Last Sunday whilst staying in Newcastle with my boyfriend’s family, I decided to take the opportunity to explore the Northumberland coastline. He planned a trip cycle ride from Berwick-upon-Tweed down to his town in Whitley Bay, about 70 miles away, wild camping along the way. Let’s say that it didn’t go exactly to plan.
From Newcastle we got a return ticket to Berwick. We got a return just in case we decided to go home early and found a suitable train station on the line along the way, it was only £1 extra so we thought it was worth it rather than having to fork out another £20 if it became necessary. Taking bikes on the train is more complicated than I first thought. We missed our first train because we didn’t know that we had to make reservations in the hold for our bikes, so that they could make suitable space for them, something to keep in mind in future!
Berwick upon Tweed is the closest town in England to the Scottish border. Its history is wrapped up in its geography; due to invasions, wars and royal politics, the town changed hands between Scotland and England 14 times over two centuries up until 1482, when it became permanently English. The town is extremely quaint and pretty, with pastel-painted houses lining the cobblestone high street, various stone pubs and colourful independent cafés. Upon arriving, we locked up our bikes, bought a map of the Northumberland coast from a tourist centre and explored the town a little. Walking down by the riverside, we took a close up look at the Royal Border bridge, a spectacular railway viaduct made up of 28 arches and located right next to the ruins of the old castle. In the river Tweed, we spotted a couple of seals poking their cute little faces out of the water. According the the tourist centre, you can also spot dolphins in the river but we weren’t so lucky.
After having a coffee in a cute café on Marygate street and stocking up on Alpen bars from a local shop, we set out on our bike ride, following National Cycle Route 1. The route first follows from Berwick into the seaside town of Spittal and then along the isolated coastline. As soon as we began to ride, doubts began to creep into my mind. I had borrowed Josh’s dad’s bike- it was too big for me and the seat was much too high. I felt incredibly uncomfortable and it only took ten minutes for the hard seat to start causing me pain, especially with the heavy load on my back full of camping gear.
The coast line was spectacular, lined with hilly dunes and wild flowers leading down steep rocky cliffs to the sand. The sound of the sea next to us whilst we were riding was lovely and peaceful.
Unfortunately, we weren’t very lucky with the weather. The clouds were low and gloomy and I was quite sad to miss out on the beauty of the coast in the glorious sunshine. After a while riding along the rocky coast, we veered off West more into the country and sped past large fields of crops and flowers. A few times we went through adorable farm buildings. Vast fields of yellow rapeseed flowers create a bright patchwork of colour across the landscape, broken up by the crumbling old stone stables and barns.
After a few more miles cycling past the farms, sand dunes and a golf course through Cheswick, Goswick and slowly into Lindisfarne our energy began to wane. We hadn’t eaten since we’d been in the train station that morning and were so thankful we’d decided to bring alpen bars along to keep our sugar levels up. The route was longer than we’d expected and we had thought that we’d have come across more places to eat than had turned out to be the case. The vastness and isolation of our surroundings quickly turned from peaceful to worrying as we became wary about where we would eat and sleep that night, the sun hastily setting. As we continued on, the route became marshy and dismal, reflecting our declining moods. We eventually came to a crossroad- go left towards Holy Island, 3 miles away or right towards Belford 8.5 miles away. By this point we were starving and the sky was becoming gloomy and dark; we did not want to continue cycling 8 miles to civilisation and food. Holy Island seemed like our best option, the only problem was that to get to it, you have to cross the causeway before the high tide arrives and drowns you in the chilly Northern waters (or you have to get rescued by coastguards). We checked the tide times on the sign provided- we had 30 minutes to cross the causeway, 3 miles long: challenge accepted. In a large amount of pain, my little legs cycled what seemed like the longest straight road I’d ever seen.
The horizon seemed endless on both sides, wet sands waiting to be consumed by the fast approaching tide. Still weeks later, when I shut my eyes I can see that endless road, the image is imprinted onto my mind. (Only a slight exaggeration, I promise). We cycled continuously for what felt like an age yet seeming to stand still, the view in front of us unchanging and the tide threateningly lapping at our heels. Gradually, civilisation became visible on the island in front of us but it still felt like an eternity of flat, straight road before we reached it. The island itself was cute, but the late hour we arrived meant that everything was shut and we were lucky to get into a pub before they stopped serving food. Extortionately priced food, I should add, but being desperate and quite literally stranded on the island we surrendered to being ripped off. After a day of hard cycling and wind lashing across my face, relaxing in the pub with a pint of ale was a bittersweet relief- we knew the comfort would be short-lived before we’d have to venture out into the grey, damp mist to find somewhere to wild camp that night on the island. On Holy Island, only about an eighth of the land is covered by settlement- the rest is farmland and nature reserves. The tide was up, we had no choice but to stay on the island overnight, find somewhere to set up camp and sleep far enough away from people that we wouldn’t be found and prosecuted. Wild camping is illegal in nature reserves but with no money left and stranded on the island by the tide, it was necessary and eventually we left the pub and crept away in the dark to find a place to call home for the night.
Story to be continued…
Much love <3