Allenheads is located in a remote valley close to the southernmost corner of Northumberland, close to the borders with County Durham and Cumbria, and despite the distance from elsewhere and the wild surrounding landscapes it’s hard to imagine it was once at the centre of population and industry. Eight of us gathered on a promisingly sunny morning to enjoy a relatively short but scenically panoramic walk, to take in some extensive views and to gain some insight into the area’s past.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries leadmining brought fortune-seekers in their thousands to the valley: landowners found opportunities to increase wealth and power while working people found opportunities for steadier wages than had been achievable in the more traditional farming. By the end of the nineteenth century however the price of lead had crashed and thousands left the valley. More recently some revival has taken place: the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Allenheads Trust have done much to enhance the economic and environmental fabric of the area. The remains of the old trackways, dams and buildings set in the wild moorland are a characteristic feature of the landscape which walkers and visitors can explore.
After some had been given a brief introduction to the small nearby museum we set off with a stiff climb up the valley side. On the way we could see the remains of a relatively recent mineshaft as well as a slope used by modern-day skiers at times of snow. We soon reached the summit, after which we were able to follow a well-marked track which followed the contours of the land, and the extensive views of the valley soon opened up below. On the opposite side traces of former quarrying and mining could be seen, along with several derelict but characterful buildings. We paused for photographs next to a tall pile of stones which had provided a prominent landmark. We were very lucky with the weather, as this could have been a much colder and blowier route otherwise.
We stopped for our sandwiches at a point where a grassy path led off the main route to descend steeply towards the valley road, which we crossed. On reaching the riverbank we followed a footpath past a farmhouse, with lively spring lambs over the wall, and soon reached a road crossing where another short break was taken. At this point we could have returned directly along the road to the starting point, but everyone took the opportunity of a further climb to the opposite side of the valley to the initial part of the walk, and we enjoyed further views down the valley before entering a short forest section and dropping steeply back to the centre of Allenheads village. We took advantage of the café for a welcome cup of tea and cake.
Thanks are due to all the participants whose company we enjoyed and helped to make a memorable day’s walk, and in particular to Andrew who assisted with the planning and the photography.