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Isaac's Tea Trail Walk - North Pennines
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Highlights on Isaac's Tea Trail Walk

Updated November 2017

LOVE Northumberland Allenheads Trust - Isaac's Tea Trail Category Winner - Best Coast and Country Project

Clare Balding - Ramblings Radio 4 download podcast from BBC i player of Clare's walk on Isaac's Tea Trail from 23rd March 

Don't forget to sign the visitors' book at Isaac's hearse house near Ninebanks church.  

Trail leaflets below are free to download

            A guide to Isaac's Tea Trail : Hidden Heritage in the North of England (PDF)

            New shorter Isaac's Tea Trail walks (PDF)

 "A guide to Isaac's Tea Trail:Hidden Heritage in England's North Country"complete with mapping and 100 places and people of interest, is available from Allenheads Trust Ltd, Heritage Centre, Allenheads,Northumberland NE47 9HN or from bookshops in Hexham (Cogito) and in Corbridge (The Forum). Also included is an insert of accommodation and service providers for visitors.   

          Copies of trail leaflet also available from Allenheads Trust Ltd (include S.A.E.)

          For alternatives to the full route, try the shorter Isaac's tea trails -Allendale (4   miles) Allenheads to Sinderhope linear (7 miles), Keenley Chapel circular (4 miles) and Nenthead - Greenends circular (4 miles) 

          For copies of the guide and leaflet, please forward your details to Allenheads Trust Ltd, Heritage Centre, Allenheads, Northumberland NE47 9HN or email

Do look at Anne Leuchar's trail blog to see the trail and meet some of the folk you may find in Isaac's Country.

See also Susie White's Country Diary in The Guardian- "Marks made on the landscape by an itinerant tea seller." 

Brigantes Walking Holidays (1st April-30th September) including support with transport and accommodation

IsaIsaac would have been pleased !

A plaque to Isaac Holden is at Isaac's Well (start and finish of trail), in Allendale Market Place.  Isaac raised the funds for  the well in 1849 to provide a safe water supply at a time when cholera and typhoid were rife.

What do you think of the trail ?  

Feedback is always helpful and is how improvements are made. 

"What a fantastic challenge in stunning countryside! I shall be recommending it to friends and colleagues alike" Iain Field, Durham , "......a wonderful walk ....all types of terrain and landscape ......a "real" gem of a walk that could appeal to many different groups -especially wildflowers/natural history/local history/industrial archaeology....The accommodation along the route was first class and very individual which only added to the trip. We also stayed at Ninebanks (YHA) and will certainly come again".  Rosemary Carthy, Scotland

Congratulations to Will Horsley of Northumberland Fell Runners, who covered the trail in 7 hours and 44 mins. on 25th September, 2011. Will is the first person known to have ran the trail. Writing afterwards noted, "It was a fantastic day. When I got home I had a large mug of tea and thanked Isaac for choosing such a beautiful place to ply his trade."

In May 2013 Alston and Durham Fell Runner Stanley Charles smashed Will's record to 6 hrs. and 37 mins. Stan made a last minute decision to run the whole route as he was jogging to work down the South Tyne to Robin Wood. Please let us now if this record has been broken again! 

Tom from Manchester ran the trail over Christmas in preparation for "the toughest footrace on earth" the Marathon des Sables over the Sahara desert.       

What the papers say ?  

100 holiday ideas for Travel The Independent on Sunday,

"Isaac's Tea Trail remains one of the last great undiscovered wilderness treks in England".

Mark Rowe.

The Guardian -Travel also featured the trail under "Wander and wonder historical walks" as "Northumbria Tea Trail". "Thought you had to go to Sri Lanka to walk a tea trail? Not so......"  Gemma Bowes.  A reminder that there are excellent tea shops at Allenheads, Allendale and Alston. 

A Walk On The Wild Side 

"Beautiful or bleak, depending on your perspective, there is no denying the grandeur of the North Pennines ....I chose as my introduction to this wild and sometimes windswept countryside a section of the unlikely-named Isaac's Tea Trail. The trail climbs upwardsto the broad sweep of Carrshield Moor. The views from here seem endless....." Peter Beal Press Association featured in the Yorkshire Post, Shropshire Star, Whitehaven News and in business and several professional magazines.

Isaac's global network

Isaac's Tea Trail is recommended under the entry for North Pennines in "501 Must Visit Wild Places" sold around the world. 

BiBird Watching 

Interesting historic reference to a Stone Curlew or Norfolk Plover, near Whitfield in the late 1920s. Have there been any sightings in recent years?  Reports of a Great Grey Shrike nesting successfully on Alston Moor in 2009. Also reports of Corncrake heard near Catton in 2008 and 2009. A pair of kites seen over the East and West Allen in 2008 are no longer present . After record numbers of Red Grouse below Killhope in 2008 the numbers plummeted in 2009 but have since recovered to record numbers in 2012. Black grouse now widespread flocks of up to 14 in West Allen. Barn Owls around Alston Moor badly effected by last winter's big freeze though news of at least one nesting pair around Kirkhaugh also at Dryburn in the West Allen. December 2010 Waxwings feeding above the Allen Gorge near Staward. 2012 6 pairs of buzzards in West Allen, Red Kite at Allenheads and cuckoos heard in May at Nenthead and Allenheads. Short Eared owl can be seen circling low on the Black Way or perched on the marker posts. 2013 Red Backed Shrike nesting on Alston Moor. 2014 was a good year with a dry spring and a warm summer with most species recording successful broods. Year on year particularly in the Spring when sightings which may be a rarity in other parts of the country of Curlews and Lapwings can be seen along much of the trail.               

Discover more about Isaac Holden and his trail   

Isaac a travelling tea seller and fund raiser became a legend from the mid-1800s. You can see why the trail celebrates his name, in Allendale, at Isaacís Well, The Wesleyan Trinity Chapel, The Primitive Methodist chapel (the library), Savings bank (The Gift Shop), and his memorial in St. Cuthbertís churchyard.  Also look out for Holden's hearse house, about 20 yards further on from the turning for St. Mark's church at Ninebanks in the West Allen Valley. A submission has been made to the Allen Valleys Landscape Project to restore the hearse house to its former glory in March 2014 and a grant has been awarded to do the work which has now been completed.      

Other places with Holden associations are the site of the ancestral home at Nenthead (Greenends) and Castle Nook farm (Whitley Castle), three miles from Alston. Ann Telfer, the future Mrs. Holden was a servant on the farm. Isaac and Ann were married at Kirkhaugh church, over the footbridge on the opposite side of the South Tyne River. The Bavarian influence in the design with the lofty interior is such a surprise in this remote north country setting that makes it worth a visit.      

Isaac grew up at Mohope in the West Allen valley between Alston and Allendale. When only eight years old, he worked on the washing floor of the lead mine and at about 13 years of age, as a lead miner at the Hartley/Heartycleugh lead mine. He was no ordinary fund raiser; as he went to exceptional lengths to secure funds.  The story of how he managed to raise money for the Holden hearse throws light not only on his life but the wider Victorian society. 

Follow Isaac's example by fund raising for a charity of your choice. Well done to the pair from Egger UK who walked the trail and raised £491 for the Ben Elliot's footsteps charity. Also Ann Codling raised money for Oxfam.

The trail is grounded in the fascinating heritage of lead mining of the North Country dales. The villages are separated by wild mountains and look as well as feel different: Allendale and Alston, the community hubs of Allenheads and Nenthead and the hamlets of Kirkhaugh and Ninebanks. You'll find your own favourite. 

On the trail of ancestors

Over Alston Moor and Allendale Common, after the collapse of lead mining the bulk of the population migrated after the 1870s. There are only three properties where people now live, the rest has gone or are left as isolated ruins on the fellside. The people settled on the coalfields of Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria or went to the expanding manufacturing industries of the region. Others went much further to North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The people took with them only their names, few possessions and mostly fond memories. 

May be you are of North Country descent from a lead mining family. There are even some Cornish families, who had earlier taken their mining skills north the Trathans,Trealors and Indians. The Vipond were the Lords of Alston Moor after the Norman conquest, while other names are older and of Saxon or Norse origin. 

The Holden claim to be of Viking blood owes more to nineteenth century re-branding than firm genealogical foundations. Holden/Haldon/Howdon and other variants of the name have lived around Alston Moor for over 300 hundred years.

Philipson is numerous around Allendale. Peart,Emerson,Fairless,Proud,Heatherington, Featherstone, Fairless,Proud and Graham in Weardale. Vipond and Varty in Alston. Names listed below have all lived along Isaac's Tea Trail and many still do. 

Archer, Armstrong, Bell, Blacklock, Coulson, Coulthard, Clementson, Dixon, Dodd, Edgar, Emerson, Elliott, Ellison, Graham, Featherstone, Fairless, Hodgson, Henderson, Hetherington, Hutchinson, Jackson, Keenleyside, Lee, Liddle, Maughan, Millican, Milburn, Martin, Morpeth, Nixon, Nattrass, Philipson, Proud, Peart, Ritson, Ridley, Stobbs, Stout, Snaith, Shields, Tate, Thompson, Tailford, Varty, Vipond, Ward, Whitfield, Walton and Wallace.      

To see the close links with Australia visit Mixo Sydenham's website "Lead Ore Mining Families from Alston to Australia" and follow the fortunes of the Richardson, Liddell, Calvert, Bell, Parker, Broadwood, Coulson and other families.    


Wildlife and Environment

Black Grouse are found roosting in tree cover in the cleughs and ghylls on the higher ground. Barn owls can be seen at dusk and short eared owls by day. Golden plovers, lapwings, curlews, oyster catchers, redshanks and other waders make the uplands their home. Kestrels and buzzards hover and glide on the crests of the fells. Autumn freshets bring salmon and sea trout leaping the weir below Allendale. Rabbits are everywhere; deer, hares, stoats and weasels, usually make an appearance. While "Ratty" the water vole is in decline in the rest of the country, he's doing well in the water meadows of the River Nent and in the East Allen. Around Alston and in the Allen Valleys, keep your eyes open for red squirrels. Volunteer groups are doing their best to keep the greys' out. You can report sightings of grey squirrels to 01434-38224 or 07518 038979 for the Alston area. In spring and summertime the hay meadows are flower rich.  The mountain pansies, mikwort, harebells, grass of parnassus, meadow cranesbill and countless others, follow a seasonal succession and bring their colours' to the trail.

Scenery and Landscape

Isaac's Tea Trail is a great way to discover some of the best scenery in Northumberland around Allendale. Don't take my word for it. This is what Dire Straits' Mark Knoffler says, "........what a fantastic country Northumberland is. I still think it's one of the best- kept secrets in the world and long may it stay that way. I don't want it to be invaded. I still fantasise about having a little cottage up in the Tyne Valley maybe somewhere up on the tops near Allendale or Whitfield where the views are out of this world".      

The Black Way to Coalcleugh falls under the shadow of Killhope Law (673m) Durhamís highest fell, close to where Northumberland, Durham and Cumberland meet. There's grandstand views to Cross Fell (893m) and on your return to Allendale, near Clargillhead, The Cheviot (815m) is on the horizon to the far north.  

The North Pennines is a landscape shaped by centuries of lead mining; valuable silver was also smelted from the lead ore. The passage of time has healed the worst of the man-made scars.  For over approximately half of the trailís length, there are interconnected tunnels known as levels. Another feature are the small reservoirs often hidden from view or now drained dry that supplied water races etched into the contours on the fell sides. These fed giant water wheels to William Armstrong's hydraulic engines that pumped water from the mines and powered machinery for processing lead ore. Look out for pieces of purple fluorspar, a mineral closely associated with lead around the old mine workings. This is almost the same colour when in bloom to the purple heather and at its most eye catching after rain or with morning dew.  

Spirituality and Faith

"One of the most beautiful places on earth" -Retreat on feet (Isaac's Tea Trail)  Alan Jeans, Archdeacon of Sarum In a busy world, walking is a gentle way to find peace. It is also a pleasant way to keep healthy in  body and mind. Pick up a copy of the excellent Methodist Heritage Handbook information for visitors to historic Methodist places in Britain including the trail. Download the leaflet "A Dales Journey in the footsteps of John Wesley" to discover more about Methodist places of special interest in the North East of England including Keenley Methodist Chapel is available as a free download from the Westgate and Coanwood pages on the website of the Historic Chapels Trust (  Keenley Methodist Chapel (1750) is the oldest Methodist Chapel in continuous regular use.     

Each of the main sections begins and ends, near a parish church. 

(1) St. Cuthbert's, Allendale 

(2) St. John's, Nenthead 

(3) St. Augustine's, Alston 

(4) Church of the Holy Paraclete at Kirkhaugh 

(5) St. Mark's, Ninebanks (Isaac was baptised here, also visit Isaac's Hearse House a short distance up the road)  

They hold regular services and are an enduring link to the life of Isaac Holden. The churches and the many chapels for generations were at the heart of community life, when lead and silver mining dominated this the wild upland.       

The churches and the historic chapels, from the the simplest to the ornate are a regular reminder of a spiritual dimension to the trail. Chester Armstrong, a native of Nenthead like countless others left the area to find employment in Ashington on the Northumberland coalfield. He wrote looking back on his early life. "The present generations know little of the spiritual fervour which constituted the body and soul of Non-confromity, or of the true place it has occupied in our social history. We owe to our forefathers a debt."          

Also on the trail beyond Allendale up the East Allen Valley, look out for the Old Pry Hill Wesleyan Chapel, near the farm of this name. The former Primitive Methodist chapel now a ruin at Appletree Shield from 1829 stands above the confluence of the Mohope and Wellhope Burn. Its well worth a short detour of half a mile from the trail. 

The Ritson family made a major contribution to Primitive Methodist (P.M.) worship in the West Allen and the world beyond. Primitive Methodism was evangelical and passionately supported in the mining communities. Great store was placed on revivalist meetings and conversions that followed. The Ritsons were joiners and builders and worshipped in the chapels they actually built. Joseph Ritson's (Snr.) youngest son became Rev. Joseph Ritson (1852 -1932), a prolific writer and editor of Methodist publications. He trained for the ministry from the age of 14 and in 1913, was elected President of the P.M. Conference in Derby. He retained a lifelong attachment to the Allen Dales.      

Over in Weardale, in County Durham, High House Chapel is the oldest purpose built chapel in continuous use since 1760. Services are held every Sunday morning at 11.00 am. A visit to The Weardale Museum, (next door to the chapel) is recommended and is open between Easter and the end of September. Inside is a cornucopia of domestic, social and working life of Upper Weardale from the late Victorian years. 

Returning to Isaac's Tea Trail, the chapels and other places, are listed below. There's almost one chapel for every mile of the trail, some have disappeared or even dismantled and relocated for other uses. Before dedicated chapels, services were held in homes, mine workshops, barns and in summer at open air camp meetings.

Allendale to Nenthead - Allendale "heckler's or flax-comber's shop, Allendale Trinity, 1760 (W) - still in use, Allendale, Dawson Place, 1835 (PM) -library, Pry Hill, 1861, (W), Swinhope, 1845 (PM), Coalcleugh - mine workshop, also Shield Ridge, 1854 (W).        

Nenthead to Alston - Latimer's barn at the foot of Dykeheads Road (PM), Nenthead (W), Nenthead (PM), Nenthead (PM), Nentsbury, Hayring, 1829 (PM), Nentsbury, 1868 (PM), Nentsbury (W), Blagill (PM).

Alston to Ninebanks - Alston (W), Alston (PM), Kirkhaugh (W),1873.

Ninebanks to Allendale - Mohope,1858 (W), Appletree Shield, 1829 (PM), Hesleywell, 1827 (W), Allotment House (1830-40s), Corry Hill, 1844 (PM), High House, 1829 (W), Keenley Cross Roads, (1848) (PM), and Keenley, 1750 (W).  

W=Wesleyan, PM=Primitive Methodist

Main source: Methodism in the Allen Dales by Evelyn M. Charlton 1998. 

Further reading: The Travelling Preacher John Wesley in the North - East of England 1742 -1790 Geoffrey Milburn ISBN 1 85852 236 6  Revised edition 2003 (Essential reading, a highly readable account, see Ch. IX John Wesley in the Dales). John Wesley said of Newcastle "Lovely place, lovely people" and was welcomed on his visits to the Allendale area.         

Cooperative Societies

You wont' find them within the glossy folds of the tourism mags. After crossing the moors, you may be in need of some retail therapy, then check out the Co-operative stores. These are the retail counterparts of the chapels and have been at the forefront of the Fair Trade movement. The Allendale Co-op won a national award for service and Alston Co-op has long opening hours. Both are a good source of local supplies. Until about thirty years ago there were even societies at Nenthead and Whitfield with a branch at Ninebanks.    

Bastle Houses (and Peel towers)

Is the name given to the defensive farmsteads, within raiding distance of either side of the Anglo- Scottish Border. The bastles are found in this part of the North Pennines where the stealing/shifting of livestock, blackmail and bloodshed by feuding Reiver families was an every day story of Border folk. There is no better place to study bastles than along the trail. For the dedicated bastle spotter, the massive stone blocks above the entrances (often walled in) are a stunning feature. 

Allendale to Nenthead - Rowantree Stob* and Knockburn

Nenthead to Alston - Blagill Bastle and High Lovelady Shield

Alston to Ninebanks - Whitlow i,ii,iii (nr. Whitley Castle), Dyke House, Underbank, Clarghyll Hall and White Lea (within sight)

Ninebanks to Allendale - Furnace House, Monk i,ii,iii,iv

The bastles are private dwellings, integrated within farm buildings or sometimes a ruin and need to be viewed with respect to owners' privacy,farm work and safety. * (Rowantree Stob, Natural England has funded essential repair work, to prevent further deterioration to the building. This is a "must see" place.  Rowantree Stob is unusual with walls thinner than most bastles. Carved in into a door way are the letters "TR" which are probably the initials of a relation of Margaret Rowele, who is recorded as a tenant in 1608.     

FAQ  about Isaac Holden

Q. How did he travel between places?

A. He walked with the tea in a budget (a small churn) on his back, only the wealthy could afford horses and there were few. Donkeys (cuddys) became more common on the new Turnpike roads. By then pedlars had to pay a licence to sell specified goods, such as cuttlery and a fixed rate for a beast of burden. Some considered the charge unfair, as it was the same as for a horse. One disgruntled traveller carried his small cuddy around the toll house, to show that it was no bigger than a dog and should be charged the same rate. Early in the nineteenth century there was a weekly postal service and a pony was used by the mail from Hexham. Some of the better off farmers kept the sturdy galloway ponies and used them with the local hunts. 

Q. How could the poor lead miners afford tea?

A. There were steady reductions in import duty in the first half of the 19th century, which reduced the purchase price. Later the new tea plantations in India and Ceylon helped meet the increased consumption.  Even the  poorest could now afford the occasional cup. Tea was also the mainstay at Methodist social gatherings and drank elsewhere as a non alcoholic alternative to beer.  Lead miners were not all poor and tea was drank at the work house. 

Q. How could Isaac make a living, when now there are so few houses?

A. Several properties have gone or are reduced to piles of stones.  At Coalcleugh, there was a village of almost 200, where now there are only 2-3 occupied houses. The West Allen had a mid 19th century population of around two thousand, which has dropped to a few hundred and is now on the increase. 

Q. Did he visit all the places on the trail?

A. Yes. Holden had an extensive family network and kinsfolk were among his customers. He also knew many folk from his day's as a lead miner and was well known in Methodist circles. The railway from Alston and Haydon Bridge made visits to Carlisle, Newcastle and the coast.            

Q. How was the tea delivered and packaged?

A. Commercial practices evolved over this period. Isaac brought tea to folks doors in much the same way as the Rington's van still do. Tea was available from wholesale outlets in Newcastle. It seems likely the tea was weighed and packaged in the Holden's shop and then delivered by Isaac around Allendale and beyond. Safety and reliability became increasingly important with public concern for the adulteration of tea with iron filings and other substances (there was also widespread abuse to other beverages and food stuffs). This gave impetus to packaging and branding, which provided some assurance in product reliability. Isaac's Strange Gift provides more details about tea selling in the North Pennines and the importance of doorstep deliveries to the dispersed communities. The coal trade from Newcastle Upon Tyne from the beginning of the 18th century particularly with London meant collier ships returned to the North East with supplies of tea and coffee. These found their way inland through the lead trade from the Tyne, as far as Alston, Allendale and some years before other regions in Britain.   



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