I have never walked this section of Isaac’s Tea Trail in dry weather. That’s four times I’ve been rained on. All the other sections of the Tea Trail have consistently yielded sunshine time after time.
So of course it started raining when we set off from Ninebanks. Anoraks and waterproof trousers came out of rucksacks, hoods and woolly hats completed the glamour vibe. Oddly, with our concerns about getting wet we found that the Mohope Burn was dry, with just the bare riverbed visible near its junction with the River West Allen. That’s one of the charming quirks of limestone: a swallow hole can take a stream along a subterranean drainage system.
As is usual with waterproofs, as soon as you get all togged up it stops raining but the skies looked too grey to risk taking them off again. In fact we stayed dry for the duration of three fields, one long lane, and a rest on a bench.
Passing Ninebanks Youth Hostel we stopped to study a hush. This large gulley is a relic of eighteenth century lead mining, when a dam would have been built and water channelled into the valley to build up into a reservoir. Then the water was released to rush down the hillside and scour away earth and loose rock, hopefully exposing a vein of lead.
Continuing along the lane we picked wild raspberries to fortify ourselves for the stony slog up Ouston Fell. The stony track is a long stony mile up a steep stony hill. Visions of twisted ankles and cracked skulls have to be kept at bay as feet land at a different and odd angle every time. Luckily there’s a grassy path on the embankment for part of the way, and each time we stopped for a breather we were treated to bigger and better views.
We celebrated reaching the summit with lunch while sheltering in a sheep pen, then met a strong wind whooshing across the open moor. Hoods, hats and even gloves came out again, but it was exhilarating to experience wild weather on one of the highest sections of Isaac’s Tea Trail. Several groups of grouse cackled as they flew by, and we had a great view of a pair of golden plovers and a few wheatears.
Dropping down from the moors we crossed the A686 to reach another stony track, and eventually a tarmac lane. I’m not usually a fan of too much tarmac walking but it was heaven to be on a smooth surface that didn’t seem to be plotting to put me on crutches.
Machinery from Clarghyll Colliery still lies on either side of the lane. It was a drift mine, producing coal from the early 1930s until 2002, employing 20 men at its peak. According to the official guide to Isaac’s Tea Trail by Roger Morris, the final blow for the colliery came when the miners left to join the gangs carrying out disinfection during the foot and mouth disease outbreak.
By now the distant hills were blurred with rain and dark clouds were glaring at us. But miraculously we stayed dry as we walked past Clarghyll Hall, a Grade II* Listed building dating from the 16th century with later extensions including towers, an octagonal chimney, a gothic east wing and a chapel.
After a couple of fields we crossed a footbridge to walk up towards Ayle through a sensational hay meadow dotted with wild flowers. The official advice to minimise damage to uncut hay is to keep to the footpath and walk in single file. Unfortunately doing this put the tune of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ into my head ……. in his master’s steps he trod.
This section of Isaac’s Tea Trail is currently forced to end at Kirkhaugh because the footbridge across the South Tyne was damaged by floods. However, work is now underway on a new bridge and by the end of the year Isaac’s Tea Trail will be complete once more.
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/
You can follow me on Twitter @isaacsfootsteps