When the first thing you see on a walk is a snow plough you wonder about conditions off road. We had planned a 4.5 mile circuit along the River East Allen valley and up to join Isaac’s Tea Trail on the moors above.

The snow had been a surprise to me. There was not a hint of it when I left home in Hexham and yet 13 miles away the scenery was white and the roads tricky. Our starting point was the footbridge and ford known locally as Old Man Bottom. No need to snigger – bottom is a lead-mining term.


This is a route we know well and have walked in every season, which led us to chat about the joy of getting to know a landscape in all its moods. The cold wind did lead to a certain longing for Spring and Summer though, so this blog has ‘compare and contrast’ pictures to keep up morale.

Staying east of the river we walked through pine woods and along the grassy riverbank where we were brought to a delighted halt by the song of a dipper. It’s an instantly up-cheering sound, perfectly described by garden writer Susie White in a recent Guardian Country Diary

Today we had bare trees and whitened pasture ……


…… but we knew that underneath our feet were mountain pansies.


Climbing up through a pine wood and across a sloping field we slipped and squelched across snow with an underlay of mud deepened by the previous weeks’ rain. It was a relief to reach the tarmac lane at Sipton and head downhill to cross the river. Debris above the waterline showed how high the water had come fairly recently, and in places the bank had slumped or collapsed.

Leaving the river we turned west and headed uphill. Again I was reminded of springtime to come when we passed a group of hawthorns stark against the white ……


……soon to be covered with white of their own making.


And as we crossed a field ankle-deep in snow ……


…… we knew that in June and July the monochrome behind the wall will be a multi-coloured hay meadow.


These fields and moors are regular breeding grounds for curlews, lapwings and golden plovers and we’d been looking out for them throughout the walk. Finally we heard a curlew call and saw the distinctive shape of two of them flying lower down the valley. Then a little later we heard a peep as two birds flew across the heather – a pair of golden plovers. The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty supports large numbers of breeding waders and next time we do this walk the air will be full of evocative sights and sounds.

Eventually we reached the stony track of the Black Way and climbed gradually to reach a signpost on the horizon that marked our arrival on Isaac’s Tea Trail. Again, we were reminded of very contrasting conditions. Today we had wet boots, rosy cheeks from a biting wind, and constant gratitude for thermal underwear ……


…… unlike other walks when the dress code was shorts and tee-shirts.


The stony track back down to our start point had been heavily eroded since we last walked here and was tricky to negotiate but eventually we completed our descent. Our canine companion Dottie provided the final seasonal ‘compare and contrast’. Throughout the walk she had been rolling in the snow and ploughing it with her nose ……


…… and come the Summer she will just as joyfully immerse herself in cool water.

Isaac Steven pic Dottie

Details about Isaac’s Tea Trail can be found at at and

More information about Susie White at

You can follow me on Twitter @isaacsfootsteps


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