“Music is playing inside my head
Over and over again
My friend, there’s no end
to the music…” (1)
And so it was, as 2016 was being brought to a close, with the launch of a new supergroup. (See previous article entitled “My back pages” ) Specialized was joined by two new partners courtesy of the cycles acquired by our daughter Beth and her partner Nic. Beth’s blue Canyon and Nic’s red and black Ribble lined up with my Specialized on December 28th to form a mini pelaton bound for Dunsdale Crags at the head of the College valley. With “follow me, follow you” (2) melodiously filling my mind and setting us on our way I took the lead and headed off for what was to be a memorable ride. With the College burn below and Newton Tors towering up wards to our left, the gradual ascent to the Crags was marked by a Christmas cake snack. The fast return downhill run, exhilarating for the new group members, was not without incident. Ribble at the head of the pelaton went down with a puncture near the memorial to the second world war airmen who lost their lives on the nearby Cheviot hills. With three heads better than one a new tube was inserted and we were back on track to complete the round trip of twenty eight miles.
The new year brought a perfect winter’s day on January 5th, blue sky, cold with iced puddles and frosted earth just perfect for an off road adventure on Hardrock. After the ten mile road run to Kirkton station via Kalemouth, I joined the old disused Kelso to Jedburgh railway track. A refrain from 1971,“we are riding on a railroad, singing someone else’s song”, (3) filtered into my mind as I hauled the bike up the embankment to begin the ride through the ‘holloways’ of re-wilded track to Roxburgh viaduct. Revitalised with the now customary christmas cake atop the viaduct, I looked down on the river Teviot below, glittering in the afternoon sun. The viaduct itself is an impressive construction. Built in 1850, designed by John Miller, the viaduct is long with thirteen arches and, unusually, an iron footbridge above the water level. It was built to connect the Edinburgh Waverley line running through St Boswells with Kelso. Nearby there is a junction with the branch line which ran to Jedburgh. I set off again and rode to Kelso . There I returned home via Lempitlaw, an overall trip of twenty two miles.
“Splendid isolation”, as lauded by master lyricist Warren Zevon,(4) is ones profound experience on off road old rail track rides. And so it proved again on January 18th when I set off on a brand new route; the stretch from Kirkton station near Roxburgh to Jedburgh. Beyond Nisbet I cycled beside a steel coloured river Teviot, gooseanders floating mid water, the only bird life on show. The on – road return home was via Cessford castle where I had hoped to spot kestrels in the ruins much like the Hines brothers had in the build up to their story and film, Kes. (see article entitled “Watching the wheels”). No luck. It was all quiet so I set off home on the last leg of this thirty mile run.
There was one remaining local “ride on a railroad”, the stretch on the Cornhill to Kelso line from East Learmouth to Kelso via Sprouston. In the past Hardrock had got as far as Sunilaws station where the track had seemed to disappear. January 24th was to be the day to explore it further, on foot if required. It didn’t work out that way as beyond Sunilaws vegetation, fences and brambles had engulfed the old track bed. On then by road to Sprouston where at the old station I was able to rejoin the track and make it to Kelso. As I turned onto the track a local dog walker told me that the track was passable back to Carham station; an unexpected run for the future. The return home via Windy walls and Lempitlaw made it a round trip of twenty five miles. It had been a ride with some notable bird experiences on the way. First at West Learmouth, just beyond the viaduct, there had been a big gaggle of greylag geese grazing and honking from a nearby field. Similarly, later on, over at Reddon there were more wildfowl doing the same; about thirty whooper swans in all their glory. Then, finally, at Lempitlaw just as the sun was setting a massive flock of fieldfares took off from the fields and hedges and drifted away down into the Tweed valley.
With the recent four rides all accomplished and a hundred and five miles covered the next musical memory marked a bit of a come down: Warren Zevon’s “My Ride’s here”.(5) In fact it was triggered, because in my case, the riding was about to come to a halt. Why? Well though cycling does not pose a problem, an arthritic left hip makes walking difficult, so difficult in fact that it is to be replaced with a titanium one. With luck, to further borrow from the Zevon lyric, the “trail” won’t be too long, and the “river” not too wide before rehab is complete and I am back on the saddle. With all this on the near horizon, there was time for one further excursion, a visit to a birdwatching mecca, the Solway firth. So on February 1st Barbara and I drove the eighty eight miles down to the Caerlaverock Wetland Centre in Dumfriesshire.
The centre is one of several established around the country by Sir Peter Scott. Caerlaverock is an internationally important habitat as it is the winter home for large flocks of barnacle geese and whooper swans. Both were there in plenty for our visit along with parties of wigeon and teal. From the observation hides overlooking the magnificent vastness of the firth we watched huge flocks of dunlin take to the air in swirling smoke like whisps of motion. Mid afternoon brought sunshine so the colourful winter plumage of all the wildfowl was on full show amidst the sparkling waters of the lagoons and marsh. Quite a day and indeed one which prompted recollections of other wetland centres. As a boy I had adopted a teal at Scott’s Slimbridge reserve on the Severn estuary. Seeing so many today kind of brought the boyhood enthusiasm full circle. Years later when working with children from the fen land town of Wisbech I thought it a good idea to open their eyes to the natural world in the same way. Hence a trip to the Peakirk centre near Peterborough was arranged. It proved to be an eventful day. One of the features of such centres are feeding areas where birds are encouraged to come close so visitors can appreciate their beauty. A good idea but not without temptation for the children I was working with. The close proximity of the wildfowl encouraged some of the lads to chase and try and catch them. The manic quacking saw us beat a hasty retreat to the open spaces of nearby Barnack hollows thankfully with no ducks on board.
I bring this post or article to an end with a pointer to the Gallery section on the web site. Creative efforts are on display which have used materials collected over the years, the elm boards saved by my father and stamps from my mother’s collection.
The songs which filtered into my mind over the past month are detailed below. They emerged from a large archive of albums, CD’s and cassette tapes which was amassed over many years. This was in large part due to the efforts of my brother Nick who as an ultra collector and ‘completist’ single handedly kept the Royal Mail and TDK cassette production alive by posting copies of his acquisitions to me. Looking back, one year in particular had a big influence, 1971. The “riding on a railroad” lyric was from the James Taylor album entitled “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon”. It reached number two in the American album charts second only to Taylor’s great collaborator, Carole King, and her masterpiece, ‘Tapestry.’ Two great albums then from a year which for David Hepworth was the most musically creative ever. Again courtesy of brother Nick, I have Hepworth’s book (6) to relive the whole story while I get back on my feet and bikes.
1. “Music”. track from album of the same name, 1971, by Carole King
2. “Follow me follow you”. A track from the album “And then there were three”, 1977, by Genesis.
3. “Riding on a railroad”. A track from the album “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon”,1971, by James Taylor.
4. “Splendid isolation”. A track from the album “Transverse City,” 1989 and also “Learning to flinch,” 1993 by Warren Zevon.
5. “My ride’s here”.A track from the 2002 album of the same name by Warren Zevon.
6. 1971, Never a dull moment by David Hepworth. Bantam. 2016