Isaac’s Tea Trail Ultra, 7th August 2021

Claremont’s ultra-running nutters enthusiasts, Nina Jensen, Sarah Bowen and Richard Slack took on the Isaac’s Tea Trail Ultra run at the weekend.  An excellent achievement by all three!  Richard sends us his usual detailed report:

Isaac’s Tea Trail Ultra – Saturday 7 August.

Set in the North Pennines, the home of multiple former lead mining works, Isaac’s Tea Trail (ITT) is a stunning and mystery-filled circular route commencing in Allendale, visiting Nenthead and Alston covering roughly 39 miles (63km) and around 5,300 foot (1,600 m) of ascent. Isaac Holden (1805-1857) was born into a lead mining family, but with the downturn of the lead industry in the 1830’s, Isaac took to selling tea in a strongly Methodist and Quaker area. Further, from his tea-selling exploits, Isaac, a devote Methodist, raised additional finances to fund local projects ranging from chapels, a clothing fund, a hearse and the well in Allendale (Isaac’s Well) to provide clean drinking water for the town.

Three Claremonters took on the tea-trail challenge, Nina, Sarah B and Richard, helped along the way by Marie with regular pop-up appearances including the well-known and well-received elite athlete chip tray refuel at Alston. The weather forecast in the days leading up to the run looked like full waterproofs or a small boat might be needed, and indeed on the day, the Borrowdale Fell Race was reduced to a 12 km run to Dalehead, but in the North Pennines, the weather gods provided a lovely running day of a few showers, cool temperature (although very humid) and blessed with lovely late afternoon sunshine! Throughout ITT, the three of us ran as a group. Just like the Chevy, not planned but emergent and it made for a great day out with all of us encouraging runs on the downhill and flats and moving along with some merry chat on the ascents. Just keep going, except of course for the checkpoints and much needed tea and flapjack – after all it is a tea trail!

We set off from Allendale at 10am, with the first main stage (11 miles) to Nenthead, a former lead mining town, built by the Quaker  London Lead Mining Company. The route took us over Hartley Moor (571m), the highest point of the day, before bypassing The Dodd (614m) descending into Nenthead for the first full check-point and shelter from really the one heavy shower that we had. Six miles along the River Nent (with one planned route diversion) we reached Alston (17 miles in and which I mistakenly thought was about half-way – ha ha).  From Alston ITT heads North to Whitley Castle – well it was a castle and a Roman site – but now is grass with archaeological information signs- before reaching the River South Tyne (and memories of Claremont days out).  After a small detour via a back garden in Ayle, and a great runnable grassy descent from Long Cross, the final full checkpoint came at Ninebanks Youth Hostel (27 miles).  At first, we nearly ran past this, thinking it was someone’s house with a little party in the front garden!

Refuelled again we set off again for the last 12 miles back to Allendale, passing Isaac’s birthplace at Redheugh along the way (now with washing on the line).  Marie popped up again at Ninebanks church with a few more supplies before our route passed Whitfield and along the River East Allen.  Just before reaching Allendale, Nina and Sarah thought I’d really flipped after 36 miles of ultra-running, staring at a small bridge.  However, whilst they thought I was wary of a bridge troll, I was reading the bridge inscription which also features on the Allen Valley sculpture trail along with a large wooden wolf calving and the former Blackett lead mining level.  If only there had been an observation round (Screen Test or Krypton Factor style) Claremont would have won hands-down.  As it was the winner had romped home in an amazing sub six hours (a new record) whilst we observant and very happy three checked in at the Allendale village hall just after 9pm – after a grand day out!  A fantastic post-run vegan chilli with beer (or more tea) and cakes was waiting for us.  Total run time 9 hours 22.  Obligatory tea and cake-stops made total time just over 11 hours and hence full value!

Finally, a big well done and thank you to Greener Miles Running for a superbly organised and marshalled event.

Tom Tinsley -