There is a chill in the air with some days clear and bright, but rain remains illusive. Normally this would be of no consequence, however, the roads nearby remain covered in a layer of muck and salt such that any outings on a bike, once again result in hours spent cleaning.
It was just the second game of golf this year on Tuesday followed by a long ride out on the GS to Anthorn in Cumbria on Thursday – 117 miles, the longest this year. By contrast, in 2021, I didn’t get out until 17th February – maybe it was the weather or lockdowns or a combination of both – I forget.
It feels like the year is tilting towards spring with almost no days of winter. There is time yet, I guess.
The view from Struthers, Allendale. A brief detour on the way home from an enjoyable 18 holes at Allendale Golf Club – Home of Golf in the Wild.
Looking east along the channel of the River Wampool Anthorn.
A return to Anthorn (home of the pips) on the GS. Finally bit the bullet and increased the insured miles – expecting a hefty admin fee, the total charge was £2.46 :D!
Storm Malik was blowing a hoolie on Saturday
Another sunrise at Beaufront Woodhead – today – Sunday 30th January
The racecourse from east of Blackhill Farm – today – Sunday 30th January.
More sheep – near the racecourse
Towards Hexham, looking northeast from the racecourse road
Inspired by a tweet from Dan Jackson, earlier this week, I headed south into County Durham on the Scrambler: County Durham was among the saddest of the ‘sad shires’ of WW1 (with the Durham Light Infantry alone losing 13,000 men killed), but the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Hunstanworth in the North Pennines was lucky, and is the county’s only ‘thankful village’.
According to Wiki: The church, dedicated to St James the Less, was built in 1781 on a medieval site. The village was designed and built around the original parish church. The Reverend Daniel Capper commissioned architect Samuel Sanders Teulon to create the village in 1862-3; as well as rebuilding the church, Teulon delivered a vicarage and stable block, school and school-house and a mix of terraced, semi-detached and detached houses, all constructed of sandstone.
The church is also home to a hand-blown organ by Gray & Davison which was on display at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
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
… 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.
Tuesday morning – the same scene – a world changed
Hexham golf course – closed – Wednesday
Thursday morning – firebird heading for warmer climes
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.
… 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.
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.
I am reading Neil Peart’sGhost 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.
… 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.