A Journey into Scotland …Part 13
Once past Caldbeck my plan was to follow the River Caldew into Carlisle. For the first time on the trip I was in a part of the world I had never been to before and the greyness of the day was beginning to threaten rain. The river meanders a fair bit but the road outdoes it. I’d planned going from A to B and started by riding a giant Z. I’d made steady progress all day in what seemed to be mostly uphill. My simple understanding of geography told me that following a river would be mostly downhill all the way to the sea. That’s how rivers work. I’d been looking forward to it. The first sign you see on leaving Caldbeck says 1:8 and the road points upwards. 1 in 8 is old money for around about 12% gradient. That is plenty steep enough. The hill seemed decidedly longer than I expected as well. It passed from green meadows quickly into gorse and broom lined roads and, shortly afterwards, it became open moorland. The summit was worked for, but worth it. Suddenly the world spread out below me all the way to the Solway Firth. I couldn’t see the sea, that was still twenty miles away in the direction I was heading, but you could tell it was there. Something about the quality of light.
The biggest treat was in turning round and looking back. There stood Blencathra and to the right all the splendour of the lakeland peaks. Alfred Wainwright would undoubtedly have described it as “one of the grandest views in lakeland”. He was quite brilliant at describing the wonders of the region for someone who didn’t care much for the full potential of the English lexicon. I’d agree with him. A grand view is a grand view and it was most definitely lakeland. I was no longer in lakeland and it gave me a good feeling to know that I’d crossed my first national park. Now was time to set my sights on the Scottish border.
You ride a hundred yards in that direction and the lake district vanishes. Everything becomes a little bit greener, the rivers flow a little more steadily and the road, finally, suits the tiring limbs of a pedaller well into his second day of his first ever long distance jaunt. I find myself in a rhythm I hadn’t experienced before but with which I was going to become very familiar. I was in no rush. I’d get as far as I got. I just pedalled without pressing and enjoyed the breeze, the fields, the cows, the horses. I knew so little about the place. Jonjo O’Neil trains horses up here somewhere was my sole way of locating the region in the thorn bush of trivia that is the sum of my knowledge. I was as happy to be in Jonjo’s country as I had been to be in Wordsworth’s. Villages marked my passing; Welton, Dalston and soon I’m entering the outskirts of Carlisle.
Carlisle is the only city that I also passed through twenty five years later on my journey towards the ferry ports to Ireland. I don’t want to repeat anything I said in “Day 113: Carlisle”. I was a much younger man back then. I was tired, its was a wet autumn day rather than a bright sunny day in July and I was beginning to think of finding my first camp site of the journey.
We’d visited Carlisle on the one school trip I can recall going on. We weren’t poor but seven children in the family meant that we didn’t get to go on all the educational jaunts. It crossed over into my teaching career. I ran an awful lot of trips in my time as a pedagogue and every one organised so that any child could go on it regardless of income. Every year the PE department would ask me to come skiing or the French department would invite me to cross the channel with them and every year I’d decline. There was no way I was going on a free trip (as a teacher) that I couldn’t have gone on as a pupil. I did go on a trip to Disneyland Paris but that was because a local enterprise zone paid for all the performing arts students. Even we could afford to go on free trips.
So Carlisle had been the destination of my solitary excursion beyond the school gates. Well, that wasn’t the end of the unbounded joy and frivolity. We got to walk along a section of Hadrian’s Wall and visited the remain of Housesteads Fort. I’d absolutely love to visit those places now, but at twelve I was less than impressed. It was a long way on a coach (up along lakeland’s windy roads and over the top of Kirkstone Pass) just to see a few bits of crumbling masonry. If teaching is lighting other people’s lamps without diminishing your own, then there was a collective dousing of the flames on that outing. Someone got off with someone else. Cigarettes were smoked out of bravado and out of sight of the teachers who were busy getting off with each other and smoking cigarettes out of sight of their charges. We filled in some paperwork that asked us questions like: Hadrian’s Wall is made of a) stone, b) wood c) bricks d) concrete. Nobody collected these in and they were later used as missiles to throw at cars through the coach windows.
I revisited the castle. It was getting late in the afternoon and my desire to re-live the delights of that school trip were outweighed by the admission fee. I have nothing but admiration for the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment but at that point with rain clouds coming up the Solway I had little desire to explore their museum.
When the clouds opened it rained mightily. I took refuge in a bus shelter somewhere between Carlisle and the border. I haven’t a clue which road but I know it eventually led me to Gretna. Once it became obvious that the rain had set in I pedalled along in the remote hope of passing a campsite and immediately passed a campsite. The tent went up in no time. I may never have cycled a long way but I’d camped all my adult life. The tent was a good one; lightweight, strong and easy to put up flysheet first. It was only about six o’clock but the only time I came out of that tent in the next twelve hours was to fetch water or to go to the toilet. Inside the primus stove sang out merrily in the porch area and a solitary candle gave me enough light to write a dozen pages of notes (all either lost or missing) and then to read until sleep. The rain continued through the night but I was warm and dry, tired and very very happy.