In total Isaac’s Tea Trail has more then 5,000 feet of ascent, and a chunk of that happens during this 6.9 mile walk. It includes the highest point on the Tea Trail, 1,919 feet, at the border between Northumberland and Cumbria. Hardly an altitude to trouble the average walker, but it comes after a steady slog uphill on the moors up to Blackway Head and the charmingly-named Scum Hill, so I find this the toughest section of Isaac’s Tea Trail.
But I had lovely company to encourage me onward and upward. My regular walking friends have become known as Isaac’s Tea Ladies, but we were only three on this occasion as the fourth had a sick note. One of the dogs, Dora the Daschund, had also decided to to have a duvet day, so we just had Dottie the Basset Fauve de Bretagne.
Isaac’s Tea Trail leaves the stony track of the the Black Way to head across open moorland. The path isn’t immediately obvious and it’s easy to be lured to the right by a line of white stakes. These are to do with grouse shooting, and the correct route veers slightly left to skirt a bowl-like depression before the path becomes clearly visible. Soon the Tea Trail waymarkers start appearing at reassuring intervals across the hillside.
This moorland is an important area for waders such as curlews, lapwings and golden plovers, all of which we saw frequently. We were under thorough aerial surveillance at every moment as we progressed across the moor, and with wader populations being under serious threat, this gave us hope that chicks were nearby.
We also had a large moth fly past then found one perched. It was a Northern Eggar moth, very handsome and apparently fairly common in Northumberland but a new sighting for us.
This route can be very wet underfoot but it wasn’t too bad as we continued to climb. The boggiest bits came as the path crossed a plateau section where poor drainage has created several pools. Belly-cooling pools for Dottie.
While we were walking up from the River East Allen valley we’d had views of the Cheviot Hills to the north which meant we were looking across almost the entire length of Northumberland. Now we were looking into County Durham, with the boundary just a mile or so away, and at last the path was going down not up. However, was we crossed Carrshield Moor we could see that the next section of our walk was more upness.
Whenever I’ve walked this section of the Tea Trail I’ve ended it at Coalcleugh, making a 4.5 mile walk. A mere stroll to most hillwalkers, but tiring enough for me. However, in the spirit of trying harder, we planned to continue for another two miles to finish at Nenthead. Isaac’s Tea Ladies have proved very tolerant of my need for a nice sit down every now and then.
I was distracted from the thought of more effort by the arrival of two more bird species for our list. Oystercatchers always make me smile, and they were calling insistently while posing on stone walls. Then big flocks of starlings appeared, swooping around just above the heather. I’ve never seen them in huge numbers like this in remote uplands, and when they weren’t skimming the ground they lifted up high into billowing murmurations.
A short section of road took us to the former lead mining village of Coalcleugh. Now there are just a couple of houses, whereas in the 1700s and 1800s more than 200 people lived and worked here.
Then above Coalcleugh we crossed from Northumberland into Cumbria, and were treated to a brand new view.
Enjoying yet another rest beside the wall marking the county boundary we also enjoyed the most wonderful snack. Christine had created Isaac’s Energy Balls from dates, peanuts, cocoa, honey and other delights. Just what I needed to power me through the final part of the walk. The stone wall also provided Isaac’s Tea Ladies with the opportunity to be Isaac’s Pee Ladies before we set off again. keeping carefully to the path amid all the disused mine shafts.
The Tea Trail runs above the ruined farmstead of Roughside before doubling back on itself to join the track down off the moor. The lane leading into Nenthead was a delight of wild flowers, and colourful lupins in a cottage garden framed the view down the River Nent valley.
It had been a wonderful walk, although afterwards I was slightly haunted by the fed-up expression on Dottie’s face as she waited for me to get up again after sitting down for yet another rest.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://isaacs-tea-trail.co.uk/