Category Archives: Isaac’s Tea Trail.



Thursday,    10th June.      11.5 miles.

As usual, I don’t get away as early as I had planned, there is rain forecast for after lunch. Allendale is quiet, the school bus has taken the local children off somewhere else.

At the bottom of the hill I rejoin the East Allen River next to an old corn mill, but soon I’m on paths through the meadows. Remote farm houses appear out of nowhere. One little cottage has no road to it, they have to walk down to the footbridge over the East Allen and up to the main road, the lady said she had just done her school ‘run’, what a place to find for a Bohemian lifestyle. They keep horses too. Eventually I reach that footbridge over the river at Peckriding Crags, a popular Victorian picnic spot.

The house with no road.

The morning drifts by as I follow carefully the waymarks through complicated fields, sometimes close to the river and others diverted away from it. There are rabbits and sheep everywhere.

I drop down to the river at Studdon Bridge where there is a shaft going down to the Blackett Level 25 m below. More isolated farms are passed. A farmer from one tells me of a successful scheme to introduce children to agricultural and environmental projects. At Rowantree Stob a bastle has been conserved and one is able to wander around it.


Rowantree Stob Bastle.

Spot the Curlew.

Slowly I start climbing out of the valley and meet The Black Way, at first a rough estate road but becoming a vague path through the heather. This route would have been busy in the mining days with ponies taking their loads of ore to the smelt mills. The weather is changing with a cold wind bringing in light showers and obscuring the views. I shelter in the lee of a peat hag for a bite to eat before carrying on over higher ground. It would be easy to go astray up here. Over to the southeast is Killhope Law in County Durham, I’m hovering between Northumberland and Cumbria. As I lose height, the enclosures and ruins of Coalcleugh come into sight – once a thriving village with chapel, library and pub. Not much remains, and today it feels a rather bleak place to be.

That provocative estate sign again.

KIllhope Law, been there …  done that.


The last climb over the moors takes me to the highest point of the Tea Trail, 585m, on the county boundary. I don’t linger but press on down towards Nenthead where the moors are full of the evidence of the past – spoil heaps, hushes and ruined buildings.


The border.

‘Old Peter’ clock face from the tower on Nenthead market house until the early 1900s.

Bainbridge Memorial Water Pump. 1841.

The bike repair man is still busy but The Miners Arms  no longer serves refreshments and the museum is closed, so there is nothing to keep me in Nenthead. My car is the only one in the carpark, thankfully it still has four wheels.



Isaac’s Tea trail has proved to be a classic little long distance way, all 38 miles of it. This is beautiful English countryside with a wonderful heritage. The villages are largely unspoilt and seem to retain a good sense of community often lost in today’s society. Accommodation and shops are plentiful. I’ve enjoyed the wildlife, even though I didn’t encounter any red squirrels, and learnt something of the lead mining industry which shaped the area. The ancient paths are clear but not heavily used, so are a joy to explore. I would highly recommend this as a short backpacking trip for the casual walker looking for exercise and interest.   Where to next in this ‘staycation’ year?



   Wednesday, 9th June.    11 miles.

  From the terrace of the YHA the hills I would be traversing were all too obvious, it would be a day of ups and downs. The weather just got better and better as the day wore on.

  A gentle walk up the lane brought me to Redheugh, a cluster of houses, Isaac Holden was born here in 1804 and baptised at Ninebanks church in 1806. The way followed a ridge across fields and through the remains of Keirsleywell lead mine, where he worked with his father and brother in the 1820s. At the road  I walked alongside the low Mohope Beck watching Sand Martins coming and going.


Keirsleywell Spoil.


Malakoff Bridge.

Mohope Beck.

The bridge in Ninebanks crossed the larger West Allen River. Some steep steps came out on the higher road, where I diverted to visit some buildings of interest. First was the old Hearse House, built in 1856 after fundraising by Isaac. It wasn’t long after that Isaac died and was carried on the hearse to be buried in Allendale. The little museum was filled with an eclectic collection of objects relating to mining, funerals and tea. A great deal of information was displayed about the Holden family. Not to be missed if you are walking the trail.

  Along the lane is a terrace which was once Ninebanks school and Ninebanks church, St Marks, dating from 1764. A peaceful place for a short break.

  From then on I used ancient tracks through rough farmland, there were lambs everywhere. I crossed two old bridges below Dryburn which would have been used by lead carriers with their string of ponies going to the smelt mill in Allendale. Most of these old bridges have been washed away in floods.

  A road was crossed alongside High House Wesleyan chapel, now a private residence but the graveyard is still there. I had difficulty finding the path in the next group of fields, but received a friendly reception from a farmer’s wife and dogs when I wandered into their yard. She showed me a way and complained that the RofW hasn’t been maintained.

  After a few more difficult fields I was ready for a sit down and some lunch overlooking the valley.  There was a long stretch in Monk Woods high above Whitfield Hall and Church. The Whitfield  Estate belongs to the Blackett-Ord family, it was their moorland I tramped across yesterday and it is their woods I’m walking through today. Every hundred yards are pheasant feeders and the estate is very proud of its ‘sporting’ pheasant shooting, which I find abhorrent.

Baby pheasants, what a life.

I was glad to be away from the woods and on the final climb to take me to The East Allen valley. I passed limestone quarries and was in the heart of Curlew and Lapwing territory. Lovely open upland walking territory.

Heading down towards the river I passed Keenly Wesleyan Methodist Chapel established in 1750 after John Wesley had preached nearby.  It is said to be the oldest chapel in the world in continuous use.

  Without checking, I followed a very steep path down to a footbridge and steeply up the other side to find myself lost in field. I could see my mistake on the map and decided to follow the edge of fields until I could join up again without backtracking. This involved some risky crossing of barbed wire and then some very steep descending to reach the RofW by the river. The path alongside the  East Allen wasn’t straight forward with irritating diversions.

Going off track.

Definitely lost.

East Allen River.

A large Weir appeared by a road bridge and alongside was the site of Allendale Smelting Mill. There are some ruined buildings, but a lot is now a small business park. From the C17th, the Blackett family owned the mineral rights to the Allen Dales. Ore was extracted by levels driven into the mineral veins with horses pulling carts along the tunnels.  In addition to lead, the smelting mill produced silver, it closed in 1896.  The trail  crossed the bridge for the final mile. Of note was the opening to the Blackett Level which in 1855 was to run for miles in search of new veins of lead ore. It never fulfilled its promise.



The Blackett Level.

Leaving the East Allen River a steep hill brought me into Allendale, a small market town. The central square was busy with many taking advantage of the sunny weather to enjoy a drink outside one of several inns. I was staying at the King’s Head and my room had a bath which I much appreciated after a longish day.

After a rest and a brew, I wandered around the village, which had several Isaac Holden connections. First and foremost was St. Cuthbert’s Church where Isaac is buried with a fitting memorial.

On the edge of the marketplace is Isaac’s Well, 1849. He raised funds for its construction  to bring clean water to the town.

Across the road is the old savings bank, of which Isaac was a founder member. He also raised funds for two of the Methodist chapels in the town. On the edge of town is a row of cottages, Wentworth Place, where the Holden’s grocery store was. A busy man.

Old Savings Bank.

Primitive Methodist Chapel.

Trinity Methodist Chapel.


The PO. in Isaac’s time.

Wentworth Place.





  Tuesday, 8th June.     9 miles.

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.

Town Hall.

St. Augustine’s Church where Isaac’s parents married in 1796.

  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.

Note the church steeple.

  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.


A new waymark appears.

  It was a steep pull up to Clarghyll Hall, a good example of a bastle, a fortified farm. Rector Octavius James had a hand in its restoration.

  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.

Plantings on old colliery.

   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.



Monday, 7th June.           7 miles.

  I pull off the motorway at Tebay services, it’s chaotic. There is virtually no parking space, the whole area is like Blackpool front on a Bank Holiday. So they were correct when it was hinted that all the Benidorm crowds would be let loose in the British countryside.  Not that I have anything against Benidorm. I wasn’t going to queue to spend a penny, so I drove out and headed  for what I thought would be a quieter area of the country – the Northern Pennines as they are signed off the motorway at Penrith. Nenthead was my starting point for a few days walking Isaac’s Tea Trail

  Nenthead was a major centre for lead mining from 1750 to the end of the C19th. The London Lead Company was founded by Quakers, and they built decent houses  (considering the period) for the workers, complete with a free lending library and schooling for the children. There was a brief spell of reworking the mines for zinc, but that ceased in 1940. The village clings on as a quiet backwater with little to attract the tourist.

  It is however on one of the c2c cycle routes and there in the centre of the village is the bicycle repair man. He is tinkering with the gears on a lady’s bike. I stop to ask him where it might be safe to leave my car for three nights. He points across the way to the  mining museum, which looks closed, but there is a large car park with no overnight  restrictions, so that is where my car is I hope. I leave Nenthead as quickly as I arrived, I’ll look around when I return.

  From the village centre an Isaac’s Tea Trail finger post points along an ordinary looking street but at its end I’m surprised to see a model village of Nenthead with added features from around the world, obviously the lifetime’s work of a local. Along the riverside path, presumably the Nent, I meet a man walking his dogs, I notice one is attached to a harness and wheels. Apparently he has a form of a neurological disorder where they lose the use of their back legs before even worse symptoms develop. The owner is giving his dog some sort of life for now.

  The whole area has signs of past mining with the spoil heaps now reclaimed by nature. There are lime kilns and mine entrances scattered across the hillsides. The soft sand from reworked spoil heaps is riddled with rabbit holes. Apart from the grazing sheep, I come across a group of alpacas.

  The path is well signed as it crosses from field to field along the valley side on stone stiles. There are a few farms still working, but many have fallen into ruins. At one time up here was a thriving village, Nentsberry, with pub, chapel and school. An old man out walking looks as though he comes from that period, they are probably bred tough up here.

  Down some steps the road is reached at a bridge. The Hare and Hounds is ruined, but a once blacksmith’s shop is still standing. Across the bridge is Nent Hall built from the proceeds of the rich Hudgill mine and now a country house hotel.

  I meet a woman coming along the riverside path and she warns me of a closure farther along due to flood erosion repairs. So my brief spell by the water comes to an end at the Path Closed sign. I suspect that people are still using it, but I decide to be sensible and follow an alternative FP up past the neglected Lovelady Shield Hotel. I  climb steeply up the hillside to meet a quiet road and then a rough mining track contouring the valley. There are a few farms up here, but most of the surviving properties are holiday lets. All around are signs of past mining, I’m getting good views of the valley and stride out purposefully.

The track drops me into Blagill, another old settlement clinging on.

The last stretch into Alston is a delightful path alongside the River Nent as it slides over limestone slabs and tumbles down small waterfalls. Along here there has been flood damage from Storm Desmond and repair work has been carried out using European money. What’s the future for funding these projects now?

  Curlew are making a commotion as I pass through their fields. I forgot to mention that I spotted a red kite early on.

Alston is reputed to be the highest market town in England and I enter it on twisted cobbled alleys, arriving at the Market Cross. I’ll explore farther tomorrow as I’m ready for a brew and a rest. My Inn for the night is run rather incongruously by a Chinese lady who is most welcoming and full of laughs. I think I’m going to enjoy this walk.



The memorial stone to Isaac Holden in the churchyard at Allendale states –












  Isaac was born to a poor family in the West Allen valley NE of Alston. He naturally started work in the lead mining industry from a young age  but at some stage in the 1830s  when work was hard to come by he and his wife opened a grocery shop in Allendale and he began selling tea in this local area of the Northern Pennines. Tea was becoming popular, its price had dropped meaning the less prosperous could afford it. Methodist Chapel tea bazaars were a means of raising money. Around the same time he became devoutly religious and started fundraising for local projects. It is for his charitable deeds that he is mainly remembered.

  This 37 mile long distance walk has been established to explore the scenic area of these Northern Pennines and introduce one to the rich mining and religious history still to be found in the villages. Isaac would walk these very paths, selling his tea to the local lead miners and farmers.

  The Wesleyan Chapel, Allendale, 1839,  Savings Bank, Allendale, 1840s,  Isaac’s Well, Allendale, 1849,  Hearse House, Ninebanks,1856 are some of his legacies visited en route.

It is a circular walk and thus can be started anywhere, there are sufficient accommodation opportunities in the villages to support the walker on what is described as a strenuous route. There is a website with all the information you need and downloadable directions and maps.  The route is marked on the OS maps. A guide book has been written by Roger Morris and is available from the Allenheads Trust Ltd.

The forecast remains fair for another week, so time to put on my boots again; follow in Isaac’s footsteps; explore this quiet region; soak up some history and maybe drink some tea.


Day 1. Nenthead to Alston.

Day 2. Alston to Ninebanks.

Day 3. Ninebanks to Allendale.

Day 4. Allendale to Nenthead.