A long way from home . . or, Plan B!

21 Oct

Around Hartington (5)Time for a bike ride – but somehow my heart and my legs just aren’t in it. What’s more news from home suggests I might be of more value back there – Ripley is missing me and needs to go for walks. A quick 10 kilometres this morning will do it, then I pack my kit up and leave early. There’s still plenty of loveliness in the Peaks, and I route myself down to the south. Around Hartington (2)Reality starts to kick in – a half hour delay on the M1, stuck behind a tanker for five miles.. although I do manage to remember to pick up some oatcakes in Ashbourne.

A brief stop to lay some flowers on my mother’s grave…

Photo 2020-10-20 17.08.51And home to a pupper who’s very glad to see me.

It’s been a great adventure. Strange, because of the COVID-19 crisis, but sometimes that’s been an advantage. There are more adventures to be had on this beautiful island, more wonders and marvels to see. I need to travel in Wales a little more, and there’s still a big tour of Scotland to be done, but I feel as if I can at least tick one of my dream goals for 2020 off the list.

TimSignature

Hartington – Ashbourne – Crick – Home

On the road again.. or, Northumberland to Derbyshire in one not so easy lesson

21 Oct

Back in the car again, and time to head back south. As you might expect, I don’t go the easy way..

Cross the Pennines (19)First off I drop down back to Alston, following a similar route to yesterday’s bike ride. It’s funny seeing where the cycle path crosses the road and dodges back into fields and woods on the old train track. The South Tyne disappears, and I find myself alongside the Tees in Teesdale, a wide glacial valley that takes me all the way down to infamous Barnard Castle. I’d wanted to stop at High Force waterfall, but there seems to be a film crew in attendance, so it’s onwards again. Now it’s time to zig again, and I cross right back over for a brief flirtation with Cumbria and dropping into County Durham before zooming back across the North Pennines for a while.

There’s something tremendously peaceful about travelling alone – there’s no need for words, no need to remark on what I’m seeing. Our words can limit our experience, and sometimes, it’s not necessary to use them – beauty just coalesces in a thumping torrent just above my heart, threatening to overwhelm it with majesty and gorgeousness.

Cross the Pennines (5)Butter Tubs pass is almost overwhelming – up until this point the roads have been beautiful, tranquil, lovely – but Butter Tubs cannot fail to impress with twists and turns to map onto to sheer drops and high cliffs.

Hawes (2)A stop for coffee in Hawes – the town comes to a standstill when hundreds of sheep are driven through the main street, herded by four collies and one little collie pup in training. This is quite clearly a regular town occurrence.

Ribblehead Viaduct (2)Another quick stop to photograph the Ribblehead viaduct snaking across the valley, and then time to drop down to the Peaks. We’re out of the parks, but my old friends Skipton and Keighley are still lovely, and there’s even a pretty bypass route round Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield, although I’m continually fighting Batman the satnav: once we’ve agreed a route he then decides he knows better and reroutes us without telling me he’s changed his mind.  We are going to have words at some point. “Turn around when possible.. let’s keep the Joker guessing”.

To The Peaks (13)Finally we edge into the Peak district, rising to cross Holme Moss. It’s windy here, and I’m not hanging around. Now it’s reservoir country. half a dozen reservoirs mark my path on the way down to Glossop. Batman routes me away from the route I wanted to take – on retracing my steps I find that Snake Pass is actually shut, and so as evening gathers I drop down into Chapel-en-le-Frith and then into my home for the night at Hartington Hall. It’s been a long, beautiful and awe inspiring day.

TimSignature

Once Brewed – Alston – Middleton in Teesdale – Barnard’s Castle – Reeth – Hawes – Ingleton – Keighley – Holmfirth – Glossop – Hartington

Down to the river we’d ride . . Trails and tracks

18 Oct

Bike Ride to Alston (23)Sunday, and it’s a great day to be alive. I skip breakfast and drive a few miles to Haltwhistle. Disappointingly, the name has nothing to do with railways and everything to being a hill at the conflux of two rivers. Equally, Fourstones has nothing to do with Jagger and crew, although I guess originally there were five of them…

Anyway, the plan for the day is to cycle down to Alston for late breakfast on the Pennine Trail and then cycle back on the South Tyneside Trail by the river.

Bike Ride to Alston (5)And it’s spectacular. Most of the route is on converted railway tracks – little tree lined avenues of trees transformed into their Autumn colours. I pass the occasional hiker and dog walker, but the trail is pretty much deserted.

The outbound trail rises and falls – there are steep climbs to tax my muscles while the morning cold continues to gnaw at my fingertips. One moment I am looking down at the Tyne below me – the next I am riding alongside it.

Bike Ride to Alston (7)The trail becomes less direct as I near my destination though – weaving around the hillside as if hesitating to make a final commitment to the descent into Alston. Eventually I drop into the village and climb the steep high street.

Late breakfast is not going to happen in Alston though –  despite being a popular spot for bikers, there is little open to feed them – most of them end up outside the Spar.

But a little shop furnishes me with coffee and a scone, and I am content. And I’ve made it – just – into Cumbria.  I briefly flirt with following the river to its source, about ten miles further upstream, but decide against it.

Lambey Viaduct (2)The way back starts out easier – gravel track runs alongside the South Tyneside Railway line, a 2’ gauge recreational line. It’s popular with local walkers, but they seem surprised when a cyclist waits for them to pass. There are a few kinks in the route, most notably at Slaggyford where it diverts briefly from the line, but eventually the gravel stops and the steps begin, as I drop down to the river itself. I cross on a little footbridge and watch children and dogs playing in the puddles around the main viaduct over the river. It does not occur to me until much later that I need to be on top of that viaduct. Eventually I find a route back up to the top – slipping and sliding over mud banks, smooth pebbles and broken tree trunks, I pray that one particular tree, the ground eroded around its roots, stays in place long enough for me to pass.

Back on the path, it’s a straight shot back to Halfwhistle, and back to the car. Another brilliant day, another 50 km or so cycled, and a lot of beautiful scenery seen.

Sycamore Gap (3)I have a couple of hours of daylight left, which I put to good use zipping up the B6318, a beautifully straight road that leads me through more beautiful hills, and past the iconic Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall, a valley formed by glacial action and now occupied by a single, rather spectacular sycamore. I didn’t expect to get this shot, so, although better photographers than I have got better images with better light, I am content with this snap from the road, the tree branches silhouetted proudly against the evening sky..

Steel Rigg (2)And I divert off to another view of the Wall, at Steel Rigg, Here the cliffs become themselves part of the defences against the Scots.

So back to the hostel. In celebration I will drink a couple of pints of Sycamore Gap IPA at the local brewery tonight. Tomorrow I start to make my way home. It’s been a fabulous few days here in Northumberland, and I am already planning how to return. No dark skies tonight though – the rain has returned, and I suspect it will accompany me south tomorrow…

TimSignature

Starlight, Starbright.. or, it isn’t over ‘til it’s over.

17 Oct

Robson Green's Tales from Northumberland TV show set to ...One of the reasons for coming out to Northumberland is that I love the night sky. It fills me with possibility, with wonder, with awe just to gaze up into the sky and imagine what it’s like. Those stars captured as they were years ago: we see Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to Earth (apart from our own sun) as it was four years ago. For some of the stars visible to the naked eye, that light has been travelling for decades. Polaris, the North Star, is 400 years ago – while Hubble has seen into the Eagle Nebula, which we see as it was 7000 years ago. These incredible distances fill my being with a sense of wonder and awe – I can’t even begin to imagine what that is in real terms, only to gasp at the mindboggling enormity of it all. And as Douglas Adams put it:

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.

So Northumberland is one of the UK’s dark skies locations – away from big towns and light sources, the sky is really dark. And of course, when I visit, it’s full of cloud.

As I wander back from the pub, I look up, and while clouds do lazily trace their way across the sky, it’s reasonably clear, and I am just filled with gratitude as to how beautiful it is. I lean back and just drink in the wonder and beauty of it all, the scale, the vastness, the utter gorgeousness of the stars set twinkling against the blackness of infinite space. Unbelievably beautiful. And then, just when my heart is breaking from the sheer beauty of it all, a meteor lazily traces its way across the sky, bigger, brighter, slower and more beautiful than any I have ever seen in my life. Today has been a good day, a day of deepening understanding and increasing wisdom.. and this is just what I need to drop me into glorious Wordlessness.

And I am happy. I will have to come back for clear skies and wonder, but for today, this will do.

TimSignature

(Pictures definitely not mine – chosen to illustrate the post)

Relax. Don’t do it. Or, a peaceful day of crosswords and contentment

17 Oct

Halfcastle and the Tyne (2)No stretch today. An easy day where I’ll drive down to town, get a paper, and then chill.

Things to read, things to consider, and a trip into Halfcastle reveals a nice little cycle trail for tomorrow, and a cute litttle railway signal box.. and a fisherman… and the rest of the day is taken up with sorting, organising and otherwise getting things in order. And doing the crossword.

TimSignature

Halfcastle and the Tyne (1)Halfcastle station

I want to ride my bicycle . . . wheels across Northumberland

17 Oct

This blog post was brought to you by the numbers 68 and 72 and by the letters N & B.

Northumberland Cycle - Hadrian's Wall (3)I’ve decided to stay on in Once Brewed for a couple of extra nights – which means that I will be able to get a big loop cycle ride in. Conveniently, there’s a couple of cycle routes that run around the local area, so it’s on to the bike and off. The first part of the route is up. Very up. We’re a long way from the nice flat cycling of The Fens here. But it’s all achingly beautiful – on a bike you cover more miles than you do on foot, but you’re never disconnected from the scenery, and it’s all too easy to stop for a better view. Occasionally (or possibly frequently) a wrong turn is taken, but it never takes long to get back on the map.

Northumberland Cycle (3)So, up we go, past proud Hadrian’s Wall and into the hills and dales of Northumberland. The hard slog of ‘up’ is replaced by the joy and delight of ‘down’ as I whizz down the first of several long descents, grinning wildly and shouting ‘Cowabunga’…

I stop for a rare geocache pickup as  wheel by – I manage not to slide into the ditch, but plunge spectacularly into the icy waters of an unnoticed bog. My feet are now both wet and freezing cold.

Northumberland Cycle (4)More ‘up’ and I am facing the point where Route 68 ceases to be a road..But where we’re going we don’t need roads…. Instead the trail becomes a loosely gravelled path through pine forests and over the top of Watch Hill and Hay Hill.

The loggers are out, neat piles of timber stacked ready for the trucks that will take them away to the factories and lumberyards.

Northumberland Cycle (12)Then the track is over and we’re back on the tarmac again and onto the National Bikeway. Past more cottages and through pretty villages, I decide to do a slightly longer loop down by the river – knowing full well that the price of descending to the river will be to climb again.

Northumberland Cycle (7)There are more beautiful autumn colours to be found – every shade of leaf seems to be out today.

Northumberland Cycle - Tyneside (2)Into the tiny hamlet of Warden and down to the Tyne where I stop for lunch and pause to take in the river. It’s wide but fast flowing here, as it bubbles over its shallow bed.

The climb back up is a chance to talk to the sheep – until the slope finally defeats me and I decide to walk a little – looking down on another tranquil yet beautiful little farming community.

And finally back to Once Brewed – a hot shower and a hot meal await, although the pub is full and I have to drive into the nearest town to treat myself to fish and chips.

I think I will take tomorrow a little easier!

TimSignature

All the leaves are brown . . one day, three national parks

15 Oct

Falling Foss Waterfall (3)Time to move on. I pack everything back into the car and set off on the next leg of my journey – but I’ve been told that I should visit Falling Foss waterfall before I leave, so I do. It’s a fabulously tranquil spot – the waterfall is lovely but the surrounding woods by the side of a burbling and lively river are also a joy. The trees are starting to turn a wide range of browns and reds now, and the waterfall seems to be in full flow. The rain hits, and I decide to get on my way.

To Northumberland (31)Still following the bikers’ routes, I head off  across towards the centreline of the country. There are plenty of direct routes to get where I am going, but this is not a day for taking them, This is a day for savouring those swooping, soaring roads that take you a bit off the beaten track but still allow you to make progress. Some of them are straightline roads through open country. Some of them twist and turn as they hug the sides of hills, or weave their way through tiny villages. All of them are beautiful.

To Northumberland (21)I shun Darlington and Middlesborough for a line that drops me right into the middle of the Yorkshire Dales, stopping off at Aysgarth for another waterfall. My route takes me up through the centre of the Dales and into the North Pennines. It’s all too gorgeous to describe.

To Northumberland (11)I see sheep huddled in the lee of a wall high on the Pennines. There’s a sign that exhorts me to ‘SLOW! Free range children’. While painted tyres ask me to be careful – ‘sheep in road’ my eye is drawn to the 6’ snowpoles that will in a few short months be the only indication of where the road ends and the long slow rolling drop to the bottom of the slope begins. Up on the hills a row of conifers parades like a proud mohawk standing against the run of the mill hilltops.

To Northumberland (40)It’s another gloomy day, where rain showers stab across the hiss. But a slice of sunlight drifts lazily across the hill, promising new colours. If grey was the order of the day just a short while back, today’s colour is brown. The heather explodes with every shade known to man, while the leaves are starting to turn and bring their own vibrancy and colour to the scene.

To Northumberland (33)At some point I start to run low on fuel, and it’s at this moment that the satnav and I have a falling out – or a misunderstanding – convinced I have gone too far north across the Pennines at Muggleswick (still loving the names), I retrace my route ten miles over some of the most gorgeous countryside in the world back to Stanhope. I don’t want to go fast, I just want to drink in every moment. When I get back to where I was convinced I had gone wrong, it becomes clear that my determination to avoid the beaten track has failed me, so I turn myself north again. I’ve seen this road three times, but I think I could travel it every day and never get bored.

I refuel (phew) and make my way to my hostel in a little place nestling in the gap between the North Pennines and Northumberland Parks called ‘Once Brewed’. No, really, it ‘s called that. Curiously, if you approach from the east, the village sign says ‘Once Brewed’. Approach from the west, and the sign reads ‘Twice Brewed’.

There is a pub there called, appropriately ‘Twice Brewed’. I shall test it later.

TimSignature

Whitby – Falling Foss – Helmsley – Thirsk – Leyburn – Aysgarth – Hawes – KIrkby Stephen – Eggleston – Stanhope – Haydon Bridge – Once Brewed

Fade to Grey–Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay

14 Oct

Whitby morning stroll (2)So what was today? Up early to see the sun rise near the Abbey, and a gentle walk along the top of the cliffs as a foretaste of my later adventures.

After a socially distanced breakfast (by virtue of there only being me eating breakfast) it’s off on the bike, destination Robin Hood’s Bay, known locally as ‘The Bay’ or ‘Bay Town’. The first part of the route is pleasantly To Robin Hoods Bay (10)gravel and cinder track, and there’s even a little bit of sun. But both of those soon peter out, and I decide that the best way to get to the Bay is to simply walk it. And the sunshine has been replaced with skies that challenge an artist’s palette of greys – carbon and graphite battle it out with battleship, platinum and gunmetal to paint the sky in leaden tones.

To Robin Hoods Bay (18)The few folk I do meet express surprise at the presence of a bike, but understanding dawns when I explain that I’ll be able to take the easy way back.

Cliff top views are interspersed with drops down for little streams and brooks to reach the sea, and the bike has to be hoisted over innumerable stiles and gates. But it’s still a beautiful day, the calming rush of the waves is never far away along with the call of the gulls – a robin puts in an appearance, reminding me suddenly of my father.

Robin Hoods Bay (4)Round the corner and somehow a bullock has escaped his field. He takes fright as I approach, even though I try and give him room, and rushes headlong down the clifftop path. I’m expecting him to make it to Robin Hood’s Bay, but he’s equally afraid of another walker coming in the opposite direction, so I skip off the path to let him wander back and rejoin his herd, albeit with a fence in between them.

Whitby (5)I slip and slide down the muddier paths, landing on my backside more than once, but eventually rounding the corner and down the hill into the bay. It’s actually quite busy here – everyone seems to have a dog or two, and I seek to avoid the crowds by climbing the cliff path before grabbing a very pleasant carrot and coriander soup at a kiosk and then heading back down the old railway line towards Whitby.

Whitby (7)Time to recharge my batteries (the phone, the camera, me) before another ride out – this time up the cliffs to the north of Whitby before grabbing some supper (no cooking facilities in the hostel, so it’s sandwiches only) and retiring to be the only person in the place again…

TimSignature

More than a feeling..or, is this the road to Hull?

13 Oct

IMG_2124Out of Oundle, and we’re pretty swiftly into the Fens. For those of you not familiar with the East Coast of England, it’s flat. Really flat. Like someone’s taken a celestial steamroller and crushed all opposition beneath its wheels. Then man has come along and peppered a few farm houses here and there, the occasional hamlet desperately clinging on to passing trade and subsidised farming. The day is beautiful and sunny as if it’s welcoming me out on my little adventure.

So, first stop Boston. This town where the tidal rivers Witham and Haven merge is a strange amalgam of tidal river port and farming community, and always makes me feel like I am closer to the sea than I really am..or further inland than I really am. Where I come from rivers stay in their place unless it rains heavily, and rarely, if ever, go down to mudflats and sandbanks.

IMG_2127But this town is where the fun starts.. finally heading north down wonderfully winding B roads and lesser known A roads, and the Fens turn almost instantly into the gently rolling hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds, almost as if someone has crumpled the sheets on a well made bed. There are windmills both old and new, and towns with wonderful names like Mavis Enderby and Belchford. Later on I will regret not visiting Wetwang, or the abandoned village of Wharram Percy, but I have to press on, heading north into a sombre sky. The sun has passed, and a steady mizzle has me feeling glad that I’m in a car today.

The road unfolding in front of me brings a strange and deep peace that settles into my mind, my heart, and even into my bones. At the moment there is nothing to decide, nothing to juggle – no pressure, no demands. I don’t feel guilty about what I’m not doing, or wonder if I should be somewhere else. There’s just me and the open road, crunching miles under my tyres. A brief stop in the old Roman village of Caistor and then it’s on to the Humber bridge.

A moment of panic when Waze tells me that it’s 70 miles to my next stop, and I assume the bridge must be shut.. then I remember that I’ve told it to avoid toll roads and we’re only a couple of miles the other side of the estuary, over the bridge. I’ve crossed with this bridge before, but this time I have a real sense of vertigo and dizziness crossing under the high pillars that hold the catenary wires, and I have to focus hard on the road ahead.

IMG_2134The Wolds of the East Riding of Yorkshire bring more wonderful roads that wind and dip and swoop and bring deep tranquillity back in a heartbeat.. I can see why the bikers like them, and so I take a diversion of a few miles cos that’s what the book suggests, and stop for coffee at the Seaways biker haunt. It’s a bit short of trade today, with just one scooter riding local in the shop, but the pie and the coffee are good, so I’m heading toward the coast and Scarborough.

IMG_2144I’ve never been to Scarborough, so it’s time for another diversion to a windswept and rainlashed sea wall. You have to be keen to be out today, but there’s plenty of takers – dog walkers, ramblers, young couples strolling romantically if determinedly hand in hand.

The last leg takes me round the edges of the North York moors and roughly up the coast to Whitby. While I expect to return to Robin Hood’s Bay the next day, I decide that a stop is in order, pausing just long enough to get a couple of photos before jumping back in the car. You never know what tomorrow might bring, so it’s best to take memories when you can get them.

IMG_2150Finally, it’s into the hostel, sitting quietly in the shadow of Whitby Abbey on top of the hill above the town. It’s almost ethereality quiet – the kitchens are closed and everyone is staying in their own space. But rooms are good value – a twin is less than £30 a night. I get settled – the room is spartan but comfortable,, and I’m reminded of a monk’s cell, if a monk’s cell had bunk beds.

Time for a walk down the hill into town – fish and chips by the sea seems to be appropriate, and I take a stroll down the harbour wall, the twin lighthouses at the end flashing red and green to guide the trawlers and fishing boats in to harbour. A gentle stroll round the town turns into a high energy climb back up to hostel.. time to write this blog before I turn in for the night. Tomorrow promises sunny spells…

Peterborough – Boston – Horncastle – Louth – Caistor – Barton-Upon-Humber – Pocklington 0 Fridaythorpe – Foxholes – Scarborough – Whitby

Here I go again on my own . . .

12 Oct

It’s time for adventures….

IMG_20201013_214438127[1]Some day I will get round to writing a post about what I’ve been up to in the last six months of lockdown. But today is not that day. Today is a day to start a long planned tour of the UK. Regular readers of my blog will know that I managed to crash my motorbike a couple of years back. That was just before I was due to take off on a motorcycle tour of Northern England and Scotland. Having bought a copy of “Biking Britain” full of fabulous tours and roads that will bring a smile to the face of any biker, I wondered what it would be like if I did the same roads but in an Alfa Giulietta.

Turns out they are still awesome roads. Push the button that puts the Alfa into ‘Dynamic’ mode and the engine delivers just that extra bit of liveliness and acceleration to bring a bit of extra oomph to the trip.
   
It’s going to be an odd few days – lockdown and CoViD-19 precautions have closed lots of venues, hotels, hostels and coffee houses… but rather than put this on the back burner for another year, it’s time to see just what happens when Timmy goes on the road again. Throw the bike in the back for good measure, and we’re off.

Screenshot_20201013-123145And I am using real maps! I think I remember how – but since my navigation is still dodgy at the best of times, I’m also using Waze. But Waze now has a batman option. So I am apparently driving the BatMobile while Bruce Wayne instructs me which way to go… At the roundabout, take the third exit… it’s go time! Only problem is, with that deep rasp it’s kinda tricky to tell ’right’ from ‘left’ over the engine noise…although he seems ready enough to come back at me with “..and let’s get it right.”

So let’s see where the adventure takes me. The plan is to go up via the Lincolnshire Wolds, then South Yorkshire Moors into Whitby… then up to the Pennines, across the Borders for a brief stop in Edinburgh and exploring the area around the Firth of Forth… then back down the other side of the country down through the Peaks and home. I’ve planned the first four nights, but with the variability around the coronavirus and local conditions, I’m not planning too far ahead.

Here we go…

    TimSignature

%d bloggers like this: