The brilliant brilliant thing about the great outdoors is that one size fits all. Walks in the countryside give equal pleasure to slow amblers and speedy mile-munchers, to those who savour every bench and those who only stop if they need to check the map. It’s even possible to accommodate both types on one walk, as my friend Debby and I proved with our walks book ‘You Take the High Road’. In it we devised routes where a tortoise and a hare can set off together, then during the walk there’s a detour along a more arduous section for the fitter walker before the two routes join up again to finish the walk together.
I am the tortoise and Debby is the hare. So when she and three friends decided to walk Isaac’s Tea Trail with only two overnight stops I knew the only way I’d be able to keep up would be in the car. Having appointed myself Support Driver, I planned to use my time between rendezvous meetings with the walkers to try out a few local walks devised for visitors to the area.
Debby, Andy, Becks and Jane were walking the Tea Trail clockwise, starting in Alston, so I waved them off at 9.30am on a sunny morning then went for a coffee at South Tynedale Railway’s cafe at Alston Station. The perks of driving rather than walking.
My first meeting with the walkers was to be at Epiacum Roman Fort. The Tea Trail skirts to the west of the fort and I’ve never had spare energy to deviate onto the ramparts and explore, but now I had time and energy to visit properly. In the car park I could see Castle Nook Farm’s new tea room taking shape, and I was pleased to see that Isaac gets a mention on the information board.
Two leaflets guide visitors around the Roman Fort. One is a Family Clue Trail with puzzles to solve from clues around the site, a Roman maths lesson and even a few Latin words to learn. Children are invited to march between the clue points chanting ‘sinister, dexter, sinister, dexter’ (that’s ‘left, right, left, right’ for you non Latin scholars).
The other leaflet describes the Nervian Trail around the fort, named after the Second Cohort of Nervians who were stationed here. They were recruited from the Nervii tribe of the Lower Rhine in modern Belgium. While standing at the sentry point on the south-west corner of the fort I could see my friends marching sinister, dexter, sinister, dexter across the distant pasture and walked to meet them at the information panel.
They were loving the walk so far, and soon set off again on the next stage. This would mean them leaving the Tea Trail to detour around a missing footbridge so I had plenty of time to go back to Alston and have another cup of coffee. The perks of driving rather than walking.
Debby, Andy, Jane and Becks had also found refreshments, in the Buffet Car at Slaggyford Station, before meeting me again near Kirkhaugh. They were now almost eight miles into their first day, which would be a full day’s walk for me, but they strode off to Ninebanks Youth Hostel where they stayed the night. That day they walked more than 14 miles. Respect.
Their second day of Tea Trailing was from Ninebanks Youth Hostel to near Sinderhope, north of Allendale, from where I was to give them a lift into Allendale for the night. Our rendezvous point was where the Tea Trail crosses the lane at Pry Hill and I parked the car where I had a good view of their approach route and where they could gain encouragement from seeing the car if they were flagging (I don’t think they ever do flagging, but just in case). They were still keeping up a good pace when they reached me after walking more than 13 miles. Respect.
To begin their final day they had a taxi to the point where they had finished the day before and aimed to reach Nenthead to meet me for lunch at the fabulous Nenthead Arts and Visitor Centre almost eight miles away. Again, that would be an effortfull full-day walk for me but easily doable in a morning for them.
I got to Nenthead in time to walk out and meet them as they came down from Roughside. In the distance I could see at least a mile of their route across the moor and as I waited two figures came into view, but they were going so fast I assumed they were cyclists. Nope, it was Andy and Becks striding across the hillside.
After lunch, and even a little shopping among the local crafts on sale at the chapel, rucksacks were on again and they set off for their final section, a mere six miles to Alston. Any departure from Nenthead always comes to an immediate stop at the amazing model villages created by local builder and former miner Lawson Robinson in his garden.
Leaving my friends to follow Isaac’s Tea Trail I set off to follow a couple of short trails around the village. They’re in a leaflet produced by Nenthead Arts and Visitor Centre and on the cover it said ‘follow in the footsteps of miners, Methodists, innovators and heritage lovers, and discover Nenthead’s remarkable history, community and landscape’. That’s exactly what it felt like. The leaflet was packed with interesting information, archive photos and other pictures and I worried that I was taking so long exploring I’d miss my rendezvous with the Tea Trailers in Alston.
I’d judged it well, though, and was in place in time to meet them and walk the final half mile into the town (which they completed faster than me). Respect.
See blog posting ‘Guest Blogger having Bags of Fun’ for Debby’s account of their walk.