I'm at Powburn in Northumberland, and the third day of my Northern Tour dawns. Yet again it's warm and sunny. Today, then, I'll undertake a five-mile return tramp high up in the Cheviots, along an old railway line, to one of the most isolated railway junctions there ever was: Riccarton Junction, on the old Waverley Route between Edinburgh and Carlisle. The line was closed in 1969, and traversed very lonely countryside. It might not have been quite as wild and exposed to the elements as the Settle-Carlisle line further south, but winters at Riccarton Junction must have been pretty severe. The little community there existed solely to staff the railway station, and there was nothing else in the spot except the station. There was no road in: everything was brought by rail. Presumably there were daily sightings of mountain sheep and occasionally the hill farmers who owned them, but otherwise contact with the outside world was confined to the train crews and the passengers. And I doubt whether many passengers alighted, then hung around contemplating their bleak surroundings, until they joined the train that would take them on a roundabout journey to Kielder or Bellingham. Riccarton Junction, or what's left of it, is one of the Holy Grails of railway line exploration. Prior research has shown me that on the way I will see a short stretch of relaid line, and, at the station itself, a restored platform face and a small information display in a surviving original brick hut. Nearly everything else was demolished by British Rail forty-odd years ago. So I'm going mainly to enjoy the scenery - and to say afterwards, possibly as my Last Words on my deathbed, that I went there, and my life was therefore not a complete waste of time.
Of course, if the sun disappears and it lashes down with rain, I'll give it a miss and hit the Metro Centre in Newcastle instead!
The journey here was in two stages. The first 160 miles took me to Fineshade, a forest location south-west of Stamford. I got there in three hours and forty five minutes, with one thirty-minute lunch break. So, while in motion, I covered 160 miles in a net time of 195 minutes, which is an average of 49mph. Not too bad with a caravan weighing more than a ton hitched up behind. But on my second leg to Powburn, a further 240 miles, I did better, covering the distance in four hours and fifty-five minutes, with two breaks totalling 50 minutes. That's 240 miles in a net time of 245 minutes, giving an average speed of 59mph while moving. Queen of the Road, or what?
On the first evening (at Fineshade) I had a good stroll around Stamford - what lovely old buildings! - and on the second evening (here at Powburn) I explored the hilly River Beamish valley, catching both places in golden light as the sun went down. The first night's meal was a curry bought from Sainsbury's, embellished with chutney, and some spinach out of the freezer in the caravan. But last night's was a proper roast pork dinner with potatoes, carrot, green beans, gravy, apple sauce and mustard. I normally cook most of my meals in the caravan from scratch, in exactly the same way as I do at home, using fresh (or fresh-then-frozen-at home-for-later-consumption) ingredients. It's fish tonight - sea bass, with potatoes and courgette. Simple peasant fare. You can't go wrong with stuff like that.
Socially the trip has been good so far. I chat to all and sundry of course. For instance, I bumped into a young man in Stamford, who was also shooting the architecture, and we compared cameras and results. But the best encounters so far have been on the Caravan Club sites. It's normal to smile and say hello, but at Fineshade I had a long chat with a lady walking her little dog, and more than one chat with an extremely pleasant couple in a nearby caravan called Pam and Michael, who live near Leicester. They took a shine to me, and helped me hitch up on departure. At Powburn, a succession of passing caravanners, men and women, have had time for a friendly word; and yesterday evening, at dusk, I had a very nice chat with the couple in the adjacent caravan, who are from Edinburgh.
I ask for no more in the way of human contact while away. It does cross my mind that I'm an object of curiosity for more than one reason: the caravan and Fiona both look resplendent; I'm clearly on my own; I'm clearly an older caravanner, who might struggle a bit with the physical side of caravan life. I'm wearing almost no makeup, just lipstick, and I'm relying on my tops and leggings (and the unconcealed bumps and curves) to signal 'potential damsel in distress' to chaps who feel chivalrous, which seems to be most of them. And yet the ladies have been frank and confiding with me in conversation, so I can't be coming across as a Woman of Danger. As ever, I put it all down to developing a good speaking voice. That achievement opens every door.