The Walk to the Chimneys

Images of the Allendale Chimneys and flue courses courtesy of Doc Phil Brown’s amazing collection, in particular his depiction of a walk around Allendale.

Today’s entry is the third in our Saturday series of free things to do with the family on a cheerful weekend outing. Recall that we started out on the River Path, stopping over at Allen Mill to explore some of the revealed industrial heritage there, and today we continue on to the iconic feature of the East Allen Valley: the chimneys high on the fellside above Allendale.

The extensive flue system was constructed, not just to remove harmful lead vapours from the processing plant, but also to reclaim precious metals from the furnace’s blast, as these components of the molten and evaporated ore could be recovered by cool condensation on the vapour’s transit to the upper atmosphere. Even though the process sounds very logical to us now, the long stone tunnels must have seemed particularly remarkable when they were built in late Victorian times, a kind of inverted sewer system as it were. You can imagine that you’re a silver vapour trail, as you trudge steadily up towards the chimneys, coming to rest on the cool smooth sides of the flue tunnel, to be salvaged by teams of scrubbers or scrapers at some point in the future.

Anyway, as simple as it was, that engineering feat is immortalised by the chimneys themselves, and so they’re well worth a family trek up to enjoy the experience at close hand. Joan Morgan takes up the story of the walk to the top:

“There are two pathways to the chimneys – the steady climb from Fell House, following the flue,  and the shorter, more level path from the Coalcleugh Road.  At the start of the latter, there is an information board describing the lead mining history of this site; how different it would have looked and sounded two centuries ago.  Now, peace and quiet reign, apart from the sweet song of skylarks, the chuntering of a few disturbed grouse, and the cry of the curlew.  A few sheep are dotted around the wide landscape.  The skies stretch spectacularly to wide horizons.

The beautiful views from this walk stretch to the West over the West Allen Valley to Alston Moor and over to Cross Fell.  Ahead is a view towards the Scottish borders, to Kielder, Simonside and Cheviot.  Further along the rutted path, past drainage ditches through heather and peat dotted with cottongrass, the first chimney looms, battered by time and weather but restored to ensure that no more bits drop off onto the heads of those who wish to sit and enjoy the view.  Behind the chimney, a scarred and blackened patch of land bears testimony to the poisons that were channelled up the flues from the smelting mills in the valley below.

A path, following another flue, leads from here to the taller chimney which is visible from Allendale town.  A wonderful panoramic view takes in nestling Allendale town, the golf club, a wide patchwork of fields, the woods around Whitfield and Staward, the wind turbines of The Wannies, and over The Shire towards Newcastle.  Someone has recently built a seat here – a perfect stopping place to enjoy, but only when the weather is kind.  Often, a tiny breeze down in the valley will be a substantial wind on the tops:  but this walk is not only for the summer.  Even in winter, especially on a sparkling, frosty day, it can be spectacular.  More often than not, there is no-one else to disturb the peace, but meeting others of like mind and sharing the odd word can be uplifting too.

Back towards the first chimney, the path forks down the hill, following the collapsed flue, which shows what an amazing feat of engineering this was.  The path is more like a cart track here, and walking in this direction, the beautiful views stretch ahead.  Walking this path the other way, uphill, focus would be more on the surrounding fell with the heather, the wildlife, the spectacular skies and, in the summer, the steady buzzing of the bees.

The chimneys are a huge part of Allendale’s character, standing proud over the town and reminding us of its past.  Also, and most importantly, the walk reminds us of how, if given the chance, nature can restore itself after the assault of industry. ”         

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