The small market town of Alston and its satellite villages of Garrigill and Nenthead are situated at the centre of the North Pennines, sometimes referred to as England’s last wilderness. It lies at the crossroads of two of England’s most renowned trails, the coast-to-coast cycle route and the Pennine Way, England’s first long-distance footpath, the route of which is from Cross Fell and Garrigill at the southern end of the South Tyne valley up the valley to Lambley and beyond. Running almost parallel to this through the valley is the South Tyne Trail (see walk 53 on the Walks List). Further trails within the area include Isaac’s Tea Trail (see walk 54), a 36 mile circular walk following the route of the itinerant tea-seller Isaac Holden, and two new trails. The first is the Ravenber Way, the newly-established coast-to-coast path from Ravenglass on the west coast of Cumbria to Berwick-upon-Tweed on the east coast of Northumbria and the second, from Preston to to Carlisle (via Garrigill and Alston) is the North-West Way.
There is much to do in and around Alston and the area offers a variety of places to eat and drink as well as a wide range of accommodation. Especially popular with walkers are Alston Youth Hostel and the Cumberland Hotel. Should you need a packed lunch for a day on the fells there is the Spar supermarket or should you need a new waterproof to cope with a wet day on the fells or a sun-hat to protect you on a hot summers day on the fells try the Hi-Pennine Outdoor Shop.
Alston Moor is part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With its peace and tranquility, the area is a haven for wildlife and, in particular, red squirrels. It is also a bird-watchers’ paradise and the AONB have produced free downloads on birdwalks within the area including ones at Garrigill, Lambley, Wellhope Moor and the site at Ouston Fell (walks 43,44,45,46 on the Walks List). Alternatively, in the summer months sample the local flora and fauna in walk 42.
Although quiet now, in the 18th and 19th centuries the North Pennines was a hive of lead mining activity, the legacy of which can be seen throughout the area. The sought-after mineral deposits were a result of geological activity some 300 million years ago. Many features of the current landscape owe their origins to this activity and make the North Pennines today a mecca for geologists. The AONB website gives details of walks of special geological interest (see walk 50).