A ‘mercy dash’ is a journalistic cliche, usually involving a rush to someone’s aid. Today I carried out my own mercy dash to the North Pennines to reassure my sensibilities that it is indeed Autumn.

I’ve just returned from a wildlife holiday in South Africa, where it’s Spring and the oak trees are in their brightest greenest baby leaves. The one-hour time difference meant there wasn’t any jet lag to contend with, but I’ve definitely felt calendar lag and a consequent urgent need to see oak trees anticipating winter.

My walk was a bit of a dash because of a busy diary, but a 2.5 mile circuit near Allendale was enough to scratch my seasonal itch.

Starting at Keenley Chapel I followed Isaac’s Tea Trail north-eastwards through a strip of woodland and across a field.


At the end of the field I detoured away from the Tea Trail and headed north-west. Having been watching birds ranging from ostriches to penguins for the past ten days, I enjoyed a ‘welcome home’ song from a robin and smiled at the excitable squeaking of a gang of long-tailed tits. They were too concealed and too fast-moving for me to photograph them, so instead here’s a picture I took of a more stationary South African penguin and chicks.


They’re also known as Jackass Penguins because they bray like a donkey. We could see the immense effort involved as they contracted and distorted their rib cage to emit a loud, multi-layered call. I suspect it induced diaphragm envy in my choral-singing companion.

Anyway, back to my walk, where a huge beech beside a stile showed that the trees are only just beginning their leafy transition


After crossing the stile, my route descended steeply to the River East Allen and I followed a bankside path upstream across a couple of meadows and into a wood.


Soon the route re-joined Isaac’s Tea Trail and a steep path led up through woodland. Emerging into the sunshine at the top I passed several hawthorn bushes studded with berries, making it absolutely clear that this really is Autumn.


And there my camera batteries ran out. Since they’d been mainly expended on South African flora and fauna, here’s a final jolt into Spring with a coral tree in full bloom.


The map is only to locate the walk route – please use Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL43 Hadrian’s Wall.

There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at



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