… 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
End of the road at Grindon Green – or is it?
One of two fords at Whygate
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:
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.
… recent rides out on the BMW GS. In the first, a brief journey to Derwent Reservoir in County Durham where, like most places at the moment, the place was teeming with visitors. This included one very adventurous young boy who was running along the dam edge in pursuit of his friend on a bike. He survived …
Everyone agreed, it was a miracle indeed that the boy survived …
A few days later I headed west to Anthorn, the home of the Pips:
The airfield was built in February 1918 as a Fleet Air Arm (FAA) airfield. It was abandoned after World War I ended, however the RAF reinstated the airfield at the beginning of World War II as an emergency landing ground for nearby RAF Silloth.
The site was taken over by the Royal Navy in December 1942, and renamed as RNAS Anthorn. It was commissioned in September 1944 as ‘HMS Nuthatch’. The airfield served as No.1 ARDU (Aircraft Receipt and Dispatch Unit), a unit that accepts aircraft from their manufacturers and prepares them for operational use. The last official flight took off from the airfield in November 1957. It was then put on Care and Maintenance, before it closed down in March 1958.
In 1961 the site was chosen to become a NATO VLF transmitting site for communicating with submarines. One of its main functions is to transmit Greenwich Mean Time to the rest of the world. This time signal is heard as ‘pips’ on the radio and is used by everything from train companies to speed cameras. The aerial masts can be seen from miles around, especially at night with their distinctive red lights.
Text from the Solway Military Trail website.
Anthorn – home of the Pips
I dream of wires
The result of all these two-wheeled miles is that I am now just 4 miles short of achieving the 2020 #ride5000miles target. There was a time, earlier in the year, when this seemed a very unlikely objective.
… 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
Silloth seems distant and out-of-the-way but was once a popular destination for Victorian holidaymakers travelling by train from Carlisle and Scotland. The Carlisle and Silloth Bay Railway provided a connection from the east while trains from the north arrived by the Solway Junction Railway, a journey which involved crossing the Firth on the remarkable Solway Viaduct. According to Visit Cumbria: The one mile 176 yard long iron girder viaduct across the water was damaged by an ice build-up in 1875 and again in 1881. It was repaired and continued in use until 1914 for passengers, and until 1921 for freight, and was finally demolished in 1934. Apparently, part of the reason was that Scots, who then had no access to alcohol on Sundays, used to walk across to the more liberal English side, and returning in a less than sober state occasionally fell into the Solway, and were lost.
The well-tended, wide-open park, the grand hotels, the prom, all speak of a bygone prosperity. It was all new to me but the Good Wife holidayed here as a child, staying at her aunt and uncle’s house adjacent to the RAF aerodrome which closed in 1960. We went in search of her memories.
The house is still there and a happy-looking older chap was raking his lawn. This was John, tending his front garden, as he has done these last fifty years. Turns out, he not only remembered Pam’s uncle and his family, having both worked at the aerodrome but, his wife, Irene, went to school with Pam’s cousin. In his day, John was an aero-engineer working on the de Havilland Vampires and Hawker Hunters that chased across the skies of Silloth throughout the post-war years. As he remarked at the end of the conversation, it’s a small world.
John in his front garden
The beach, towards Skinburness
The amusement hall
Silloth Station 1951 – By Walter Dendy, deceased
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:
Heavy weather to the west, from Bale Hill – looking towards Townfield and Hunstanworth
Presser Pumping Station
The GS on Bale Hill
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 …
The GS at Crindledykes
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
Svolvær seems like a dream to me now. We timed our trip to Norway to perfection. It was always going to be sometime between mid-February and mid-March, to ensure there was still plenty of snow but a reasonable amount of light. When I booked the flights, hotels and rail journeys, little did I know that there was another consideration, something I could never have imagined. As I said in an earlier post, we arrived back in the UK on 7th March and Norway went into lock-down on the 14th.
Like everyone else, I guess, we are dreaming of where to go when the world returns to normal, whenever that might be. Mostly I think of places I would like to go back to and, of course, Svolvær is at the top of the list. Some of this is because every Saturday night at 21:00, I am reminded of how it looks. By coincidence, BBC4 are showing the Nordic thriller Twin, filmed in and around Svolvær. A slightly bizarre and hardly believable story, the compensation is the scenery, although I can’t help thinking they should have talked to me about the best time to film 🙂
All this inspired me to dig through some of my unused images from the trip and return on a virtual tour. I have selected as a soundtrack one of the songs used in Twin – God Don’t Leave Me I’ll Freeze by the Norwegian band, Highasakite – full marks for the name! Is it me or does it sound vaguely inspired by Sami folk music.
The view from Svinoybrua
The view from Lamholmen
… 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.
Harwood Forest – somewhere near the ‘U’ in Rothbury
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.