Reports of a new flight of steps to ease a tricky ascent/descent on Isaac’s Tea Trail took me out to the East Allen Valley to try them. Parking beside the ford near Sipton I set off up the Black Way. The lane follows the floor of a gully, and I had the feeling I was being watched.
By the time I got to the top of the rise the deer had done their disappearing act, leaving me to join the Tea Trail as it traverses the top of another gully. Landslips and erosion here are doing their best to force the path back to the stone wall.
Soon I reached a field which in the summer has a heart-lifting cover of meadow flowers. Today it was just short pale grass, but I smiled at the thought of the seeds in the soil waiting for next year. I also smiled at the welcome I was given by some rare-breed sheep wearing collars with tinkling bells, one silver bell engraved with edelweiss. The whole Alpine ambiance set up an unfortunate craving for Toblerone.
Crossing Knockshield Burn I followed a lovely grassy track down to reach Rowantree Stob Bastle, the ruined remains of a house dating back to the late 16th century.
A more recent addition is the bench, perfectly positioned for a lazy walker to sit and catch the sun, listen to the Knockshield Burn, gaze across the valley, marvel at a heron flying past, try and find a word to describe the blue of the sky, work out how many calories there are in a Toblerone and happily idle away a good half hour. A very good half hour.
But I had not yet reached the objective of my walk (although sitting and enjoying the surroundings should be the objective of any walk), so I crossed the burn and headed up the valley side towards Pry Hill Farm. Two new waymarkers picked out the approach to the flight of steps, and soon they appeared.
Installed by Northumberland County Council, the steps have grippy treads and a hand rail, with a fine view back along the valley.
From the steps I skirted the farmyard, with its dog cage full of barking spaniels on springs, and reached the lane. My return route was all on tarmac, almost 1.5 miles during which I didn’t see a single car, just a flock of fieldfares checking out an already de-berried hawthorn tree.
On either side as I walked were tussocky pastures. Just like the happy knowledge of the wildflower seeds underground, I remembered that these fields throng with curlews and lapwings in the Spring. But recalling the delights of other seasons didn’t detract in any way from the immediate pleasures of a sunny autumn day in the East Allen Valley.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://www.allenvalleys.com/isaacs-tea-trail/