I am delighted to testify that the North Pennines and Isaac’s Tea Trail are as wonderful now as they were before the coronavirus lockdown.
After so many weeks away from the hills a five-mile walk alongside and above the South Tyne was a multi-emotion experience for myself, two friends and two dogs. We’d heard that road signs have announced the dates for a new footbridge to be built at Kirkhaugh and I wanted to see this evidence for myself.
The old bridge was comprehensively wrecked by the river in September 2018. The South Tyne is known for its temper, and a full-blown tantrum sees it flinging boulders and tree trunks at any obstacle in its way.
The bridge is a key link in Isaac’s Tea Trail and many other walking routes and without it walkers must detour via Slaggyford to the north or Alston to the south, adding around four miles. So I was tempted to learn how to play the trumpet so I could play a fanfare for Northumberland County Council’s decision to replace the bridge.
Our walk began in Alston and followed the South Tyne Trail for a short distance before crossing the railway tracks and heading north beside the river. The fields lead to dense woodland and a steep footpath up to join the minor road that leads to Kirkhaugh. According to the official guide to Isaac’s Tea Trail, written by Roger Morris, this road was built for the Alston Turnpike Trust in about 1824. The book also highlights Randalholm Farm as the ancient seat of the de Veteriponts, Lords of Alston Moor. The family came to England with William the Conqueror and a rough translation of their name is ‘old bridge’. How apt.
After a misty start the day was heating up and we were glad of the shady, uber-green lane that followed the river to the tiny hamlet of Kirkhaugh. Walking beyond the distinctive Church of the Holy Paraclete we reached our lunch spot beside the river, where the twisted, snapped spans of the bridge still lie on the shingle.
Having not seen a single walker all day, we were joined by a couple from Wearside who are visiting the North Pennines regularly to walk Isaac’s Tea Trail in sections. They didn’t fancy the extra miles of the detour and as the South Tyne was in a benign mood they decided to wade across. They made it safely, but I definitely won’t be crossing the river until the bridge builders have done their work.
Our route took us eastwards, away from the river and up a zig-zag bridleway across fields to reach a minor road. As always, puffing and panting uphill brings the reward of superb views and we could see across to the distinctive ramparts of Epiacum Roman Fort, one of the many historic highlights of Isaac’s Tea Trail.
By now we were sweltering in the heat, and stopping for a rest wherever there was shade. The two dogs are actually in this photo but both are flat out in the long cool grass.
The lane led us to the village of Ayle, offering fantastic views of Alston down in the valley and to the infinite hills beyond. Our route up from the river wasn’t on the Tea Trail, but we rejoined it in Ayle to descend across fields and back to the valley floor at Randalholme.
What a wonderful walk to mark our return to the hills. Thank you North Pennines just for being there, thank you Roger Morris for devising Isaac’s tea Trail, and thank you Northumberland County Council for replacing Kirkhaugh Bridge.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at https://www.northpennines.org.uk/location/isaacs-tea-trail/ and at https://isaacs-tea-trail.co.uk/
Follow me on Twitter @isaacsfootsteps