… for the boys – my boys that is. A series of images from the 2021 MotoGP at Silverstone from 27th to 29th August. A birthday present from them all for a significant birthday – this is the simplest way for me to share the results of a great weekend. It was so good, we have been discussing plans for 2022 🙂
I am reading Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider, travels on the healing road. Within a short period from August 1997, he lost his daughter to a car accident and, ten months later, his common-law wife of twenty-three years, Jackie Taylor, who succumbed to cancer. Over a period of fourteen months, he rode 55,000 miles in search of a reason to live. Peart was an admirer of Hemingway and thanks to Ken Burns’ documentary, recently aired on the BBC, I pick up on the references.
Immediately before this, I was reading Lois Pryce’s Red Tape and White Knuckles, a solo motorcycle trip through Africa and before that, her Revolutionary Road, a solo ride through Iran. When I returned from Yorkshire last week, there was a surprise package on the doorstep – two books about a pair of dreamers, hell bent on taking part in the Isle of Man TT. The gift, from Simon at Ducati Preston, was prompted by a discussion about motorbikes and literature and my enthusiasm for Ted Bishop’s Riding with Rilke – Reflections on Motorcycles and Books. Centred on a road trip from Edmonton to Austin, Ted rides a Ducati Monster
It is not difficult to detect a recurring theme/obsession here. It is mid-July 2021 and already I have covered 6000+ miles – not in Peart’s or Pryce’s league but surely indicative of an unhealthy mania. Many of the miles were accumulated on a glorious one week trip to the north of Scotland. The rest of the time I can be found, alone or in the company of a few like-minded souls, anywhere across the length of Northumberland, the Scottish Borders, County Durham and North Yorkshire. This week I was back at Port Carlisle – I keep going back – the road, any road, is an addiction. To quote Lois – Being on a bike throws you out there into the thick of it, whether you want it or not, and makes you more vulnerable as a result. But with that vulnerability comes an intensity; a concentrated high, a sweet nerve-jangling, heart thumping, sugar-rush sensation of the kind that only comes from real down ‘n’ dirty, life-affirming motorcycling.
There is something other-worldly about this stretch of the southern Solway coast. There are traces of conflict, two separate abandoned railways, a demolished mile long bridge across the Firth and the ruins of a sizeable trans-shipment port. All of this has gone – there are scattered communities but, even in these days of staycations, the roads and shoreline remain quiet, ghostly. It is this that keeps drawing me back – like Ted, I was riding a Monster:
To quote that well-used adage, you don’t stop riding when you get old, you get old when you stop riding. I imagine myself riding into my eighties – isn’t it pretty to think so.
The field next to our home is filled with sheep. The red dye on their backsides confirms they have been seen to by the tup (ram) – he has been a busy boy. It is disappointing that, around the time the fruits of his endeavours begin to show, the flock is moved to the lower nursery slopes.
After a while you begin to notice how your neighbours behave. On really cold, still nights, they gather beneath the trees to avoid the ground frost. Generally timid, they will disperse as we leave the front door but, rattle a plastic bag that might contain ewe nuts and they will come running. Lie down for any length of time and a significant number will limp away, appearing to suffer from dead legs.
I share their pain – a golf induced knee injury, rotten weather, salty slippery roads and various tiers of lockdown have all served to constrain the usual activities – travel, golf and motorcycles. Nevertheless, there is always much to see, just look to the skies:
And then modest snow arrived on Christmas Eve and hung around for the next day – a White Christmas for Hexham:
So, to sign off for 2020, I wish my modest band of followers, all the best for a much-improved 2021. Before I go, some 2020 milestones:
a. In late 2020 I approached maximum disc space on wordpress.com after eight years – I am now subscribed with an annual fee which at least demonstrates commitment and should ensure my readers are not subjected to peculiar adverts;
b. Despite lockdowns, I still managed to clock 7165 miles on the motorbikes – several hundred more than in lockdown free 2019;
c. We still managed to get away – to Saughtree in the Borders, twice to Mallaig and once to north Northumberland. A return to the latter was abandoned due to the second lockdown;
d. The text for the Golf in the Wild sequel is now complete and due for publication in September. Possibly the only golf success in a year when playing was much curtailed.
Finally, as parting shots, a couple of images of the ‘Bad Company‘ I kept on some of the most memorable days in 2020:
… is usually quiet, but not this year. COVID-19 and the resulting staycations has resulted in a once quiet coastline being overwhelmed. This is all good news for the local economy I guess but not what I have come to expect of Bamburgh and Lindisfarne. Once the school holidays are over, I assume things will quieten down again, always assuming the little darlings can be persuaded to return to education. The couple of Bamburgh images are from last week and the Holy Island images from today – 12th August:
Sometimes the unplanned rides are the best. I just knew I wanted to be on open, high ground as the sky over Hexham was full of promising clouds. Heading south from Blanchland, I found myself riding up Bale Hill towards Stanhope Common and there, on my right, was a scene from Poldark, a chimney rising from an untamed landscape. Except, this was County Durham, not Cornwall.
The chimney belonged to Presser Pumping Station. Some of its history was recently revealed by local resident Stanley Wilkinson who lived at the ‘villa’ at The Pressor (sic) from 1935 to 1956: The 2 shafts and the big building and chimney were built for the lead mines many years prior to our family moving there. It was around 1953 when my father suggested the Durham County Water Board pump water from the old mine workings to augment the Consett water supply. He and I worked down the shaft clearing obstacles and making ready for the pump and piping installation; scary as hell but (we) completed the job. I migrated to Australia in 1964 and have lived in Indonesia for 25 years. (from https://www.geograph.org.uk/)
The clouds did not disappoint while the weather to the west was particularly ominous:
This drone flight takes you towards Hunstanworth and then back to the Pumping Station – it is a very fine portrayal of this wild landscape. John Twist, the drone pilot, is standing close to where I took my images.
It was inevitable that my resolution to post once per week on WordPress would eventually come unstuck. That was predictable, the last eight weeks less so. Cooped up for so long, it was also inevitable that when a hint of freedom appeared, all other priorities would be thrown to the four winds. On 13th May it was finally decreed safe to ride motorcycles again, although not over the border into Scotland where the restrictions remain. I have lost no time in clocking plenty of miles, some menacingly close to Reiver country …
In the mornin’ you go gunnin’ for the man who stole your water
And you fire till he is done in but they catch you at the border
And the mourners are all singin’ as they drag you by your feet
But the hangman isn’t hangin’ and they put you on the street
… probably for some time, unless I start shopping for essentials on two wheels. These were taken yesterday, on a trip into Northumberland designed to avoid almost everyone and everything. Hexham to Cambo can be done via B roads and from there it was a circular trip around Harwood Forest.
From door to door it was exactly seventy miles and I hardly saw a soul – these roads are empty, virus or no virus.
This final image shows the railway bridge to the left at Scots’ Gap and the converted station buildings to the right. Sited about midway between Redesmouth and Morpeth on the Wansbeck Railway, the line closed in 1952. According to Disused Stations: The station opened as Scots Gap on 23rd July 1862 being renamed Scotsgap in October 1903. The station was poorly equipped as a junction with no branch bays and a single platform on the down side. The station building was solidly built of local stone with a stone signal box at the east end. The station had two parallel loops with two sidings on the north side. There were three short spurs, one serving a locomotive turntable. The outermost siding served a goods platform and cattle dock and a goods warehouse.
… it has been a quiet week in Beaufront Woodhead. Spring appeared to be on the horizon so I was spurred into action, replacing the battery on the Scrambler and taxing it from 1st February. It was 4th February before I was tempted out, making the most of a brief spell of sunshine and some relatively dry, clean roads. So, feel free to join me as I take the Triumph out to Haltwhistle via the Military Road (which runs parallel to Hadrian’s Wall) and back along the A69 before branching off at Haydon Bridge.
Since then, the weather has been the worse this winter – gales, lots of rain and sleet – storm Ciara. The Scrambler is once again confined to the garage 😦
In my unending quest to make connections with my past, I came across this magnificent machine at Mike Barry’s Motorcycle Museum, Scaleby, near Carlisle, Cumbria. Any time I take a ride out for a chat with Mike is never wasted:
The attraction of this vehicle is that it was probably manufactured around the same time as the one proudly displayed by my paternal grandparents and featured in an earlier post:
My dad will have sat in a passenger seat very similar to this although, judging by his lack of interest in all things mechanical (an industrial chemist by profession), I doubt he spent much time looking under the bonnet:
Mike has attached the following to the windscreen: This car has been donated to the museum by Dougie Hargreaves from Carlisle and I will restore it when time allows. The engine has been rebuilt and running. I have fitted a new windscreen and the lights and brakes are now working. I have a new clutch to fit and then it will be roadworthy! The car is an Austin 7 – 1931 – 750cc – three speed.
Among the documentation for the car is a 1940 Ration Book for the months of August, September and October 1940. The coupons in this book authorise the furnishing and acquisition of the number of units of motor spirit specified on the coupons subject to the conditions appearing thereon. The issue of the Ration Book does not guarantee the holder any minimum quantity of motor spirit and the book may be cancelled at any time without notice. Any person furnishing or acquiring motor spirit otherwise than in accordance with the conditions on which these coupons are issued will be liable to prosecution … Private Walker, take note.
And for those wondering what else can be found in this ultimate man cave, an image of just part of Mike’s private collection:
Another September day, another ride out – this time to Winter’s Gibbet, Steng Cross, just south of Elsdon.
In 1791 the body of William Winter was hung here in chains, in sight of the place where he had murdered old Margaret Crozier of The Raw, Elsdon.
The present gibbet was erected on the exact site of the original. The large block of stone at the foot of the gibbet is the base of the Saxon Cross which marked the highest point of the ancient drove road, down which cattle were driven from Scotland to the English markets.
It is the saddest and loneliest of places, even on a mild September afternoon.