> Isaac's Tea Trail - Will Horsley

25th September 2011

Isaac's Tea Trail is a long distance route mainly based in Allendale, south east Northumberland, but which also runs into Cumbria along a short section of the South Tyne and River Nent. It is marked on OS maps and comprehensive details are available on the internet including route map, description, and history. I had been intrigued by this route for some time having covered a few short sections of it before and had been planning to run the full 36 miles for a while. Last Sunday seemed a good bet weather-wise and would probably be my last chance to do it for a while so I abandoned plans for the Viking Chase and made an early start to Nenthead. The 'official' starting point is Allendale Town where there is now also a plaque to Isaac Holden, a Victorian tea merchant and philantropist who used to trade in these valleys. Logistically for me Nenthead represented a better starting point. At twenty past eight I started the climb to Hartley Moor opting for an anticlockwise route, against the generally recommended clockwise. This meant I had a fairly short but steep climb to start with followed by a long descent down the Allen Valley. There were some threatening looking clouds overhead and I fully expected a soaking at some point but it never happened. Indeed, the weather improved all the day and I ran almost the whole time in a vest, only requiring something warmer on the odd section of high moor. The route is in fact pretty well sheltered most of the way, mainly consisting of low-level paths alongside rivers and streams through pastures and on farm tracks. This did however present a different kind of problem due to a frustrating amount of gates and styles of all types that had to be negotiated. Not only did this get a bit tiring but it also broke up the rhythm of running, which can be very important towards the end of a long run. Consequently this run took a lot longer than I had expected it to. The scenery is beautiful and took me along routes that I would never have covered otherwise, a particular highlight being Clarghyll Hall. Except for one short section which it shares with the Pennine Way, and some footpaths around the bigger towns (Allendale and Alston), I saw only two other people on the entire route. I did this solo but technically not unsupported as I did buy a bottle of Lucozade in Alston. In fact, I had allowed myself to get too dehydrated and there is not much good drinkable water on the route. I got back to Nenthead in 7h44m having set out thinking that seven hours would comfortably do it. It was a fantastic day and I think I made the right choice given reports I have seen of the Viking Chase, a race I am yet to do (sorry Dave P). I would recommend this but reckon going clockwise from Allendale probably would be best as Alston would then be about halfway and you can stock up on food and drink or even stop for a pub lunch. It would also mean an easy finish along a section of the West Allen which is easier than the section upstream to Nenthead where erosion has shrunk the path to less than a foot wide at one point. I can provide PDF copy of OS 1:25K map with the route highlighted or a digital version of the route for those with Memory Map software or GPS device. My mapping brings the route in at about 37 miles, but I covered 38 with a couple of route indiscretions and necessary diversions around cow herds. When I got home I had a large mug of tea and thanked Isaac for choosing such a beautiful place to ply his trade.

Isaac's Tea Trail website

Hexham Courant article on Will's record

Will Horsley

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