Our walk along the next section of the Tea Trail began at the church where Isaac Holden married Ann Telfer on 13th December 1834. The couple ran a grocery store in Allendale and Isaac also sold tea door-to-door. There are many miles between doors in these remote hills, so he must have been pretty fit and very hardy.
The 37-mile route now designated as Isaac’s Tea Trail links many of the farms and hamlets where Isaac’s customers lived, and passes several landmarks and locations connected with his charitable fundraising.
The Holden-Telfer nuptials were in the Church of the Holy Paraclete in Kirkhaugh. It’s believed to be the only church in England dedicated to the Holy Paraclete (the Holy Ghost) and it has a distinctive design. Its skinny spire was described by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘absurdly thin’.
The medieval church on this site was demolished in 1869 on the orders of the Rector Octavius James, who designed its replacement to look like churches he had visited in Bavaria. It’s certainly different. Alfred Wainwright, the fell-walker and author, didn’t like it at all. He said in his book ‘A Pennine Journey: the Story of a Long Walk in 1938’ “One cannot help feeling that a ghastly architectural error has been committed. The designer must have regarded it in petrified amazement when the builder took him along to see the finished job. For it is an unbelievably thin and weedy spire that sprouts out of the roof of the square tower; it has the same proportions as a tightly-rolled umbrella planted upside down, and certainly it could be used as a flagpole without arousing comment.”
Isaac’s Tea Trail leaves Kirkhaugh along a lovely leafy lane beside the River South Tyne before veering north-east across fields to the hamlet of Ayle. It was great to have a quick catch-up with the artist and print maker Jane Willis who lives in Ayle. I’d last seen her in January 2016 to research a blog post about artists inspired by the North Pennines landscapes, and she’s currently busy with organising the Alston Art Group’s Summer Exhibition at St Augustine’s Church in Alston from 10th to 26th August.
Leaving Ayle, we had a short opportunity to admire the view across the valley before the shower that had been blurring the horizon arrived in big blurry raindrops. Dottie the dog just shook herself occasionally to throw water off her thick coat, while we layered on the waterproofs and ate consoling chocolate.
Luckily we reached a sheltering ash tree as the shower turned torrential, and it passed through fairly quickly. After crossing a footbridge we walked up across a field towards a small herd of cattle clustered near the gate. They began taking a close interest in us so we detoured around them in a wide curve, moving up to walk alongside the wall in case we had to suddenly lift Dottie over it. As the animals gathered around us we walked quietly to the stile beside the gate and crossed it safely. The cattle continued to give us a collective Hard Stare as we walked away.
This is the advice about livestock from the National Farmers’ Union: ‘Move quickly, quietly and calmly, and if possible walk around the herd. Keep your dog close and under effective control on a short lead around cows and sheep. Don’t hang onto your dog. If you are threatened by cattle – let it go as to allow the dog to run to safety’.
Under the threat of another shower we approached Clarghyll Hall, a house with Tudor origins where the Reverend Octavius James lived from 1847 to 1889. He died in a fire which destroyed part of the house.
The next section of the Tea Trail took us along lanes and tracks which were relatively dry underfoot, although the meadow grasses had already done a very thorough job of soaking our boots and socks. We walked past the site of Clarghyll Colliery, a drift mine which closed in 2002 when some of the miners left to join the disinfectant gangs during the foot and mouth disease outbreak. Hefty machinery is still parked on the lane and nearby.
Next came a very rough stony track heading steadily upwards to reach the A686. Reminding Dottie of the Green Cross Code, we crossed over the road and continued uphill onto Ouston Fell, walking from Cumbria into Northumberland.
There would be no route-finding issues on this section even in dense fog – it’s one long and obvious track across heather moorland. There’s plenty of reading material on the gates, on signposts and notices beside the track, alleviated by vintage tea adverts that characterise Isaac’s Tea Trail’s waymarking.
The trouble with the tea adverts is that they set up a craving for a mug of hot tea, especially on a damp drizzly day with ankle-jarring rocks underfoot and fell-top views obscured by mist. I was also beginning to dread the descent off the fell. It’s a never-ending mile of stones, angled boulders and eroded channels.
However, as always in the North Pennines countryside, there were several up-cheering sights along the way. The rain had moved away and the sun came out, we saw many beautiful wild flowers along the grassy banks on either side of the track, and we were treated to a close-up view of a red-legged partridge. These handsome birds are an introduced species brought to the UK from continental Europe, where they are found mainly in France and Spain.
I pride myself on knowing the location of every single bench along the route of Isaac’s Tea Trail, and the friends who walk with me are resigned to sitting on each one when we reach it. But somehow I had missed the little bench half way down the tedious rocky track, so it was a lovely surprise to find an unexpected seat with a stunning, slightly misty, view into the River West Allen valley.
After such welcome respite, it was back to the track with its tricksy loose pebbles intent on turning my walking boots into roller skates.
Reaching the smooth tarmac of the lane was a true relief, and we turned right to follow Isaac’s Tea Trail as it passes in front of Ninebanks Youth Hostel. Guests here are assured of a warm welcome from Evie the dog. She’s called Evie because Ian and Pauline, who run the hostel, got her at the same time as they had charging posts for electric vehicles installed in the parking area…….EV=Evie.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://isaacs-tea-trail.co.uk/
You can follow me on Twitter @isaacsfootsteps
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THERE IS NO FOOTBRIDGE ACROSS THE RIVER SOUTH TYNE AT KIRKHAUGH. IT WAS DAMAGED IN A FLOOD AND WON’T BE REPLACED UNTIL SUMMER 2020 AT THE EARLIEST.