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Valley of the Shining Water

Exploring one of Northumberland's most attractive river valleys.

Distance 3.7 miles (6km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 590ft (180m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Good river paths and faint field paths, 19 stiles

Landscape Riverside and high pasture

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL43 Hadrian's Wall

Start/finish NY 838558

Dog friendliness Farming country, keep dogs on leads

Parking Ample parking in village centre

Public toilets In village centre

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1 From the Market Place take the Whitfield road down past the Hare and Hounds and round the left-hand bend to the old Mill Bridge across the River East Allen.

2 Immediately beyond the bridge, turn left along a tarred lane past some cottages - it's highlighted by a footpath sign 'to Wooley Scar'. Where the track swings right leave it and go through the gate ahead before following a cross-field path, parallel to the river.

3 At the narrow end of a wedge shaped field go over a ladder stile on the right. Here the path veers away from the river and enters an area above Wooley Scar, which can be slightly overgrown with nettles and ragwort in the summer months. The route continues generally south west across fields.

4 Beyond Black Cleugh it swings south east along a short section of rutted track. Ignoring the first stile on the right follow the right field edge. A waymark on a broken fence points the way down towards the woods surrounding Steel Burn.

5 Turn left along a grass track running parallel to the burn and go through a gate behind a little cottage. Turn right over a footbridge crossing the burn, then follow the banks of the East Allen. The clear route crosses riverside meadows and ignores the first river footbridge near Peckriding.

6 After meandering with the river, the path comes upon a track near Hagg Wood and follows it across a bridge over the East Allen. The track zig-zags past the farm at Studdondene to reach the B6295 where you turn left.

7 On reaching the woods of Parkgates Burn take the left of two waymarked paths. Over a stile it climbs fields towards the left of two farmhouses on the skyline - Low Scotch Hall. It turns right then left to round the farmhouse, now following the left field edge high above the valley.

8 On reaching the woods of Prospect Hill turn right through some animal pens then along an enclosed path to the farm of Finney Hill Green. Turn left beyond the house and continue along the left edge of three fields.

9 A modern housing estate at the edge of Allendale Town comes into view and the path heads north, parallel to the houses. In the last field it descends towards some more mature housing and enters an estate through a little ginnel. Go past the children's playground and out on to the main road in the village centre.

If you were dropped into East Allendale you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales. Like that area it's rugged rather than beautiful, but it's also peaceful and serene. Appropriately, Allen comes from the Celtic word 'aln' which means shining or foaming. The main centre, Allendale Town, is set on a hillside overlooking a bend in the East Allen River and sheltered beneath the heather moors of Hexhamshire Common. It proclaims itself to be the true geographical centre of Britain, and co-ordinates inscribed on to the church tower's sundial reinforce this.

On entering the large Market Square with its many large hotels and inns, it soon becomes obvious that this place has seen busier times, and so it has. This was a mining town, the most prosperous in the whole of the region, with good veins of lead and silver. In the halcyon days of the 18th century Allendale had a population of over 5,500, four times what it is today. Allendale was lively, for the miners were hard-working, hard-drinking men who filled each and everyone of the inns. Even with the death of their industry at the turn of the century, the place stayed busy, with motor coaches bringing people from the industrial north east for health and enjoyment.

Perhaps Allendale is most famous for its Baal Fire Festival, which takes place each New Year's Eve. It's said to be of Viking origin. At 11:30pm the pubs empty and a crowd gathers in the square. Suddenly the night sky is lit up by a procession of 40 men dressed in fancy costumes and with flaming tar barrels on their heads. The men, known as guisers, parade around the town streets accompanied by the Allendale Silver Band. Close to midnight the guisers hurl the burning contents of the barrels on to a bonfire, whose flames then explode high into the sky. It's a dangerous procedure, usually resulting in a few singed eyebrows. The church bells chime in the New Year and everybody sings Auld Lang Syne before returning to the pub for more celebrations.

There are many long walks from Allendale Town to the moors but a good introduction explores the immediate environs of the valley itself. Passing the old inns you go down to the river, which is lined by fine stands of trees. In spring and early summer the fields and woods will be full of wild flowers like bloody cranesbill, wild primrose, herb Robert and ragwort.

Later the walk climbs away, to high fields and old farms looking down on the rooftops of Allendale Town. The river, in some places hidden by trees, but in others shining among the valley meadows, meanders into the distance to those dark North Pennine moors that yawn across the western skies.

Where to eat and drink

The Kings Head, in the square, is one of many fine inns and a favourite of mine. There's a huge blackboard with a wide variety of meals on offer in the bar, with a real log fire. Children are welcome and dogs are allowed in the bar.

While you're there

Killhope Wheel is the pride of the North of England Lead Mining Museum at the head of Weardale. Around 33ft (10m) in diameter the wrought iron water wheel towers above the crushing mill site. They'll give you a hard hat and lamp before leading you underground to the mine face. It's open every day from late March to the end of September and on October weekends.

What to look for

On Dryburn Moor, west of the River East Allen, you'll notice some old chimneys. They're connected to the flues from the Allenmill Smelt Mill. The two brick-built flues drew off the sulphurous fumes and created a draught to stoke the smelting furnaces. The draught also caused the silver content of the fumes to condense on the walls where it could be recovered.

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