Micro-tour. Day 6: fifty shades of earth.

It’s quite remarkable how even fairly small changes in altitude can affect what grows, what thrives, and what doesn’t. This was quite apparent at the end of yesterday’s journey crossing into Northumberland and descending from the bleakness that surrounds old mining communities like Nenthead. Absent of any real kind of vegetation taller than a couple of feet in height, the eye is drawn to the telegraph poles that march inexorably across the landscape, the roadside snow markers, none of which stand perpendicular to the ground, and to the gouged out stone, scarring the earth indefinitely. There are also the remnants of mine workings from a once-flourishing industry; the sheds, huts, and machinery so embattled yet so robust the casual visitor wouldn’t know if they were used yesterday, or a half century ago.

It’s only once you drop down a few hundred feet you’re once again accompanied by signs of rural civilisation; dry-stone walls that glisten regardless of the weather, buildings of more than one colour, and flora in shades of green, rather than shades of brown.

My journey today took me back and forth across that spectrum. Hitting Northumberland, Cumbria, Durham, and North Yorkshire, I traversed the valleys of the upper Tyne, to Allendale, to the Wear, the Tees, the Eden, and eventually Swaledale, each river accompanied by lengthy and arduous hills that punctuated the softness of the valleys. Think of it as tracing a path down the vertebrae of England’s upper backbone. If I were England, I’d have liked that.

The wind was brutal, but it could have been worse, and the rain did stop for a while. At the crest of St. John’s Chapel I was blown off the road, the baggage on my bike acting like a sail. The entire climb was into the teeth of it so to say it was slow progress was an understatement. Likewise, the slog up to Grains o’ th’ Beck from Teesdale was equally pedestrian. There were no pedestrians incidentally, nor were there other cyclists, apart from a group of veterans beginning the climb from Langdon Beck. Each and every one undoubtedly thankful for the developments in bike and clothing technology. The ’80s and ’90s were a different time, requiring a different effort, not just for terrain like this, but also for the weather.

Like I say, it could have been worse.


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