In the 1980s and early 1990s, I travelled a lot, including to some “adventure” destinations such as Papua New Guinea, and wrote some travelogues about my trips (these are available on the Resources and Links page). I havent written a travelogue in decades, but thought I’d try again, about a 2-week cycling holiday in Northern England in May 2017.
Tuesday, 23 May – My first full day on holiday (the previous day I travelled down by train). A lovely day in Ravenglass in the Lake District, mostly travelling by foot and on a heritage steam line (see picture) What I remember most, though, is a chat with the guesthouse owner, who complained that the likes of booking.com and hotels.com were ruining him, because everyone used them and they took up to 25% of the money. On the other hand, though, the owner of a guesthouse I stayed at later in the trip loved booking.com, because it took care of a lot of the paperwork and nonsense for her. I guess the internet is changing the guesthouse industry (as with so many others), and this brings both opportunities and challenges.
Wednesday, 24 May – I cycled up to Silloth. Definitely the most memorable incident of the day was being pulled over and questioned by two heavily armed policemen after I took some pictures of the Sellafield nuclear site. There were no signs forbidding photography, and indeed the police told me that taking photos (see picture) was perfectly legal. But they still did a full background check on me and checked every picture I had taken! Left an odd feeling in my my mouth; why was I being grilled by the police when I hadn’t done anything wrong? On the plus side, though, after finishing their checks the policemen helped me get back on the bike path, which had taken a not-very-obvious turning.
Thursday, 25 May – I cycled from Silloth to Haltwhistle (see picture of my bike at a rest break). Silloth made an impression on me because it seemed like a “forgotten” town. In the 1800s it was a seaside resort for people from nearby cities such as Carlisle, and quite prosperous. But I dont think many people go to Silloth for a seaside holiday in 2017, certainly it was the least touristed of any town I stayed in on my trip. This felt a bit sad (but maybe I am being patronising?).
Friday, 26 May – I visited Roman sites (related to Hadrian’s Wall) near Haltwhistle, which were very impressive; really drives home how much the Romans accomplished 2000 years ago. I was especially impressed by the collection of Roman shoes at Vindolandia (see picture). Haltwhistle also had by far the most international (non-UK) tourists of any place I visited. I never quite understand what makes certain places popular and well known to Americans, Germans, etc; must be PhD theses on this…
Saturday, 27 May – I cycled from Haltwhistle to South Shields. I was very impressed by the straightness of one of the country roads I cycled on (see picture), and then realised it was an old Roman road, so of course it was straight as an arrow. I was worried because the weather forecast was for thunderstorms in late afternoon, so I tried hard to get to South Shields by 3PM, by leaving early, not doing side trips, and cycling through rather than sheltering in mild rain. And guess what, no thunderstorms materialised… This kind of thing happened to me several times in my trip. Professionally I do a fair bit with NLG of weather forecasts, made me wonder whether there is scope for producing more informative and nuanced weather forecasts for cyclists and the like, which go into things like probabilities and uncertainties.
Sunday, 28 May – I stayed in South Shields and visited Jarrow Hall (aka Bede’s World), which was very impressive. Part of Jarrow Hall was an Anglo-Saxon Farm and Village, which reflected life back in the 700s when Bede was alive. Really interesting (I enjoy this kind of thing), and I was especially impressed by the “sheep pig” (see picture). However, I was a bit puzzled by the fact the farm had ferrets in one of its enclosures, this didnt seem very realistic… But I’m probably being a bit ridiculous here, after all the 21st century anglo-saxon farm clearly differs in all kinds of ways from an eighth century farm (eg, much cleaner and healthier).
Monday, 29 May – I was originally going to head north, but decided to stay an extra day in South Shields because weather forecast was poor (rain), and explore Newcastle (see picture). Interesting chat with guesthouse owner in morning about local politics; her view was that Labour felt they “owned” South Shields, and this led to corruption, mismanagement, and lack of accountability. This resonated with me because this was a common sentiment in Scotland in the 1990s and early 200os, when Labour “owned” large chunks of Scotland and (at least in my opinion) behaved in a similar fashion. One-party rule is not good in a political system, the lack of competition brings out the worst in politicians.
Tuesday, 30 May – Back on my bike, and I cycled to Alnwick. Cycling though the outskirts of Newcastle wasnt a lot of fun, but became very pleasant once I left the built-up area. Alnwick had loads of Japanese tourists, unlikely anywhere else I visited on this trip, presumably because of the formal gardens (see picture). Anyways, I stayed in an upstairs room in a pub (inn). Of course in the old days this was a very common thing to do, indeed often rooms in pubs/inn were the only accommodation for visitors. However I’ve never stayed at a pub before and I was a bit apprehensive (noise, drunks, smell, etc). But in fact the place was perfectly fine; no noise, smell, or drunks. So definitely an option to consider in the future!
Wednesday, 31 May – I cycled to Seahouses and then spent most of the day at Bamburgh Castle. Which was really impressive, definitely looks like what castles are expected to look like (see picture)! Probably because the historic castle (which dates back to the Middle Ages and features in Last Kingdom) was restored in the 1800s from a semi-derilect state to its full glory, by a wealthy industrialist.
Thursday, 1 June – I took a boat trip to the bird sanctuary in the Farne Islands, which was very impressive indeed. Amazing views of all kinds of nesting birds, I especially liked the puffins. We landed at one of the islands, Inner Farne, where I was attacked by nesting Artic Terns because I was close to their nest (see picture, note that this is not me in the photo). I had been told to expect this and wear a hat, but what I didnt expect was that a particularly irate bird would decide to empty its bowels on my hat… Clever bird, it knew what would really annoy me!
Friday, 2 June – I cycled to Berwick in Tweed, where I got a train home. I stopped at Lindesfarne (Holy Island) along the way, which is a tidal island. Ie, it is connected to the mainland by a causeway during low tide, but isolated as an island at high tide. I quite enjoyed heading to the causeway while it was still closed (see picture), watching locals try to drive across before the causeway officially opened. I thought one car had gotten stuck in the middle, but it got out OK; presumably the locals know what they are doing!