My walking friends and I have become known as Isaac’s Tea Ladies, but today we were Coffee Ladies because it was raining at the start of our walk and we happened to be right outside a café.

It seemed sensible to wait for the shower to pass, and The Nook café does do very good coffee. The café is in the car park for Epiacum Roman Fort, north of Alston, and opened in Autumn 2019. It hasn’t taken long for the sedum roof to get established, helping the building blend in with the scenery.


The roman fort is on Castle Nook Farm, a place Victorian philanthropist and tea pedlar Isaac Holden would have known well. He courted Ann Telfer, who worked as a servant at the farm, and they were married in the church at nearby Kirkhaugh in 1834. Isaac’s Tea Trail is a 37-mile circuit which links landmarks associated with Isaac and some of the farms and villages where he delivered tea while fundraising for good causes.

The rain had moved away by the time we were caffeined-up so we walked out to explore the fort. The banks and ditches of the ramparts are still clearly visible and it’s said to be the most complex defensive earthworks of any fort in the Roman Empire. A charming notice reminded us that this is a working farm as well as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.


As we left the fort we joined Isaac’s Tea Trail and turned south. The Tea Trail is also the Pennine Way for the three miles to Alston and we soon crossed the border into Cumbria at the Gilderdale Burn. Near the footbridge is a lovely example of the ‘Donate a Gate’ scheme run by the Friends of the North Pennines. Its aim is to make footpaths more accessible by replacing awkward stiles with gates sponsored by members of the public. The gates can be in remembrance of a loved one, commemorate a special occasion or they can be a gift to someone who loves walking in the North Pennines.


This was the shortest section of Isaac’s Tea Trail on our quest to walk the whole 37 miles again but anti-clockwise. It’s just three miles long but it delivers a lot of bang for your buck. Because I can’t resist a lexicological detour I discovered that the ‘bang’ means excitement, and we certainly experienced an exciting mix of endorphins from walking amid amazing scenery mixed with the intoxicating smell of freshly-cut hay around us. A giddy cocktail on top of caffeine.

We crossed four meadows with a close aerial escort from a curlew then began our descent towards the River South Tyne. Keeping a wary eye out for convoys of motorcyclists we crossed the A689 and walked down a tree-lined avenue towards Harbut Lodge, a Grade II Listed Building dating from 1838 and restored after a major fire in 1989.

We stopped to marvel at a line of trees which had encountered a fence as they were growing and just absorbed the wires into their bark.


By now we could see our destination, Alston, and although we were on an easy undulating path we slowed down to postpone the ending of the walk. And we couldn’t resist stopping to sit on the edge of a hayfield to breathe the scent and feel the softness of the newly-cut grasses. It had been a multi-sensory three miles.


There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at https://isaacs-tea-trail.co.uk/

and https://www.northpennines.org.uk/location/isaacs-tea-trail/

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



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