The wind made the conservatory groan ominously. Cloud cover was about 7 oktas, wind strength a good Force 6. I felt the same adrenalin anxiety as when going sailing under the same conditions. The breakfast, however, was hot and yummy, a full stomach does wonders to settle the nerves. Full English, with lots of toast, marmalade and coffee. Bob and Barry tucked in too and the chat was all about the forthcoming adventures of the day. They were going to head further East to the Coast, I was looking forward to heading North and the A68.
Despite the wind, the low cloud clung obstinately to the hills of the Moors. The “No Caravan” road to Thirsk was a stiff beam reach, having to lean the bike over just to keep in a straight line; then I hit the A1 and a wall of wind. Wham! It slammed into me, head on, slowing the bike and making me think about my intended route. At least the cloud had cleared and visibility was good, roads were dry.
In places the road is very exposed, in other places there’s respite offered by steep embankments and trees, all too brief these oasis’ of calm were over. Like a tiny calmness in the eye of a storm, or the lee of some shelter on a yacht, there was relative quietness and smoothness in these bubbles of otherworldliness.
A quick pitstop at Scotch Corner then on, on, on up the A1, pushing further North, making headway against the headwind, on, on to the A68. Desperate to get off the A1 with its tedious monotony. A low quality medium speed highway that’s not quite a motorway but not a quality main road. Quality. I mean the tarmac is OK, the signage is fine and there are plenty of fuel stops, but sustenance is thin on the ground. No food for the soul and the road had been engineered to be soulless. No romance, no thrill, no excitement, no swooping curves or undulations that give a road a pulse. It’s a dead road, all life extinguished by 18 wheelers and dull, characterless Eurobox cars.
Unlike the A68 which finally hoves into view. As soon as I took the slip road the feel, rhythm and atmosphere changed. I started to relax, my mind started to expand outwards somehow freed from the constraints of the A1; it’s a railroad, a 200 mile long prison where all you can think about are the tossers in BMWs, the caravans and motorhomes, the trucks.
The A68 olive branch leaves the A1 before the urban sprawl of Newcastle, carving an acrobatic route to Edinburgh. This road is a quality road, a 90 mile roller coaster of curves and corners, peaks and troughs, blind summits which could oh so easily be a launch pad for two wheeled flight; dips where the suspension bottoms out, sharp left and right hairpins where the road drops so you feel like a Spitfire pilot peeling off “Red Squadron follow me…Tally Ho!”
Down, down, down I descend, springs and hydraulics soaking up the bumps, then I'm climbing again, high and higher, the greens, purples, mauves, pinks and browns of the hills, dales and vales become the blues, whites, greys of the skies. There is no tarmac, no road, no bike, no me. There just is.
Dry roads. Sun spreading its penetrating warmth, forcing a stop to de-layer. It’s amazing the difference this makes. The sensations of cool, warm, dry, damp air breathes new life into me. A refreshing sensation adding to the multi-sensory, multi-coloured world. There’s a peaty-ferny tang to the air, which brings back memories of childhood holidays in the Lake District.
I stop briefly for coffee and scones in Jedburgh, then get a wriggle on.
A wind farm in the distance. These battleship grey, gracefully-ugly War-of-the-World troops of the Green, ranked so prim, proper and regimented with military precision flail their arms, signalling to each other and watch the bespoiled landscape with their Cyclops eyes. One is still, not moving, as if dead, killed, murdered. They are breeding, multiplying, taking over more and more of what should be free, natural, left alone just to be. Through a dip, between two heather-covered mounds, a rotating tripod stares indignantly; as I leave this army of metallic Triffids behind, I feel like I’ve escaped.
The final few miles, glorious as they are brief, wanting them never to end but knowing they will, increases the enjoyment, the appreciation of this wonderful gift of a road. Then I’m in Edinburgh, mixing it with the traffic; four wheels, two wheels, two feet, traffic lights. Stop. Start. Red. Amber. Green. Cobbles. Park up at Waverley and pass the time of day with a local, talking bikes, him so large he’s confined to an electric buggy.
I meet David Petherick, the Digital Biographer, pretty much at the appointed time of 3pm. I get a parking ticket. I find the hostel and park up in the CCTV’d multi-story across the road. Dinner that evening is in an Italian restaurant where I enjoy the company of a Dutch couple. I always find the Dutch to be very likable and they almost convince me that we should have the Euro. Maybe we will; it really doesn’t matter. Not whilst we have quality roads anyway.
Later, back at the hostel, I fell into conversation with some Americans. The family elder, the patriarch, had served in World War 2. Lying about his age, he joined up at 15 and celebrated his 16th birthday on the Rock of Gibralter, going on to see action in Italy. It’s always a humbling experience meeting people like Norman, people to whom we owe so much. Thank you.