NORTHUMBERLAND & HADRIAN’S WALL
One of the things you will notice straight away is we are now heading into the countryside that will have you gasping for breath, with trees in their little gatherings like children in a playground, surrounded by open fields for them to play in.
We are now heading into an area that has ‘vast’ expanses of nothingness, well, nothing except the stunning surroundings you are riding through.
The road is superb to ride on with so little traffic; it is a splendid experience and by taking your time to soak up these surroundings it also gives you time to have your eyes making memories to last a lifetime.
As soon as we crest the brow of the hill, which is not that far after starting this stage, you will get a glimpse of our destination towards Kielder Water, which has a tale to tell, involving in a small way, me!
At our first T junction turn left and keep riding…….
You may find yourself lucky indeed to come across a magnificent bird of prey just sitting on top of the stone walls next to the road, just as I experienced. However, by the time I had realised and stopped the bird had flown off. No doubt in its search for a juicy rabbit, or two.
Eventually, we reach the outskirts of Kielder Water & Forest and the sight that rushes towards you might just take you by surprise as this ‘vista’ opens up before your very eyes. This vast expanse of Kielder water…….and it is here that a tale of years gone by unfolds.
Back in the middle 70’s I was a young boy of 16/17ish and had no concept of what was going on in the world. My only care was my Yamaha FS1E, or ‘fizzy’ my best’est buddy in the whole world. Standing there all golden and shiny and as I am sure you can imagine…….why would anything else in the world matter to me than to be sat astride her, or for that matter lying flat across her tank, down the hill, with the wind behind me flying along at 45mph with a smile on my face wider than the sky itself, attempting to break the world speed record 🙂
Well, let me share something with you…….
There was some engineering going on close to where I lived at the time, Middleton in Teesdale, called the Tyne Tees Tunnelling scheme. This was a 21-mile tunneling scheme from Kielder Water up in glorious Northumberland, down close to Stanhope in Weardale and ending up at Egglestone in Teesdale. The scheme was to bring water from Kielder down to Teesdale for the increasing population on Teesside, for both residential and commercial use.
My job entailed driving an electric train, with tubs being pulled, to gather the spoil from the tunnel boring machine to take it out of the tunnel and deposit it by way of a mechanism that automatically tipped the tubs of rock. I drove along slowly and Alf would make sure the tubs were all empty before I went back into the hillside to get more spoil. There was another train driver on my shift called Jerry, who must have been 70 if he was a day. In essence, there was me at 16/17, Alf, the outside rock watcher – who was ‘seeing’ a bed and breakfast owner from Middleton (Alf was ancient probably about 50, ancient eh) and Jerry who was even older. Shifts were 12 hour day or night and 5 shifts in a row. The money back then was around £250 a week in your hand in 1975. I found it hard to spend it all and my dad who was a police Sgt for the Teesdale area was jealous as hell because he was making about the same.
What was terrible about it all were the rock falls inside. The machine would be making great progress and, of course, that meant more money for the foreman, Gordon (he was a boy I can tell you), BUT……..
Back then there was no such thing as health and safety similar to today, so we just kept tunneling. That of course meant no roof supports being put up and once the outside air got to the smooth tunnel surface, the rock shrank and ‘BANG’ the roof fell in. Sometimes the hole it left could take a double-decker bus.
Had it happened when a train was going past, or a person, there would be no way you would survive. We then had to pick up a shovel and smash these rocks to clear the way to keep the trains running.
Along with these events, which happened on a regular basis, there were times we would hit a pocket of ‘silica’ and the dust was shocking, so bad at times we would come out of the tunnel looking as if we had been covered in talcum powder from head to foot. As for face masks, well they were few and far between but if you did manage to snaffle one, you had to change the filter after every run in and out. It was so bad, so very bad. Then there were times we would hit a pocket of water and that was just as bad with a tsunami of water gushing from the head of the tunneling machine like a tidal wave through the tunnel. I do recall to this day thinking that the geology of the earth is absolutely amazing.
That is my little story, of which I could write more, but guess what……… the tunnel scheme was never used after it was finished because the foresight of the water demands for Teeside never materialised and from what I understand the tunnels have been closed off. Maybe one day they will be opened for use, who knows.
Back to Kielder and some facts for you;
- Kielder Water is the largest man-made stretch of water in Europe
- She took 7 years to complete
- 1,500,000 trees were felled to make way for her
- 7 families were re-housed
- The height of the dam wall is 50 metres
- Length of the dam is 1.2km
- Length of shoreline created is 43km
- Length of the reservoir is 10km
- The volume of water 190,000,000 Litres
- She took 18 months to fill up
- Officially opened in 1982
That is some construction project, isn’t it?
There are a number of parking areas allowing you to stop and enjoy this special atmosphere, one of which has the visitor centre.
We continue onwards to ride around Kielder, stopping again to take in the view of this massive stretch of water from another angle.
We are now going to continue riding through the forest area with beautiful purple sprouting heather on the side of the roads (depending on the time of year of course), with hills reaching for the sky and disappearing into the distance.
Once you get to the end of the drive a T junction comes into view and here we turn right……now well and truly into the Scottish borders.
At this juncture, I will point out that when we reached the little village of Kielder you could have turned right to cut out this section, as turning right would have taken you to the A68. However, I have never taken that route because the road, so I am told, is in desperate need of repair littered with potholes. Nor would you see the magnificent views over the fabulous countryside.
When you reach the next T junction we are now traveling within the Scottish Borders. Turn right and head in a southerly direction where all around you are stunning vistas.
We then take another right turn at the next T junction and head towards Carter Bar. Then a sight to take your eyes hostage appears on your left, over the Scottish Borders, just before arriving at Carter Bar. The view over the Scottish borders is simply stunning, with mile after mile laid out in front of you. Rolling hills, every colour of green you can imagine and if it is the right time of year a scattering of golden fields in contrast to all the shades of nature.
If you can drag yourself away from this scenery, back on the bike and keep heading south to a T junction at which turning right is our option and head towards Carter Bar. Carter Bar is so well known as the border crossing between England & Scotland it offers parking and food ‘outlets’ too. Sometimes it is bursting at the seams with other motorbike riders and most certainly with other – sightseeing – binocular wearing, camera-clicking tourists.
Over the top we go and back into England and of course Northumberland, England’s border county.
Northumberland (more than any other county in Britain) is full of castles, battles, and stories to make your toes curl and for our first battle, let us enjoy the superb A68 south, to a wonderful stop for food and drink at the fabulous ‘Camien Cafe’, in Rochester.