Stanhope Common

On Friday I rode down to Darlington.  At this time of year, getting any bike out over any distance is a bonus.  Nearly all 97 miles of tarmac were filthy, the low sun shone permanently in my eyes riding south and it took nearly two hours to clean the bike when I got home.  It was all worth it.  Having taken the quick route when outward bound, on return I took the scenic roads through Wolsingham, Frosterley, Stanhope and Blanchland.  Riding across Stanhope Common, I was treated to these wonderful sights.  All taken within a few minutes of each other, the light was changing fast.  A few miles further on, I descended into the mist and damp of a very foggy afternoon – the price was worth paying:

Towards Burn Hope

A very muddy GS

Moon central with Sandyford quarry building in the distance

Towards Blanchland

More of the same

More about …

… the weather.  On Monday night we had the first serious snow of winter – unannounced, it took us sufficiently by surprise that the Good Wife had to abandon her car and walk home, about a mile up the hill to Beaufront Woodhead.  The car was retrieved the following day, but the snow and and ice hung around for another couple of days.  Later in the week, the BBC/Met Office website was finally issuing Yellow Weather Warnings for severe snow in the northeast.  In the event, nothing arrived.  The same website contains hourly forecasts for the following fourteen days – generally speaking, they turn out to be nonsense.  Why the pretence – rant over – have a happy week, everyone, regardless of the weather.

Monday afternoon

Tuesday morning – the same scene – a world changed

Hexham golf course – closed – Wednesday

Thursday morning – firebird heading for warmer climes

Friday morning – fire in the woods

Christmas week …

The weather has been bleak. Our James, Louise and Little Evie arrived Monday and within 12 hours we had all gone down with a stomach bug – on the plus side, they got to stay another day. James is the our youngest boy of three and the the first produce a grandchild. For various reasons, it seems unlikely that the others will follow suit. So, on this branch of the family tree, it seems likely the Down name will die out. My dad would have been disappointed – no longer a name to go down in history.

It is a surname people struggle with – when speaking it, particularly on the phone, I have a habit of saying “Down, D, O, W, N” – it’s short enough and helps reduce the number of misheard interpretations – they are many. Even people we have known for years will add an ‘e’ or an ‘s’ or both – Downe, Downs, Downes are the common variations. Oddly, the Good Wife, who inherited the name, gets more irritated by this than me.

Enough rambling – I trust everyone is having and will continue to have a great Christmas. Like I said, the weather has been bleak and this is reflected in the external images from the past seven days:

Sunday 19th December – The fog on the Tyne moved up the side of the valley.

Monday 20th December – Someone is looking sheepish

Tuesday 21st December – Little Evie and her two front teeth venture north

Wednesday 22nd December – More thoughtful than sheepish

Thursday 23rd December – More or less recovered from the stomach bug

Friday 24th December – the CCM Spitfire Blackout – another recent addition to the garage.

Saturday 25th December – A Christmas day walk to Beaufront Hill Head.

Yet another …

… week gone by.  After a dull and dreary weekend, the sun finally appeared late Sunday and from then on, the week mostly took a turn for the better.  Monday was cold, particularly across the moors, but fine enough to get the Scrambler out.  Tuesday felt a little like Christmas as I drove to Allendale Brewery to collect a hamper and crates of beer.  Bright skies and frost appeared on most mornings such that the camera has spent a lot of time pointing at the sky.  Thursday was even good enough to take the GS north, across filthy roads to Otterburn and then on single tracks to Sundaysight, Greenhaugh and Bellingham.  Nothing is quite as good as being alone on two wheels in wild, empty places.

Sunday 12th December – the sun finally made an appearance, late in the afternoon

Monday 13th December – On the Scrambler to Stanhope and Wolsingham. Still some snow on high ground and colder than expected, but grand to be out again. No low winter sun, which is good thing on the bike.

Tuesday 14th December – To the brewery at Allendale to collect Christmas presents. So much better than depending on a courier who might, or might not, deliver to the right address.

Wednesday 15th December – Sheep migrating north in a golden, morning light.

Thursday 16th December – traffic jam near Sundaysight.

On the same day, on high ground between Greenhaugh and Bellingham, looking towards Sundaysight. The GS is filthy thanks to the lorries emerging from Divethill Quarry on the B6342.

Friday 17th December – Egger from Oakwood, on a cold December morning.

Saturday 18th December – a hard frost on a bright December morning. Flying high on the left is Turkish Airlines, Boeing 787-9 from Istanbul to San Francisco.

On the same day – a different treatment of the same scene.

The Week Gone By

I don’t post on WordPress like I used to. One of the main reasons is the distraction of daily posts on Blipfoto combined with a constant desire to be out on two wheels or playing golf. The latter two become much less time consuming over the winter months, but still I don’t post as often as I might. The sequel to Golf in the Wild also occupies much time as does being honorary treasurer of Allendale Golf Club and continuing to maintain about a half dozen WordPress based websites. And therein lies the rub.

All of the other sites are hosted on an ISP with locally supported and maintained versions of WordPress with access to the classic editor whereas, on wordpress.com, I am obliged to use the thoroughly awful block editor. The irony is that I am now paying for this service since I exceeded the free storage quota. I really should use it more and to that end, I will try repeating what appears on Blipfoto plus maybe a few extra images. Possibly, I will grow to like this editor, but I doubt it.

Sunday 28th November: Seeing red – Storm Arwen meant this was our second full day without electricity
Monday 29th November and still no electricity – the view across the fields at Beaufront Woodhead.
Tuesday 30th November – Frank Williams, a hero since my teenage years, died on 28th November. Seen here on the right with Ron Tauranac at the 1972 British GP, Brands Hatch. Power returned late afternoon.
Wednesday 1st December – Egger the wood treatment plant at Hexham which helps to keep the town prosperous and happy – recently rated the happiest place to live in the UK. I would agree, although they never asked me.
Thursday 2nd December – local cattle, pigging it down at Sloppy Joe’s on a cold December morning.
Friday 3rd December – I am more Ghia than Gaia, more Clarkson than Lovelock.
Saturday 4th December – Hamish and Dougie Wheelbirks Parlour
Another from Wheelbirks – either Hamish or Dougie – I don’t know which is which.

Ghost Roads …

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:

The Black on Black Monster between Port Carlisle and Burgh by Sands.
Ghostly and dangerous
Liable to flooding, as I last experienced on a trip through here on the GS.
No direction home.
This arrow was used to direct RAF pilots at floating targets in the Solway Firth – it is clearly visible on Google Earth.
Cattle on the edge
Near Bowness-on-Solway

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.

Anstruther …

… pronounced Anster or maybe Enster, if the man in the golf clubhouse is to be believed. But then, this sounds different again.  Regardless, the brief golf trip into Fife was a great success and just one in a series of adventures that has kept me from WordPress since April.  A week in Swanage was followed by a 1200 mile motorcycle journey to Scotland and the North Coast 500.  A golfing trip was long overdue.

Anstruther Golf Course would have appeared in the sequel to Golf in the Wild but Covid delayed the trip and its inclusion beyond my deadlines.  A shame in many respects as it proved to be everything I had hoped for – a fine course with some challenging holes, not least, the three consecutive par 3s at the southern end of the course. The first of these, the fifth – The Rockies, was deemed the toughest par 3 in Britain in 2007 by Today’s Golfer.  It would be hard to disagree.

Beyond the golf course, the town was vibrant with much going on regardless of any social distancing obligations.  These are a selection of images from a brief one night stay – they paint a better picture than words:

 

The second – Monument
The fifth – The Rockies
A Bigger Splash
The bay and clubhouse
The Lighthouse
The Monument on the golf course, from the harbour wall
The harbour

Connie

There are three ways to Throckrington – along rough tracks and a three-gated road, circumnavigating Colt Cleugh Reservoir; through Little Swinburne and Short Knowes, more rough tracks and, I am told, five gates; or, the single-track road (with no gates), signposted ‘Throckrington 1 Mile’ off the B6342, Colwell to Little Bavington road. I have walked the first and ridden the last. So many ways of reaching nowhere.

Rough road from Colt Cleugh
Set high on a spur of the Great Whin Sill

The settlement comprises nothing more than a sizeable farm and St Aidan’s church which once towered over a village, elevated on a spur of the Great Whin Sill. In 1847 a returning sailor brought cholera, the residents were wiped out and the houses destroyed. If anyone travels to Throckrington today, it is for the church and its graveyard. There is the farm but, nothing else.

The sloping graveyard has headstones etched with the names of the Border Reiver families – the Armstrongs, the Milburns, the Robsons and the Shaftoes, the latter celebrated by a too obvious granite obelisk. It is an odd ambition, to have the grandest memorial in the graveyard and perhaps galling that it is not the Reiver families that attract visitors.

Connie’s swimming stone is bottom left

Among the old bones, there are some surprising more recent incomers of note. At the north west of the graveyard lie the remains of Lord and Lady Beveridge beneath two unpretentious, arched headstones. William Henry Beveridge, 1st Baron Beveridge, KCB (5 March 1879 – 16 March 1963) was a British economist and Liberal politician whose 1942 report, Social Insurance and Allied Services (known as the Beveridge Report) provided the basis for the NHS and UK welfare state established by the 1945 Labour government.

The Lord and Lady Beveridge headstones are third and fourth from the left

A yet more modest memorial, a simple stone carved with the initials CRL marks where Constance Ruth Leathart is laid to rest. Connie flew Spitfires in World War II and was one of the first women with a pilot’s licence. According to Wiki she was born into a wealthy family on Tyneside and started flying lessons in 1925 at Newcastle Aero Club. She wrote her name as “C. R. Leathart” on the application form and was accepted before the club realised her gender. When she received her flying licence in 1927, Leathart became the first British female pilot outside London, and one of the first 20 overall.

She started an aircraft repair business, Cramlington Aircraft, with Walter Runciman, later Viscount Runciman, participated successfully in air races with him, and was one of a group of flying socialites. She was one of the first women to fly over the Alps, in a de Havilland Tiger Moth and was the first in Great Britain to design and fly a glider.
When World War II broke out, she was working in the map department at Bristol Airport and volunteered as one of the first members of the Air Transport Auxiliary, female pilots who delivered aircraft from the manufacturers.
After the war ended, she became a United Nations special representative to the Greek island of Icaria and received an award of merit from the International Union for Child Welfare. She reluctantly gave up flying in 1958 and retired to a farm in Little Bavington, Northumberland, where she cared for rescued donkeys.

The stone that marks Connie’s grave is the step taken from her unheated swimming pool which she used regardless of the weather. A simple memorial to a remarkable life.

Connie’s memorial in the foreground, the Shaftoe memorial in the background.

Finally, there is Tom Sharpe, the satirical novelist best known for Blott on the Landscape and Porterhouse Blue. Except he is not there – some of his ashes, along with a bottle of whisky, a Cuban cigar and a pen, were buried without permission and were later exhumed by the Vicar of St Aidan’s. Maud’s gardener would have been up in arms.

The view south west

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.

Werner Kissling

Sunday, April 17th 2016, we travelled from South Uist to Eriskay across the causeway, opened by the Earl and Countess of Wessex on the 11th September 2002. This one mile crossing is the last in a series linking the islands of Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay. A sixty mile string of roads and bridges which has added much to the convenience of local life but taken some of the romance from travelling these Outer Hebridean islands. We briefly toured the island by car, stopped at the Barra Ferry, took a quick look at Am Politician and were gone, heading south by ferry to Skye.

The ferry to Barra from Eriskay (in my pre-RAW days, the X100S quality now seems a little disappointing)

In 1934, Werner Kissling arrived by sea and stayed on Eriskay for the summer.  A career diplomat for the Weimar Republic, his postings took him to Spain, Hungary, Switzerland and finally, the UK as Second Secretary in the German embassy, London.  Alarmed at the rise of the Nazi movement, he resigned when they came to power in 1933.  Personally harangued by Hitler, he borrowed the yacht, Elspeth, and headed north to escape the attentions of the German secret police.

This great escape undoubtedly suited him immensely.  For reasons not entirely clear, he had, from an early age, developed a passion for the Scottish Islands and its people.  During his time on Eriskay, he filmed the islanders as they went about their daily lives –  collecting peat with their ponies, sheep farming, fishing and tweed making. The resulting film, A Poem of Remote Lives, is an astonishing record of a Gaelic community and a way of life that had not changed in hundreds of years: