After dozens of happy walks along sections of Isaac’s Tea Trail, or hopping on and off the Tea Trail to combine it with other footpaths, it’s time to walk the whole thing again. Following the 36-mile circular route clockwise, I’m re-walking the sections in sequence.
My companions for the first section, 4.5-miles from Allendale to the Black Way, were friends Christine and Nuala and dogs Dora and Dottie. The route heads pretty much due south alongside the River East Allen. It crosses several tributary burns so there are some steep but short descents to cross footbridges and ascend onto the next mini watershed. These little valleys are leafy dingley dells in between the higher wildflower meadows with elevated viewpoints, so there is constantly changing scenery along the way.
Our walk out of Allendale passed the famous Dalek currently at the centre of a planning row about its shed.
Isaac’s Tea Trail turns off into fields after crossing the river at Bridge End. The distinctive waymarkers have a portrait of Isaac Holden, the Victorian grocer commemorated by the Tea Trail. He lived in Allendale but delivered tea to customers in remote farms and hamlets, travelling on foot for miles across rough country in all weathers. Isaac was a Methodist and raised money for public welfare projects while peddling his products.
The wonderful hay meadows of the North Pennines were just coming into flower. These are now rare habitat in Europe and the North Pennines AONB Partnership works with farmers to enhance and restore them. The meadows are incredibly important for bio-diversity and the AONB Partnership advises keeping to the footpaths and walking in single file to minimise damage.
I last walked this section of the Tea Trail in its entirety in June 2016 (see blog posting ‘Last Piece of the Jigsaw of Joy’) and there have been a lot of improvements since then. We passed a couple of steel gates which have replaced wooden stiles, and then a previously rickety footbridge which has had a facelift.
By now we were right beside the River East Allen, crossing a flat meadow on the valley floor which was a popular picnic spot in Edwardian times. So popular, in fact, that it had a turnstile at the entrance. The cast iron base of the turnstile is still there.
We too stopped for a sit down and a snack, making us the focus of Dora’s utter adoration as she tried to persuade us that dogs really really need to eat muesli bars during a walk. A bit cheeky really, seeing as she hadn’t offered to share the rabbit droppings she’d been snacking on earlier.
Rested and refreshed (with a disappointed dog) we continued alongside the river. Parts of this path can be very muddy and slippery, but we were lucky and didn’t have to detour around a quagmire.
Orange cables looped around a tree marked the progress of the Allen Valleys community broadband scheme which is gradually spreading around an area delineated by Coalcleugh, Allenheads, Whitfield and Langley. A non-profit community benefit society is installing fibre optic broadband described as the fastest most reliable internet connection which is only available to 3% of the UK.
There has obviously been a lot of activity along this section of Isaac’s Tea Trail, not just burying the broadband cables but also a major repair job on a flight of stairs down the valley side to cross a burn. A sturdy handrail and gravel-topped steps made this descent so much easier than negotiating the previous slippery worn-out path.
Isaac’s Tea Trail veered away from the River East Allen to reach a crossroads of footpaths at Crowberry. We kept the dogs close as a pair of agitated lapwings swooped around us and we suspected their chicks might be nearby. Curlews were also gliding and calling as we crossed a few more fields and negotiated another down-and-up to cross the Acton Burn valley.
The descent to reach Rowantree Stob Bastle has been immeasurably helped by the new flight of steps I blogged about in November 2018, and my increasing tiredness was immeasurably helped by the bench outside the bastle. After a lovely rest in the sunshine, and another valiant attempt by Dora to sample our snacks, our final down-and-up crossed Hole Sike and led us up to another field full of wild flowers.
Then followed a precarious few minutes as we tried to keep away from the overhang of a landslip, with dozens of rabbits darting about below us and probably contributing to the instability of the slope with their burrowing.
Soon we joined a lane which gave us views of the section of Isaac’s Tea Trail which we will walk next time. It’s the Black Way, a former packhorse trail over the moors towards Nenthead. For today though we turned off the Tea Trail to return to the car we’d left parked beside the ford at Old Man Bottom. Stop sniggering. The name dates from the lead mining industry. There’s a former mine in the Mendip Hills called Velvet Bottom.
And there was one last botanical treat for us on the edge of the car park.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://isaacs-tea-trail.co.uk/