HORROR AND HOLY ISLAND
Mark Jacobson's Brompton continues to go wild in the far north of England ...
Scotland and Berwickshire would be behind me, as I headed to Beadnell for a Fell Club camping meet. Eight years ago I rode this NCR1 and enjoyed the high cliff-top grassy section out of Berwick. Not so this day: the track was diabolical!
To begin, from Spittal is a steep climb to the cliff top, then there should be a lovely grassy sward to roll softly over. Now, the farmer had overlaid his track with coarse gravel, made from the biggest stones I have ever seen on a 'road' surface. The wheels hunted for traction and eyes were trimmed, seeking out the smoothest sections, not admiring the splendid view. What a shame. Beyond the farm house, the track becomes a poorly made road, still needing care.
Once beyond the golf course at Goswick, the route stays closer to the sea than in the past; the made road is left behind. From Cheswick it had been a good surface, presumably because of the golf course, although further on it deteriorated to Beachcomber House. Beyond, it became just a grassy way through the nature reserve, mainly a deeply worn narrow path, so deep that the pedals were in danger of catching the sides. In places the underlying surface was very soft, reducing traction. This path rises to run along the top of a dyke, which, close to the sluice bridge, had been washed away in one deep hole, only passable by dismounting and man-handling the laden bike. At last, on the approach to Barn at Beal, the cycle route came to a decently hard-packed gravel surface more easily ridden over.
I had started out very early, having arranged a meeting with Jean, a Fell Club member, who was coming to Holy Island on the bus arriving at the Beal stop, on the A1(T), at 9:25 am. We were to visit the island together, as the tide dropped, and I intended arriving early at Barn at Beal to erect my tent there. The ten-mile track took a long time to cover, at a very low average speed. However, arriving at the camping ground by 9:10 am, I was early enough to pitch my tent and then ride towards the A1(T) to meet Jean, who, incidentally, was held up, along with many other vehicles, for some time by the closed level crossing gates.
The causeway to Holy Island can be very dangerous if the tides are not respected. We arrived at the start of an ebbing tide, with most of the causeway high and dry, except for a short section at the lowest point, which still had some water and a lot of very wet sand covering it. We went through slowly, struggling against a stiff breeze, taking Jean a full hour from her bus stop to Lindisfarne. The timing would be important as, crossing as soon as possible after the next high tide, she would have to be able to make the last bus back to Beadnell.
The visit proved a success: Lindisfrane Castle, the Priory ruins, the lookout tower behind those, and the parish church, containing a wooden sculpture of St Cuthbert's coffin being carried on its journey to Durham, as well as some very attractive floor rugs woven in the style of early scripting patterns. Finally we went inside the enclosed Gertrude Jekyll garden, a profusion of colour, not too far from the stony shore line, where members of the public have, over the years, constructed stone columns, or stalagmites.
Leaving ahead of time, to be crossing back to the mainland as soon as dry enough, saw us waiting near the lowest sea-covered part of the causeway for about ten minutes before venturing into the very careful, slow-moving traffic. Although wet under the wheels, this was a good move, drivers being so cautious. Once over, high and dry, came the bulk of the rushing vehicles, spraying water everywhere, but we were back on the cycle path!
Next day I set off into the breeze, following NCR1 way up hill and down, as there is really no alternative. The second crossing of the very busy A1(T) with its continuous flow of traffic showed how poor a choice that would have been. After a considerable delay, I was across and off to Bamburgh. There I could indulge in a tea break, and pay a brief visit to the Grace Darling Museum before struggling southwards against the wind to join my friends, one of whom had cycled down from Berwick along the same route, also finding it very bad despite having 700c wheels.
Saturday proved to be very grey, wet and windy; not a day for cycling. Out came the bus passes. Firstly we took one to Bamburgh to spend a long visit in the Grace Darling Museum. Not only are there artefacts from the Darling home and period, but also the actual 200-year-old boat, named the Grace Darling, used in the rescue. The display also records the financial demands (begging requests) that she received after being rewarded for the rescue. Incidentally, she rowed out with her father and kept the boat clear of the rocks alone, while he jumped ashore to rescue the stranded survivors. A second trip had to be made, which was done by her father without her, so he did more than she: however, her part gained recognition in view of her age and gender. She died in 1842, aged just 26 years.
After a tea stop, we took to the bus again, this time for Alnwick. It was a very shattering journey: despite being new, the bus had very hard suspension. Give me my bicycle for a comfortable ride
Next day the weather changed for the better: sunshine and warmth. Despite this, a decision was made to use the bus to Craster, for a walk along the coast, rejoining the bus route further north, at Embleton. The walk proved interesting, passing Dunstanburgh Castle and then finding the wave rocks (a layer folded into a wave shape), finally struggling up and down the crests of the dunes, the path disappearing waist deep in either marram grass or bracken. Rejoining the road at Embleton Links, which had been to the inside of the dunes, we were able to empty our shoes and socks of sand.
Although the walk only encompassed about four miles, we had no trouble sleeping that night.
And the next day I'd be back on my comfy Brompton.
Camp sites used:
Berwick Seaview Caravan Club site, Billendean Road, Spittal, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, TD15N1QU
tel. 01289 305198
The Barn at Beal, Beal Farm, Berwick upon Tweed. TD15 2PB
tel. 01289 540044
Beadnell Bay Camping and Caravanning Club site, Beadnell, Chathill, NE67 5BX
tel. 01665 720586