Kyle of Lochalsh

My room is beneath the first ‘L’ in Lochalsh and I am sat at the adjacent window, to the front, looking out on the Kyle as I type this post. If this was a postcard, I would scratch “I am here” in BIC biro.

The Lochalsh Hotel

It is now all too easy to pass by this hotel – once adjacent to the Isle of Skye ferry, it was at the centre of things as all vehicles bound for the island queued for anything up to five hours, but never on a Sunday. This little gem from Alan Whicker and the BBC Tonight programme, November 1964:

Sat at this window on April 24th 1973, I would have seen a dark blue Mitchell Van Hire, 18cwt Bedford CF, board the Skye ferry. The driver, dressed in a too-long purple jumper knitted by an earlier girlfriend, a pair of too-wide flared jeans, a straw hat and Mexican sandals made from old car tyres, we were heading for Glen Brittle and perfect Spring sunshine. How things have changed. The road now sweeps across the Skye Bridge, I have arrived by train, it is February and it is wet and very windy. It is an odd time of year to come to the Highlands.

Inverness Station – the Kyle of Lochalsh train

Arriving at Kyle of Lochalsh

I have always wanted to travel the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh railway, along with the Mallaig and Wick lines, some of the world’s most scenic railways. Up to end March it is possible to travel anywhere in Scotland on ScotRail for £17 return once you have purchased a £15 Club 50 card.

There was one slight flaw to my cunning plan – the journey north from Inverness was in complete darkness. I might as well have been travelling on the London Underground. Nevertheless, the journey south, tomorrow, starts at 12:08 so the landscape will be revealed in all its glory – assuming there is no mist.

To fill in time on a damp day, I took the bus from Kyle of Lochalsh to Elgol and Glasnakille, on the west coast of Skye. I was one of three passengers throughout the entire trip. The bus stops at Elgol for tea with the driver, Gordon, and immediately the BBC news comes on the radio at 1pm, we must get back on board and head for Glasnakille. It is timed like an Apollo launch.

Gordon

It was at Glasnakille that I was joined by a local lady bound for Broadford – she described it as a ‘course’ day. The conversation flowed from there, covering such diverse topics as Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull who once lived in nearby Strathaird House; the clearances; education – up to eleven there is a local school but thereafter children must board at Portree, the only secondary school on the island; the high volume of traffic in the summer; midges – you just have to out up with them and, the dreaded camper vans. By the time we reached Broadford, I felt like a local. Gordon would be back at 15:22, on the dot, to take her home.

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For petrol heads …

On my first ride out on the Tracer this year I bumped into three guys doing publicity shots for a new AMG Mercedes C63s V-8 Bi-turbo at Cawfield Quarry, close to Hadrian’s Wall.  It is a desirable beast which sounds very purposeful, even on tick-over.  Fundamentally, it’s all about the thrill of speed, which makes you wonder why you would spend quite so much on such a car when could buy a garage-full of motorcycles for the same money. On two wheels, exposed to the elements, you really do get to find out what speed feels like.

Accompanying the post on Blipfoto I included a link to this video which for some reason became inaccessible – so here it is embedded in WordPress:

AMG Merc C63s V-8 Biturbo.

On show at Cawfields Quarry

And the Tracer – it can probably keep up, in a straight line

This was also the week that Nissan announced they would not be building the X-Trail at their Sunderland plant, all of which put me in mind of a prophetic piece written by Holman W Jenkins Jr, for the Wall Street Journal in September 2017 – Standby for a global car crash

German politicians and journalists have spent much of the summer  condemning Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and VW for ‘dieselgate’, saying they’ve besmirched the tag “Made in Germany”.  And it’s true that the conduct of firms like VW, which cheated on emissions tests, was egregious.  But it’s also true that the emissions scandal arose entirely from the politically correct meddling of European politicians whose pursuit of meaningless reductions in carbon dioxide forced car-makers to replace petrol models with diesel ones, thereby making air in European cities significantly less breathable.  And it was politicians and policymakers who provided the loopholes exploited by car-makers because they wanted to ensure that their cars remained marketable.  Governments from Berlin to Beijing are now doubling down on that mistake by insisting that car-makers build electric cars that can only be sold at a steep loss.  With oil at $50/barrel, and petrol engines continuing to make impressive efficiency gains, that will require an even more implausible magic act to preserve car industries and jobs.  A car-wreck is coming that will make dieselgate look like a fender bender.

 

Nancy

I have been ploughing my way through David Nasaw’s biography of Andrew Carnegie.  I have been panning for gold.  Carnegie was an avid golfer and somewhere in this 878pp tome there are unique, if short references, to the man’s passion for the game.  Golf in the Wild research can be a slow and laborious process.

I mention this only because I have been itching to move on.  Intrigued by the reference to Nancy Ridley in the previous post, ‘buried by the Lych gate’, at St Cuthbert’s Beltingham, I was curious enough to buy her long-out-of-print Portrait of Northumberland, first published in 1965.  I am a short way into its pages but her descriptions of Roman Wall Country are instantly recognisable, a litany of names and places I know intimately by foot, by car and on motorcycle.  It is our home.

After too many years ping-ponging between northwest England and the south, chasing IT’s filthy lucre, it is odd that I should find myself tied to this place, at the very edge of England’s last wilderness. Now, nearly twenty-five years in the same place, it would be unthinkable to be anywhere else other than here.

‘Here’ is a landscape that would be entirely recognisable to Nancy but her introduction to Portrait of Northumberland is from another time entirely – “The Tyne still maintains its reputation as the greatest ship repairing river in the world” – “Every Northumbrian town has a live-stock mart for the sale not only of home bred but also Irish cattle” – “This is one of the most popular holiday districts in Northumberland where the same people go year after year.  There are many good boarding houses in Allendale Town”.  Sadly, the ‘same people’ are now most likely to be found on foreign beaches.

Nancy’s introduction also includes many references to the Great North Road which in her time would have run through the heart of towns and cities on its way to the Scottish Borders and beyond. The same would have been true of the old Newcastle to Carlisle A roads on their journey through the Tyne Valley.  We walk round with computing power in our pockets, unimaginable in 1965 but, the most visible aspect of change are the roads and vehicles on them – this from newcastleuncovered.com

In contrast, these recent images from around Beaufront Woodhead present a landscape unchanged since Nancy’s time and long before:

Lone trees on the lane to Acomb

Broken gate

Unbroken gate

Bridge on the lane to Acomb

This morning, while snow still lay all around we drove to the Allen Gorge car park and again walked to Beltingham, this time in search of Nancy’s grave. It should be easy to find but even after a relatively short time, the headstone is almost indecipherable:

Nancy’s grave – almost indecipherable

Time, she says,
“There’s no turning back,
keep your eyes on the tracks”
Through the fields, somehow there’s blue
Oh, time will tell, she’ll see us through

Finally a technical point re the images – generally I will shoot in Acros (+Yellow filter) so I can see the tones of a mono image on the camera LCD. Then, I will normally process the RAW image, sometimes colour, sometimes mono – for once these are all straight Acros jpegs from the ‘can’ – tweaked with the Camera RAW filter in PhotoShop CC. Interestingly, it is surprising how much shadow detail can be recovered even from a jpeg. Use of the original Acros image also preserves the film grain that Fuji have worked so hard to emulate.

St Cuthbert’s – Beltingham

I get places on a motorcycle – in July last year it was St Cuthbert’s at Beltingham, an out-of-the-way place in Northumberland with surprising connections.  Today we returned on foot.  According to the Spirit in Stone website, St Cuthbert’s is a much loved and regularly used Grade I listed church, it’s the finest example of 15th Century Perpendicular style in the country. Restored in 1884, a vestry was added, an earlier window remains however as does a squint, a small barred open window. There are fine stained glass windows by Kempe 1891 and two of his pupils, and a modern window by Leonard Everetts 1982. A medieval font stands by the entrance, where Bishop Ridley was baptised, who was martyred by Queen Mary in 1555. In the stone window frames on the south side there are relief carvings of a rabbit, flowers, fleur-de-lys and a grotesque mask.

Adjacent to the churchyard is a restored Pele tower, and an old family home of the Bowes Lyon (Queen Mother’s family), both in private ownership. In the churchyard, there is a Roman Altar and Nancy Ridley author is buried by the Lych gate. There is a shaft of a Saxon Cross c. 680 AD on the the East side, and a large Yew Tree on the North side, possibly 2000 years old. The South and East walls of the church are marked by scratches, thought to have been made by archers sharpening arrowheads.  In the graveyard the Bowes Lyons have their own personal section, walled and gated from the rest of us.

I have passed by on a number of occasions and always the doors to the church have been locked.  Today we got lucky:

Inside St Cuthbert’s, Beltingham – one of the occasional days it is open.

Outside St Cuthbert’s, Beltingham

A fading story – headstone at St Cuthbert’s

Gravestone, St Cuthbert’s, Beltingham

Etched in stone – a sad story – St Cuthbert’s

Shildon Works

The Stockton and Darlington Railway operated in north-east England from 1825 to 1863. The world’s first public railway to use steam locomotives, it connected collieries near Shildon with Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington, and was officially opened on 27th September 1825.

Shildon Railway Works’ first locomotive superintendent, Timothy Hackworth, was born in Wylam in 1786, five years after fellow railway pioneer George Stephenson had been born in the same village The S&D locomotives which shared the line with horse-drawn carriages were by far the most unreliable of the two and the company directors came close to abandoning steam altogether.  It was  Hackworth who persuaded the company to give him a free hand to build a locomotive of his own design and, in 1827, built the Royal George, followed by the “Globe” in 1830, the first specialist passenger engine. Ten more locomotives were built between 1863 and 1867, but most of the work was transferred to Darlington and in 1871 all locomotive work ceased while Shildon became a centre for wagon building, surviving until 1984.

The Locomotion Museum is built on the site of the old Shildon Works and contains an impressive array of preserved locomotives and wagons, many of the latter built at Shildon.  It was here I escaped to earlier this week while the Good Wife did other womanly things – I am always content when in or around machines, particularly those emitting steam or Castrol R, the two finest smells in the world.  Eat your heart out Chanel.

Green Arrow, LNER Class V2 4771

Green Arrow, LNER Class V2 4771

Winston Churchill, Battle of Britain Class, BR 34051

The Bulleid Firth Brown wheel

E5001 in the workshop

Hardwicke, built at Crewe in 1873

Green Arrow and Winston Churchill

 

 

November …

… in Northumberland (and elsewhere) – a selection of images from the the month which first appeared on Blip. It started out relatively mild and I kept riding but, since the 19th the temperatures dropped, the wind got up and the Yamaha has been locked up in the garage (the other two are off road for the winter). The last game of golf was on the 23rd – I could be in for a long winter 😦

Mixed weather at Kielder

Last of the light – Northumbrian reflections

Whiteside and the epicentre of nowhere.

The Angel

Storm brewing near Hadrian’s Wall

The last golf outing – Newbiggin on the 23rd

Steamy, smokey, misty, Hexham

Remember when our songs were just like prayers.

The First …

I can be fairly certain this was the first photograph I ever took.  It is in the back garden at Alstead Avenue and I would be using the only camera the family owned for years – the Kodak Brownie 127” Be careful, don’t drop it, press the shutter once, don’t forget to wind it on” would have been just a selection of the instructions received from my ever-vigilant mother.  In perfect nosey-neighbour fashion, Mrs Hillier is watching proceedings from an upper window.  She would have felt very much at home in the Stasi.

The trellis fence in the background divided east from west and would take my weight for all the years it was necessary.  Retrieval of footballs, tennis balls, paper aeroplanes and cricket stumps/harpoons was a constant necessity and inevitably resulted in shouted orders from either side of the divide.  Children in the 1950s were at best tolerated, always mistrusted, invariably harshly punished.  We knew our place.

Mr Hillier was ex-RAF and ‘affectionately’ known as “Hillybum” – I have no idea why. He drove a cream Mk VIII Hillman Minx at a time when all cars were black.  The connection between Hillman, Hillier and Hillybum was reassuringly alliterative, entirely logical.  He would pass away not long after this was taken but not before we all ended up on the same beach in Wales one bright summer.  This was entirely by coincidence, happy or otherwise.  The gathering from left to right comprises Mrs Hillier (taking notes), their daughter Joy (eternally single), me (performing cat impressions), sister Pat (eating as always), mother (presiding over the sandwich tin), ‘Hillybum’, cousin Brian, uncle Ed and aunt Bet:

I learned to keep a distance from mother – an arm’s length being the absolute minimum.  I seem to have been caught off-guard in this frozen moment.  I am dangerously within striking distance.  My behaviour was a constant cause for concern and always threatened the involvement of a third party if my dad was not immediately available.

In my teenage years, the dynamics had not changed. I can’t remember which particular boundary I had crossed or to which mortal sin I had succumbed but, mother was determined to fetch an outsider ‘to sort me out’.  I was used to these threats and was fairly sure this one was empty but I made my escape regardless.  A few minutes later, Kent cigarette in hand, from the darkness of the alleyway across the road I saw my mother return, alone and without a house key.  Hysterical shouts echoed across the street – “What are you doing in there, don’t play with matches, you will set the house on fire – ROBIN, LET, ME, IN!”  Her leaps of the imagination finally overwhelmed any sense of reason as the night air filled with the sound of breaking glass.  If I wasn’t before, I was certainly in trouble now.