SERENGETI SUNSHINE: NINEBANKS TO WHITFIELD

On Tuesday July 10th I’m leading a guided walk along a section of Isaac’s Tea Trail and today I walked the route to check that it’s all ok. It was VERY ok in every respect apart from the heat!

The guided walk is part of the Friends of the North Pennines Walking Festival (see details here  http://friendsofthenorthpennines.org.uk/north-pennines-walking-festival/). It’s in the West Allen Valley and the route will be from Ninebanks to Whitfield, using a minibus to enable us to do a linear walk almost completely on the Tea Trail.

Walking with a friend today, we left one car at Whitfield and drove the other to the start of the walk. I’m surprised that this route is one of my favourite walks because the first half mile is up a steep hill. However, I usually manage to disguise my need to stop and rest by commenting on the wonderful views that open up as we climb.

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There’s no shade along this part of the walk and although I was struggling a bit in the heat, the current very dry weather meant that a notoriously boggy section was completely dry underfoot. We felt guilty disturbing sheep which had burrowed into the large rush tussocks to find an approximation of shade.

Isaac’s Tea Trail is named after a Victorian tea pedlar, Isaac Holden, who walked these uplands selling tea at farmhouses and hamlets. He also persuaded his customers to donate to community projects which benefited poor people in the area. So as well as conventional waymarking, the route is marked with tea pots, tea cups and vintage tea advertising posters.

We were walking on the morning of the England – Sweden match in the World Cup, and we found a teapot decorated with the words “Footie finals and lager”. Finals?? Is this an omen??!!

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A cold lager or a pot of tea would have been very, very welcome as we continued across open pasture, with the sun beating down on our Factor 50’d skin.

The route dipped steeply to cross the Dry Burn (not yet dry, despite the drought) then up again to join a stony track. At least now the walking was fairly level although still in open sunshine, apart from an exquisite 20 yards where the route passed beneath a copse of beech trees. Shady shady beech trees.

Coincidentally today is National Meadows Day, celebrating the huge diversity of plants and wildlife that thrive in a traditionally-managed meadow, which are now very rare habitats. We’re so lucky in this part of the world to have more than 40% of the UK’s upland hay meadows in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. As well as their plants and insects, the meadows are important breeding grounds for a variety of birds.

 

I have often stopped in my tracks, open-mouthed, at the sight of a meadow in full bloom. This run of sunny weather means many have been cut for hay now, but we did come across one still standing, albeit faded.

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After crossing two more fields we began a gradual ascent towards the promise of shade. If I wasn’t so familiar with this route I’d have feared that the gate into woodland was a mirage conjured up by the shimmering heat to taunt us, but it was real and we could at last take off our sweaty sunhats and collapse in the cooler air.

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There followed a mile of woodland walking before we emerged into the Serengeti once again to complete our walk.

It’s a really lovely route, but even carrying extra water and taking maximum precautions against the sun it was pretty draining today. I hope it’s cooler and cloudier for the guided walk on Tuesday – I imagine it’s bad form for a walk leader to slump down in the shade and refuse to continue!

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