The temptation when you’re riding in this part of the world is to convince yourself that every ditch, divot, mound and ridge is historically significant, a remnant of a long lost empire, and that I’m tracing the footsteps of a former Roman centurion or legionary who once looked upon this very landscape admiringly 1900 years ago as I do now.
But it’s clearly more likely that I’m sitting looking at a long forgotten manure pile which has grassed over – the only way to be sure being to dig down and find out; but there’s no way I’m doing that on this quick leg stretch this evening.
I’m staying a mile or so south of Hadrian’s Wall, and brought the big bike anticipating some evening exploration – taking in some proper tracks and big history that you can touch while you pretend to be stationed on the Wall long before You-Know-Nothing-Jon-Snow donned his bearskin and northern accent.
But I’m in what appears to be a bridleway desert, with the closest track to the wall coming to abrupt halt a few hundred yards along its length.
Maybe they put it there so riders could take a photo of Kevin Costner’s tree before pootling back to the car.
So tonight’s ride takes me on the quiet lanes and byways further south, overlooking the pretty, meandering valley carved out by the confusingly named River South Tyne.
The owner of the farm at which we’re staying kindly recommended the route with the caution that it’s “a bit rough and up and downy”, but on discovering the rough stuff was a slighty bumpy farm track I gave up on the promise of any tech and settled in to spin the legs and enjoy the views.
It’s only in taking time to enjoy a ride do you notice things. It might be wildlife (tonight: a hare, friendly chaffinches, skylarks), but in taking the time, you have the opportunity to get lost in it. And not just in the time getting away from you as you while a few moments away taking in the view; you can get lost in the snapshot of time held in the landscape itself.
The obvious things leap out; the deep trench cut by the Romans as a defensive measure behind the wall – the Vallum – is obvious as you travel here, and of course the wall itself appears with sudden grandeur as you turn a corner or pass a copse of trees.
Less instant to the naked eye is the evidence of medieval farming in the undulating ridge and furrows showing clearly with the setting sun. Later, buildings such as Norman churches and chapels evoke the signature of much later occupation of these isles.
But it’s something more personal that takes me back in time. And it’s something which evokes a pleasant memory. The dial is set to more recent times and the memory goes to the late 80s. A skylark’s chattering call transports me back to a footpath close to my grandparents’ house near Rotherham where me and my brother are trotting ahead of my grandad as we walk to the nearby reservoir. Forever, the skylark call will take me back to that moment, and while the ditches, divots, mounds and walls are impressive, having a ride like tonight’s where I’ve had the opportunity to get lost in time in the late 1980s – albeit briefly – is far, far more evocative of a past age. And no information panel will ever explain just how much that means.
While you’re here…
You might have noticed that some parts are a little hard to come by just recently. Clearly the impact of the pandemic is trickling down to the industry – but not all parts of the industry are on hold right now. As lockdown lifts, there’s a significant part of the mountain biking economy desperate to have your custom – and it’s one of the best investments you can make to improve your riding.
Mountain bike coaching can make a huge difference to your riding and is regularly cited as one of the best improvements you can make. But over the last year, social distancing has meant that coaches haven’t been able to do their job and so now they are keen to help you improve your skills, no matter what kind of riding you do.
Talking to a friend who coaches, they’re ready and waiting for your booking – so look into it. It really does make a difference. I had a session with Alliance MTB and at the end of the day I was a different rider. I still apply the skills I learnt that day to my riding now and definitely feel the difference.
But it might not be trail skills; it could be navigation, jumping, basics, endurance…you name it, there’s a coach out there to help you.
So don’t hesitate – get a bunch of mates together and book a session. It’s brilliant fun and you’ll be a better rider.
If you’re a coach, please jump on this thread and let me know! If you send your name, contact details and brief bio to firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll put a page on the website to help you get back up to speed.