Beyond Alston

I set off, with my daughter, to visit my friend Patrick who lives beyond Alston. I have turned onto the A1 heading north and notice that the traffic in the southern carriageway is heavy. Traffic news on the radio mentions that a lorry carrying assorted nuts and bolts has overturned a few miles south and that part of the road would be blocked for quite some time to come. While I feel empathically sorry for the drivers across the divide, I have to say I feel a sense of relief that we have not been plagued by a slow start. The turning to Hexham looms and I veer off to the left. Ten minutes have passed and already we are leaving behind all signs of habitation. Occasionally we skirt a Northumberland market town, such as Corbridge. Once past Hexham I take a sharp left into a minor road that winds up and down the hillside. The hairpin bends are arranged spectacularly for our entertainment.

Imperceptibly we have been drawn into a deep, engulfing wood. Through the windscreen I see the tarmac stretching ahead, framed on both sides by overhanging trees. Branches entwine  to form a womblike tunnel (thank you Dr Freud) as we are sucked inexorably into a primordial terrain. The colours of the leaves are turning to autumnal gold; another week will bring out the reds, too. Pheasants scurry across the road from time to time. The frequent signs of roadkill suggests that many do not make it to the other side.

More and more moor

More and more moor

I drive up the phenomenally steep central high street at Alston and take the lane to the village-beyond-nowhere, past which my friend lives. The driving becomes more and more demanding as we move through each stage of the journey, moving deeper and deeper into remoteness. Finally, we arrive at the nearest village and head off up into what can only be described as nothingness.

When I first visited him, the house looked more like a barn than a house. Here is an example of the sort of structure I have in mind. This barn can be seen from his sitting room window just beyond a drystone wall which vaguely marks the perimiter of his property.



Decades of hard work has transformed his house to what it is today. I walk right in and call out to him. We settle in his sitting room where he has lit a fire; it feels so welcoming and takes the chill off the room.

"Come in" she said "I'll give you ~ shelter from the storm"

"Come in" she said "I'll give you ~ shelter from the storm"

 AgaHe makes us tea and coffee and we go through to the kitchen to drink it. This room is dominated by a rather splendid 1950s Aga. I find myself standing close to it, warming my bum: these stoves are wonderful inventions.


We eat a simple lunch with fresh baguette rolls, Greek salad, and a selection of cheeses. I notice that one of the cats has slunk off to the moor to get a snack. They never have to buy cat food here. Although the cats are pets, I believe their function is partly to keep out the mice and rats. Easygoing chat flows. Afterwards, I play a few covers on the piano he has. It is rather loud and slightly out of tune but that doesn’t really matter. Soon it is time to say farewell, and I drive back again.

We hit the afternoon rush hour as soon as we approach the metropolis known as Newcastle, home to a football team whose black and white shirts have earned them the epithet of barcodes (thank you Coinslot for this illuminating information). By the time we get home, I am ready for another cup of coffee. And now I have to do some stuff. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

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