If selkies, kelpies and sirens lure people into the sea, what creatures lure people into the countryside? They are certainly very active in the North Pennines, using blue sky and a hoar frost to compel me to walk a section of Isaac’s Tea Trail.
Parking beside the bridge at the site of Allendale Smelt Mill, I set off through woods along the south bank of the River East Allen. The sun hadn’t reached the valley floor, but after the up-and-down detour around a landslip (see blog post ‘A Steptastic Solution’ August 11th 2017) I was out in the sunshine, walking on white crunchy grass.
I never walk very fast, but a lovely level track like this enabled me to accelerate slightly in a bid to get warm, although I came to a sudden halt when I spotted pussy willow in bloom. The willows have been planted alongside the river to combat erosion, and by blooming this early they’re providing vital nectar and pollen for insects. And making passers-by smile.
My route diverged from Isaac’s Tea Trail after passing Bridge Eal, staying beside the river to reach Kittygreen (pussy willow at Kittygreen would have pleased me as a cat-lover, but I couldn’t see any growing there) and then cross to the north bank at Oakpool.
After the easy walking of the valley floor the very steep climb up a tarmac lane necessitated several stops to breathe, and enjoy the widening views across the valley. My progress was also slowed by anxiety about slipping on ice untouched by the sunshine. The lane crossed the route of the the old Hexham to Allendale railway, now missing its bridge. This railway operated between 1868 and 1950, carrying passengers, lead and coal.
Eventually turning off the lane, the route headed eastwards across a series of fields high on the valley side. If there’s an I Spy Book of Stiles I’d have ticked off half the book as I crossed wall after wall – rickety wooden stiles, smart solid ladder stiles, stone step stiles with big easy steps, stone step stiles with little tricky steps, and a stile sneakily hidden inside a hedge.
I also spotted a prize-winning entry for the I Spy Book of Unusual Notices:
From the highest point I realised I was looking at a long section of Isaac’s Tea Trail on the opposite side of the valley. I could easily track around four miles of the route, from Keenley Thorn, the hill above Keenley Chapel, all the way to Allendale, and then in the distance rose the moors that carry the Tea Trail over into Cumbria.
Descending towards Catton I joined a walled track between fields. Having worried about the ice on the tarmac lane, now I was grateful for the sun’s inability to melt such a hard frost. This farm track is very boggy in places, but in these conditions it was mostly firm underfoot.
Even though it was mid-afternoon by now, the light was still very bright, making a lone tree look as if it had been drawn on the landscape with charcoal.
The lane came into Catton through a small area of woodland where a nuthatch was calling – one of the sounds of Spring for me, adding to the seasonal optimism of the sunshine. Then a short walk through the village took me to a lane leading down to the river, crossing the line of the old railway again near an elegant tunnel built to carry a stream beneath the embanked rail line.
By now the sun was getting lower and losing its warmth, so any surfaces still white were going to remain so until at least the next day. More bait to lure walkers out and enchant them with the ever-changing magic of North Pennines landscapes.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://www.allenvalleys.com/isaacs-tea-trail/ and this route is on Ordnance Explorer Map OL43 ‘Hadrian’s Wall, Haltwhistle & Hexham’.