Escape …

… down forestry roads, deep into Wark Forest.  I am no off-road hero but, some loose gravel I can cope with at sensible speeds.  The attraction is that it takes you places you would never otherwise go and mostly, you are completely alone.  This route starts at Whygate, a place already far from anywhere, at which point narrow tarmac with passing places turns to unmade forestry roads.  Three miles in a sign advises that the already rough track is unsuitable for motorised vehicles.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this is designed to deter through traffic – apart from a ford, Google Earth seems to show a cycle route which at worst has grass growing down the middle.  I was suitably deterred but intend going back to attack it from the southern end.  With echoes of the Northwest Passage I have a burning ambition to break through from Once Brewed on the Military Road to complete a fabulous circular route.

As it was, I turned back and headed over Shitlington Common (I kid you not) to Bellingham, down the North Tyne Valley to Wark and then along the eastern side of the Tyne to Barrasford, Chollerton and home.

It was wonderful to be out and I make no pretence about it being an ‘essential journey’ other than for the sake of my sanity.

The off-road section in Wark Forest

Almost a selfie

Beyond Whygate

End of the road at Grindon Green – or is it?

Turning around

One of two fords at Whygate

Shitlington Common

…and again.

A Feeling for Snow

New Year’s Day was dull and grey.  The next we awoke to a world changed.  Overnight snow is the joy of winter.  By some standards, it was a modest covering but sufficient to raise me from my lockdown position in front of several PC screens.  If we must have winter, if I am unable to ride a motorcycle, if I cannot swing a golf club, then let’s at least have it pretty.

It is around this time of year I get itchy feet and plot escapes north, always by rail – Inverness, Wick, Kyle of Lochalsh and Bodø/Lofoten have been my destinations over successive years, although only the latter yielded the white stuff.  This year, inevitably, I am going nowhere – locked up, locked down, call it what you will, I am told we are in Tier 4.  News channels can speculate, offer opinions, call in experts, exhort, criticise and alarm – just don’t assume I am listening.  I am out of reach and much the happier:

Crossing the Birkey Burn

Between Beaufront and Acomb

Hexham and Egger from Salmons Well Farm

Egger from north of Oakwood

The sheep get up and make their many tracks
And bear a load of snow upon their backs
John Clare – Sheep in Winter

The Victorian postbox at Sandhoe

Today I walked down the street I use to wander
Yeah, shook my head and made myself a bet
There was all these things that I don’t think I remember
Hey, how lucky can one man get.

Northumberland Skies

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.

The ram has been rushed off his feet.

Looking exhausted

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:

The sun going down in late November

… And sunrise

Christmas is coming – 23rd December

Christmas morning

Post Christmas steely blue skies – 29th December

And then modest snow arrived on Christmas Eve and hung around for the next day – a White Christmas for Hexham:

Fern Hill

Towards Fawcett Hill

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:

On the trip to Hawes

At the top of Rosedale Chimney Bank.

Kielder Viaduct

An information plaque on one of the viaduct columns provides a brief overview of its history: In 1969, after being in use for 100 years, this railway viaduct was preserved for the public by the Northumberland and Newcastle Society through the generosity of many donors. The viaduct was constructed in 1862 to carry the North Tyne Railway and is a notable example of Victorian engineering. It is a rare and the finest surviving example of the skew arch form of construction. This required that each stone in the arches should be individually shaped in accordance with the method evolved by Peter Nicholson of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a pioneer geometrician in this field.

The viaduct is decorated with crenelated ramparts and arrow slits to appease the Duke of Northumberland.  The line passed in front of his hunting lodge at Kielder Castle and he insisted that its design should be consistent with the castle’s Gothic style.

Later known as the Border Counties Railway (BCR), it ran from Riccarton just over the Scottish Border all the way down the North Tyne Valley to Hexham.  Opening in stages between 1858 and 1862, commercial traffic was limited from the outset and the thinly populated Borders meant that passenger numbers were always small. The line closed to passengers in 1956 and the tracks lifted in 1963.

From the banks of the North Tyne

The view from atop the viaduct

Keep walking south for just under a mile, following the route of the abandoned line and you are confronted with open water.  This is where the BCR is submerged beneath Kielder Water, not reappearing until Falstone, some six miles south and beyond Kielder Dam.  Much else lies beneath – Plashetts Colliery, the station, parts of the old village, various farms and HMS Standard.  Sadly, a prolonged drought will not reveal ghost villages as the buildings were destroyed before the valley was flooded.  Nor will the superstructure of some long lost battleship emerge – HMS Standard was a shore based  assessment and rehabilitation centre for naval personnel diagnosed with personality disorders.  Whatever inspired the reservoir’s civil engineers, it wasn’t the lost city of Atlantis.

The end of the line

Beneath the viaduct there is a neat little device called a blackbox-av.  Wind the handle to provide a charge and you can listen to the Viaduct Voices – short stories told by locals about the railway, the wildlife and a time before the coming of the reservoir.  The voices are appropriately faint and distant – much like Hendersen’s Bridge on Raasay.

Viaduct Voices

The North East coast …

… 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:

Bamburgh Castle and an unusually busy beach in light and shade …

… and how I got there.

Holy Island Causeway

… and how I got there.

The alternative route

‘Pilgrims’ heading for Holy Island

Out and about …

… in deepest Northumberland.  Another series of monos from recent walks and motorcycle journeys. The first set is from Colt Crag Reservoir – from Wiki – The reservoir was built at the end of the 19th century for the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company. The reservoir forms part of a series of reservoirs along the A68 which are connected by tunnels and aqueducts from Catcleugh Reservoir to Whittle Dene from where drinking water is supplied to Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, and some surrounding areas.

In the image of the Boat House the bird in flight is a house martin – again from Wiki – One of Colt Crag’s main attractions are the great crested grebes, and there is also a colony of 20-30 pairs of house martins that return each year to nest under the eaves of the boathouse.

Three small figures in a landscape

The Boat House

The Dam

 

The second set is from Bewcastle, a place I last visited in March 2018.  On that occasion I was riding a Yamaha MT-09 Tracer.  This time I was on a BMW 1250 GS and there has been an F850 GS in between.  Do I possibly have a problem 😉

Bewcastle Cross

St Cuthbert’s Church

Free at last …

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 …

The GS at Crindledykes

To Bamburgh

In Bad Company

At the Air Museum (closed)

Do it again …

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

Northumberland in Mono

This set of images were all taken within a 1.5 mile radius of our home – I know this for certain because I haven’t ventured outside this geofence since 24th March.  Hexham is a mystery to me now – the Good Wife has taken over responsibility for all socially distant shopping, mostly because I cannot be trusted to buy organic.  Any consequential savings I would spend on chocolate or similar.  Nevertheless, I am not complaining, I seem to have slipped into this secluded life all too easily.  The only thing I miss desperately is getting out on the motorcycles which, as any rider knows, is just self-isolation at speed.

Lean on me …

Always keep a-hold of nurse

Beaufront Castle Lodge …

In a big county …

The entrance to Fern Hill Farm

Five-bar Gate …

Do not disturb …

Another gate above the old kennels, Beaufront Woodhead.

The impression created by these images is of a country life continuing as usual, uninterrupted by world events. Isolating has also meant not listening to ‘news’, keeping socially distant from statistics and mortality rates but, just occasionally the bubble is burst. Peter Turnley’s images portray an entirely different, distant, monochromatic reality:

 

Compensations

In our fifth week of lock-down, I realise that this week we should have been staying in a coast-side apartment at the western end of Swanage.  I was looking forward to revisiting Studland, the Poole Harbour ferry, Sandbanks and Canford Cliffs, familiar places I have known from my earliest years.  Instead, we remain in deepest Northumberland – we should be grateful – many would consider this a holiday destination and the weather has been glorious.

Had we been away, we would have missed this – drawn outside by a golden light falling on the trees to the east of our home, we were treated to this spectacular light show across the Tyne Valley.  There are many compensations for staying at home, out of choice or otherwise

The beginning …

… the middle …

The end.

Locked down …

… but, fortunately, so far, not locked in.  We are very lucky, living in the wilds of Northumberland.  For the most part it just feels like an extended winter without the temptation to take a motorcycle out on salty roads nor play golf on water-logged courses  In some ways, life is almost simpler.  Lacking other inspiration, here are some images of the neighbours who don’t seem to have got the hang of social distancing:

Ewe mucky kid …

Here’s lookin’ at ewe kid

Ewe don’t have to say you love me …

Don’t look back …

The local longhorn …