Isaac’s Tea Trail is a 37-mile circuit cleverly plotted to link landmarks associated with the eponymous Isaac and to showcase the variety of landscapes in the North Pennines. It also has added extras – detours which bring yet more delights.
One add-on involves leaving the Tea Trail where it climbs the moors west of Spartylea, and following the Black Way down into the valley of the River East Allen to walk upstream to Allenheads. The village has a cafe and a pub which were very tempting as the rain blurred the car windows, but we had come to walk so we pulled up our hoods and used them as blinkers to avoid seeing warm and dry distractions.
Our route was a shortened version of a walk mapped on an excellent leaflet produced by the North Pennines AONB Partnership. The track out of the village led us past the old blacksmith’s shop which has an exhibition about lead mining and a display of smithy tools with a working bellows. Twenty-first century blacksmiths have done demonstrations here, recreating the work of their predecessors in the 1850s.
Heading uphill in steady drizzle we were soon looking down on Springhouse Reservoir, built to provide water power for the mine. I don’t think there’s a single point on this walk where you can’t see a relic of the mining industry.
So far we had maintained dry feet, but my socks were doomed the minute we left the stony track and followed a path across the fell. After days of heavy rain the pasture was spongy and splashy. People who love rain are pluviophiles (Gene Kelly and Morecambe and Wise, I’m looking at you), and while I tend towards the fair-weather end of the meteorological spectrum I did appreciate the special character of the thoroughly wetted views. This was a different place from my last walk here which was in Spring, with curlews calling and mountain pansies among the grass.
Whatever the weather, the abandoned buildings on these fells always give pause for thought about the families who once lived here.
The path along the hillside past the ruins was super-squelchy and regularly crossed by opportunistic streams playing truant from their culverts. We picked our way across a mini mountain range of old mine workings and shuddered at the thought of the tunnels below the capped shafts
I am not nimble. I know what nimble looks like because the friends I walk with are nimble. Instead I am the exact opposite of nimble, which according to my thesaurus is awkward, inept, stiff and lumbering. I exemplified all four descriptions as we slithered down steep slopes and crossed the swollen streams at the bottom of each cleft of the spoil heaps. Too wide to stride, they were booby-trapped with deep mud on the take-off and landing sides.
Eventually we reached a farm track and the rest of the walk required no nimbleness. The track curved around the hillside with open views down the valley, then we were in a tree-lined avenue followed by a grassy path through a plantation.
Almost back in Allenheads, we saw a couple of plaques installed for the AONB Partnership’s ‘Cold-blooded and Spineless’ project dedicated to the area’s invertebrates.
Appropriately for such a wet walk, the froghopper spits – it produces a foam, commonly called cuckoo spit, to protect its larvae on plant stems and leaves. While there’s no link with actual cuckoos, just the thought of Spring sunshine and hearing a cuckoo call cut straight through the Autumn drizzle and mist. And of course as well as Singing in the Rain, Eric and Ernie also sang Bring Me Sunshine.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at http://isaacs-tea-trail.co.uk/ and http://www.northpennines.org.uk/exploring/outdoor-activities/walking/isaacs-tea-trail/
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