he town of Alston
nestles in the beautiful South Tyne Valley, in the majestic North
Pennines which dominate the eastern border of Cumbria, a land quite
different from the Lake District.
Alston, the highest market town in England, enjoys
beautiful views of the fells and valleys of the North Pennines,
designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Alston is easily accessible despite its position in the
fells: the A686 trans-Pennine road
(recently voted amongst the 10 best
routes in the world) passes through the town as does the A689 west to Carlisle and east to Bishop
Auckland and the A1(M), the B6277 to Barnard
Castle and Scotch Corner on the A66/A1.
Alston is remarkable for its charming cobblestoned main street and its Market Cross in the centre of the town,
originally donated by a former inhabitant of the town who became
a Lord Mayor of London. A stroll around
the lanes in the town will reveal more appealing sights and places
of interest. There are numerous small shops including craft shops, a specialist walking/climbing gear shop and an Arts
and Crafts Gallery and some of the locally produced specialist foods (such as Cumberland Mustards and exotic sausages) which have a reputation
for high quality and tastiness!
The area is best known to walkers who travel the Pennine Way, one of the longest walks in
Britain. Since the
opening of the Sea to Sea cycle way (a cycle route across the North of England taking in the area's best countryside) a new kind of visitor is
becoming familiar with the charms of the area. There are other
shorter walks that reveal the rich and diverse flora and fauna of
the peaceful countryside. The hills and
valleys provide good habitats for wild and rare
animals such as the endangered red squirrel.
The many attractions
for the visitor to the area include the South
Tynedale Railway, which is a narrow gauge railway, with steam
and diesel trains operating along a 2¼ mile line from Alston to
Kirkhaugh through the scenic South Tyne
Valley. The Thomas the Tank Engine days are a particular favourite with visitors of all
There is also a restored water
wheel to be found in the town. Nearby there are restored Lead Mines open as museums, waterfalls,
and spectacular underground
As mentioned above the A686
trans Pennine road between Haydon Bridge and Penrith which
passes through Alston Moor has been included in the AA' Magazine's "The World's 10 Great Drives".
This will be no surprise to anyone who has travelled this marvelous
route. Spectacular scenery and an
involving road make this a must for anyone
visiting the north of England.
The history of
The Roman road known as the Maiden Way passes near the town on its way
to Whitley Castle, a mile or so to the
north, a Roman fort of which the
elaborate defensive ditches are still visible. There is an Earthwork by the River South Tyne dating back
to the Iron Age, but whether a permanent
settlement or used only during the summer can only be guessed at.
Alston gets no mention in the Domesday Book of
1086, the area was in the control of the Scots Kings at the time.
The manor of Alston (then known as Alderstone) enters
recorded history when it was given to William de Veteripont by William I, 'The Lion', King of Scotland in
1209. By 1280 the area was in the hands of the English, but Edward I king of England confirmed the
ownership of the de Veteripont family. It then passed by marriage to
the Whytlawe family who in 1443 granted it to the Stapletons of
Edenhall. From them it passed as part of their daughter's dowry to
the Hilton family of Durham.
Alston and the surrounding
fells have been mined for silver, lead, coal and anthracite since Roman times. In 1718 there were 119 mines producing
£70,000 a year. The town grew in size to accommodate the
ever-increasing number of workers, though many miners lived near
their places of work, often in appalling conditions. From the middle
of the nineteenth century mining gradually died out as a major
employer and with its demise the population shrank. Some small coal
mines still operate today.
Sheep farming has been a constant means of income and employment but now there are
new sources with specialist engineering. The
Alston area has won many friends over the years and some visitors
have been known to make it their home, an indication of how special
the place is, and how worthwhile to visit. You can find out more
about Alston Moor by visiting www.alstonmoor.com the
website for the Alston Moor Business Association.