As an avid reader of this blog, it was only a matter of time before I (Debby Waldron) walked the whole of Isaac’s Tea Trail – the section I tried out with Anne last spring, when the curlews were out in abundance, had definitely left me wanting more.
Along with three friends, I like to walk a long distance trail each September. Last week saw us heading from our homes in London, Glasgow, Inverness and Northumberland to meet up in Alston. I’d decided we should use the Cumbrian town as our start and end point for no other reason than I’d always fancied a stay at Lowbyer Manor, on the outskirts of town, and wanted to use it as the base for our end-of-walk celebration.
First, of course, there was the small matter of walking more then 41 miles in three days…..
Anne had promised to support our walk, and waved us off from Alston on Thursday morning – only to pop up again an hour and a half later, at the Roman Fort of Epiacum. Maybe she was doubting our navigational abilities…… (already?). With the route diverted beyond Kirkhaugh, it was good to have some expert knowledge at hand, and so we headed for Slaggyford station, safe in the knowledge that the Buffet Car tea-room would make up for the extra miles we had to walk.
We were also warned that the least pleasant stretch of the whole walk would be the track
down from Long Cross – and it was certainly tough going for tired feet.
But the magnificent views, stretching for miles around, provided ample compensation – and the slog made the arrival at our accommodation, the self-contained chalets behind Ninebanks Youth Hostel, that much sweeter. Log-burners blazing, we tucked into delicious home-cooked food purchased from the hostel, rested our weary legs, and pored over the map for day two.
This began with freshly cooked eggs from the hostel’s own hens, and took in a short
diversion to Isaac’s Hearse House – again, thanks to Anne’s expert knowledge. It’s well worth the short stroll up the lane to visit this building, which doubles up as a reminder of Isaac Holden’s philanthropic works and a small museum. There’s a visitors’ book to sign, lots of information about the trail and Isaac – and it would also provide shelter for a tea-break if you were unlucky enough to be walking in the rain.
No such problems on our walk – we carried on in early autumn sunshine, until we reached Allendale in the early afternoon. Having studied the route, we’d already decided to add on an extra three miles – although not before stoking up on good cups of coffee at the Forge Studios. After that rest, it was hard to get ourselves going again, but we knew we’d be glad of the extra mileage under our belts the following day. And, after walking for another hour and a half, came the welcome sight of Anne’s bright yellow car – and its owner – waiting to whisk us back to Allendale.
A local Eco-cab dropped us back at Pry Hill the following morning. We reassured him that we were not cheating and had already walked that section of the trail, and asked him to take our photo.
Our decision to start the walk in Alston turned out to be the right one, since we all agreed that this final day on the trail was the best. All of us loved the section across the sweeping moorland of the Black Way, with its epic views; and there were no other walkers in sight. Until Anne appeared, that is, to tempt us into the newly-opened café in the old chapel in Nenthead. We feasted and lingered, enjoying the building and not wanting the Trail to be over.
Before we’d even got out of Nenthead, we still had the lovely surprise of the model village, which detained us a while longer….Isaac’s Tea Trail packs a lot of treats into a relatively short distance. The last six miles, mainly along the riverbank, were walked in glorious sunshine – but even though it was a Saturday afternoon, we still had the path to ourselves.
Arriving into Alston was a bittersweet moment – we were glad to have completed the trail, but sorry that it was all over – apart from that celebration at the hotel, of course. And it seemed only fitting that we should start the walk as we’d ended it – with our expert friend and blogger Anne.
Andy, Jane, Rebecca and I all agree that this was one of the best walks we’ve done together – and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we find excuses to keep on coming back to this fantastic part of the world for more mini adventures.