TYNE AND TWEED
Mark Jacobson's Brompton continues it quest for BCQ clues in nthe North of England .... with the fine old town of Hexham next on the itinerary ...
Slaley is near to Hexham, the road descending most of the way, but I did not take the easy way. Instead, I turned aside, taking lanes to pass Hexham Race Course, finally reaching a height of 299m before plunging on the A686 to Haydon Bridge, where the bunting was out; the Tour of Britain was due here in four days time. Not finding a cafe, I used the local Coop for refreshments before following the lanes to Fourstones and Hexham, along NCN72. Just before the road joins with the A69(T) near Hexham, at West Boat, NCN72 turns aside, narrowing to become a path trapped betwixt river and rail. It crosses the latter, then enters Hexham at the lower level. Due to the general signage, I found my self unable to locate the old town centre. Here below is the new centre with all the parking, and out-of-town shops!
I found directions to a café for lunch, from where a steep set of steps led to the old town. How things change.
I set off again on NCN72, initially on the former A69 as far as Corbridge, a relatively quiet road, giving enjoyable cycling. The cycle route continues eastward, losing height to Bywell before regaining it to a crossing of the A69(T), finally bringing me to Well House Farm camp site, one I have previously used. I had a good pitch close to the ablution block and could use the socket in the lounge area to re-charge my phone.
Not long after leaving next morning, I came into Matfen and beheld a shop with café. Time for refreshments, for sure! Later I took to very minor lanes, including a gated one, in a northerly direction, to join the B6342, taking me on past Wallington Hall, well guarded by the dragon heads lining the lawn, through Cambo, a small hamlet with an unusual dragon head fountain, to Rothbury. The sudden descent brought me to lunch, but the exit entailed much pushing! Rothbury lies in a deep valley, gorgeous high hills to both north and south, not best for laden cycling, though - especially on the folder.
Using a short stretch of A697, no real problem, that, I soon took to lanes again for Whittingham, in the centre of which is a tall memorial showing a man with dog upon the column - in fact, one of two meorial fountains in the village. Staying with lanes only as far as Powburn, I then rejoined the A697 to give me an easy run to Wooler. Lying below The Cheviot, I camped for for the night, alongside Bob, a born-again camper from North Shields, whose son had given him a small dome tent to try out the pastime again in his retirement years. We shared company; he found a single skin tent a bit of a disadvantage, but had his car to use as well.
Rising to a misty morning, with sodden tent, I decided to risk the A697 for as long as reasonably possible. This proved a good choice, as, despite the low cloud or mist, running along with dynamo whirring, the low volume of traffic caused no distress, and the hills were much more benign. The Northumberland flag flew from many a pole along this way and its presence was explained when stopping at the shop café in Cornmill. Here I saw information to the effect that the Tour of Britain would be passing along this road next day, and I decided that this would be worth viewing, if I rode over from Berwick-upon-Tweed where I planned to camp next. The flags, of course, showed the route to be followed by the race, and the roads to be closed for the event.
Coldstream, in Scotland, was as far as I intended to ride before turning to the east for Berwick-Upon-Tweed, although I did not stay there for long. NCN68/1 share some of the way to Berwick, crossing from Scotland to England just after Ladykirk. Now, there was a place of interest! Firstly I came across a very imposing wide gateway, gatehouses either side. Then a very long well-maintained stone wall, stretching by the roadside for miles. Finally, by the turn south for Norham, a water fountain at the roadside for passing persons or beasts to refresh themselves, having been provided by Lady Marjoriebanks of Ladykirk, in celebration of the 1887 Jubilee.
Back in England the cycle route guided me to the Honey Farm near the Union Bridge, also known as the Chain Bridge, where I discovered the bus café! Not wanting to give this opportunity a miss, I stopped for an early lunch, ordered downstairs but taken on the upper deck, the poor waitress being kept extremely fit, running up and down the spiral stairs all day! Talking to two cyclists from the Alnwick Wheelers I was advised by them to watch the next day's race from Ford Bank, rather than Cornmill, which they said would be a crowded, popular spot. At Ford I would find the Berwick Wheelers pitch. I then journeyed into Scotland again, crossing the Union Bridge, originally built in 1820, although renovated in the 20th century.
In Berwick I went directly to the Caravan Club site at Spittal, just south of the Tweed, which takes a few small tents along the terrace wall. Although quiet pricey, alternative sites are actually more costly. Next morning saw me making a leisurely start, eventually riding out to Ford for viewing the race, expected at about 12:30 pm. Seeing the flags of Alnwick Wheelers flying high, I eased on the climb to join them, a grand friendly bunch of cyclists! After about an hour, the race whizzed by, led by a small breakaway group of four, followed about three minutes later by the pelaton. It was over in a flash, with just streams of support vehicles chasing after them.
On the return to Berwick, at Duddo I passed a sign for a stone circle, so deviated to have a look. This lies some half-mile off the road, reached by a farm track, easily cycled or slowly walked. The stones formed a circle on the crest of a high part of an extensive wheat field, prominent on the horizon during the approach. Being totally non-commercial, the circle seemed to give a serene feeling, just those few stones. I did not actually count them, but the aerial image suggests five large and two small make the set, which is called, on the OS map, the Duddo Four Stone Circle.
Back at my tent I made a late lunch, enjoying a rest from my exertions. Next day I would be moving on.
Camp sites used:
Well House Farm, Newton, Corbridge, NE43 7UY
tel. 01661 842193
Riverside Leisure Park, South Road, Wooler, NE71 6NJ tel. 01668 281447
For the British Cycle Quest see www.cyclinguk.org/british-cycle-quest