Winter’s Gibbet

Another September day, another ride out – this time to Winter’s Gibbet, Steng Cross, just south of Elsdon.

In 1791 the body of William Winter was hung here in chains, in sight of the place where he had murdered old Margaret Crozier of The Raw, Elsdon.

The present gibbet was erected on the exact site of the original. The large block of stone at the foot of the gibbet is the base of the Saxon Cross which marked the highest point of the ancient drove road, down which cattle were driven from Scotland to the English markets.

It is the saddest and loneliest of places, even on a mild September afternoon.

The stone block is visible at the foot of the gibbet

Winter’s Gibbet into a September Sun.

Looking south

This time on the Scrambler

Port Carlisle

This small place, tucked away on the edges of the Solway Firth, has been on my motorcycle radar for some time.  At just over fifty miles from Hexham and on the coast, it is a comfortable riding distance on a good day and, today turned out to be just perfect – not much wind, no threat of rain and mild.  Huge skies, a wide open estuary and a flat landscape makes it photogenic in an Ansel Adams sort of way.

It was only when I returned home that I started to look for more information on the place, not the logical way of doing things.  Had I but known, it is right up my alley, having both canal and railway history.  This from the Visit Cumbria website:

The village of Port Carlisle, originally known as Fishers Cross, was developed as a port in 1819 to handle goods for Carlisle using the canal link built in 1823. The canal was 11¼ mile long, and had 8 locks which were all built 18 feet wide.

From a wooden jetty, through the entrance sea lock and one other, the canal ran level for nearly six miles. Then followed six locks in one and a quarter miles, with a level stretch to Carlisle Basin.

Sailing boats made their way by the canal from Port Carlisle (about one mile from Bowness-on-Solway) to the heart of the City of Carlisle. Boats were towed to the City (taking one hour 40 minutes) enabling Carlisle to be reached within a day by sea from Liverpool. Barges collected the grain and produce destined for Carlisle’s biscuit and feed mills. The canal built specially for this purpose ended in the canal basin behind the present Carrs (McVities) biscuit factory in Carlisle.

There is even the remains of a railway viaduct at Bowness-on-Solway – I am going to have to return!

Warning – don’t go for a paddle.

Port Carlisle in the distance

Dramatic skies, without the GS

Port Carlisle form the west

Strangers on the shore with a selfie stick.

Trainspotting …

The Irvine Welsh book title is derived from a scene where two of the main characters, Begbie and Renton, meet an old drunk in the disused Leith Central Station which they are using as a toilet. The drunk asks the two boys if they are “trainspotting”. I guess this is meant to be amusing on several levels, the prime one being that that there are no trains. The station closed to passenger traffic in 1952 and although it was retained as a diesel maintenance depot, this too ceased in 1972. The station has been demolished but the frontage retained. These sorts of facts appeal to an ex-trainspotter. I have never got beyond the first twenty minutes of the film and have never felt inclined to read the book – not so much a soap opera, more a dope opera.  I mention this only because I have found myself hanging around Mallaig station waiting for steam trains to arrive these last couple of days. It takes me back.

A trip to the local Heritage Centre provided some more appealing facts. The station was originally much grander. The platforms were covered, a turntable was located in a siding, roughly on the site of the current seashore car park and, a separate line used to run down to the quay to enable loading direct from the fishing boats. Without the turntable, the Jacobite must swap ends at Mallaig and reverse back to Fort William.

Mallaig still thrives but it has much less to do with fish. There is a constant supply of through traffic/people on the ferries to/from Skye and twice a day in the summer, the steam trains disgorge carriage loads of visitors. This must work wonders for the local traders, at least in the summer months:

K1 Class Locomotive 62005

62005 swapping ends at Mallaig

Black 5 45212 arriving at Mallaig

A mixed-traffic locomotive designed by Sir William Stanier in 1934

Keeping a clean machine

Black 5’s, as they were known by enthusiasts, totalled 842 by the time the last was built in 1951.

45212 about to swap ends

 

The Jim Clark Museum

The trip to Duns has become an annual pilgrimage.  Last year in April, to commemorate fifty years since Jim Clark’s death at Hockenheim in 1968 and, this year, for the opening of the extended and much enhanced museum. Last year in the Elise, this year, 167 miles on the F850 GS on a perfect day for riding.

The displays include a new commemorative film, his trophies, a walk-around time-line of memorabilia and two of his iconic vehicles:  the Lotus 25 R6 on loan from the Tinguely Museum Switzerland and a Lotus Cortina on loan from Dario Franchitti – perfect choices.  Clark was stunning in any Lotus but for real entertainment, there was no better sight than Jim flying the Ford at ten tenths through the apex on three wheels.

The Power of One

The Lotus 25 R6

The Lotus Cortina “in flight”

The interior

Lotus Cortina – close up

Looking at the Cortina more closely, I was reminded that they were originally badged under the Consul brand. My parents belonged to the ‘Ford family’ owning three consecutive Consuls throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. They have appeared at various times in this blog, including the original MK1. Just at the time they might have gone down the Cortina road, they chose the Corsair – a big mistake, the first being so unreliable, it was quickly replaced by another. I can only assume at a significant discount.

The primary difference between the two Corsairs was that the first’s crunchy column-change was finally replaced with a standard floor-change in the second. Mother had learned with a column-change and in her usual determined fashion, she was sticking to it, long after it was a good idea. When they returned from working abroad in the mid 1970s they remained loyal to Ford, finally acquiring a Mk III Cortina. After that it was a Volvo 343 followed by a series of pedestrian Vauxhalls. As with many other aspects of their later years, automotively they had lost their way.

Orford Ness

There is a terrifying beauty to this place.  It appears post-apocalyptic which, given its history, is as it should be.  Throughout the 20th century the site was used for a wide range of military research programmes, not least by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment.  Meanwhile, at the northern end of the ‘island’, the Cobra Mist structure stands as a monument to the experimental, Anglo-American, over-the-horizon radar system.  The vast complex is now privately owned with rumoured plans to use the building to house an IT server farm.

To the frustration of local volunteers, much of the site is in decay and the National Trust has no interest in maintaining the infrastructure, their primary concern being the bird sanctuary.  Even the lighthouse is under threat – perilously close to the shingle beach, the expectation is that one more violent winter storm could see it collapse into the sea.

Orford Ness provides a timely reminder of “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy“.  The research that was undertaken on this site cannot be un-invented.  The threat of Armageddon remains.  Indeed, it could be argued that the threat is greater than at any time since the Cold War with the potential for terrorists and rogue states to get their hands on such technology.  Leaving the ‘island’ behind on the ferry to Orford, there is the distinct impression that school children are being wound up to agonise and protest over entirely the wrong threat.

Towards Black Beacon from AWRE 1

Derelict structure around AWRE 1

Looking south towards AWRE 1

More dereliction at AWRE 1 (you cannot reach the Pagodas)

Left behind – sole survivor

Towards the lighthouse

The lighthouse showing desperate attempts to shore up the underlying supports – “one more bad winter and it could be gone”

The lighthouse from the south

Black Beacon

Black Beacon from the lighthouse

Black Beacon

The approach to AWRE 1

The lighthouse

Witches’ knickers …

… and other monochromes, from a walk between Portmahomack and Tarbat Ness lighthouse.  To get here, head for Inverness, cross the Kessock and Cromarty Bridges, follow the A9 north, by-passing Invergordon, until a turning right is signposted Fearn and beyond.  We are here because of golf, a ‘research’ trip for Golf in the Wild – Going Home – golf doesn’t get much wilder than this.

It is also a fine place to stay regardless of the golf: Known in Gaelic as ‘Port MoCholmaig’ or St Colman’s Port, Portmahomack can trace its roots back to 800 AD. Today, this pretty fishing village is well-known locally for its picturesque setting. The only village on the east coast of Scotland that faces due west, Portmahomack can enjoy spectacular sunsets. And because it is situated in an area of the Highlands renowned for its low rainfall, the village doesn’t suffer with those pesky West Coast midges! – http://www.portmahomack.org/

A remarkably flat landscape for much of the road towards the tip of the peninsular, the landscape was purpose-built for aerodromes.  More than seventy years after the end of World War II, there is much evidence of the decaying infrastructure that supported RAF Tain.  It is also prime farmland, more reminiscent of the Great Plains than a land steeped in ancient Pictish history.  There are the inevitable too-yellow fields of oil seed rape but also, acres given over to potato crops, much of which ends up in crackly packets of Walkers Crisps.

Once you reach the coastal village Portmahomack, the landscape roughens up such that the golf course is anything but flat which makes for a thoroughly entertaining 10-hole layout at the top of the village. Golf was first played here in 1894 and the current club established in 1909.

Portmahomack even has its own Carnegie Hall which, by happy coincidence, was playing host to Lizabett Russo on the night we arrived.

These photos ignore the golf as I am honour-bound to occasionally entertain the Good Wife/part-time caddie with walks that don’t include greens and fairways:

Witches’ knickers

A shed

Wide open spaces

Oil seed rape.

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.

Whitby

Bram Stoker spent a great deal of time in Whitby and at the Royal Hotel.  It is said that while looking out of from his window at the Royal he found his inspiration for Dracula by watching a large black dog leaping from a ship that had run aground on the foreshore.

We have his room – the foreshore is visible, the wind is howling; there are any number of black dogs straining on reluctant leads in the sideways rain.  The staff all have Transylvanian accents; the steaks are a touch too rare.  At breakfast we are joined by the undead.

The Dracula convenience store – late night shopping only

Whitby attracts the Goth community and it is easy to understand why – not just the Dracula connection but that very Victorian, very black material, Whitby jet can be found everywhere among the narrow streets and cobbled alleyways. It is a Hammer Horror film set with perfect backdrops – the steep, steep steps to St Mary’s and the ruined Abbey lording it over the town.

Despite this, it is also a place of romance, light and poetry.

West Pier – Whitby

Last of the light – Whitby

Things Passed Away

In lapis, dun and grey, heave, swell and gale
are stilled; the whispering mast and shingle-roar
silenced.  Small boats of larch and oak and prayer
take on the storm with slender oars and straining sail.
Umber and ochre beget beast and bale,
the harvest art, the scythe, the brooding moor,
and, as lowering clouds advance upon the shore,
the lover waits, the mother saves the veil.

But soon, beyond these whelming cobalt seas,
young men will reel, mistaking smoke for fret
and blasted shells for raining ore or jet,
seeking dolphins as they to darkness yield.
Then, painting dark on dark when life has ceased,
charred bones become ivory-black and stain the field.

Jane Poulton
March 2015.

The Cross, St Mary’s, Whitby.

Over the rooftops and houses

St Mary’s Whitby

Romeo, Romeo, I’m your Juliet
I’m the pot of gold that you haven’t found yet
And I’m here, right here

The Fratellis

Happy, smiley, people – in the rain at Whitby