It is said that a change is as good as a rest and, true enough, it often is. But whether a cycle ride along the undulating single track road between Wedder Leap and Chew Green in Upper Coquetdale is everybody’s idea of a perfect rest is open to debate. However, as far as I was concerned it was a simple matter of adding a tasty slice of variety to a routine which, whilst hugely enjoyable, needed a little bit of dusting down.
A cloud-loaded sky greeted me as I pulled into the neat little car park at Wedder Leap, a stone’s throw from the slow-flowing River Coquet. Wisps of breeze-blown thistledown brushed past patches of roadside willow herb and a heron flew silently downstream. Summer was certainly clinging on by its finger nails.
It had been many years since I had last ventured into the Cheviot Hills on my mountain bike and whilst I felt primed for what was essentially a relatively short ride there was, I knew, a fair bit of climbing involved, in fact some 2,000 feet in total. So, I was off at a cautious pace, wind in my face and the cool air slipping through the vents in my helmet. Sheep littered the valley road as the farms glided past: Barrowburn, Windyhaugh, Carshope, Carlcroft and Blindburn. Then came the 1955-constructed Buckham’s Bridge, beam and concrete with metal railings, functional rather than picturesque.
Two more farms to come and immediately the road began to climb, almost imperceptibly. Steep heather-clad slopes slid down to the River Coquet, now on my right, as the two storey farmhouse of Fulhope appeared ahead. In the distance I could see the thin tarmac thread of the valley road lumbering uphill and then, once through a sharp bend, disappearing out of sight. It looked ominously testing and so it was, my lungs stretched to their limit, my legs in overdrive.
A slight respite and then onto Makendon, the last dwelling in Coquetdale, now used by the MoD, and another muscle-testing ascent. I peddled painfully uphill until, and with much relief, I reached the highest point of the road, some 420 metres above sea level. Ahead, in the middle distance, I could see the rough track to Chew Green, a site once described as, “a tribute to the determination and endurance of the Roman conquest”. I was almost half way through my trip.
Finally I reached the outer edge of the extensive earthworks of this former Roman military complex, far from any habitation and still retaining the feel of an outpost of civilization. I wondered what secrets still lay hidden beneath the lush green turf of this remote spot and pondered on how it might have been for the many troops garrisoned here all those years ago. I took a few photographs to record my two-wheeled visit and then started back down the valley.
Now I had the wind at my back and despite a couple of solid climbs the general direction was downhill. The adrenalin rushed through my veins as I sped along the sinuous road as fast as my legs would take me, past farms earlier visited at what now seemed like a snail’s pace. I saw little of the surrounding countryside as I hurtled back towards Wedder Leap, contented in the knowledge that this thrilling end to my short trip through Upper Coquetdale had indeed been a welcome change, if not perhaps much of a rest.
by Geoff Holland © 2014
Geoff Holland is the author of four books of self-guided walks, ‘The Cheviot Hills’, ‘Walks from Wooler’, ‘The Hills of Upper Coquetdale’ and ‘Walks on the Wild Side The Cheviot Hills’ , is a regular contributor to ‘TGO (The Great Outdoors)’, ‘Country Walking’ and ‘The Northumbrian’ magazines and is the operator of the highly acclaimed website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His books are available online from www.trailguides.co.uk or from all good bookshops and he can be heard reading a selection of his poems on www.listenupnorth.com. He has lived in Monkseaton for almost 40 years.