“I’d never buy a Harley,” the biker declared emphatically
I was surprised at his reaction.
“Why’s that then?” I asked. “I thought they were a good make?”
He looked skywards momentarily.
“The new ones come with a small magnetic dish and string that you trail behind as you ride to pick up all the bits that fall off,” he explained with a wink.
“Ha,” I laughed. “I see.”
The three of us were sat in some late morning sunshine enjoying a long-awaited coffee at the Falstone café. Our waitress had set up bar stools for us to sit on alongside a perfectly positioned wall outside the café. It overlooked the village green and, during the wait for our order, we had got chatting to a leathers clad chap who was making good headway through an egg and bacon butty. He had stopped off for supplies before an afternoon of grass cutting in Hexham after a short 150 mile spin out to Jedburgh. As we waved him off, we wondered if motorcyclists were a good source of income for the valley.
We had parked by Kielder dam and had marched quickly across it to find the Tyne Trail and some shelter from a keen easterly that was ripping the warm heart out of the sunshine. Once amongst trees, the branches buffered the breeze and, with sunlight diamond sparkling on the reborn North Tyne, we strode into Falstone where solar energy and a hot brew saw us all finally relieved that the shorts, suncream and T shirts risk had paid off.
This section of the trail favours lane walking, with a few tracks occasionally thrown in for good measure. These took us alongside the North Tyne, which, if it was a primary school child, would be deemed big for its age. It flows fast and wide here for a juvenile river yet was today, apparently, in little more than meandering mode. Kielder reservoir influences the North Tyne’s flow rate with regular releases from the dam. These are either determined by reservoir water height, abstraction demand downstream or the need to mimic the natural rise and fall of river water levels to maintain the ecosystem along its banks. Anything between 1.32 and 50.3 cumecs (cubic metres per second) can be sent tumbling down the valley when necessary. Watching its low levelled hustling journey eastwards I wondered what in spate would look like.
We found The Hott suspension footbridge after lunch, amidst a dappled woodland glade. Despite suspension cables, wooden handrails, planked footbed and strengthening steel ties along its length, the bridge still moved alarmingly under our camera carrying hands. The nervous smiles mid river returned to more relaxed grins once on solid ground.
Our taxi driver Philippa retrieved us from a nearby village hall that had a delightfully convenient and pretty garden with benches where we could wait. We asked what impact the bikers had on the economy of the area. Trumpet, trombone and tuba whines of the motorcycle orchestra had carried on the breeze throughout our walk and we had pondered the value of their enjoyment to the local community.
“Ah well, they don’t actually stop here that often,” Philippa explained.
“When we moved here a few years ago from Whitley Bay we had to advise our car insurer of the change of address and I expected the premiums to drop seeing as we now lived in such a safe place. It actually nearly doubled because, due to the number of motorcycle accidents here each year, we are deemed as living in an accident blackspot. The air ambulance is a weekly visitor to the valley,” she added.
It wasn’t the answer any of us were expecting. As an ironic and poignant counterpoint to what we are discovering is the North Tyne’s beautiful life affirming vibrancy, I hoped that Leathers Man would never be part of the casualty list.
- The valve house at Kielder. We thought it looked like something suitable for a James Bond film set.
- The North Tyne twinkles near Falstone
- The Stell. A stone sofa sculpture complete with cushions and antimacassars created by Colin Wilbourn in 2006. It was almost comfy!
- The Hott footbridge
- Walking by Scots pines near Donkerley
- The North Tyne flows under The Hott bridge