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Alston >  Google™ Map Jul 2013  Cumbria Coat of Arms

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Jul 2013

Map - OL31 - NORTH PENNINES - Teesdale & Weardale.

Distance 6.5 miles Strenuousity 2.

Cumbria Coat of Arms

SlyBob quite like France and have been lucky enough to notch up a near-double-digit number of trips above, on and even under la Manche.

That's France that is

Lazy, rude and smelly describe some people who don't like the French but switcheroo-ing back, that's quite a lazy one to lob into the neighbour's garden and then run away.

They've got the lot! Atlantic beaches, fertile flatlands, lakes and mountains, Eiffel Tower. This island has its own smaller versions, of course, smaller because, despite there being nearly the same number of peeps, there's less than half the available space to play with, probably.

It's not all evangelising and unlike Italy, their run-of-the-mill grub is often just that and sour-faced Parisian service does exist. That's more than outweighed though by dramatic patisserie, pantomime thunderstorms and the annual grapple with the lingo.

Even that Clarkson has a not-so-secret soft spot for the place.

This is mentioned because Alston has just been gone to, which was always thought to be in Northumberland but is actually just in Cumbria.

Some digression there and no, this isn't all about the place being twinned with 'Saint Pièrre-le-Poulet-sur-Bain-Marie' or somewhere, in fact, it doesn't seem to be twinned with anywhere?

No, Alston Moor Film were only having their annual Le Weekend with French film screenings in the Town Hall to coincide with Bastille Day.


There's  Ratatouille for the kids,  Jean de Florette for the mums and  Intouchables, no, not a mucky one for the dads but one for all the family.

With boules and moules nearby, this was very unexpected and rather a nice surprise.

Alston is also home to the South Tynedale Railway. They've been operating here since 1983 and run an hour-or-so steam powered return trip every couple of hours-or-so.

There's no obsession with these things being claimed, there's honestly not, you'll find they just follow you around although one individual is keener than they'd like to admit, maybe.

The pretty well-known Pennine Way will be followed north-west on the way out to return south by the waymarked South Tyne Trail so you'd have to be a complete idiot to lose your bearings but more on that in a minute.

A quick word here, the return leg of this ramble is beside the railway track and is erm, quite dull. One suggestion is to check the timetable and carry on north to the end of the line at Lintley Halt and choo-choo it back to Alston.

NORTH PENNINES - Teesdale & Weardale

With your OS OL31 and a gallon of water for the hottest day these parts have seen for a while, 'Allons-y!' as they say in well, hopefully, you've figured that out already.

Alston train station has free parking but you'll need to be out by 5.30 PM or you'll be locked in overnight with the steam engines. If that clashes with your itinerary, head up to the town centre or down to the curious pairing of a Recycling Area and a Fitness Centre where the parking's also free.

Front Street takes you up to the small market square, the highest in England, they say, although the good folk of Buxton might dispute that lofty claim.

Les Tricolores are all part of the pageantry for the French film-themed weekend that you've probably just scrolled down past.

Alston en Cumbria
Alston House

On your way out on the main road south, you'll pass, on your left, the Alston House. Is it a hotel, a café, a restaurant or a pub? It's still not quite known and although the food is 'Great', the beer is merely 'Good'?

Given that Michel Roux Jr is unlikely to be doing the cooking, it would be preferred to be the other way round.

The main road veers right over a bridge providing nice views up and down the River South Tyne. This will eventually meet the River Tyne proper but not for another 30 miles or so where it picks up pace and heads east towards the North Sea via Newcastle.

Alston - Bridge over the River South Tyne
Alston - A686

This main road is actually the A686 and is the preferred route provider for many a Geordie on their way to the Lake District.

The Hartside Pass will plop you down near Penrith and as scenic as it is, just don't happen to be in a hurry or in the months of December through February unless you're driving a snowplough. Saying that, it's just as bad during the summer months when every amateur cyclist in the North now tries to pedal up it.

Just over the bridge, take the road on the right that's signposted to Brampton. Almost immediately, look for the lane on the right with a Pennine Way indicator.

Alston - Just off the A686

This section of the Way will be followed for a paltry three of its gruelling 268-mile length.

Keep left when you reach a house passing through the gate and gannin' alang what brought to mind the word ginnel. Keep going straight through fields unless you fancy one of the diversions right to the river.

Near Alston

Just after here, Alston's church bells started chiming. Frère Jacques then the other one about being on a bridge with Dave's onion or something. La Marseillaise would have been nice but campanology-wise, that's probably a bit ambitious.

After about three-quarters of a mile, take the gate on the right for a diversion to the river otherwise keep ahead to arrive in the back garden of Harbut Lodge.

Near Alston - To Harbut Lodge
Near Alston - Harbut Lodge

This old hunting lodge is Grade II listed and dates back to 1838. It was, or might still be, up for sale but you'll be needing a few trips to B&Q™.

It now looks to be used as a slightly sinister setting for episodes of Vera or George Gently, probably.

The, by its very definition, tree-lined avenue to the front of the lodge takes you to the A689, which is the same road signposted to Brampton back there.

Near Alston - Harbut Lodge (Avenue)
Near Alston - Towards Whitley Common

Cross and turn right and just after Harbut Law B&B, turn left through the signposted stile. This is the Pennine Way proper and it's off now towards what appears to be Whitley Common.

Enter the next field to be met by a couple of cheeky-looking Cheviots, probably. These were the tamest ever and didn't baa-t an eyelid, unlike their dozy cousins who normally run off then do a wee at you from a safe distance.

Near Alston - Tame Cheviots
Near Alston - Pennine Way Stile

There's some gentle upping and downing to be done after the stile on the right and a reasonable view of the modest hills to the west. Black Hill and Great Heaplaw are the headline acts but if you're fancying a diversion up them, a word of warning...

That terrain is year-long bog and day 12 of the Pennine Way is best described as 'squelchy'. Alfred Wainwright, no less, even described this leg as 'dull' and...

If the remainder of the Pennine Way was like this (happily it isn't), here would be the place to pack it in and go home.

Dunno, quite enjoying it so far.

After about half a mile, set your camera to diorama and head down to the toy bridge. This diverting snap up Gilderdale Burn buys a bit of time to tell you the tale of 'Isaac's Tea Trail' and you might want to pull up a chair...

Near Alston - Gilderdale Burn Bridge
Near Alston - Gilderdale Burn

When the local lead mine closed and no, not down to Thatcher, Isaac Holden picked up his P45 and thought 'Hmmm, what to do now?' Employment opportunities being what they were in the 1830s, he went all entrepreneurial and decided to sell said tea door to door.

By door to door, it's meant a 36-mile round trip starting in Allendale in Northumberland taking in Nenthead, Alston and Ninebanks and any remote farms in between who were fond of a cuppa.

Admitting himself to being a bit of a nut, he used these trips to flog his poems and a copy of an early photograph of himself. He wasn't particularly vain, he'd just gone all Methodist by this point and used the proceeds to fund the down-at-heel in this then poverty-stricken area.

No mean feat given the bogginess already mentioned and the trail was opened in 2002 to commemorate this inspirational character.

But why mention this now? There's only a plaque on the bridge to remind you that you're currently on it!

Up and away from the bridge, it's just a couple of fields to reach this on your right, a Roman Castle or rather the earthworks of what's left of Epiacum or Whitley Castle if you'd rather.

Near Alston - Epiacum Roman Fort

This would have been a stopping off point for salaried centurions on their way 10 miles north to Hadrian's Wall, probably.

The grassy, conical mounds on the left might be Roman related or they might just be remnants of some local mining work with nobody on Google™ seeming to know, neither.

Near Alston - Near Epiacum
Near Alston - Sheep

A lot of sheep here and, not wishing to disturb, there's a necessary diversion around them. Besides which, if this lot did scarper, it would be like that scene in  Dances with Wolves, you know, the bit with all the bison?

Also, being a couple of sophisticated urbanites with all the rural stereotypes covered, it wouldn't be wise to annoy an angry, red-faced farmer with a shotgun. What could possibly go wrong?

Here's what!...

Having taken yourself off the Pennine Way to appease the sheep, you'll find yourself the wrong side of a beck up from which you'll have to scramble to inelegantly clamber over a drystone wall, knocking a couple of pieces off the top in the process. Oops, a couple of sophisticated urbanites, yeah right.

Near Alston - Farm

Alternatively, just follow the clearly visible path towards the farm.

There's another brief diversion through a wooded area before arriving back on the A689 where there's a chance to phone home and let everybody know that, despite the incident with the sheep, you're fine, really.

Near Alston - Near the A689
Near Alston - Back on the A689

Note the small change jangling in your pocket is of no use to you here, cards only, presumably? And you'll have to stub that fag out!

The Pennine Way carries on through a handful of fields and many more sheep. In the third or it might be the fourth field after the farm, look for the bridge on the right.

Near Alston - Towards Kirkhaugh
Near Alston - Bridge over the South Tynedale Railway

Cross it to leave the Pennine Way and turn right to head south on the South Tyne Trail and back to Alston. If you're lucky, you might spot Thomas Edmondson heading back to Alston ahead of you, choo-choo!

Near Alston - South Tynedale Railway

In a Jack Charlton-esque interpretion of nationality, some of the Spanish basketball team, seriously, are German just like Thomas who ended up in Alston via Iberia in 1984.

Unlike the Spanish basketball team, it's tiny and that two-foot-gauge railway means it's half the size it looks here. He has, however, since returned to the Rhineland so you'll be very lucky to spot it now.

There's access to Kirkhaugh Station's platform here and the last thing worthy of mention are some sculpted, wooden deer hiding in the shrubbery just to the right.

Near Alston - Kirkhaugh Station Platform
Near Alston - Sculpted Deer at Kirkhaugh Station

Since it's nearly three miles back to Alston via the dull, flat track next to the railway with nothing of any real interest along here, you could check your timings and choo-choo it back to Alston now.

You could even have carried on north on the Pennine Way for less than a mile to choo-choo it back from Lintley Halt, 'literalintley', the end of the line.

Nothing of any real interest along here apart from this machinery and it's wondered how they got it here?

Near Alston - Machinery

By the railway track, you say? Fair point.

You could have taken a detour back at the bridge at Kirkhaugh and over the river to the Holy Paraclete Church with its distinctive, thin spire but it's not clear how you make it back.

Besides, you'll miss this young here hare here. He'd obviously checked the timetable and there was no immediate danger to life. Yes, it's known to be a rabbit but there's nothing of any real interest along... yes, yes, we get it!!!

Nothing of any real interest along here apart from a railway bridge stone, number 57, and a minor detour through a small, wooded picnic area.

Near Alston - Bridge Stone 57
Near Alston - Picnic Area

There were some teenagers having a proper old fashioned play out near here, jumping off a rocky ledge into the river they were, just like they used to in the 1970s.

They'll all be back in town and off their heads on cheap cider by 8 PM, terrorising the customers of the local Londis™, probably.

This railway shed means you're nearly home and this is where the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society has been doing all the preserving since 1983, probably.

Near Alston Station - Railway Shed

You may also have noticed that the river has snuck back below so just the caravan park to pass and you're back at Alston Station with Thomas Edmondson or whoever the replacement service is, these days.

Near Alston Station - Caravan Park
Alston - South Tynedale Railway

This used to be a proper railway line, a branch line to Haltwhistle in Northumberland and, like many at the time, it was marked for closure in 1965 under so-called 'Dr'  Beeching.

It actually survived until 1976 because the roads back then didn't guarantee all year round, alternative access to Alston. This is the highest market town in England, remember?

Beeching's original report can be obtained online but only if you know where to look, buried away deep in some government archives. If you can find it, it cites his main reason for the proposed closure...

'Nothing of any real interest along here.'

Fauna Saw...

What Number Behaviour  
Deer 2 Wooden.
Hare 1 Unconcerned.
Sheep - Cheviot 2 Didn't baa-t an eyelid.
Sheep - Other 1,000,000 About to stampede.