RIDE THE WALL - BEST MOTORCYCLING ROADS
'CAST NAY A CLOUT 'TIL MAY IS OUT'
I can't remember where I read the piece of information about the longest B road in Britain, but it had me reaching for the map to see where it was located with a view to including a ride along its 61.4 mile length to add to the catalogue of biking roads in the Wemoto News collection.
It looked promising. The B6318 begins just west of Newcastle Upon Tyne at Heddon on the Wall; the Wall being Hadrian's one built by the Romans as their northern boundary, to keep out the marauding Celtic tribes - at this stage it's fair to warn readers that any adverse, prejudicial, stereotypical or insulting comments about the current political situation in Scotland, it's citizens and MPs will not be tolerated, unless they're really funny.
For much of its length the road runs parallel to the Wall and the long distance footpath, across the wild and exposed fell countryside of the Northumbria National Park, before turning north and running up beside the Kielder Forest and on to the town of Langholm across the border.
There's a saying in the north of England that is often quoted at me when I complain about the weather in Yorkshire not conforming to my expectations of warm spring riding days: 'cast nay a clout 'til May is out'. Which when translated means, don't expect much before the calendar page turns to June. To which I would add
'Don't expect too much even then'.
The forecast wasn't good, but I'm always reluctant to postpone when I've planned a ride, and I have decent warm and dry(ish) riding gear. The ride could be done in a day from my home in West Yorkshire by blasting up to Newcastle using the A1(M), but where's the joy in that. So I made my way north using A roads including the wonderful A6108 from Ripon to Scotch Corner. On my way to an overnight at Gosforth, just north of the city.
It's one of those roads that has everything to stretch a rider's skill and concentration, but in places a decision has to be made as to whether a slower pace is taken to view the surrounding landscape, especially between the towns of Leyburn and Richmond, or if you want to focus on a smooth fast rhythm through the almost continuous swoops and bends. There's also the Manor Bikers Cafe in the courtyard of the farm of the same name in the lovely village of Bellerby. Well worth including in your itinerary if you're touring up that way.
Monday morning was as grey and gloomy as I expected, accompanied by wet roads. I pulled away from the aesthetic calamity of the Travelodge, McDonalds, Brewers Fayre and petrol station/supermarket complex straight into the A1 commuter queue: no other bikes in sight as I filtered the lines of cars.
I reached the beginning of the B6318, and left the start the week congestion in my wet wake. The early miles are straight, and the road has been tagged the 'military road' for obvious reasons, and because it conforms to those as straight as possible A to B routes the Romans loved to march their legions across. And although the weather was less than kind with conglomerations of glowering clouds being blown down from the north west; it wasn't long before I came across walkers heading in the same east to west direction negotiating the long distance footpath towards the coast at Bowness on Solway eighty four miles in the distance.
The writing on the wall
It's easy to spot sections of the Wall, marked with information boards. The first I noticed in a field was just a pile of stones that I didn't think warranted a stop and a photograph, there were sure to be better locations. English Heritage and the National Park have created easy pull offs and parking sections along the route, so that history buffs and people walking shorter segments of the path can get easy access. The Wall dominates the route and probably generates a decent slice of income for the area along with sheep, sheep, and yet more sheep munching on the wet pastures.
The B road is elevated, and to the south the north Pennine hills provided a forbidding backdrop to the flying clouds and showers. Walking routes are peppered along the road, and smaller unclassified roads go left and right signed to hamlets and villages that on another day I would have been tempted to explore. I dived off on one to the town of Haltwhistle, which has as its marketing pitch 'The Centre of Britain'. They may have to come up with another slogan if and when the Kingdom is no longer United.
At this point the B6318 has become more interesting to ride. The road followed a changing landscape with contours dipping and twisting west towards the Scottish border, and even on a dull and wet day offering good and challenging traffic free motorcycling. Some glimpses of blue spurred optimism, and my heated grips provided comfort as the temperature reading in front of me hovered between a measly seven and nine degrees.
Off the wall
The road turns north away from the Wall at Nickles Hill through farm grazing land and forest. I came across a mere handful of vehicles through these miles and quiet villages. Then as I threaded the bike through bends in a narrow part of the road and across a stone bridge, there's the sign 'Scotland Welcomes You'. It was mud splattered and dented as a result of stones being hurled at it, but a forensic examination indicated that these were not because of any recent discontent.
I parked the bike in a roadside stream, literally, and walked back to the bridge where a river named Liddel Water, a tributary of the River Esk, forms the border. It was in flood and white water tumbled magnificently, swamping boulders between high wooded banks.
Not far to the town of Langholm from here, and the last six or seven miles were a narrow country lane. At the crest of one section I looked into the steep dip observing a large brown pool waiting for me in the bottom. It was make your mind up time in seconds. Brake and turn round, or go for the end of the run through the water. How deep could it be? Much deeper than I anticipated. As I chugged through in second the water washed over my ankle length riding boots, and ominously washed the screen. I waited for the hesitancy or misfire that indicates wet electrics, but it never came, and the end was nigh, albeit with wet feet.
On the return journey towards home I put aside my no motorway rule and dived down the M6 as far as Kendal, then returned to A roads; stopping to give the wet feet a break at the civilised Tebay services where I parked up next to two gleaming new BMW Bike Safe/Police bikes. How had they escaped the rain? Were they off loaded from a van? The riders were nowhere to be seen, so could not be taken in for questioning.
If you've never ridden or toured the Northumbria and border areas you're missing some bike riding treats. Traffic free, splendid scenery, and lots of accommodation with character: unlike Travelodge.
Do you know this area? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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