Taking to the high moors of Hexhamshire.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 656ft (200m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Stony tracks and generally well-defined paths, 3 stiles
Landscape High moor and rough pasture
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL31 North Pennines
Start/finish NY 860453
Dog friendliness Sheep country: dogs should be under close control
Parking In Allenheads village centre
Public toilets By heritage centre
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 From the front of the heritage centre head east to the B6295 road which you cross to follow the lane signposted to Rookhope. This climbs steeply out of the valley between spruce plantations. At a sharp left-hand bend beyond Eastend Reservoir, leave the road and go over a step stile on a path signed 'Rookhope Road'. Trackless, but guided by a wall on the right, the path climbs westwards across two fields of rough pasture and over two stiles.
2 After cutting a corner the path rejoins the road and arrives at an old quarry high on the moors. Turn left along the road for a few paces, then follow a stony track at the right-hand side. This traces the moorland rim above Allenheads, which now hides in the forest.
3 After passing a quarry and huge cairn (good views of Allendale) the track turns right then meanders around Middle Rigg before turning sharp left to pass the old ruins of Byerhope hamlet.
4 Beyond the occupied Byerhope Farm, at High Haddock Stones, the track swings right again, away from the valley. Here you leave it. A waymarker post, the first of many, highlights the bridleway wanted. This clear grooved grassy path makes a circuitous descent into Allendale, where you'll notice the quarries of Swinhope and the Coatenhill Reservoir. After passing some old grassed-over quarry workings the bridleway descends to a gate by a row of colourful terraced cottages on the main valley road.
5 Across the road go straight on, down a minor lane, which fords the River East Allen; fortunately, there's a wooden footbridge on the right to help you across.
6 Where the road bends right uphill at Peasmeadows, leave it and go down the cottage's drive, beyond which a riverside path begins. Ignore the first bridge across the river and stay with the path past Burnfoot. Go across a footbridge over Middlehope Burn, then continue though a pleasing little ravine of heather and bilberry. As it approaches lead mining spoil heaps the path gets sketchy. The easiest course is to climb to the brow of the bank on the right and follow this to the road near Slag Hill.
7 Turn left down the road to recross the East Allen, then turn right at the T-junction. The quiet lane leads back into Allenheads, past the hamlet of Dirt Pot and the old Presbyterian chapel.
The hills of Hexhamshire are wild and windy and, if there's a hint of cloud in the skies, they're dark, dramatic and brooding. In summer sun the drama is brought into colour by the vivid purple blooms of the bell heather. For ramblers in the Tyne and Allen valleys Hexhamshire offers walks both long and short; walks where you can see to far horizons and stride out with the aroma of that heather wafting in the winds. Allenheads is a good place to start. As its name suggests, this village lies at the end of the Allen Valley, where the green fields give way to the high moors.
Like many villages in these parts Allenheads' prosperity grew and declined with the lead mining industry, but just about keeps a foot in the 21st century with tourism. At one time the village had a population of over 1,000: now it's not much over 100. Cottages line the river, with an inn, heritage centre and café half-hidden by conifer plantations.
This route heads in the Rookhope direction, on to the moors of Byerhope. A stony track, the course of the Broad Way, takes you along the fringes of the moor, overlooking Allendale. The track was built initially to carry ore and supplies between the lead mining villages but has now been surfaced for the Land Rovers of grouse shooting parties. The profuse heather makes these some of the best shooting moors in England.
Beyond some quarries the track winds around to Byerhope, which in past centuries was a thriving village of farms and smallholdings owned by lead miners. Like many of the families of Allenheads, the Byerhope miners were involved in a bitter strike in 1849 with W B Lead over a time and motions study that engineer, Sir Thomas Sopwith, had imposed on them. There was fiery talk of tormenting blacklegs to their graves, but the strike was eventually broken. Those who held out were banished from working the mines again and were forced to leave, many to America. At Byerhope, today, there's just one inhabited cottage and a few crumbled ruins.
The route leaves the Broad Way on the hillsides beneath High Haddock Stones. A grassy zig-zag path offers pleasing prospects across Allendale to Knockshield Moor and Killhope Law. Past a terrace of colourfully painted cottages you come down to the river and follow it past Peasmeadows and along banks of heather, rowan and bilberry. The bright yellow marsh marigolds grow from riverside rocks. Here I saw dippers trying to dive for insects but being hampered by a frolicking weasel jumping from rock to rock with an elusive meal on its mind. And so the river takes you back to the outskirts of Allenheads, where the back road eases you past the strangely named hamlet of Dirt Pot to the village centre.
Cosy Allenheads Inn is a friendly place, with cluttered antiques and curios. There's a good selection of bar meals and cask-conditioned ales too and it's child friendly. The café next to the heritage centre prepares excellent sandwiches, coffee, cake and light meals, and there is a nearby children's play area.
The Allenheads Heritage Centre delves into the history of the village's lead mines, from ancient times to their closure in 1896. Here you can see a fascinating engine house and blacksmith's shop. Open daily, 10am to 5pm, Easter to October and with wheelchair access.
Keep an eye out for kestrels, which can often been seen hovering in the skies searching for a mouse or a vole in the fields. This fine bird of prey, which is a small falcon, has long pointed wings and a long tail. It has a chestnut-coloured mantle speckled with black and has a black tail bar. The chest is a paler buff colour, still with speckles. The male can easily be identified by its pale-grey head. The kestrel's call is a loud and repetitive kee-kee-kee.