Fringe Box



Uphill All The Way – Wars and Rumours of Wars (Embleton to Berwick)

Published on: 15 Jun, 2014
Updated on: 15 Jun, 2014

UATW 002 470This is the seventeenth 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 think you will have a fine day,” said the landlady at the Bluebell Inn as she saw me off and then added, as if I were her son, “But don’t go along the A1, it’s a very busy road.”

I was not sure about the quality of her advice. Firstly the BBC forecast was still showing the possibility of rain, secondly why on earth would she think that I wanted to cycle along the A1?

I did not bother to point these factors out, but simply settled up and headed out. At the moment any rain was holding off. She was local. Perhaps she did know more than the Met Office and all their computers.

My route from Embleton to Berwick followed the National Cycle Route 1, shown on the map by a thin red line.

My route from Embleton to Berwick followed the National Cycle Route 1, shown on the map by a thin red line.

Once again I decided to follow Route 1, even though other shorter routes were available. After all, it had served me well the day before. The low, sluggish clouds above seemed to want to rain but could not summon up the energy for more than the occasional few spots, just enough to keep me worried. The lack of any wind to blow them away was confirmed by the static wind turbines on higher ground to the west.

If you woke up here you could easily imagine you were already in Scotland. The architecture, original building materials and the landscape was the same. Of course, if I headed directly west then I would be in Scotland. Berwick is a lot further north that Gretna.

Many of the buildings in Northumbria share the same characteristics as those north of the border.

Many of the buildings in Northumbria share the same characteristics as those north of the border.

As before, the route zig-zagged over the main east coast railway line but then went through a place called Seahouses. I contemplated the name origin. I imagined the following conversation between two early inhabitants:

“What shall we call this place then?”

“Well let’s consider it’s features. It has houses… and er,  it’s by the sea… how about Sea Houses?”

“Yeah okay, but let’s do away with that unnecessary space and make it one word. Fancy a pint?”

I did not explore or carry out research to confirm my theory but carried on to Bamburgh. I was sure the fine drizzle now falling would turn to rain. Looking out to sea I could just make out Farne Island in the murk.

In the murk - Farne Island.

In the murk – Farne Island.

I hoped I could make it to Bamburgh where I could shelter and allow the worst to pass.

Bamburgh Castle appears imposing because it is.

Bamburgh Castle appears imposing because it is.

As I approached the castle gradually appeared. It looked big, imposing. This is because it is. It was owned by the English monarchs from Henry II to the 17th century, when unification of the English and Scottish crowns reduced its strategic value.

The builder’s message was clear. I am the boss. You had better believe it. It would have been hard to argue with the power the building reflected and imposed.

Below the village was delightful. I wished it was lunchtime, it would have been an ideal place. Instead I stuck to my plan of a coffee but on entering the first of a number of attractive options I spied their ice cream display. Irresistible.

I entered the first cafe I came to.

I entered the first cafe I came to.

I was intrigued by Horlicks and Malteser flavour but settled for caramel with sea salt. It was delicious. But I could not afford to tarry long so reluctantly departed.

I was unable to resist this ice cream display.

I was unable to resist this ice cream display.

The route now took me back westwards and there were some small hills to conquer. I was panting up one that was quite steep when a horse and rider came over the brow to descend. “My you are doing very well,” she said, “I can hardly get up here on a horse.”

If she was expecting conversation she was out of luck. It was as much as I could manage to nod once and present a smile that I was quickly aware might well have appeared more of a manic grimace. It’s a miracle I did not scare the horse.

This old windmill had been converted to a dwelling, perhaps a holiday let.

This old windmill had been converted to a dwelling, perhaps a holiday let.

Eschewing a descent into Belford for lunch – I would only have to climb back out of the place – I continued, hoping for a wayside inn to not too far distant. I was quite a few miles inland now and on higher ground.The area was sparsely populated, so sadly no pubs.

The route then turned back eastwards towards the coast, a glorious descent of at least a mile. All of a sudden I was at the A1 but there was a well marked crossing so I only had to tackle one carriageway at a time.

Opposite was a pub/motel. It was one of those places that are part of a chain but it would have to do. I had a fair to middling ploughman’s lunch there and a refreshing pint of cool cider. Surprisingly, to me, the waitress said that most of their trade was from walkers and not motorists.

the regular route signs were reassuring.

the regular route signs were reassuring.

The on/off drizzle seemed to be off as I got going again, thankfully heading east towards the flatter land near the sea. The little signs confirming I was still on Route 1 were reassuring. The route is well signed and it certainly makes navigation a lot simpler.

This was, literally, off the beaten track.

This was, literally, off the beaten track.

I recrossed the railway and found myself well off the beaten track with only sheep for company. It was a bit like Romney Marsh. One lamb thought about blocking my route but I was bigger than he was and he trotted off.

Me versus the sheep. Super heavy v lightweight. No contest.

Me versus the sheep. Super heavy v lightweight. No contest.

I spotted a lapwing and many martins and swallows. Pied wagtails had been making frequent appearances along the route along with the occasional yellowhammer. There was a small flock of birds too, about the size of starlings, but I could not identify them.

A skylark was hovering and singing merrily as I emerged alongside a links golf course, the type you normally associate with Scotland. But then Scotland was  very close. I exchanged cheery waves with the golfers and pressed on, turning inland again to cross and recross the railway once more.

Just after I had crossed it started to rain properly. I took shelter under some trees but eventually got fed up waiting and pressed on. The rain gradually eased off a bit and I was glad I had decided against putting on my jacket. I was plenty warm enough.

I sensed I was getting very close to Berwick now and the track lay between the railway and cliffs. Ahead a group of store cattle, black Aberdeen angus I would guess, were crowding around a gate an blocking my path. This was no time to show any lack of confidence, I went through the gate shouting and waving one arm, steering the bike with the other, and they grudgingly made way.

Soon afterwards there was Berwick through the gloom. The town did not look at its best in these weather conditions. No town would, but it was a welcome sight nonetheless.

My first sight of Berwick on Tweed which has changed hands 19 times in border wars between the auld enemies.

My first sight of Berwick on Tweed (it is there, trust me) which has changed hands 19 times in border wars between the auld enemies.

The track gradually turned into a road and after a descent it took me away from the railway and onto a road lined with terraced houses built of stone. This was Tweedmouth on the southern bank of the Tweed opposite Berwick. My B&B, The Old Vicarage, was on this side.

Just as I got to within a few hundred yards of my destination the heavens opened. I had already been damp but now I was quickly becoming soaked. I looked out for anywhere to get some shelter and came across a fishmonger/ dealer, the kind they have in fishing ports in Scotland where the main business might be preparing fish for wholesale and transportation but where there is also a shop to retail to locals.

I quickly asked if it was okay to take shelter and was immediately ushered in to a covered area. I thanked the staff. “No bother,” was the response in what sounded to me like Geordie but they might disagree. Anyway it was definitely not yet Scots.

“Where have you came from?”

“Guildford in Surrey,” I replied, “but not today. Only  from Embleton today.”

The man’s eyes widenrd, “What are you doing it for, like.”

“For fun,” I instinctively replied.

The fish man looked up at the teeming rain and then me, wet through, and swore hard. “Rather you than be pal,” and then added, so as not to appear rude, “But good luck to you like.”

Lobsters, which I later found out were the subject of a local "fishing war".

Berwick lobsters like this big beauty, I later found out were the subject of a local “fishing war”.

After 15 minutes I became impatient. I had examined their lobsters and delicious looking langoustines, some of the few not to be exported to France and Spain no doubt. Also the rain appeared to be easing a little and I was already pretty wet. I would chance it.

No more than 30 yards from my shelter and right on cue the heavens reopened. The rain lashed down. My timing could not have been worse. Any remaining dry spots I had left were soon dealt with.

I must have made a fine sight at the front door of The Old Vicarage. The owner seemed a bit perplexed as to what do do with a saturated guest. Perhaps he was contemplating a mop.

But within minutes I was in my room washing my kit, drinking a cool bottle of mineral water kindly brought up to my room by my host and then taking a shower. It was strange I reflected, all that rain and the first three things I did involved water.

One thing was for sure, the score was Bluebell Inn Landlady 0 – BBC 1 when it came to weather forecasting.

While I dressed in dry clothes the clouds that had been lazy all day suddenly decided to leave. Typical.

The B&B was excellent. Very good quality. A Victorian house with fine good sized public rooms. The owners had paid meticulous attention to detail. They were a friendly couple from Northern Ireland. I have always found Northern Irish folk to be most hospitable.

I asked for directions to somewhere nearby for dinner and was directed to the Rob Roy pub. It turned out to be suitably named. Inside was another rebellious type.

Berwick from Tweedmouth dock.

Berwick from Tweedmouth dock.

I had ordered my local haddock and new potatoes and became aware that one of the customers did not appear to be liking what he was hearing on the other end of his mobile phone. Some profanities could be heard.

“What’s up?” asked another customer to the landlord.

“Fishing wars.” said the landlord.

The caller hung up and turned to apologise to us all for his language and then explained that the Berwick fishermen were having a problem with Scottish fishermen who, with suitable permits, were fishing for lobsters in Northumbrian waters.

But, according to the complainant, the Scottish enforcement system they were subject to was far more lax than that carried out south of the border and, with the connivance of unscrupulous dealers, the Scots were landing under sized lobsters.

Feelings were strong, after all livelihoods were at stake.

“Wow,” I thought, and this is while we are still one United Kingdom.

“Where are you from?” said the angry fisherman, without apparent suspicion to a couple next to me.

“Edinburgh” said the female half of the couple.

“Here we go,” I thought. “Seconds out, round one.”

But the lady was ahead of the game. “I agree with you entirely,” she said. Her husband kept quiet and then said he was going out for a smoke. The man with the phone eyed them warily but said no more after all careless talk costs livelihoods.

I didn’t know whether to be glad or sad. An Anglo/Scottish fishing war punch up could could have been quite a scoop. Oh well, I made my way back to my comfortable accommodation wondering how it would all pan out.

13.06.14 UATW computer data:

Miles cycled: 37.71 miles

Average speed: 9.8 mph

Cycling time: 3 hours 48 minutes.

Next report: Into Scotland without a passport. Will this be the last time?

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