Walking a section of Isaac’s Tea Trail which I’ve walked many times before led to musings with my friend about the saying “you never step into the same river twice”. It must be the first time I’ve discussed the Greek philosopher Heraclitus while out in the North Pennines, but that’s the joy of walking and talking – you never know what subjects will come up.
We were adapting the philosopher’s wisdom to apply to the ever-changing character of even the most familiar paths and countryside views. It was my friend’s first walk along the route, and my umpteenth, yet we both found enormous pleasure along the way.
Using two cars, we walked a four-mile section of the Tea Trail from Leadgate Bank to Keenley Chapel. It was sunny, with ever-changing cloud formations directing the solar spotlight onto selected sections of the River West Allen Valley. Heraclitus again?
Isaac’s Tea Trail links landmarks and significant locations associated with a Victorian celebrity of the North Pennines. Isaac Holden was a grocer from Allendale who persuaded his customers to donate money for various community welfare projects, even selling reproductions of his portrait as he delivered tea to remote farmhouses. After his death in 1857 around 600 people contributed to a large stone memorial monument with the inscription ‘He gained the esteem and respect of the public by his untiring diligence in originating works of charity and public usefulness’.
Throughout the 36 miles of Isaac’s Tea Trail there are vintage tea adverts, and as usual I said hello to the beardy with the billycan who adorns the gatepost at the entrance to Monk Wood.
In the woods there was a definite turn-of-the-year feeling. The leaves weren’t changing colour, but there was less vibrancy in their green, and we saw toadstools and other fungi standing by to signal autumn.
The track through Monk Wood is mostly level as it follows the contour of the valley side northwards. With the steep drop to our left densely wooded, we were looking into the canopies of the lower trees; once the leaves have fallen there will be views right across to the moors of the western flanks. For us there were just occasional glimpses of the pinky hue of heather.
The easy-walking track continued until we were level with the spire of Whitfield’s Holy Trinity Church down in the valley, then we were into a field and up a steep hill. There’s a handy stone stile and grassy bank near the top of the hill for the obligatory rest, and even if we hadn’t been out of breath it would have been a crime not to sit for a few minutes and look at the scenery.
From here Isaac’s Tea Trail swings east, and our views of the West Allen Valley were replaced by views to the north which reached as far as the Cheviot Hills.
The final section of our walk was along quiet lanes until we reached our destination at Keenley Chapel, signposted by a workshop-fresh fingerpost installed by Northumberland County Council with funding from the Allen Valleys Landscape Partnership.
We had seen another brand new wooden fingerpost near Monk Wood. It’s all part of ongoing work to look after and improve Isaac’s Tea Trail, and I’m told there’s a new footbridge on the south-east section of the Tea Tea Trail which I’ll check out on my next walk.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://www.allenvalleys.com/isaacs-tea-trail/