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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Tea Trail, Tyne, Trains and a castle. (Cumbria)
February 16th. (And it's muddy)
 This walk, based on Alston in Cumbria, was last done by the team almost three years ago. It was a snowy day then, and cold. Hopefully today will just be cold. Five of us out to brave the elements, John H., Harry, Ben, Dave and me. The weatherman (see in gallery after the map) promised a cold breezy day with some sun. He was right.
The walk starts in Alston, one of the highest towns in England at almost 1000 feet, a similar height to Buxton in Derbyshire. To reach from base take the A69 west and a few miles beyond Hexham, near Haydon Bridge, turn left and follow road signs.  As you approach the small town the station and museum for the South Tyne Heritage Railway is on the right. It has a car park, intended for visitors to the raulway but in winter it is very quiet and makes an excellent Yorkshire parking area. ( Alternatively in Alston turn left up the high stree and continue to the free car park at the top of the town.)
Alston was once the centre of the mining industry. The surrounding hills yielded lead, zinc, silver and fluorspar. The mines have closed but evidence of their existence remains. Today the town relies on tourism and some light industry.
The map to use is OS OL 31 North Pennines.
               This week's car park at the station, Alston. The railway is now a 15inch gauge track which runs a few miles down the South Tyne Valley. Pre Beeching it went to Haltwhistle.
The walk:
We left the station (ignoring the café!) and walked south on the A686 crossed the bridge over the South Tyne and almost immediately turned right at the sign for Epiacum, the Roman fort.
                    Hard to miss
                    About a half of this walk is on Isaac's and some of it is shared with the Pennine Way. It is well posted.
                      Looking back at Alston from Moorwell Bridge, approximately
We walked across several muddy fields, climbing slowly to the minor road at Harbut Lodge where we turned right and almost straight away turned left and, still climbing, crossed more fields to Gilderdale Burn.
              Footbridge over Gilderdale Burn.The approach to this stream was very clarty, but so was much of the first half of the walk anyway.
We climbed out of the burn's valley and negotiated several more muddy fields until we reached Whitley Castle or Epiacum Roman Fort to give it it's proper name.

               Epiacum has some of the best preserved defensive earth banks of any fort in the empire (Roman that is)  If you are not a Latin scholar, like us gadgies, but are interested in origins of names it means "surrounding the point" and comes from "epi-acumen". (Or it could mean "the property of Eppius who was a local Celtic chief) It is on a wide promontory overlooking the river. It is thought to have been built to protect the mining that went on in the area in Roman times or as a fort to protect the nearby Maiden Way Roman road that runs north to Hadrian's Wall.

                Epiacum aerial view. You have probably noticed that the site is slightly more lozenge shaped than the standard "playing card " Roman fort. The defensive banks are very clear, as is the much later field wall.
Having admired, briefly, the fort we continued on our way. General Dave, leader for the day, at least from the rear took the correct route down to Dyke House. deep in conversation about the morality of dealing with firms who paid minimum wage or less, Harry and I, followed by Ben and John walked on a little forther to the minor road at Kirkhaugh and had to turn back for a few hundred yards. After crossing a couple of muddy fields however we reached Kirkhaugh Bridge on the railway line and headed for the small station for a Herbie Spot.

                 The unfinished waiting room/ticket office at Kirkhaugh Station. We sat outside at a picnic table and shared ginger biscuits, cookies, carrot cake and almond roca from www.jesmondcakecompany.com
                The railway runs in summer.

After some discussion on a route back we opted for the shorter one, mainly because we were tired of plodging through muddy fields, and walked the firm footpath alongside the railway line to Alston.
A popular walk, we met several groups of walkers and several dogsters, much to Dave's delight. Near Alston there is a picnic site off the path. There are several wood carvings on the path, sadly they seem to have been vandalised.
                               Looks like a noseless otter
                              Border crossing
                              A standard British railway bridge.
Back at the station we removed muddy boots and wandered round the station before heading for the Boathouse pub at Wylam which usually has at least twelve hand pulled beers on offer.
                           The Boathose. Large selection of beers and Thai food. 

The matrix MMXVIII  G
                                                                        steps                              miles
NAK                                                               19139                            7.24
iPhone                                                             17536                            7.2
Dave's 3D                                                       15895                             7.47
  "" USB                                                          15126                             7.4
"" NAK                                                            14969                             7.32
Sylvia's mother                                               15351                              7.51
etrex 20                                                                                                   7.52
OUTDOOR GPS had a very bad day
Walking time 3hours 26 talking time 1 hour 20

The dotted section is the alternative and longer route we could have taken
Contains OS data, Copyright. Crown copyright and data base right 2018