… the way I intend to continue – on a bike on January 1st. Plenty of rain meant there was no salt on the roads and the temperatures well above 10ºC – almost perfect riding conditions, but for the mucky surfaces. I am fortunate to live among country roads, not best for a sports bike, but ideal for the Scrambler. A couple of miles north and I am on the Military Road, which runs from Heddon in the east to Greenhead in the west. For much of its length, it runs parallel to Hadrian’s Wall and north of the old Stanegate Roman road. There are any number of diversions, south or north, which take you away from this almost arrow-straight tarmac, built by Field Marshal Wade in 1746 to enable easy movement of the troops and equipment necessary to supress the Jacobite uprising. It is a wild, exposed, glorious landscape.
… 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.
… 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 Beaufront Woodhead. The weather has alternated between dire and freezing, neither any good for getting out and about, especially on two wheels. A couple of storms have passed through and trees have been lost. We have had a couple of regular visitors to our garden and then, yesterday, they took the liberty of inviting all their friends. The image from our rear bedroom window shows a handful but, just around the corner, there were twenty or so more – they have kindly, liberally, fertilised the lawn.
One bright spot, I have replaced the levers on my Triumph Scrambler – I get a disproportionate amount of pleasure out of such fettling – verb (used with object), fet·tled, fet·tling – Ceramics to remove mold marks from (a cast piece). That may be the official definition but, in Manchester and probably elsewhere, it means to fiddle about with machinery – ideally in a relaxed and time-wasting fashion. An alternative would be ‘ferkle’.
“Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you” – Dave Allen 1936-2005
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.
… the bikes have taken me in the last few days in search of images. The old rolling stock being put to an agricultural use sits in a field above Allendale. Thorneyburn is way over yonder in the minor key – between Bellingham and Kielder. Linnels Bridge and the Mill are on the road between Hexham and Slaley. The transport for most of this can be seen in the last. What an unpredictable summer it has been.
… The White Album; Where I Was From; Slouching Towards Bethlehem – all stories of distant places in a distant time – scattered with searing observation that make place, time and distance irrelevant. Joan Didion has the capacity to invade your thoughts, for days on end:
Notes from a Native Daughter (Slouching Towards Bethlehem)
Perhaps in retrospect this has been a story not about Sacramento at all, but about the things we lose and the promises we break as we grow older; perhaps I have been playing out unawares the Margaret in the poem (Spring and Fall – Gerard Manley Hopkins):
Margaret are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving? …
It is the blight man was born for
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Where I was From – Part Four
Flying to Monterey I had a sharp apprehension of the many times before when I had, like Lincoln Steffens, “come back”, flown west, followed the sun, each time experiencing a lightening of spirit as the land below opened up, the checkerboards of the midwestern plains giving way to the vast empty reach between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada; then home, there, where I was from, me, California. It would be a while before I realized that “me” is what we think when our parents die, even at my age, who will look out for me now, who will remember me as I was, who will know what happens to me now, where will I be from.
… We kissed, we had a drink together, we promised to keep in touch. A few months later Nancy was dead, of cancer, at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. I sent the recital program to Nancy’s brother, to send on to her daughter. I had my grandmother’s watercolor framed and sent it to the next oldest of her three daughters, my cousin Brenda in Sacramento.
I closed the box and put it in a closet.
There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.
It has been an obsessive and busy summer. When thoughts jostle for space, I escape – two wheels at speed empties the head, concentrates the mind and lifts the spirit. I seek out empty and abandoned places – I want no distractions.
Before departing I had worked out a circular route going north along the A68, into Scotland towards Selkirk and then south to Kielder. Not for the first time, I was thwarted by road closures, this time the B6357. When did this become the norm rather than the exception – much to my annoyance, I was briefly distracted 😉
… and the places they take me. As I type, the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia is juggling the tree tops and spreading leaves across empty Northumbrian fields. The summer is long gone. A daily photographic diary is a striking reminder of how the landscape changes from the lush greens of summer to an autumnal palette in the blink of an eye. It is also a reminder of the places I have been when the sun was at its highest:
As the year turns, the bikes will spend longer in the garage, as will the golf clubs. It is time to make some serious progress on the sequel to Golf in the Wild – a bit like a 2nd LP, I am finding the follow-up much harder going 🙂
I have been neglecting this blog. The weather has been unusually good, flaming June has given Northumberland a taste of Tuscany or, should that be North-umbria. These images, which have all appeared on Blip, explain the neglect – there will be plenty of time to sit at the keyboard over the winter months 😦 – frost and snow are not conducive to bikes or golf: