Our first real trip of 2017 - if you don't count staying at Edinburgh's Mortonhall Camp Site for a visit to Holyrood to see and hear our First Ministers Question Time - was not too far south of the Scottish Border. Bellingham is a lovely traditional Northumberland village sitting on the banks of the River North Tyne and on the edge of Northumberland National Park. This wee town has selection of small shops, a Co-Op, a cafe, restaurant, Chinese Takeaway and a fuel garage. It also has a Heritage Centre, which unfortunately did not open until the 31st March. Another interesting landmark is the 13th century (substantially reconstructed in the early 17th century we are told) Grade-1 listed St Cuthbert's Church that is described as 'almost unique in England' owing to the stone barrel vault roof.
|The Old Station.|
|Town Hall and Library.|
|The War Memorial.|
|Village Bakery has a fine selection of cakes.|
|St Cuthbert's Church with its famous roof structure.|
|Inside this beautiful old church.|
Situated just a twenty minute walk from the village is the Bellingham Camping and Caravan Club Site, which we found to be an excellent base for our seven-day excursion. It borders the Pennine Way and has some long distance cycle routes, it also has a bus stop situated right outside the site gate, a Service 680 bus will take you (when the road is not closed for resurfacing) directly into Hexham. The site is extremely well run, facilities were exceptionally clean and the staff were very friendly and helpful.
First off was a cycle ride to Kielder Dam, which holds back Europe's largest artificial lake that boasts 200,000 million litres of water and a 27-mile shoreline. Our 22 mile round trip took in some stark and desolate countryside showing little evidence of human habitation but no lack of sheep! If you take National Cycle Route 10 it will keep you off the main roads and over some high ground allowing some beautiful views of the surrounding area. The route will take you via the small hamlet of Falstone and from there directly up onto the dam. You can cycle from one side of this enormous structure to the other via a roadway that runs its complete length and leads onto the main road back to Bellingham - a lot of which was downhill - thankfully.
|Arriving at the Kielder Dam.|
|Views around the dam.|
|You can ride right across the dam.|
|View looking down the valley below the dam.|
|Which way to go?|
Next day we took a bus trip into the market town of Hexham for a look around its historic Abbey and surrounds. Normally as I have said you can get the bus from Bellingham directly into Hexham but as they are doing resurfacing and roadwork’s in Wark it means the bus does not go straight through. Northumberland County Council have laid on a free shuttle bus to take you from Bellingham to Wark and then after a short walk through the town catch the normal 680 bus for the remainder of the journey to Hexham's new modern bus station. A short walk from there will take you through the shopping area to the market place and the towns leading historical attraction. The Abbey in its current form dates back to the 12th century with major rebuilding work taking place between 1898 and 1908 when the rebuilt nave was re-consecrated. Also of interest to the visitor is the permanent Exhibition and Visitor Centre that was developed in 2014. A gift shop and a rather nice Cafe are also available but lunch was at Paxton’s Fish and Chip Restaurant in Market Place, highly recommended and value for money. An interesting straight through return bus journey (road reopens at 15:00 hours each day) as it was full of local school children that incidentally gave up their seats to older travellers on the bus.
|Inside Hexham Abbey.|
Our third day out involved a leisurely walk to a waterfall via Hareshaw Linn. This walk involved some local history of the area. Starting the walk at the towns main car park which was the site of an ironworks in the mid 1800's you carry on up over mounds made from the spoil of 70 ovens that supplied coke to the ironworks where 500 men once worked. Passing the old dam you carry on across ground that is made up of spoil from an old quarry that produced stone used for building the miners houses. We were informed that you pass by blocked up entrances to mine workings, but could not find them because of the thick undergrowth. Most of the walk is through ancient 'enchanted' woodland and the path crosses six wooden bridges before you get to the waterfall where you will find a wooden bench where you can rest and enjoy a welcome sandwich or two while admiring the view. You come back the same way into the village car park then it was on to the Carriages Tea Room a refurbished 1950's railway carriage located in the grounds of the Heritage Centre for coffee and some we'll deserved chocolate fudge cake.
|The Hareshaw Linn waterfall.|
|The Carriages Tea Room.|
|A well deserved slice of chocolate fudge cake.|
Northumberland's weather is a little unpredictable with wind and rain not unsurprisingly on the menu for March but it did not spoil our short break. Another bike ride with 23 miles being achieved on our last full day, but to be honest it was a good job we had waterproof clothing with us. Heading out of Bellingham village via the Heritage Centre on National Cycle Route 68 and following the road sign for West Woodburn. On reaching the junction of the A68 turn right head up the hill over the bridge and first left onto a minor road which will take you to Monkridge and the junction with the A696 where you turn left and ride down into Otterburn a wee village situated in the heart of Redesdale and here you are only 16 miles from the Scottish boundary. Like a lot of places situated close to the border it was the site of a major battle in 1388 between the Scottish and English armies and one in which the English got a good pasting. After lunch under the protection of the local bus shelter we set off back via the Otterburn Mill and the B6320. A very steep climb takes you up and across some beautifully bleak moorland and back into Bellingham. Despite the weather it was a cracking ride.
|The lovely Northumberland countryside.|