I wandered around the quaint cobbled streets and alleyways of Alston in the morning sunshine. There are a variety of small shops, some are aimed at the arts and crafts end of the market, but thankfully there are grocery and bakery outlets so I was able to buy a picnic lunch.
The Tea Trail follows the Pennine Way out of town but I decided on a different route, The South Tyne Trail which runs alongside the South Tynedale Railway. This narrow gauge track once linked Alston to Haltwhistle and the rest of the network. It has been partially restored for tourist trips. I therefore headed to the Station just out of town. The café was just opening and volunteers were busy with odd jobs, but alas no trains were running today. I had to be my own pretend train as I followed alongside the single track a couple of miles to Kirkhaugh Halt, where I picked up the official Tea Trail once again. It had been a pleasant diversion alongside the South Tyne.
The path dropped to the South Tyne and a new footbridge replacing one washed away in 2018 floods. This one looks built to last, confirmed later by a local resident living next to Kirkhaugh Church who had watched the whole progress. The church was where I was heading next.
To give its full title – The Church of the Holy Paraclete. (Holy Spirit- I had to look it up.) The church has symbols of the dove inside, there are nine to seek out, I managed a measly three. Isaac married Ann Telfer here in 1834. The church was subsequently rebuilt in 1869 by the Rector Octavius James, inspired by Bavarian churches – hence the needle steeple. A bench outside was ideal for an early lunch.
The stretch of minor road running back along the S Tyne was tree lined and the habitat of red squirrels but I didn’t see any. I left the road near Randalholme, and climbed steeply through fields to reach the few houses named Ayle, a remote spot. Some flower filled meadows followed before a steep drop through hawthorns came to a footbridge over the gentle Ayle Burn, another bridge replacing one washed away in 2002.
Various lanes and tracks took me through remains of mines and a colliery all reverting to nature. Bits of old machinery are evidence of recent attempts at mineral extraction. Curlews and Lapwings provided entertainment, but with little success with the camera. Then it was out onto the open heather moor.
A large notice proclaimed the virtues of the management of this moor which is of course for grouse rearing and shooting. I can’t agree with the propaganda and patronising information put out by the shooting fraternity. Anyhow, it was a good upland walk with skylarks singing above, no doubt any resident birds of prey have been done away with. Northumberland does not have a good history on raptor persecution.
As it descended to West Allendale the track became very rutted and stony, I spotted a field on the edge of the open access land which avoided all this and took me straight to the door of Ninebanks YHA. What a splendid hostel this turned out to be. Dating from the C18th during the lead mining bonanza, all around are visible reminders of that era, open shafts, spoil heaps and hushes down the hillsides. Sitting outside on the terrace, looking out over the Moors with the only sound that of birds – what a place to forget the Covid problems.
A good long varied day.