stops, to learn of the RSPB’s work to help populations of lapwings and curlews, offered splendid views across to where the Tea Trail traverses Knock Shield Moor (see blog posting ‘High and Mighty’).

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Hopefully the bus passengers’ heads weren’t too full of everything they’d learned, seen and marvelled at by the time they were dropped off at a roadside on Isaac’s Tea Trail. They were alongside the River West Allen, from where they walked up the path leading to St Mark’s Church in Ninebanks (see blog posting ‘Two Counties, Countless Pleasures’). Deviating slightly from Isaac’s Tea Trail they visited the Hearse House, one of the many community projects paid for by Isaac Holden’s fundraising. It opened in 1856 and was restored in 2015 by the Allen Valleys Landscape Partnership Scheme, part of the North Pennines AONB Partnership.  The project was a work-in-progress when I visited in November 2015 (see blog posting ‘Home Sweet Home For A Horse-Drawn Hearse’), now it’s been repaired and weatherproofed, and has benches inside for any walker who fancies a nice sit down. That would be me.

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The entire Tea Trail is 36 miles long, following a circuit linking Allendale, Nenthead, Alston and Ninebanks and meeting the rivers East Allen, Nent, South Tyne and West Allen. Isaac Holden would have walked this area selling his tea door-to-door and fundraising among the farmers and lead-mining communities. By all accounts he was an eccentric, but he became something of a local celebrity and was held in high esteem. Around 600 people contributed to the stone memorial commemorating his ‘works of charity and public usefulness’ that stands in St Cuthbert’s churchyard in Allendale.

As befitted a visit to a Tea Trail, the tourism tour ended the day with a cup of tea ……

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