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Isaac's Tea Trail Walk - North Pennines
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Isaac's Tea Trail Route

Introduction (updated April 2016)

imageIsaac's Tea Trail has been described as England's last great undiscovered wilderness trek(The Independent on Sunday). The trail runs over 36 miles mainly in Northumberland and entirely within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Following in Isaac's footsteps is a great way to discover the comparatively unexplored far North of England, (actually, it is near enough the middle of Britain). Check the map for Allendale and Alston, where the trail reaches Cumbria down the Nent Valley. Other walkers are few and far between, unlike the busier parts of the Lake District and Hadrian's Wall.    

The higher moorland sections offer a challenge with easier going along the tree fringed river valleys. The trail can be completed over two to three days or longer by doing shorter distances in a more leisurely style.               

Isaac's Tea Trail is named after Isaac Holden an itinerant tea seller and local philanthropist. Isaac was a lead miner, who was forced to find another livelihood, when faced with the twin blows of illness and the closure of the Mohope lead mines. His salvation came in a novel way as a door to door tea seller mainly in the Allendale area. At this time he also experienced a spiritual re-birth and like many folk in the dales became a convert to Methodism, which by the 1800s was "the religion of the dale".   

Fuelled by religious conviction he combined tea selling with fund raising for the poor and needy in the East and West Allen valleys. He was the instigator of an impressive number of ventures of wider community benefit. Reminders can still be seen around Allendale at Isaac's Well, in the chapels, where one is now the public library and the Trinity Methodist Chapel. On the corner of the Market Place in what is now The Gift Shop was once the old Penny Savings Bank. While nearby past the Allendale Co-op, tucked away in the churchyard of St. Cuthbert's church is a rather grand memorial to Isaac Holden. 

Five miles away at Ninebanks in the West Allen valley, the hearse house built specially for the celebrated "Holden hearse"  stands by the roadside and has been restored as an interpretation point and is a welcome place to enjoy the surroundings in a landscape little changed since Victorian times.  

The trail includes the remote farmsteads and fell side miners' cottages where Isaac delivered tea. During his perambulations he sold self penned poems and copies of "of his likeness", which was an early form of photograph to raise money for his charities. Nenthead, Alston, Kirkhaugh and Ninebanks at various times all played a part in the life of Isaac Holden.         

In the ups and downs in Victorian family fortunes his cousin (another Isaac), invented looms and manufactured textiles for the Yorkshire woollen industry. The firm of Isaac Holden and Sons generated enormous profits, though little of this wealth trickled down to the Holdens' poor relations at Nenthead. The woollen mills in Bradford at The Alston Works was named after his father's birth place and with mills in Keighley, St. Denis in Paris and Roubaix in Northern France.       

The rich and varied heritage of the North Pennines is well represented on Isaac's Tea Trail with examples with the magnificent Roman Fort of Whitley Castle (Epiacum), defensive bastle house such as Rowantree Stob, and extensive evidence of industrial archaeology and the mining and smelting of lead and silver throughout. A world apart from what has now become one of the most tranquil and unspoilt parts of England.             

The trail starts in Allendale at Isaac's Well in the Market Place and goes over to Nenthead and Alston and returns by Ninebanks (YHA Ninebanks). The route is fully way marked and includes distinctive Isaac signs. The higher sections may be remote, but nowhere is more than 20 minutes from a road. Walking boots and clothing appropriate to the conditions are essential and an awareness that there can be sudden changes in the weather. 

Check the weather forecast beforehand.  

The trail is printed on the Ordnance Survey Maps Landranger 87  1:50,000 and the Outdoor Leisure Series 31 and 43 1:25,000 series. The best option is to order your own dedicated map. Go to "Select Explorer", centre at NY 772 514, chose folded and you follow the trail on a single sheet. The map(s) are recommended to be used with the new trail guide+ SAE from Tourist Information Centres at:-

  • Hexham TIC
    Queens Library,Beaumont Street,
    NE46 3LS

        t: 01434 652220

  •  Alston Local Links
     The Town Hall
     Front Street
     CA9 3RF

         t: 01434 382244

Also from Allenheads Trust Ltd, Trust Office, Allenheads, Heritage Centre, Allenheads NE47 9HN 




The trail is divided into 4 main sections.  These can be modified to fit your own timetable,fitness and according to the terrain, weather and the time of the year.  Allow between 2-4 days or whatever feels comfortable and be aware the ground is muddy in places.

Allendale to Nenthead (11 miles) (1575 ft ascent) – Follows the East Allen valley upstream crossing denes and through lightly wooded riverside. Then joins the Black Way to Coalcleugh over high heather moors to the County boundary and down a rough moorland track to the road into Nenthead.

Nenthead to Alston (5.5 miles) (525 ft ascent) – Alternates between the fell side and waterfalls as the river Nent cascades down to Alston. Plenty of stiles and passes close by some residences. 

Alston to Ninebanks (9.5 miles) (1214 ft ascent) – Follows the Pennine Way past the Roman fort at Whitley Castle before crossing the River S.Tyne near Kirkhaugh church. Loops back at Randalholm, up the valley of the Ayle Burn over the A686 and up a rough moorland track beyond Clargillhead down to the West Allen at Mohope.

Ninebanks to Allendale (9.5 miles) (984 ft ascent) –From Ninebanks (Mohope)crosses the watershed of the West Allen back to the East Allen, through rough pasture, meadows and woodlands with a riverside walk into Allendale. Enjoy the variety and celebrate with a pot of tea in Allendale or even a local beer.

Beforehand check each section in the guide book with the maps. What can appear as straightforward may not be so clear on the ground. 

If fitness or time are considerations, then shorter sections can be completed  between Allendale and Allenheads, Alston and Nenthead using public transport. You can also take the train on the South Tyne Railway between Alston and Kirkhaugh. Ninebanks and the West Allen is a green haven for shorter walks linked to the trail. In Allendale, twenty minutes, can be spent in a short "I spy" tour spotting places with Isaac Holden associations.    


Click on the map to view a detailed version of the Isaac's Tea Trail route

Potential trouble spots - Stop Press - Easter 2016

The splendid board walk in Allendale through Tommy Stout's Wood has been destroyed by a landslip. A viable detour is available down the Crockton Burn below Keenley Chapel via Pia Troon, Low Oustey to Thornley Gate to Smelt Mill Bridge.     

(1) Roughside(GR 783 452) is well named, head for the ruined farmstead of this name. The foot path over the County boundary into Cumbria has been re-aligned to follow the definitive way almost down to the track in front of Roughside, which keeps to the contour round to the road into Nenthead. There is a bench seat and bladed sign on the Right of Way where the path runs above and past Roughside. Avoid the temptation to drop straight done towards the ruin.  

OS maps include inaccuracies:-

(1) Kirkhaugh Station (GR 694 497) Cross the stone railway bridge at the station and down to the footbridge over the River South Tyne. (Do not ford the river!!)

(2) At Blagill (GR 740 472) Use the bridleway through the hamlet and avoid the longer hairpin and unnecessary road walking. 

(The OS have been informed and future re-prints will include these amendments) 

Go to WWW.GEOGRAPH.ORG.UK check out Isaac's Tea Trail for views and features to see on the trail. Please add your own favourite images.  


Nent Valley (W. Foreshield NY 750467) River side erosion and the loss of a section of path about 150m upstream of Foreshield road bridge (B6294) Though this still remains a Right of Way, great care is needed with the prevailing weather conditions and individual circumstances taken into account. If in doubt a temporary alternative is available by following the road to Nentsberry Bridge or the footpath above Foreshield farm and taking the higher and quieter road above Nentsberry Bridge. 

East Allen (Park Farm NY NY835533) Immediately, before Park Farm the sign for a bull in the field has now been covered up. This was to advise walkers and not to deter the public from walking on a Right of Way. Bulls are found elsewhere along the trail and on rural footpaths everywhere. "Bull in field" rather than the old "Beware of the bull" signs are there to inform the public of this hazard. Better to be forewarned, than to discover that the well proportioned cow or bullock is a bull. Because much of the trail is occupied by livestock -cattle, sheep and alpacas, as well as ground nesting birds; dogs should be on leads, or even better left at home. The NFU advice is "Your dog can scare or harm farm animals keep it on a lead around livestock, but let go if chased by cattle."          

A farmer is entitled to keep bulls of up to 10 months old in a field with a public footpath.  Bulls more than 10 months old of a recognised dairy breed - Ayrshire, British Friesan, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry are barred from fields crossed by public paths under all circumstances. All other bulls over 10 months are banned unless accompanied by cows and heifers.       

Services (accommodation, transport, parking, toilets and libraries)


For the Isaac's Tea Trail accommodation and services guide please send s.a.e. to Allenheads Trust Ltd, Heritage Centre, Allenheads, Northumberland, NE47 9HN

Public transport details are on or t:0871 2002233. Unfortunately, there are no Sunday bus services. Except in the Nent Valley where there is a Saturday and Sunday Roof of England 100 Service up and down the Nent Valley 3 times a day linking Nenthead and Alston and as far as Stanhope in Weardale. 

Taxis and baggage support are available from Allendale, Alston, Langley and Hexham. new for 2016 offer a comprehensive service including luggage carriage for all sections of the trail tel.01756-770402 (be the first to complete a review of the trail!)

For car users, there is free parking in Allendale Market Place, at the start of the Black Way (East Allen), Nenthead in the North Pennines Heritage Trust car park, in Alston at Fairhill Recreation Ground off the A689 to Nenthead. Clargillhead between Alston and Ninebanks. Ninebanks, there is a parking space near Blackpool Bridge over the West Allen River and at the roadside, near Ninebanks Church. Also a couple of parking spaces next to the hearse house. Keenley cross roads and opposite the Keenley Chapel (East Allen).   

There are public toilets at Alston, Allendale, Allenheads and Nenthead.   

A community shop in the centre of Nenthead is the only shop between Allendale and Alston, where you can have a cup of tea. There is a public library in the old Town Hall in Alston, known as Local Links combined with tourist information. Allendale also has the  the library in the Primitive Methodist Chapel partly built by Isaac Holden's fund raising where you can browse surrounded by dedications to Methodist worthies of yesteryear.                  

Footpath difficulties on the trail

If you experience difficulties, such as blocked paths or riverside erosion - it happens - contact:

In Northumberland: East and West Allendale 

Duncan Lovatt, Area Countryside Officer,Countryside Service, Environment Directorate, County Hall, Morpeth, Northumberland NE61 2EF Tel. 01670 533000

In Cumbria: Nenthead and Alston

Chris Graham, Countryside Access Officer, Highways Transportation and Environment, Cumbria C.C., Parkhouse Building, Kingmoor Park, Carlisle, CA6 4SJ Tel. 0845 6096609 (choose Carlisle option)

What next?

If you have enjoyed walking the trail, you may wish to walk other Long Distance Paths(LDP).  For further details visit the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) website at Consult The UK Trailwalker's Handbook (Eighth Edition) ISBN: 978 1 85284 579 7 published in 2009. 


The sites below provide additional information for walkers, who enjoy this wonderful countryside and want to keep it that way. a superb base to walk the trail with excellent amenities in Alston YHA Ninebanks - welcomes walkers at the heart of the trail in peaceful Mohope the trail is within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Weardale life, John Wesley and Methodism (Primary Teachers see Curriculum link with the story of Isaac Holden)  John Martin Heritage Trail is adjacent to Isaac's Tea Trail. John Martin was a famous painter known for his apocalyptic scenes inspired by the Old Testament.  It is also possible to detect influences of the Tynedale landscape from his childhood. See (The Bard - Laing Art Gallery, the Allen Banks gorge and Staward Peel). Isaac Holden and John Martin were related. Further information on Methodist heritage. Look out for copies of the Methodist Heritage Handbook, Methodist Heritage News and pdf of curriculum links for primary age pupils linked to the life of Isaac Holden. Erosion and unstable river banks are a serious problem to the riverside footpaths along the trail. Tyne Rivers Trust have done much to re-instate and safeguard riverside paths, particularly in the Nent Valley.


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