The route instructions on this page are up to date.
The trail follows the River Nent down to Alston parallel with the A689 road and underground a wonder of the mining world Smeaton’s Nent Force Level. Look out for a ventilation shafts with a conical wire cover by the River just before Lovelady Shield. The old spoil heaps out of Nenthead from zinc workings are mostly covered with vegetation and lapwings nest here. All around the archaeological evidence of centuries of mining is never far from sight. All the same, it is images of the fellside views, rivulets, the occasional redundant lime kiln, old mine levels and farm and former miners’ cottages with hay meadows bounded by dry stone walls that linger in the memory. Where the sounds of birdlife and colourful upland flowers that add other dimensions to the trail. The steady pace down the valley with pauses for stiles witnesses at first hand the hill farmers at work with livestock. Along the way is the tiny hamlet of Blagill, tucked away and looking much as it always has. The trail then drops down by the road to the river Nent‘s scenic descent into Alston over waterfalls and flat beds of limestone below woodland and riverside paths.
Nenthead is a place of veneration for the Holden’s. The written records of the family can be traced as far back as the late 1600s around Alston Moor. Isaac’s own branch to his grandparents, Benjamin and Sarah at Greenends on the top road to Nentsberry.
The visit of John Wesley to Nenthead and their conversion in 1774 had a profound effect on them and later generations of the family and countless more. Secluded from much of the wider world it was to become a hotbed of Methodism. Where previously there had long been a spiritual vacuum minds were now consumed with purpose.
Nowadays such a transformational event may be hard to grasp as the impact went beyond faith. This was a cradle to a wider world for leadership, fortitude, fellowship, shared values, personal discipline, learning with a hunger for education knowledge and more. It was in this embracing environment the Holden’s were nurtured and shaped.
This had far reaching consequences on Isaac Holden and also his cousin confusingly with same name and whose journeys were markedly different although both began from Nenthead.
The trail follows the River Nent all the way down to Alston with the road mostly in view. While hidden beneath the river is another wonder of the mining world, Thomas Smeaton’s Nent Force Level some 5 miles in length. Look out for the conical shaped wire cover over the one of the ventilation shafts close to Lovelady Shield.
Coming out of Nenthead are the remains of the spoil heaps from mostly twentieth century zinc workings now mostly grass covered. All around are the remains of industrial and mining from centuries of lead mining never far from sight. Nature has taken back some but not all of this plundered land. Fellside views, tumbling burns, crumbling lime kilns and entrances to old mine levels all dot the landscape. Small farms survive and the old miners’ residences are now holiday cottages still surrounded by hay meadows marked by dry stone walls.
Such variety mean there is no shortage of interest and curiosity to command interest. Spring time is a particular delight when with the sounds of birdlife and wild pansies and purple orchids brighten the trail. This is not a section to be hurried as the many ladder stiles over the dry stone ensure the pace is no more than leisurely. A stretch of road leads to the tiny hamlet of Blagill, tucked away and looking much as it probably always has.
Distance: 9.14kms, 5.68 miles; Allow 3 hours
Total From Start: 20.99 km or 17.18 miles
Max height: 475m; Min height: 270m; Total Climb: 161m;
Route Changes / Points to Note: There is a short section after Lovelady Shield leading to Foreshield Bridge where erosion control work has not been completed. Should the river be in flood, you are advised to take the farm track on the other side of the fence away from the river.
Maps: Nenthead to Alston Map
Description: The Nent Valley:
Bainbridge Water Pump Memorial GR NY 781437 to Alston Market Cross GR NY 717464
From the Bainbridge Water Pump Memorial next to the Community Shop and Nenthead Arts and Information Centre continue by the road to the footpath sign and follow besides Hillersdon Terrace to the bungalow at the far end to find Nenthead’s own Model Village.
Proceed onto the track, where there a number of 3 sided footpath sides, where paths cross, open gate ways and over several ladder stiles. Half way down towards Nenthall the path joins an access road above Haggs Bank Bunk House and Campsite. Then climbs by a couple of properties to below High Nentsberry. On the approach the path may be difficult to follow uphill for a few yards. Before levelling out and passing down past the front door of Nether Nentsberry farm.
Then to a metal gate on the other side and a diagonal drop to a boggy and to flower rich ground to the kissing gate in the far corner. Down a flight of steps above the road, where road traffic is a hazard coming into the sharp bend on the right. Walk with care by the road side to Nenthall Bridge where the footpath sign points to the riverside.
While much work has been done to restore the riverside footpath from severe erosion. There is still a section after Lovelady Shield to Foreshield Bridge, where more work has still to be done. Should the river be in flood you are advised to take the farm track on the other side of the fence above the river.
Turn right and over the bridge and continue along the road. Then take the bridleway marked by a footpath sign down to the bridge and the waterfall at Blagill. At the road, turn left and head downhill to the Blagill road bridge and follow the sign by the riverside footpath sign. This leads to Gossipgate and emerges from the back of Alston by The Market Cross.