On any journey within a wide radius of Allendale in the North Pennines you can see a very distinctive landmark – two chimneys on a moorland hilltop. These are relics of the area’s heyday as a centre for lead mining and smelting.

Isaac’s Tea Trail passes the site of the smelt mill on the banks of the River East Allen, and during Victorian tea pedlar Isaac’s lifetime the massive chimneys were built two miles away. They were designed to release toxic fumes away from the town, and to retrieve lead and silver from the gases as they passed along the flues, condensing on the walls. These were then scraped off by small boys sent into the tunnels.

The horrors of metal extraction seemed another world away as I started my walk in brilliant sunshine. I began along a bridleway that heads south from Leadgate Bank, between Ninebanks and Thornley Gate. The track runs parallel to Isaac’s Tea Trail, four contour lines above it, with clear views of the Tea Trail’s route on the flank of Ouston Fell and past Ninebanks Youth Hostel (see blog posts of November 30th 2015 and April 10th 2016).


The grassy bridleway was wide and obvious, meaning I only had to follow my nose (dubious route-finding advice actually, as my head has the rotational capacity of an owl when I’m out walking so that I don’t miss a single sight).

After tracking alongside Isaac’s Tea Trail for a mile, my walk peeled away south-eastwards at a point with good views of the Tea Trail’s route across Pasturehead and the Dry Burn.


The next section was a steady plod uphill across Dryburn Moor. The surface water here seemed a stickler for the rights of way rules – it kept faithfully to the bridleway, flowing only on the track and frequently over my boots. I was glad to reach the road and a short section of tarmac before turning onto the moor again for my first sight of the two chimneys in the distance.

The route to the chimneys is along the Carrier’s Way, an old packhorse route. Although the chimneys are visible from miles around, they are not full-size today, having fallen victim to storms and collapse before being partially restored.


The arched flues are still clearly visible running in straight lines from the chimneys north-east towards Allendale.


My walk followed the line of the flues downhill to a lane, and then 1.7 miles of roadwork back to my car. The potential tedium of this was enlivened by lovely views, a chat to a couple of very hairy very spotty pigs, a chat to a young man driving a horse and cart, and a chat to myself about how lucky I am to live in such a wonderful area.





  1. Walks take on a different meaning when there is more understanding of its context; thank you for expanding my experience Anne. Keep those nuggets coming.


  2. I visited Allendale a couple of weeks ago and, with the invaluable help from local historian Dorothy, was introduced to the smelt mills of Allendale. The smelt mill is being gradually restored after it was demolished in the 70s. You can see the oven s and the beginning of the flues that lead to the chimneys.

    My interest was triggered by discovering my 3x great grandfather, William Dixon, was born in Allendale (1797) and was a smelter. He was dead by the age of 33, mostly likely from lead poisoning*, leaving his wife with four children. His eldest son, John, would have been 8. This probably saved him as he was too young for his father to pass on his skills. As a result, he became a lead ore (galena) miner. As the industry declined he moved first to Haydon Bridge and then to Consett to become a coal miner.

    (*: smelting was a dangerous occupation; even more so in Allendale as there was a high silver content in the ore. As this was more valuable, the aim was to extract it. This meant that the lead was melted and the silver-containing crust removed and (s)melted again. Each time this was done, the lead became purer and more toxic. So it I still hardly surprising that William died aged 33.)

    I agree that Allendale is a wonderful area of the country and will certainly return so I can follow some of the walks you have described.


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