Tents and trails in the northern wilderness

Expedition Wales
July 5, 2015
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July 19, 2015

Northumberland is one of England's largest counties. You can travel for well over an hour from the border of Scotland to it's southern tip, and that's on twisty roads with no traffic. For the last 6 years Northumbria TRF have hosted a camping weekend, the perfect way for members to explore this trail riding wilderness. This year the event was busier than ever. Northumbria TRF members Greg Villalobos and Richard Purdie were on hand to catch the action.



When I joined the TRF, one of the first things I did was sign up to the Yorkshire Camping Weekend. I didn't really know anybody, I had a bike that had less than 10 hours on it - all of them my hours, and I definitely didn't know where to ride.

Today, that same bike has 249 hours on it (a handy running tally of my total trail riding experience), I know a few good days out by memory and my social circle of friends has exponentially increased. It's fair to say that this can be traced back to my decision to join the TRF and take part in that camping weekend.

So, it's no surprise that this year I was particularly enthusiastic about the Northumbria Camping Weekend, the yearly event hosted by my regional group. Billed as 'Two days riding in England's last wilderness', this was the 6th or 7th time the event had been hosted by Neil Pattison, one of our clubs long standing members who happens to own a field in Northumberland.

Anyone who has hosted an organised event will tell you just how much work goes in behind the scenes, from the planning, sorting ride leaders, making sure the location is prepared, insurance etc, etc. My sleeves were rolled up and ready to get stuck in, but as luck would have it Georgia my wife decided to go into labour a couple of weeks before hand. I was out of the game… BUT I did manage to duck out of nappy changing duties and put in an appearance for the BBQ and ride on Sunday.

The camping weekend is a fairly laid back affair, we know why people come, it's to ride some of the best trails in the country.

Northerners have a well earned reputation for being 'a bit rough around the edges' so there's a distinct lack of wigwams, hot tubs or anything approaching glamping.

As the sun beat down on Friday, the field filled up to bursting point, more tents and caravans than the event had seen in many years. The word had got out that this was the place to be. By all accounts the vibe was good and the beer flowed well into the summers evening, just the kind of preparation you need for a hard days trail riding the next day.



I've lead a few runs at the camping weekend over the past few years but this time I agreed to act as the tail end for Joe, one of the newer members who'd kindly agreed to lead. He was mixing two routes, one I'd shown him, one I hadn't and was aiming for Alnwick, getting on for Scotland, nothing like a mission!

There were seven in the group with various abilities and despite the forecast it wasn't raining which was a relief. We headed North. The lanes were bone dry and hard which made going comparatively quick and perhaps slightly less interesting than it can be but better than rain!

The river crossings added quite some interest although and were a challenge for those not used to filling their boots with water. To the locals, the levels were low and the crossings were routine, others were less convinced but everyone made it through.

We had a quick morning coffee stop in Rothbury (and stocked up for lunch) a little ahead of schedule, followed by some forest tracks and the first fuel stop. The objective was now to visit the seaside but the next set of lanes ate quite a bit more time. It wasn't helped when a herd of cows jumped a wall into a crop field. It took a couple of attempts but we did get them back in the right field eventually. At the back of the group, we did have a couple of people not stop on junctions and also close gates without the whole group passing through but we managed to keep things together. We also had one bike fall from a sidestand and snap a gear lever however he had a spare so all was quickly well.

Our leader decided to fall off in the middle of a field for no good reason around this time and we took it as a sign to have lunch. It was time for the second fuel stop of the day in Alnwick and two of the group decided to head back due to a slipping clutch. We also found a lost rider from another group who joined us. After a few more lanes we eventually made it to the seaside after having a conversation with an off duty policeman who didn't understand road signs!

Homeward bound, the group voted to leave some of the more interesting river crossings and head for warm clothes and BBQs. We did ride some of the more challenging/scenic routes though just to keep things varied and interesting. Sadly it was getting cold and rainy at this point. There was admittedly more roadwork in that route than would have been ideal, something to fix for next time. We were the last group back to the field but with everyone accounted for and seemed to have enjoyed themselves.



Having accomplished new dad duties for the weekend, I pitched up Saturday afternoon with a freshly made industrial BBQ, just in time for the sun to pack up and let the rain take over. A little bit of accelerant got things going as the BBQ was fired up ready for the first riders to return to camp. It didn't take long for the field to fill with muddy, tired bikes and riders, full of tales of river crossings, mechanical 'events' and epic miles, especially for those that headed north to the Scottish borders. It was clear that for those who had not ventured this way before, the riding had been a bit of an experience, but everyone made it home safe and sound. The BBQ and Neil's furnace kept off the cold and drizzle well into the evening.

My KTM 450 had been parked up for a bout six weeks due to the arrival of my daughter Juniper, so the fact that Sunday started wetter than Saturday had finished really didn't dent my enthusiasm. Not so for some of the rest of the riders as I rode into Neil's field to see a few too many bikes already loaded up on trailers ready for the off. A real shame as by mid morning we were back to fine dry skies again. Oh well I guess it made the drive back south pleasant.

Seven hardy souls headed out for a shortish run up to Bellingham, one of three classic days out in the area. Davy Myers took lead, I swept up, and in between us rode Andy, Russel, Shaun, Chris and Martin. Our route took us through farmland just north of Hexham, and on up in the direction of Kielder, the massive forest plantation in the North Tyne Valley.

The going was wet and slippy and it didn't take long for Shaun to come unstuck on his massive KTM 990 in a field without a single obstacle other than grass. I took advantage of the short pause whilst he heaved the beast upright to give Andy's 250 a spin. Now there's the bike I should have put a deposit on three years ago…

As a 'hangover' day, the ride was spot on. A leisurely lunch in Bellingham to refocus and just enough challenging lanes to bring us back. First up, The Ash. A river crossing that has become deeper and deeper over the years, partly due to the strength of water that flows through it, and partly some suspect due to a little mischief on the landowners part. Either way, it was deep, too deep to charge through blindly.


There's a reason I never bother with waterproof trousers as inevitably I will find myself knee deep in water at some point. On this day it was a foot or so higher than my knees as I volunteered to wade it first. I may not be the tallest trail rider in the world (possibly the shortest?) but seeing me exit with a wet crotch was enough to convince Andy to dismount and push through. To politely paraphrase Andy's opinion, "I hate river crossings".

And so it was with water filled boots that we closed our circle home via the infamous Simonburn Common. A sensitive right of way that starts at Wark forest and makes its way up over muddy moorland. There have been times in the last few years that the TRF has operated a voluntary restraint on the lane during winter where it is too easy for the track to get churned up, particularly by 4x4s. Today, in the middle of summer and with the adjoining forest felled and wind wiping across the moors, the route was as dry as it has been for a long, long time. Dry enough for a 990 to get over, albeit with a little bit of muscling by it's rider. In fact, the only casualty was yours truly as I tried to cut across a rut to help Chris. Cut across a rut, yes that fatal mistake that saw me almost launched head over handlebars. It's not the first time and it won't be the last. My bar protectors took the brunt of it and having failed to pack a mash hammer it came down to Davy and massive rock to get them back into shape. Caveman style.

Safely over one of the best lanes in Northumberland, the group cruised back to the finish line as I peeled off and headed home. The camping weekend had lived up to my expectations yet again, I get real enjoyment out of riding with new people, making new friends and embracing the idea of fellowship that sees people you have only just met wade into rivers and bogs to help get you moving. There's few other pursuits that enjoy the same sense of camaraderie. And in England's last wilderness there really is no one else who is going to come and help.

Good news. You don't have to wait till next year for the next Northumbria TRF Camping Weekend. This 2nd & 3rd October sees The Hadrian Adventure Weekend hosted at Herding Hill Farm, a luxury campsite and bunkhouse in Haltwhistle. For more information or to book you place click here.

The Hadrian Adventure Weekend

The Hadrian Adventure Weekend