I’ve met people who have run the 37 miles of Isaac’s Tea Trail non-stop, others who had one overnight stay en route, and walkers who took three or four days to complete it. My preferred segmentation of the route is five sections. I like to walk slowly, to stop and stare, to sit down for a rest, to enjoy a snack and to savour the endorphins activated by pleasurable exercise, scenery, wildlife and the company of good friends.
Mostly this blog chronicles random walks I’ve done on various sections of the Tea Trail, but last summer I and friends walked the whole thing in consecutive sections (see blog postings of June 8, 23, and 25, July 22 and 31, and August 22 and 27). We started in Allendale and did the route clockwise.
Today we embarked on another complete circuit, this time walking widdershins (a great word, often used by my Scottish granny).
An obvious starting point is Isaac’s Well on the edge of the Market Place in Allendale. Victorian tea pedlar Isaac Holden raised money for many community projects, including this well which was installed 1849. The commemorative plaque states: ‘Fresh, clean drinking water not only helped overcome the threat of cholera and typhoid but also made better tasting tea.’
Leaving the village we passed the famous Dalek and dropped down to the River East Allen. The riverside path is a leafy delight, although I find the barred entrance to a lead-mine tunnel a slightly sinister reminder of the many many miles of underground passages in this area.
Crossing the river beside the site of Allen Smelt Mill, which closed in 1896, we continued through woodland until we emerged into a flat field on the valley floor. According to the official guide to Isaac’s Tea Trail by Roger Morris, this was once a venue for cock fighting. Passing the lovely house and garden at Bridge Eal we were soon back in woodland and climbing towards bright sunlight and glorious views.
The path here can be very overgrown, but it had been strimmed and cleared, possibly by a work party from Hexham Ramblers who carry out waymarking and other maintenance work on the Northumberland section of the Tea Trail. Here they have planted an oak tree in memory of one of their members, Mavis Harris.
We continued uphill across a couple of fields and through a small wood to reach Keenley Chapel, one of the oldest Methodist Chapels still in use. Some of the pack ponies which were used to transport lead were kept at a nearby farm and one of their handlers would have been a certain winner of a nineteenth century version of The World’s Strongest Man. It’s reported that John French carried uphill an eight-stone bag of ore over each shoulder, one in his teeth and one in each hand. Total load: 40 stone.
As Isaac’s Tea Trail heads up to join a road it passes a historic tithe barn dating from the days when farmers had to give one tenth of their produce to the church.
Still gaining height, we were treated to clear views north across the length of Northumberland to the Cheviot Hills on the Scottish Border. Soon we were saying hello to the Shetland ponies at Harlow Bower, always a treat. The farm marks the start of our descent towards the River West Allen.
Walking Isaac’s Tea Trail anticlockwise gave us a new angle on some of the views, and we found ourselves looking straight at Whitfield Hall, a Grade II listed building dating from 1785 and home of the Blackett-Ord family.
At Monk Farm we left the Tea Trail to end our 4.8 mile walk in Whitfield. Section 1 completed, another four to go. No rush.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at https://isaacs-tea-trail.co.uk/
For updated information on shops, cafes, accommodation and attractions in the North Pennines AONB that have re-opened since the Coronavirus lockdown see blog https://northpenninesshane.home.blog/2020/07/06/visiting-the-north-pennines/