SO MANY POSSIBLE PERMUTATIONS: NINEBANKS TO WHITFIELD

Isaac’s Tea Trail is so versatile. As well as the the full 36-mile route, it’s very easy to hop on and hop off the Trail at dozens of points. Pick any short section at random and you are guaranteed a good helping of North Pennines wonderfulness.

Elsewhere in this blog are circular walks that include spending part of the time with Isaac. Or, if your walking companion or group has two cars there are many places where you can leave a vehicle at either end of a section of Tea Trail for a linear walk in the Victorian tea pedlar’s footsteps.

The area is not blessed with bus services, but one route does run near enough to Isaac’s Tea Trail and I plan to try  a walk or two using buses soon.

My latest walk, though, was with a friend so we could do the two cars trick. We parked one near the Elk’s Head on the A686 in the West Allen Valley, then drove on to park at the Holden Hearse House on the outskirts of Ninebanks. Recently restored, this little building originally housed a horse-drawn community hearse paid for by Isaac Holden’s fundraising.

After walking through the graveyard of St Mark’s Church, a gate let us straight onto sloping pasture. Heading uphill, we were treated to the view of Ouston Fell which was chosen for the cover of the Isaac’s Tea Trail Guide, written by Roger Morris.

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The recent dry spell meant the marshy plateau at the top of the hill wasn’t too boggy. There have been times in the past when I’ve ended up with squelchy socks and a grumpy smile at the irony of such a wet route leading to Dryburn.

If we’d had the I Spy Book of Springtime in the North Pennines we could have ticked primroses, violets, skipping lambs, dozens of curlews and lapwings, tree blossom, leaves unfurling and an all-round feeling of joie de vivre.

Our lunch spot was near the Dryburn bridge where *name-dropping alert* Clare Balding and the producer of Radio Four’s Ramblings Lucy Lunt sat for lunch with myself, Andy Lees from the North Pennines AONB and Roger Morris. (There’s a link to the programme on the Isaac’s Tea Trail page of the website allenvalleys.com).

After lunch (my usual hard-boiled egg and oatcakes, since you ask), our route continued northwards along a farm track and across fields to reach Gatehouse, and an extremely well-appointed owl nesting box.

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Keeping up its reputation for variety, the next section of Isaac’s Tea Trail comprised a gradually ascending grassy path across open hillside with incredible views, followed by an undulating track enclosed within oak woodland. Monk Wood is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but you don’t need to know the minutiae of plants, lichens and trees to appreciate its charms.

As the track left the wood, so we left Isaac’s Tea Trail to head downhill to our waiting car. The views of Holy Trinity Church in Whitfield were a good distraction from my knees protesting at the steep descent.

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My maps are intended only to show the location and rough route of the walk. Ordnance Survey will provide the detail.

For more information on Isaac’s Tea Trail see http://www.allenvalleys.com

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