Report on the club Tour de Northumberland, 2019

For this year’s club weekender we returned to the wide open spaces and quiet roads of Northumberland. Our first visit up to England’s most northerly county was 5 years ago when we stayed in a bunkhouse in Chatton. Those who were involved then had what can best be described as a mixed experience of good cycling but poor “fly-blown” accommodation on a chicken farm! This year we had good accommodation, interesting and varied rides and decent weather. The benefits of this part of the country are: the easy access to the stunning coast line, the back drop of the Cheviot hills and nearby, the Borders and all on comparatively quiet roads.

The accommodation was at Walker Walls a short distance from the small town of Wooler. It has good kitchen facilities, large common/dining area and adequate bedrooms and showers etc. for the 16 club members who came along.

Walker Walls
Friday’s Feast!

On day 1, members were arriving at different times but most opted for some initial leg loosening after their 3 or 4 hours drive up the A1. Geoff, Richard and Rick had taken a train to Alnmouth and cycled cross country to Wooler. The villages of Ford and Etal fitted the bill for a short but interesting intro. They benefit from a tearoom, a thatched roof pub, a castle and a un-passable ford across the River Till. In fact routes on both days 2 and 3 passed close by, so refreshments there proved very attractive.

Insofar as custom and practice has developed, the first evening of our club weekenders revolves around a communal meal to start off the experience of sharing and spending time in each others company. A choice of Keelham Farm shop pies, Chile con Carne and a veggie options with rice and baked spuds. A sweet course of various cakes really got us off to cracking start!

Day 2: A ride with a difference across the Border into Scotland with a lunch stop in the town of Kelso at the Hoot ‘n Cat cafe who were expecting us and reserved a room for our use. The road from Wooler to Town Yetholm closely followed the contours of the northern edge of the Cheviot range to the South and the Border hills to the North. So surrounded by hills and fast flowing burns this section was a joy to cycle through with hardly any traffic except for 2 slow moving, giant agricultural machines that were heading the same way as us. The actual border was an unmissable photo opportunity and the selfies multiplied in the process. The obvious jokes (?) about passports and undesirable aliens abounded.

With the breeze at our backs we enjoyed several miles of fast and tidy riding from Kelso to Cornhill along the banks of the Tweed which is a wide and impressive stretch of water forming the dividing line between us and the Scots. From there we turned south towards Ford again and dealt with the headwind with equally efficient group riding for several miles.

Saturday evening saw us dining at at the Tankerville Arms in Wooler where we were given use of the wedding banquet room for our 3 course pre booked evening meal. Mixed opinions on the food depended on choices made. Salmon and vodka tagliatelle was a curious menu item! The evening “livened up” with a few drinks in the Anchor Inn nearby. Clearly the locals know how to enjoy themselves there and some were very quick to point out their Yorkshire credentials to an embarrased member of our party who wasn’t particularly impressed by tales of “Scarborough milkmaids”…really! Another resisted a lot of attention generated by taunts about his ‘”short shorts!”

Of course such fun and games were an ideal preparation for Day 3 as we had planned a prompt start to get across the Causeway to Holy Island and back within the safe crossing times! All agreed that this was the highlight of the weekend with it’s somewhat unique journey across to an island laying about 3 miles off shore and approached along a strip of tarmac with sands and mudflats on both sides until dry land is reached after about a mile. We followed Sustrans Route 1 from Belford to Beal, rather slowly at times behind a flock of sheep! The island was crammed with day trippers so after a brief stop for a coffee and look at the castle we headed back to Beal where we had booked into an inn for lunch. A traditional photo shoot at the high tide refuge hut needed to be taken en route.

We made it safely across!

Unfortunately the pre-booked lunch wasn’t a great success with portions insufficient to fuel our the finely tuned bodies that we had developed over the weekend. Those who had only ordered egg and beans were served with this pathetic plate (see below). A cause of some hilarity but not so funny at £7.50.

We fared better when on the return leg to Wooler. In pouring rain we stopped at an ice cream parlour for probably the best and biggest ice cream cornets ever.

And so to the last day of our stay. Day 4 had to be a short ride because the first task was making the bunkhouse clean and tidy before we could leave. We waved the train travellers off as they made their way back to Alnmouth and then we drove to Bamburgh to park by the impressive castle and wide sands.

Our destination was the picturesque village of Low Newton by the sea just a little way south where we had lunch, al fresco, outside the Ship Inn. Kippers were a popular choice but the famed crab sandwiches weren’t available today!

And so the weekend ended with a lovely coastal ride back to Bamburgh with the sea and the Farne Islands just off shore to the east in bright sunshine. An excellent end to a very memorable few days. I think we might be going back there!

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