Chance Encounters

We woke to a brilliant sunshiny morning in our little forest glade. A couple of other campers had arrived during the evening, but had parked the other side of the clearing.

Lovely morning

We wanted to get a good start on the day so quickly set about our morning routines and were carefully descending the steep hill to find a parking lot that we had found which was beside the NCR76.

Twolula was efficiently assembled and we were soon on our way. We were quickly out of the town of Stirling and peddling through countryside, the route edging around fields in a manner that reminded us of our touring in Holland. We were flanked on one side by the hills around Stirling, atop one the Wallace National Monument standing proud and visible for miles. On the whole the going was on fairly flat terrain, there were some sharp inclines that had us puffing, but nothing that we could not take in our stride. There was though a stretch of gravelly incline which had us bumping around and we were pleased to reach smooth tarmac again. The route was though on the whole very pleasant and the signage was excellent; Mr V commented that just before I told him of an upcoming turning, he could usually see the sign telling him which way to go.

When embarking on our trip this year, we had few fixed plans, but one thing I had wanted to do was visit the Kelpies at Falkirk. This was a long desired experience, since they were first unveiled, and when seeing them in real life, they did not disappoint one bit. We peddled up the short length of canal, and under a low bridge at the base of these 30 metre high horse head sculptures made up of interlocking silver coloured metal, emerging from pools of water. We were fortunate with the weather and against the blue sky with the sunshine glinting on the panels they looked magnificent.

Just wow!

We spent some time around the area, admiring the Kelpies from all around, and enjoying our coffee break in the warm sunshine sitting at the foot of the sculptures. As often happens, Twolula attracted attention herself, and we had a chat with a gentleman who was interested in her engineering. The Helix Park is geared towards tourists spending money, with a few quality snack trailers, guided tours inside the sculptures and information centre with inevitable gift shop. Having made use of their conveniences, I felt obliged to have a look around the shop, which invited the visitor to treat themselves to all manner of expensive Kelpie linked nick-nacks. I did purchase a button badge as our daughter collects them, but resisted other temptation.

The whole kelpies

We were aware that the Falkirk Canal Wheel was in the vicinity of the Kelpies, and also worth a visit. Indeed Uncle Bob had informed us that it was ‘just next-door’. In a car it is indeed just a short hop, but on checking with google maps, it was a half-hour cycle. But hey, we are seasoned cyclist and laugh in the face of a half hour peddle along a canal side. It was a pleasant ride, though the clouds were now gathering it was still warm. We peddled for the most part along the tow path of the Forth & Clyde canal.

We reached the Falkirk Wheel within the google estimated time, and though we have seen this feat of engineering on news and documentary programmes, had not really expected it to be sitting in what was essentially a family water park. The wheel itself is indeed impressive, and we were in the vicinity long enough to watch it in action, however could not help but feel that the bumper-boats and zorbs that were pottering around in the pool at the foot of the wheel did somewhat detract. However, economics being what they are, there is clearly a need to attract as many visitors to the area as possible by whatever means. We resisted the crowded gift shop on our departure from the park and peddled back along the canal. Though it had numerous locks on the route, did not register with us that we were really travelling uphill on the journey out, however we enjoyed the swift return of the continuous slight downhill.

Time lapse of the Falkirk Wheel in action

By the time we had retraced out tyre-treads to the Helix Park, it was rather busy, and so we headed back to Stirling so that we could make our way to our next stopover. Once back at the van and packed up, we headed off making our way down the M9, once again taking in the Kelpies from this vantage as they rear up at the side of the motorway. Travelling east, we made our way around the busy Edinburgh city bypass, thankful that we were not travelling in the direction that had miles of tailbacks. Onward on the A1 for a short time we turned off to our park4night spot. There were two in the vicinity to chose from and we had opted for one recommended in the lee of an outcrop with views over the sea, however there was a muddle in directions and we overshot this heading for one that was on private land, but on discovering that this required a ‘donation’ of £15 per night, we turned around and found the original spot, which was as peaceful as described. Though we are not averse to paying for our stopovers, we did feel that having paid £20 for a fully serviced pitch, with showers etc previously, £15 was a little steep for a spot with no amenities. Had it been say £5, we felt this would be reasonable for covering the cost of rubbish disposal; once parked up though we were joined by another van who had passed earlier and turned around feeling the same!

Once we had eaten supper and cleared up, we headed off for a little stroll around the headland, and said hello to our neighbours for the night. The had come up from the Lakes and had two friendly pups with them. We warned them that we were making an early start the next morning and were assured that they would ‘sleep through anything’ so we would be unlikely to disturb them.

Our walk further along the headland afforded lovely views of the coast all the way to North Berwick as the outline of the Berwick Law was still clearly visible. We then climbed the outcrop that the vans were nestled under to investigate what we had assumed was a metal structure on the hill, only to find that it was made of wood, and clearly decommissioned, perhaps a remnant of WWII? Returning to the van, we got ready for bed, and watched the glorious sunset.

After another peaceful night, we were up and ready to be on the road well before the planned 07.30hrs. We needed to be in Berwick-on-Tweed in good time to get parked up and on our way peddling in time to make it to and from Lindisfarne between high tides. Though it was only a 12 mile ride from Berwick-on-Tweed to what is known as Holy Island, we wanted to be able to have a little explore before having to head back before the tide was fully back in at around lunchtime.

It turned out to be a good job that we had allowed plenty of time, whereas 12 miles is just a short distance for us to travel given we are used to daily distances of up to 50 miles, what we had not anticipated was that the NCR1/EuroVelo12 would actually be more of an off-road terrain for the most part! Twolula just about managed the worst of the terrain, and we were glad of her on/off-road tyres. There were some sections that were on tarmac, and it was blissful when we peddled along these, but on the whole it was a route that could cause problems for anyone not on a robust bike. It transpired that the route was a permissive path, negotiated with the land owners by Sustrans. Though it was unexpectedly more difficult to traverse the 12 miles than had been anticipated, it was not a boring journey. Our first obstacle to be negotiated was the herd of bullocks who a little spooked by us, decided that they were going to gallop down the path in front of us. That was until one decided that he was going to be brave and turned to face us, giving the others courage to do the same. We felt the best course of action was to dismount and push our way through to the gate rather than risk a standoff. We were later to find that sheep are far more skittish, but if you stop they do become curious.

As stoker, gate duty falls to me, and there were a variety of Heath-Robinson gate securing methods to work out today. We were impressed by the improvisation of vehicle inner tubes as an automatic closing mechanism, and the use of a Ford hubcaps protecting gate-posts since 1968.

We eventually saw in the distance the the causeway that leads to Lindisfarne. This is a causeway road that is only accessible when the tide is low. There are numerous warnings about ensuring that tide tables are checked and to ensure that you can make it to the other side before setting off, such is the swiftness of the incoming tide in submerging the causeway. We were fortunately still early, despite our less than smooth journey we peddled the 4-5 kilometres or so of the causeway quickly given the tarmac surface which is at consistent sea level along the entire length. Although we knew we were well within the high tide times, we could not help but feel a little vulnerable and exposed out on the flats knowing that for much of the time the surface is underwater, the seaweed flanking the road as a reminder.

Lindisfarne is another place that I had always wanted to visit, such is the history it is steeped in and the fame of the beautiful illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels. Lovely though the island is, it is not the minimally inhabited place that I had imagined, and there are numerous guest houses and establishments where tourists may find refreshment. And tourists there were aplenty, us included! We found a fairly quiet corner to sit and have our coffee, which we were more than ready for, but then decided that we needed to be on our way as it is not easy to navigate crowded areas with Twolula, and the area was becoming increasingly crowded given the short visitation period dictated by the tide. The cars were though still streaming in as we peddled back over the causeway, making good time with the wind to our backs.

Just as I disembarked to perform my usual gate duty at the commencement of the permissive cycleway, we met a couple of walkers heading towards Berwick-on-Tweed and in exchanging pleasantries, discovered that though they were from London, the gentleman’s family were from around Cheltenham, and he knew the area well, it really is a small world! We tried to convince them that what they needed was a tandem before waving them on their way.

As always seems the way, the return journey seems to be shorter than the outward one, and we were back in Berwick-on-Tweed in what seemed to be double quick time, with no close encounters of the bovine kind this time.

As we had parked a little out of the main town, we had some lunch before mounting up again to peddle into Berwick-on-Tweed itself and have a little look around and cross over one (or as it turned out, two) of the the three impressive bridges that span the river Tweed. The town is quite charming, with some lovely old houses, and was evidently a favourite place of the artist L S Lowry who was a frequent visitor. We headed out though to walk the battlements that were originally built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but never fully completed so great was the cost. As a border town, it has over the course of history passed between being part of Scotland and England on numerous occasions.

As we finished our circuit of the battlements and stopped at a bench to enjoy the view over the harbour, a gentleman passed us who was clearly on a journey. I commented on the seriousness of his backpack, and he informed us that he had just completed the Pennine Way and was heading home to Stoke. As it turned out Steve was quite a guy. We ended up talking for a good couple of hours about respective travels and life in general. Steve and his late wife had cycled from Australia in the days before mobile phones, and he now makes an annual trip to Nepal to walk the Annapurna Circuit, staying with local people along the way, and after this he likes to go to Sri Lanka for the seafood. These trips alas have been curtailed by COVID. During the football season though he plans his long distance cycling around the away games of his beloved Stoke City. It really was such a delightful encounter with a true journeyman/philosopher, his zest for living life to the full and doing stuff rather than having stuff really chimed with our own values. He really was sunshine in human form.

Sunshine Steve

We bid our farewells to Steve, swapping contact details, as it turned out Thor’s Cave, which we had recently visited was in his backyard and he made us promise to look him up if we were in the area again, but he had a train to catch and we needed to move onwards too.

We peddled back to the van, packing up and headed out of Berwick towards Alnwick, which I had been assured by a dear friend had an impressive castle. Oh and impressive it was! We spent a pleasant stopover with it as our view, before meandering around the town and making use of the laundrette. Our intended walk around the castle was though unfortunately curtailed due to a running event that was taking place. Perhaps a revisit will be in order in due course.

We then headed out towards Alnmouth, which was where said friend had grown up. This too lived up to her advertising, it really is a charming place, though admittedly there are probably more tourists there these days. We spent a ‘holiday’ day here – no peddling just relaxing, walking on the beach and enjoying the sunshine; we did paddle though!

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