Isaac’s Tea Trail is 37 miles long …….. but currently it’s around 41 miles long. Since the footbridge across the River South Tyne at Kirkhaugh was wrecked by flooding, walkers have had to detour to the nearest bridges upstream or downstream.
The two detour routes are roughly the same length (approx 4.5 miles), and both offer the option of riding for a couple of miles on the South Tynedale Railway if the timetable fits your walk’s timings. Kirkhaugh Station is west of the river and lies roughly half way along the five-mile railway which runs between Alston and Slaggyford. The following descriptions of the two detours apply to walkers tackling Isaac’s Tea Trail in the clockwise direction, although it can be walked anti-clockwise as well.
After dropping down from the Roman Fort of Epiacum the Tea Trail crosses the A689 and heads across fields, sharing the Pennine Way. Near the railway line the Pennine Way veers left to continue through fields while the Tea Trail crosses the tracks via a stone bridge near Kirkhaugh Station.
If you are catching a train, turn right just before the bridge and go down the narrow path to the platform. If you are walking, then cross the bridge to reach the footpath beside the railway line. To follow the northern detour walk with the railway track on your left, going south you have the track on your right.
Detour to the north
It’s two miles from Kirkhaugh to Slaggyford, passing the little station at Lintley, and if it’s a day when the trains are operating there’s a cafe in the Buffet Car at Slaggyford Station. If you’ve ridden the train get off at Slaggyford and head downhill through the village then turn right to walk alongside the A689. After passing Lake House and Fell View Caravan Park, turn left off the main road to join a lane signposted Barhaugh. Thompson’s Well Bridge takes you across the South Tyne and you now follow the lane as it turns south to head back towards Kirkhaugh. This route is featured in more detail in the blog posting of May 7th 2018
The lane stays close to the river for almost a mile, then as the road veers left and uphill a footbridge on the right takes walkers onto a path across the parkland of Barhaugh Hall.
Veering slightly left as you walk uphill and away from the sounds of the river, you reach a stile and a narrow lane. Turning right and walking along the lane you have fantastic views across the valley and soon reach a footpath which descends diagonally across fields, emerging onto the lane just above Kirkhaugh. Turning right and walking down the lane you’ll see the distinctive church spire and rejoin Isaac’s Tea Trail.
Detour to the south
This route also begins with two miles along the footpath beside the railway, and you cross the River South Tyne on a railway bridge. Soon after this the footpath switches to the west side of the track as it approaches South Tynedale Railway’s engine sheds.
You leave the railway just after the shed, crossing the track and going through a small wooden pedestrian gate beside a large steel gate. But if you have the time and/or energy it’s worth delaying your crossing and staying on the footpath to walk around the next couple of bends to Alston Station where the cafe is open all year round, seven days a week.
Having crossed the railway beside the engine shed turn left along a stony track, passing a white cottage and reaching a footpath across fields. The path follows a line of trees which in turn follow the riverbank and add their rustling noises to the trickling and chuckling of the river. When the water level is low it’s hard to imagine how the South Tyne can engorge to vicious volumes, arm itself with boulders and tree trunks, smash footbridges and suck away embankments.
The path appears to reach a dead end after four fields, but under the dense foliage of a wood is a stile leading to a footpath and an ascent to reach a lane.
Turning left along the lane you are almost back on Isaac’s Tea Trail. At Randalholm you’ll see Isaac’s unsmiling face on a waymarker pointing right and you head up the fields towards Ayle. However, in doing this you will have skipped one mile of the Tea Trail. If you are a purist and want to say you’ve walked it all, or you want to see the unique church at Kirkhaugh, then ignore the waymarker and carry on along the leafy lane beside the river.
Having seen Kirkhaugh, maybe even the corpse of the footbridge lying beside the river, you might prefer a slightly different route to Ayle to save repeating the lane you’ve just walked. In that case take the bridleway opposite the church for a zig-zag route up to the former lead mine west of Ayle.
When you reach the lane turn right to reach Ayle. Ignore the Tea Trail waymarkers as you come into the hamlet – that’s just the route you would have taken across the fields from Randalholm. Instead, walk past the houses to a wooden stile with a signpost pointing across fields on your right and continue along Isaac’s Tea Trail.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://www.northpennines.org.uk/exploring/outdoor-activities/walking/isaacs-tea-trail/
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