Weather forecast: sleet showers, 2 degrees.
Height of proposed walk: up to 1,830 feet.
Cloud Base: 1,831 feet.
Terrain: mossy bog.
My friend and I: “Let’s go anyway”.
And it was cold, and we did get wet, but it was fantastic. Our route was across moorland along the south-east section of Isaac’s Tea Trail, starting on the Black Way and ending on the soggy way.
The ascent from our parking place beside the River East Allen was gradual, and on a stoney track at first.
Then the Tea Trail left the Black Way and headed south-westwards across a landscape designed to soak boots through to the socks. There is a subtle beauty in the unflashy colours of heather, rough grass and a multitude of mosses, making the close-up views as lovely as the wide views which emerged when the sun tried to shine.
Small groups of grouse clucked and cackled as we passed, but even without seeing the birds themselves, the evidence of grouse rearing and shooting was all around. Tin trays for dispensing grit and medication, grouse butts, charred patches of burnt heather and lines of white marker posts. These posts could be mistaken for footpath markers, but the wooden Tea Trail waymarkers are cleverly spaced so that the next one is always visible. Each had a fresh topping of yellow paint, the work of the genius who devised Isaac’s Tea Trail, Roger Morris (see blog post April 28th 2016 ‘Isaac and Roger’).
Roger’s love of local history and the North Pennines inspired him to create the 36-mile circular trail linking locations which tell the story of Victorian Isaac Holden, famous for his charity fundraising. Since the Tea Trail opened in 2002 Roger, and other volunteers, have constantly monitored the route, working with the rights-of-way teams at Northumberland County Council and Cumbria County Council to keep it maintained.
As we hunched our shoulders against the sleety wind we hoped Roger had had better weather when he walked this same path carrying a pot of yellow paint and a paintbrush.
We reached the highest point of our walk on the charmingly-named Scum Hill, and began our descent into the West Allen Valley. The final mile was free of showers and slightly brighter, giving us views of Killhope Law and The Dodd looming over the former lead mining village of Coalcleugh.
Very little remains of the mine buildings and the homes of the 200 or so people who lived in Coalcleugh. The mine was said to be the deepest in England at almost 600 feet, with innovative hydraulic pumps and a subterranean waggonway. The miners had small farms and allotments alongside the Shieldrigg Burn near Isaac’s Tea Trail, which passes several derelict farm buildings.
We could see the car we’d left at the end point of our walk and just had to negotiate a slippery squelchy track to reach the road that would take us to the joy of car heaters on full blast.
Having survived, and in fact revelled in, the wintry elements we decided we could ignore one final hazard notified in a sign beside a stream near the road.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://www.allenvalleys.com/isaacs-tea-trail/