Which bird language would you most like to speak? I think I would choose Oystercatcher. They peep peep peep to each other constantly and it sounded like some very entertaining conversations were going on around me during my latest visit to Isaac’s Tea Trail.
This was a circular walk from Alston, more than half of it along the Tea Trail and the rest following a medieval road which was once the main route from the local lead mines to the Tyne Valley. The 19th century road engineer John MacAdam is said to have described the roads of Alston Moor as ‘altogether the worst that have come to my knowledge’. Today they have evolved into altogether the best walking routes that have come to my boots.
There’s a free car park on the eastern edge of Alston, just off the A689, a road that meets the high standards of John MacAdam. On the walk down the cobbled main street it was tempting to get distracted by the town’s shops, cafes and craft centres, but the distant call of curlews lured me on. The North Pennines Spring comes a little later than at lower altitudes and latitudes, but a plaque offered a tantalising montage of the wild flowers waiting to emerge among the meadows, woods and riverbanks.
Heading east, Isaac’s Tea Trail leaves Alston along a wide track beside the River Nent, to reach Gossipgate Bridge. By crossing the bridge (no gossip to report) I left the Tea Trail and began a very gradual ascent of the former pack horse trail.
The lane led to open fields, with a well-marked path heading diagonally uphill to reach a farm with a square turreted outbuilding. This is Corby Gates, mentioned in the financial records of Henry II in 1279.
By now the path was following the Ordnance Survey contour line, although the OS map had failed to mark this as an Oystercatcher Chatter Zone. Whether they were standing red-legged on the grass or flying Red Arrows formations above me, the peep peep peep was constant and insistent. So much communication going on, and all I could do was thank them (in English) for adding enormously to my walk.
Reaching the tiny hamlet of Blagill I rejoined Isaac’s Tea Trail on a lane that descends steeply to cross the River Nent.
Turning from the lane onto the grassy riverbank I could hear a musical droning hum oozing between chords, a soothing, intriguing sound. It turned out to be the wind playing a hole in the metal gatepost.
Simply brilliant musical composition to combine an ethereal, smooth and uninterrupted bassline with the random staccato of the oystercatchers. Nature truly connects with all our senses, some so primal within us that they do not have a name.
The path picked its way through woods alongside the river before dropping into the river itself. Two sections are very badly eroded and involve clambering down to the water’s edge and across tumbled boulders.
I had planned to return to the car park across fields by turning south at Gossipgate Bridge, but the route looked steep and boggy. Instead, I rejoined the wide track that had brought me out of the town.
I did, however, find a different way from the town centre after venturing into the yard of the derelict foundry. The huge building is boarded up and sinister and I half expected to meet a film crew filming Vera – it’s a perfect TV murder scene.
No sign of Brenda Blethyn though, so I completed the steep climb to join the marvelously-named Jollybeard Lane which delivered me to the car park.
The map is a new addition to my blog posts. It took me almost as long to work out how to draw it and then embed it in my text as it did to complete the actual walk. Having now mastered it I’ll be going back through previous blog posts and adding maps to them as well.
For more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail go to http://www.allenvalleys.com