ISAAC AND THE X81

Work is continuing on a new leaflet designed to help walkers use bus services in the North Pennines. My two previous blog postings (November 20th and October 26th) focused on a route using the bus in the River East Allen valley. The new leaflet will also feature a walk that can be linked with a bus which runs along the West Allen valley, the X81 linking Alston, Whitfield, Haydon Bridge and Hexham.

Although Haydon Bridge is around six miles north of Isaac’s Tea Trail, I wanted to do the proposed walk because the area does have a strong connection with Isaac Holden. He lived in the North Pennines from 1805 to 1877 and is best remembered for his charity fundraising. According to research done by teacher Liz Judges (see blog post ‘Isaac and Liz’ February 22nd 2016) his devotion to good deeds came about after a chance meeting near Haydon Bridge.

He had lost his job at a lead mine and in a desperate prayer he told God that if his prayers were answered, he would devote the rest of his life to doing good things for other people. That night Isaac dreamed that he met a gentleman who gave him a very special present.

A few days later Isaac had been to Haydon Bridge looking for work, and was trudging back home to Allendale when he met Thomas Blackwith, the Chief Agent for the
lead mines. Thomas knew about the plight of the many unemployed lead miners and when Isaac told him about his worries Thomas gave him two wrapped packages of China tea that he had been to collect from Newcastle.

Isaac decided to sell small amounts of the tea to his neighbours to make money to feed his family. It proved very popular, and Isaac developed a grocery business, selling the tea door-to-door while raising money for a variety of community projects.

My walk headed south out of Haydon Bridge and along a back lane to pass underneath the A69. It’s a busy road, visible and audible from many points along the walk, but I didn’t find the traffic intrusive. It just brought on an attack of the smugs – possibly an unattractive trait where I celebrate being out on a lovely walk rather than speeding along in a car.

Joining a path into a wooded valley, the noise from the road receded, to be replaced by the sounds of the Langley Burn.

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The next half mile was like a scenery selection box. In that short distance there was deciduous woodland, open meadow with views to Hadrian’s Wall, a walled wide track and a conifer wood.

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The walled track lead out onto open pasture and followed a level course alongside a wall and past some lumpy bumpy humps marked on the map as ‘visible earthworks’. It’s a fairly safe bet in this part of the world that odd landscape features relate to lead mining, although these were near a disused railway line so I wondered if they were train-related.

The branch line between Allendale and Hexham opened in 1867 to serve the lead industry and carry other freight. Two years later it started a passenger service, and below is a report of that first trip. I know I tend to over-use adjectives and adverbs when rhapsodising about the joys of the countryside, but this journalist writing in the Hexham Courant in March 1869 has given me a style to aim for.

‘The journey was a pleasant one, the weather being extremely fine, old Sol shining in all his refulgence. The inhabitants of the district testified their joy at the auspicious event in a befitting manner…[and at Langley Station] the rejoicings were very demonstrative. Cheer after cheer was heartily given, and the Langley Band struck up a most enlivening air.’

As well as purple prose, I can also do whimsical. I loved the thought that this larch tree had tucked its roots and lower trunk under a soft blanket of needles, ready for winter.

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Still following the clear byway I descended to the A686, emerging opposite Langley Castle Hotel. Sadly I didn’t have time to stop for a coffee, so I joined a narrow lane for the return walk to Haydon Bridge. I didn’t encounter a single car using the road, although I hope any traffic does heed this sign.DSCN1880

Turning down a track I could once again see and hear the Haydon Bridge bypass, but old Sol was warm on my back and the rejoicings of the birds in the hedgerows were very demonstrative, so my mood was refulgent.

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I don’t usually try and photograph the birds I see on my walks because my little camera isn’t really up to the job, but I was so enchanted by a pair of bullfinches I tried one shot on full zoom and got lucky.

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The track led down to a tarmac lane underneath the bypass and then alongside the River South Tyne and into the village. Crossing the river I again felt the smug superiority of  a walking person over a driving person. The historic stone bridge, now for pedestrians only,  was sporting 15 Christmas trees rigged with lights whereas the 1970s concrete traffic bridge nearby merely had a couple of flapping plastic bags trapped in its railings.

The map is only to give a rough idea of the location and route of the walk. Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL43 ‘Hadrian’s Wall, Haltwhistle and Hexham’ will keep you right.

There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://www.allenvalleys.com/isaacs-tea-trail/

The new bus leaflet is being produced by Northumberland County Council and will be available early next year.

 

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