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Uphill All The Way: Into the Land of Yes or No (Berwick to St Abbs)

Published on: 16 Jun, 2014
Updated on: 16 Jun, 2014

UATW 002 470This is the eighteenth report on the author’s progress in his bid to cycle from Guildford to Edinburgh. The reports follow: Uphill All The Way – The Idea and Uphill All The Way – The Plan (Part One) and Uphill All The Way – The Plan (Part Two)

All Uphill All The Way articles can be found under the Leisure section heading on the front page, in their own sub-section called Uphill All The Way.

By Martin Giles

“I thought I would come up while I still didn’t need a passport,” I said to the lady at the Micro Mart in Ayton a town just a few miles over the Scottish border.

“Oh don’t get me started,” said another customer. “I might struggle to keep my language lady-like. What they said about that J K Rowling was terrible.”

I had seen “YES” signs in a couple of windows only yards away.

One of the "Yes" posters spotted. I did not see any saying "No".

One of the “Yes” posters spotted. I did not see any saying “No”.

A few miles further on at an unlikely venue, the remote junction of country lanes, the subject was raised by a lone walker I encountered. It was obviously on her mind. She was a Welsh incomer of some years but seemed keen to discuss the issue. She repeated complaints I had already heard about the poor quality of debate.

We agreed that no one could really predict the outcome of independence and that many would simply vote on a sentimental basis. In the absence of accurate forecasts wheat else were they to do?

But the referendum had been far from my mind as I have set off from the truly excellent.Old Vicarage B&B in Tweedmouth. I had been more concerned about the hills that awaited me.

Crossing the old bridge to Berwick.

Crossing the old bridge to Berwick.

I would be climbing up to 600 feet above sea level, the highest level on the tour so far.

Berwick has a definite Scottish look about it.

Berwick has a definite Scottish look about it.

But first I wanted a quick look at Berwick. I have to admit it looks very Scottish in appearance but the inhabitants speak with a definite Northumbrian accent and, judging by the number of St George’s flags on show, no doubt boosted by the football World Cup, their loyalties were clear.

Berwick Main Street.

Berwick Main Street.

It is a town that has a remarkably intact city wall and it has been the scene of endless struggle.

Now though, on a mostly sunny June day, it had a holiday feel – English sea-sidey with shops selling the normal seaside tat for which there appears to be a continued demand.

A boy whined that he wanted to go to the beach.

“We are going to the beach!” his mother snapped aggressively. Oh what fun.

I wondered how dependent the town is on tourism. It is the seat of local government in Northumbria, once again, after a sojourn in Morpeth further south. During that time granite setts which formed the surface of many of Berwick’s historic streets were lifted and, some say, laid in Morpeth.

It was time to go but Berwick is another town I would like to revisit with more time to explore. I was particularly sorry not to have seen Union Bridge. I wanted to check it to see if demolition charges had been secretly laid in anticipation of a Yes vote in favour of independence.

But perhaps nothing as dramatic as demolition is required if a report in the Scotsman last year is to be believed. It reported that the grade 1 listed, 1820 bridge, the first suspension bridge to carry vehicles, was set to be closed because of a lack of necessary funding.

Perhaps it would collapse into the Tweed as the result of the referundum was announced. Both sides could claim it as an omen.

But fear not, Northumberland County Council have said that it is reviewing various options. Presumably similar to Surrey County Council’s review of how to relay Guildford’s granite setts.

I pedalled out through Castle Gate and after noting yet another town edge development of new houses, was soon in the country.

Another new housing development in Englan'd northernmost town. Developers here offer to pay your first year's mortgage payments.

Another new housing development in England’s northernmost town. Developers here offer to pay your first year’s mortgage payments.

National Cycle Route 1 becomes Route 76 north of the Tweed but it would take me to Coldingham just over a mile from my B&B by St Abbs.

Just after crossing the busy A1 I faced a long, straight and daunting climb. It was as if I was facing the first of the Scottish defences, but I summoned thoughts of Edward I, that over maligned monarch, and pressed on, hammerless, armed only with a few spare clothes, some rations and a camera.

The first line of Scottish defences or just a daunting hill to climb?

The first line of Scottish defences or just a daunting hill to climb?

My tortoise tactics of steady progress in a low gear worked once again. At the top of the hill I turned left and began a long descent. But all cyclists know that the longer the descent then the longer the next climb is likely to be.

As I turned right to face the inevitable next hill I recognised the lane from Google Earth as the one that separates Scotland from England. A GPRS check on my iPhone confirmed my position. On my left, to the west, was Scotland, on my right the English enclave that surrounds Berwick.

On the left Scotland. On the right England. No barbed wire - yet.

On the left Scotland. On the right England. No barbed wire – yet.

I rang home, “I have reached Scotland.”

“Well done. Be careful on the busy roads,” said my wife. Did she imagine that an English cyclist would be especially targetted these days?

At the next main road there was a welcome to Scotland sign. There was only one thing for it, it was time for a “selfie”.

[pic to follow]

Then there was more uphill, a lot more, but the surrounding farmland with a blue sky background was inspiring and made the effort worthwhile. When I judged that I was near the summit I positioned a large stone to sit on and enjoyed the view for miles to the west while I enjoyed a pie and cherry tomatoes.

On top of the world.

On top of the world.

I felt on top of the world and to all intents and purposes I was. I could look down on everything around me. There was a good mixture of livestock, beef cattle and sheep.

"What are ewe looking at?"

“What are ewe looking at?”

Shortly after I spotted what at first I thought was a young bunny but as I got closer identified as a leveret (juvenile hare). It moved of in that motion more akin to a run than a hop, confirming I was right. Unfortunately it went of like a… well… like a hare and I was unable to catch it on camera.

Then came the descent into Ayton. I hardly needed to push the pedals once during the four mile descent. It was a great reward but I felt I had earned it.

The Ayton Mini Mart - a venue for political debate and purveyors of truly Scottish ice lollies.

The Ayton Mini Mart – a venue for political debate and purveyors of truly Scottish ice lollies.

In Ayton I bought an ice lolly, Irn Bru flavour (my legs could do with some support from girder ingredients) and had the conversation reported above. Outside a saltire, the first I had seen, waved lazily in the light airs above a tower bearing the town clock. You see few Union Flags in Scotland these days.

The Saltire - the only flag to be seen in Scotland these days.

The Saltire – the only flag to be seen in Scotland these days.

The rest of the ride was less dramatic. There was another ascent and descent during which I met the Welsh walker but it was child’s play compared with earlier efforts.

The view towards St Abbs from above Coldingham.

The view towards St Abbs from above Coldingham.

Soon I was in Coldingham. I rang the B&B owner for detailed directions. She was all at sea, literally, on a rib. There was no one at home but the door was open. I was to let myself in and feel at home.

Coldingham, just a mile from my destination for the day.

Coldingham, just a mile from my destination for the day.

I rode the mile or so to the house, right by a farm and did just that. After a bath I discovered a big problem. No camera. I checked and re-checked every pocket and pouch. Still no luck.

I knew I had taken a photo in Coldingham on arrival and concluded that I must have left it on the bench I was sitting on when I had made the phone call to my hostess.

I rode back up to the village that evening for my dinner at the very busy New Inn. I told them of my loss and they seemed genuinely concerned. One barmaid shot off to speak to the lady who ran the post office-cum-cafe (no luck) and they took my name and mobile number in case anything turned up. I was pessimistic.

I was shown to a table next to two lads from Sheffield up for the diving. Evidently the clear waters of St Abbs are renowned by the diving fraternity.

One also liked cycling and they seemed genuinely interested in my tour. We swapped stories over an enjoyable dinner, for me local mussels followed by pork provecale (according to the menu), but who am I to complain about typos?

I returned to the B&B still dejected over the camera. Another blow had been the discovery that there was no TV at the B&B on which to view the England v Italy World Cup match. I had managed to find one of the few B&Bs in the whole country without a television to coincide with the match.

Fortunately, wi fi came to my rescue and I was able to watch it on my laptop. England were struggling. 2-1 down they needed a goal and I needed my camera.

My phone rang, Is that Martin Giles?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“It’s the New Inn we have your camera. The two gents on the table next to you found it and brought it in.”

“Fantastic.” What good lads these Yorkshiremen were.”Can I buy them a drink and pay by card on the phone,” I asked.

“No they’ve gone. But we did thank them a great deal on your behalf.”

Unfortunately, England’s hope for a goal was less successful. Nonetheless, as I settled down for sleep I had that satisfied feeling we all get when something we believed lost is, against the odds, retrieved.

Never mind about possibly losing Scotland from the Union, I had my camera back.

12.06.14 UATW computer data:

Miles cycled: 17.33 miles (not including distance from B&B to Berwick)

Average speed: 8.2 mph (a lot of uphill)

Cycling time: 2 hours 5 minutes.

Next report: I face the biggest climb of the tour, over the hill into East Lothian.

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