Left Glasgow cycling at 2pm. Pushed through Hamilton to Larkhall. Tremendous industry. Stupendous activity. Enormously productive county. One sees railways, coalpits, cornfields, forests, meadows and foundries, jostling one another within a mile of landscape. Colliers everywhere in dark jackets and dirty corduroys, tied at knees, cans in pockets, oil lamps in cups.
Industry gradually left behind; dawdles to Lesmahagow and dies away in a wilder country. Climbing road. Wide expanse. Breezy, glorious day of sun and breeze. Made poetry. Took 10 at Lesmahagow. Quiet hamlet with nothing doing at all.
Set out for Abington, 14-and-a-half miles, Douglas halfway. Noble lord's seat somewhere about, imposing gateway, visible to the naked eye, 20 feet high, with expansive triangle before it, presumably for carriages, and interminable carriage drive vanishing through park. Whole district has taken aspect of a public park. Public road like avenue through Kelvingrove but scenery noble and on grander scale than any park I ever saw. Everything clipped and cultivated like private grounds with gardener in attendance. The very hillsides cropped bare and rolling in amiable dignity-like lawns; the grass among the woods beside the road short, free from weeds and uncouth vegetation. Trees of every description majestical by the wayside in innumerable battalions.
Past this into wildest moorland, destitute of aught but heather and peat grass, courting couples and sheep. Couples cycled out several miles, left machines lying on road and sat a few yards up on grass in full view of public. Why this prominence? Is this to satisfy respectability? Is this the maiden's modesty here, her convention of self-protection, that she must not leave the haunts of men to do her courting even round the corner until an understanding is affected?
Soon not a house within miles. Rolling hills looming round the long long road. Here and there belts of woodland, here and there a farm. Why so few? Surely cultivation, if possible at odd intervals, is capable of extension. Suspect most of this dreary district could be put to use by careful handling, either in farming or afforestation.
Found Abington rather swanky and ran on to Crawford which is only a degree so. Pleasant company in lounge to whose converse I listened from depth of armchair without joining in. Four men, two ladies, commonplace people but in good spirits, laughing at mild witticisms. Lounge separated by red curtains from sitting room where party of local bowlers were celebrating match with neighbouring champions. Never realised before the sublimated seriousness which the game is capable of arousing, as reverential a matter as philosophy, theology or golf, especially when elevated to a loftier plane by spiritual stimulant and an emotional atmosphere of beer.
Left at 10 o'clock after breakfast. Chat with two territorials travelling south on motorcycles. A beautiful run through wild scenery to Beattock. Very few people. A few tramps with long overcoats (for sleeping out), bearded brown faces and gingerly gait, brown sackcloth bags containing their belongings slung over their shoulders. Local gypsies by the wayside performing moving toilet and talking a strange tongue, one of them a young girl of striking beauty with dark skin and fine black eyes. She was combing out her long thick wavy black hair and the rags she was dressed in failed to disguise her charm. The caravan was a primitive ancient-looking contrivance, very dirty and dark inside. They had camped beside the turn of a gaily-singing pebbly stream whose music no doubt charmed their slumbers.
A little ragged barefoot boy ran beside me down a hill, holding in his hands a packet of salt and a stick of toffee. I gave him my hand and speeded him on his way a hundred yards and he thanked me through his panting breath as we parted.
Many trains were passing laden with guns, horses and troops who waved khaki-sleeved arms through the windows as they sped by. I am told that over 70 were expected over the next 24 hours. The big guns looked very sinister on the trucks, sometimes veiled with waterproof covering but, for the most part, shamelessly displayed. The horses stared from their waggons pathetically. And as the men did not know where they were going they were in no better case. They threw postcards from the windows as they passed through stations, for people to forward.
I stopped two hours at Lockerbie to lunch at the Bluebell Hotel, then passed on from this empty little town to Ecclefechan where I reverently sought out Carlyle's burying place. It was a very simple red sandstone block between two white ones, enclosed in railings among the graves of local townspeople and peasant folk. 'Humilitate' is inscribed above the names of Thomas and his brother. The graveyard is very peaceful, the serene sunlit hills and dignified trees overwatching it. One could muse upon the man, his greatness, his work and his worth, fitly here.
Moving towards Gretna I soon had a glimpse over the Solway Firth on my right and a bustling breeze to stir my hair, with a view over Liddesdale to my left, level, fertile and green.
I crossed into England, resting to sketch the burn that makes the boundary and dawdled up the long straight road into Carlisle, refreshing myself from time to time with brambles at the wayside. After tea, I strolled over to a socialist club where I was hospitably received and watched a game of skittle pool, conversing with a local town councillor in his shirt-sleeves behind the temperance bar. The last thing I saw at night after I had turned out my light was a band of recruits, 80-strong, marching up the street below my window.
Amusing experience last night. Coming upstairs I noticed maid leaning over the banisters. When she saw me she gave a squawk and scurried. Mistress came out and apologised. Maid had seen a German coming up the stairs. 'They’re seeing Germans all over the place here,' she said.
Hear of great crowds of motor lorries coming from Scotland for war, drivers being taken over by government. Liverpool man says at one time they stretched waiting for use, three miles in streets. He tells me also he heard of wounded coming into Leith. Also he has seen troop ships leaving Liverpool, destination unknown, two every day.
Left for Penrith in blazing sunshine. Hilly road. Delightful scenery. Had a conversation with a young German, ex-waiter from Glasgow, rusticating in remote village here with friend, till war is over.
Had most enjoyable light lunch at Penrith, tomato soup, bread and butter and ginger beer. Cycled on to Pooley Bridge and took steamer to Ullswater to Patterdale. Lovely sail. Set off over Kirkstone Pass for Windermere. Terrific climb, pushing bike several miles up steep winding incline. View glorious but so exhausted by perseverance necessary for progress could hardly enjoy it properly. Passed motor broken down by wayside which helped to cheer me up. Reached top at last. Raised a cheer and rushed for a drink at the inn.
Going down was like wine. Scorched at top speed. Enjoyed scenery now. Marvellous! Unbeatable. On right, high mountains. On left a precipice with peaceful pasture and meadow valley at bottom and steep abrupt mountain rising up out of it. Finest road scenery I have ever seen.
Windermere Lake looked beautiful in calm evening light.
On to Kendal. Pleasant run. Set off after wash in a burn and mild lunch of couple of sandwiches for Kirkby Lonsdale. Miserable run. Heavy series of steep hills that necessitated walking. Evening came down and then night and I had no lamp. Dreary road. Final trial, free wheel began to tremble and bike became at times unmanageable. Fortunately, last four miles were downhill. Scorched in the dark, tyres ripping like mad on the road, wind whipping my face and lungs gulping in air. Exhilarated and inspiring. Reached Kirby Lonsdale just as chimes struck nine.
Took bike round to have free wheel replaced and it was 11.30 before I was ready to start. Had a chat with housemaid who said she was leaving at the end of the month to join a panto company. Had travelled in Scotland in that line before. 'It's a wonder you never saw my name in the papers. Alice Alderson they call me. I get a guinea a week.' I admitted it was a wonder.
Day was very hot but road uninteresting. No particular scenery except near Lancaster. Solaced myself on the moorland road with numerous brambles here and there among the hedges. Lunched at Lancaster. Uninteresting scenery to Blackpool. Most of it practically flat as a table. Something like Holland but without the windmills. Worth seeing in a way though monotonous. Wind kept blowing in my face and surface of road not too good.
Blackpool (40 miles) at 6 o'clock. Extraordinary place. Crowds, all from Lancashire. Huge tower, tapering into sky, built of girders. Gigantic wheel beside it, winding slowly round and round. Barrel organs. Trams. Motor omnibuses. Tradesmen in white jackets standing at doors of shops booming goods. Open air booths full of sweets and 'rock' in bars a foot long and inches thick, pink, yellow and blue. Booths with fruit. Booths with postcards, mineral waters, collar studs, toys. Oyster shops. Five pence ha'penny shops. Auction shops. Hawkers with coloured balloons, newspapers, matches. Carcases driven 'naked' in butchers' lorries.
Enormous piers stretching out to sea. White sailed yachts, with owners in blue jerseys and trousers rolled up from barefeet, inviting crowds to come for a sail. Promenade on the front of great width and apparently miles long, worth seeing from above in the evening when the sea is black and lights are shining in water and blazing on long pavements with couples walking briskly along in gay attire. The Palace (admission 6d), a music hall combined with picture house, waxworks exhibition, monkey house and lions in cages and a dancing hall. The last truly palatial. Gaudy decorations, mirrors and pillars. Large orchestra. Refreshment bars. Beautifully polished floor. Dignified MC. Free and easy conventions. Dancing all night.
It was amazing going round side streets in an evening. Boarding houses galore with tiny front plots in which visitors were sunning themselves on garden seats, papa, mama, big brother and sister and the baby. All the men in striped shirt sleeves, even when posing for the travelling photographer. All the ladies in recumbent and strikingly inelegant attitudes. Everybody apparently thoroughly content and enjoying holiday to the full.
Left about 12 after a walk along esplanade. Sea very hazy and suggestive of heat. Morning crowds perambulating leisurely. Apparently no bathing but there is no beach. Was picked up by a young man a couple of miles outside the town, who accompanied me almost all the way. Most uninteresting scenery. Flat and dull to Preston. After that paved road all the way to Manchester. Some fine buildings in the middle of Preston. Barracks there which were empty. A few fine villas outside Bolton. Otherwise a most dreary prospect of paving stones, brick cottages, mill chimneys and railways for 20 miles. Arrived very tired at Manchester, stabled bike at left luggage office, took a room at Brunswick Hotel, got tea and set out to find A. Falconer at Worsley Road, Winton. Forty minutes or more in tram. Difficulty in finding place; Angus away on holiday. Disappointment. Hospitably received by his landlord and entertained for an hour or two. Back late to hotel.
Awakened at 6am by soldiers marching past with bugle band. They were going to Preston Barracks. Back to bed and slept till 10. Found I have cold in head. Don't know how I got it. Shall hasten out of Manchester (which is a noisy black city and unprepossessing in extreme to individual in my condition) to the green country, Shropshire direction.
Felt bad all forenoon. Messed about wasting time. Had no stomach for cycling. Decided to take train as far as Northwich so had to wait till 3.45. Central station waiting room one of the dingiest spots on earth. Who expects better in Manchester?
Left Northwich 5pm. Enjoyed cycling immediately. Ran along Chester Road to 13 miles from that historic town and struck off to Tarporley where I had tea. Two pleasures: I met two Welshmen and I partook of the best penny custard I ever tasted.
Went on through Banbury (pretty church, quaint houses) to Whitchurch where I spent night. Delightful run in dusk through Cheshire hedges. Level fields on every side, quaint with trees of every shape, poplars rearing their graceful thin maidenly forms above hedge lines; cows browsing evening pastures; bats flittings; gossips chatting at wayside; clumps of foliage of every shape massed over the road as I sped swiftly through the silent scene.
Lamps were lighting as I swung into Whitchurch's narrow streets and after a clean up I strolled in the dark listening to the strange tongue of the inhabitants, watching boys conduct mimic skirmishes, receiving insight into local cookery (Yorkshire ducks alias spicy puddings) and drinking in peaceful country night.
To Shrewsbury. The road turned aside through a jumbled little village with a substantial church that had planted itself right in front of the road so that one had to go round about it. I had to inquire the way several times. Once on the main road I had a pleasant run up and down quiet byways, singing at times till the cows moo-ed in answer, a questionable compliment. I stopped to refresh my throat, strained no doubt by vocal gymnastics, with plentiful sour blackberries from the hedges.
Shrewsbury was full of soldiers of the Cheshire Regiment who were marching and dawdling, running with pots and with kettles or driving motorcycles, swaggering, plodding wearily, lounging and flirting all over the streets. I saw several ancient houses with black beams and whitened walls. One, The Gateway House, dating from 1613 or thereabouts, formed an entrance (there was a huge studded door, flung back) into a cobbled court where stood several more modern dignified Georgian brick houses, with climbing creepers, many windows and clean frontages, delightful to survey.
There was a house wherein Henry VII had lodged before the Battle of Bosworth Field. But how petty became these mediaeval squabbles in this far-off perspective compared with the titanic upheavals of modern Europe, whose echoes and outer ripples were before the eye in even this tiny country township.
The next road was round Wenlock Edge, the outer end of Wenlock Hills, to Ironbridge, a small collection of red brick houses at a river's brink. A hill of remarkable steepness led out of Ironbridge to Madeley, where there was a coal mine. Descending was, of course, more of a pleasure and I was on the way to Bridgnorth soon, enjoying particularly the tremendous poplars by the wayside, which had indeed been a feature of the road from Shrewsbury.
A fortunate hint of a shortcut led me by a back road that missed Bridgnorth to Hoccum Farm and there I settled in for the weekend. In the evening I was taken for a stroll by the two girls of the house and the dog to 'Hoccum Pool' and an early retiral proved welcome to my weary limbs, excusably tremulous after a week's cycling of about 320 miles.
To keep me in memory, I note the inmates of the house, Mr Logan (gey, dour), Mrs Logan (shy, good-hearted, a doormat), Cyril Meredith (a farming pupil, father at farm five miles off in Clavering, boarding school education, Shropshire accent, red-faced, thin, big nose, modest, silent but pleasantly talkative alone, as are they all, curiously enough), Charlie (Irish cousin, tall but lame, shy, silent, probably a screw loose – it was Charlie who spoke of the four Providences of Ireland, meaning Provinces, the butt of the would-be wit of the house, scolded and insulted but neither to be cajoled nor threatened into doing a hand's turn of work, aged 21); Maggie Logan (a big, sonsy farmer's daughter with arms like a man, heavy-footed and loud-voiced, wears glasses, tries to sing occasionally but keeps to two notes, plays piano with elephantine delicacy, has been baulked in life's ambition of becoming an actress so is studying for medicine degree in Glasgow and, having been two months in Queen Margaret's, swanks about 'coll' like a veteran, impudent in the extreme to everybody, especially mother and Charlie, but not to papa who seems to be a Turk for discipline, full of spirits which at present causes effervescence more of conceit than good-humoured fun); Frances Logan (called Frank, tall, good-looking and graceful but is aware of it, sleepy eyes, silent, small pitted mouth, manners to stranger exquisite, to mother, peevish, insolent and insufferable, has no great inclination to talk about anything in particular, seldom reads, a beauty whose charm intimacy dissipates forever).
They were busy making shirts for soldiers and the evidence of industry littered the room all day. Mrs Logan took me into Bridgnorth on Saturday and showed me the church, the castle broken down by Cromwell's cannon, the old town hall, the open market place, the views over the Severn Valley, the sword of the cavalier colonel killed in the churchyard, the curious 'lift' from low town to high town. We made purchases, visited an old Scots couple (retired farmer) and returned in time for early supper and bed.
Talk throughout the weekend was chiefly of the war, news coming in of German advance through Belgium and of impending battle at French frontier in which British troops are to participate.
On Sunday I went to the congregational chapel with Mrs Logan, my first visit to church for about a year. I wrote letters. Mr and Mrs Gray came over from neighbouring farm. We had met them in Bridgnorth on Saturday. Curiously, I had met them at Mrs Wilson's in Sussex two years ago. They had removed to this district. Fine people. Mrs Logan, Mrs Gray and I went for a walk through the fields, passing cut crops lying golden and mellow, awaiting carting to the granary, the rich grassy meadows with their cows and sheep, the tall elm trees whose long shadows fell across the paths, and the silent stagnant pools whereon the moorhens skittered noisily, while rabbits and hares skipped across the path and clumsy partridges rose in convoys at our coming.
The girls went off to their room before eight so I was left alone to finish my letters and to seek repose at an early hour. On Monday morning I strolled into Bridgnorth and in the afternoon, a shower or two of rain having died away, paid a pleasant visit to the Grays' farm, driven in the 'float', a heavy cart for transporting calves etc to market, by Charlie.
I had been getting tired of the atmosphere of the house – especially two things; the girls' bad breeding and unkind manner towards their mother and Charlie, and the ghastly silence at meal times, which was set as an example by the head of the house and religiously copied by the rest of the family. It was too funereal for my volatile holiday spirits. With a bracing of the heart, I contrived to take the plunge of a sudden adieu on Tuesday morning and with extreme joy fled from the farm as soon as breakfast was over. Mrs Logan, with all her shyness, reserve and inability to emotionalise, was kindness itself. The others were too egotistic.
The wind was favourable again. My luck has been phenomenal. With one or two short exceptions it has helped me since I left Glasgow. I got to Kidderminster shortly after 10. There was nothing to see so, pausing only to buy half a pound of yellow plums for a halfpenny, I pushed on to Droitwich, an old-fashioned little place full of those black and white cottages. I made a sketch and I sampled cider – horrid stuff, like vinegar – with regret, and made for Alcester, towards Shakespeare country. Here I dined and rested (in the Royal Oak). There is a delightful church and a general old English air about some parts of the town that made me think of the genial slow stilted and dignified days when Victoria came to be queen, a town with a Dickens scent about it, a town of the past but healthy, undecayed and prospering in its anachronism.
The run to Stratford was delicious through (I think) the Arden country. Worcester orchards everywhere, purple plums to be picked up at the wayside and apples peeking red-cheeked from innumerable green trees. Woods too on all sides with thick full foliage, and level meadows, and black and white oak-beamed cottages, beyond computation.
Noteworthy was the frequency of the bicycle, especially among road labourers. A group working with a steam-roller had half a dozen laid beside them in the grass with their coats thrown over them. And in the evening, aged labourers, rheumaticky, bent, snow-whiskered, pedalled their tricycles ploddingly homewards from the farm.
Stratford-on-Avon was, in a measure, a disappointment. Shakespeare's day has been almost eliminated. The town is modern and bustling with tourist trafficking. Half a dozen of the ancient houses have been preserved but they stand in streets all built up as fresh as a new century can make them. There is no repose, no contemplation. To gain an insight into the poetry by a visit to the scenes of a poet's life is vain. The whole district has changed and though still the church of his burial stands by the beautiful Avon, among its ancient headstones, its noble trees, its placid walk by the banks of the stream, the tout stands at its gate, the toll collector awaits within its porch, trippers chatter in its precincts, motor launches flounce about its riverside; only by athletics of the imagination can a dim vision of a sweet grave calm 17th century be conceived by the devout.
Yes, one can faintly create the figure of that greatest of men, faintly see him pottering about the lazy village, for it could be little more, lounging in the scented lanes, strolling by the river, chatting to his friend who settled only a few doors from him, amused by the schoolboys' clatter of games and singsong of lessons in the grammar school near by where he too had spent youthful years, listening to country gossip and farmyard profundities, careless of fame or loud repute, at peace after strenuous manhood. Then a motorcycle thuds by, boys wail newspaper cries, the vision mockingly departs. One strolls along to see Marie Corelli's house as a consolation.
(Marie Corelli (1855-1924), born Mary Mackay in London, began her career as a musician, before turning to fiction writing. She spent her final years in Stratford-on-Avon, fighting hard for the preservation of the town's 17th-century buildings.)
I had the magnificent honour of seeing her, a little red-faced yellow-haired podgy woman in expensive white, entering her motor. Well a living dog is better than a dead lion (perhaps!).
The road to Warwick was delightful. The town itself was delicious. Everything about it pleasant and suitable, a much more real artistic treat than Stratford. Gateways, narrow streets, ancient houses, placid river, view of castle, winding lanes with houses whose upper storeys overhung the pavement. Very happy here. On through Kenilworth (a modern town, chiefly a residential suburb of Coventry) by delightful highway to Coventry (61 miles), passing 'Peeping Tom' at the entrance to the town.
Spent a pleasant evening strolling through streets of Coventry. They were crowded, for the town is a busy industrial centre, which has grown rapidly of recent years. New houses had not yet jostled out the ancient oak-beamed cottages that lurked up narrow entries and cobbled lanes in the dim lamplight. The hotel I stayed in was an antiquity, my room was a garret, with shaky floors and a view over chimney pots; every chamber was entered by a descending step; the stair climbed steeply upwards precipice fashion, while everything about the house was decayed, the linoleum, the wallpaper, the beds, the tablecloths (especially the tablecloths) and by no means least conspicuously the smell of cooking.
In the morning rain was dripping relentlessly but I set out calmly for Birmingham. My cape protected me and travelling was pleasant. My tyres spurted quietly through the puddles of the soaked road as the rain drizzled silently over the rich green fields and trees around.
Here one passed a big house with its green paddock and broad lawns, there a local builder's, a litter of yellow planks piled together with empty barrels and ladders and trestles. Here a cock crowed cheerily from a farm, or birds chit-chattered from the hedges. Always the tyres spurting in the puddles kept a companionable muttering to compensate for the loneliness. A placid agreeable vegetating journey.
Birmingham a busy but prepossessing city, less dirty than Manchester, with many fine buildings. I took a train here to Leeds (after an 18 mile run) and arrived at 3.15. A young lady from Stoke (her father was an earthenware manufacturer there, she said) made friends with me and I found myself compelled to treat her to tea while she waited for a connection for Hull. I saw her off and set out for Wetherby about 4.20. I saw Leeds in a better light than on my former visit on a walking tour and was impressed very much more favourably than before. Roundhay Park with its lakes and boating seemed a charming spot.
The road to Wetherby soon went by and I passed on to Boroughbridge, a delightful clean old-fashioned Yorkshire market town. I met a young fellow in my lodgings who had been in Rouen district cycle-camping at outbreak of war. He had fled to St Malo with refugees and by good luck escaped to Britain with his friends. He had cycled up from Southampton, doing 100 miles a day. He left for the North after tea.
I strolled around the town with much pleasure in the gloaming and the dark, lighted windows gleaming, shadows passing, footsteps clattering on cobbles. An enticing clean bare old town, with none of the decaying picturesqueness of so much of the south. A town of winter winds and storm swept streets, healthy, independent, sturdy. I sat a while in a little public house back parlour, listening to broad Yorkshire tongues, a great treat. Impossible to reproduce the talk but noticeably there was a vigour and individuality and force about the accents and opinions not readily discovered in the Southern talk. There was humour in it too, dry, hearty fun of Scottish sort, the Southman has weakly ideas of wit. And the faces were jovial and strong, men's faces. And there was no servility. Men met as equals. It was good company.
There was a menagerie in the village – a group of caravans drawn up in three sides of a square with a canopy spread over to form a big tent, in the front an imposing piece of scene painting with an arched entrance, a platform for the band, and a dozen steps, all lit up with arc lamps whose power was generated by a traction engine gay with polished brass and showy decorations.
People were crowding in and the scene was picturesque in the glare that burst out against the black darkness. A shower came down and I hastened away.
This was a big day of mingled pleasure and regret. An early start gave me the joy of the morning sun and breeze on the spreading acres of Yorkshire. The old Roman Road, the Great North Road, rolled almost undeviating over the long miles, the tall telegraph poles merging in distant perspective into the semblance of a huge fence. Long fields stretched in dark or lighter green or vivid yellow stripes between the hedges. Along the wayside flared vivid weed flowers, yellow dandelions, white daisies, purple clover and thistles, scarlet poppies, blue cornflowers, with many others of whose names I am, alas, ignorant.
At intervals, old hostelries, relics of coaching prosperity, faced on the once thronging road, their closed stable buildings and grass grown yards witnessing to the activities of former years. Some bore still the signboards of their trade, others had been transformed to farmhouses without quite losing the appearance of old associations.
Catterick (22 miles) with its wide street, its open spaces before the hotels, its general air of breeziness and elbowroom, looked a typical coaching town, one listened for the post-horns and the clatter of hooves. The old clock chimed the quarters sleepily. Only motors sped through and the inns were deserted.
The run into Darlington (13 miles) was pleasant and the town was prepossessingly clean from that entrance. Hot and blazing was the weather as an August day could be, a sky almost cloudless, a subdued breeze.
The exit had led me through a less pleasant side, a more dirty and grubby aspect of Darlington and the road into Durham was disappointing. Coal mines poured their smoke into the air, now on this side, now on that, spoiling the prospect of the well-farmed countryside. The road was full of steep ascents with little satisfaction in going down their other side. I was tired on entering Durham. Still the cathedral was a compensation. Viewed from every side it was impressive, especially as it rose from the river on a wooded cliff and towered into the sky.
Inside it was extremely simple with Norman pillars of the heaviest type of solidity, some fine glass windows, some beautiful arches, truly one of those poems in architecture that are our most precious heirloom from the past and whose like we too rarely attempt to emulate in these cheap-jack days. Grandeur and grace in stone, how they strike the chord of emotional appreciation! Strange that the effect of music should be achieved by solid masonry! May the traditions of architectural expression be born again in our civilisation so that our aspirations and ideals may be perpetuated even as those of forgotten Normans and Saxons who builded so nobly in the beginning of our history.
After tea I set off for Newcastle. It was a dull road with a vile surface. I was glad to arrive. The bridge over the Tyne had a guard of soldiers and a sentry with fixed bayonet. The city is bristling with soldiers, guarding the Tyne no doubt. Newcastle seems quite a fine city with some worthy buildings and good streets though it is incredibly noisy below my window with newsboys, motor horns, tram bells and general traffic. As my log for the day is 67 miles, I pray for repose.
I was wakened by soldiers marching into the station opposite singing 'It's a long way to Tipperary' in the early morning, but I soon slid back again to bed and slept on till seven. I wasted no time in getting out of the hotel for my back tyre was punctured and I wished to find a repair shop. I was fortunate enough to find one soon. Here I had a long chat with a Northumberland man who had been 10 years in Canada without losing his burr. He told me of his experiences with the construction gang of the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) and his life on ranches and in cities. I must say the burden of his refrain was of the varied examples of food and catering his travels had afforded him. The picturesque seemed less important than the commissariat to him. He had tried to settle down at home but, hankering after the rough life of freedom, was planning to return next spring.
Passing the large park known as the Town Moor, I saw many hundreds of recruits being drilled with great industry and activity. They marched, counter marched, doubled, halted and marched again in more or less awkward squads, while the brazen voices of drill sergeants rang clamorously over the field. It was amusing to see them collapse on the grass at the readiest opportunity and relax their wearied limbs and backs. And it was evident how much training they would need to become fitted for active service against a continental army.
For a time I watched cavalry manoeuvring in more spectacular fashion. To see a troop disappear slowly into the distance on their heterogeneous mounts was distinctly bizarre. They enabled the imagination to grasp the significance of real warfare conditions. They gave the impression of an outpost troop, scouting perhaps. Talking together, they jogged quietly past on grey ponies, on black horses, on roans and chestnuts of all sizes, rising and falling in their saddles and grouped, for a few moments, before going from sight, in a jumbled mass silhouetted in rough outline. Easy to understand the trepidation of the non-combatant seeing the enemies of his country, sinister and dangerous. Stripped of gay and theatrical trappings, equipped in the harsh uniform of modern war, they presented a menacing impression of ruthless force inspiring dread.
I rode to Morpeth very quietly and then had lunch, afterwards taking a climbing road to Alnwick. There were glorious views of moorland scenery, of wide windy stretches, heather grown and wooded, of a distant hazy sea beside which a white lighthouse gleamed in the sun, of uplands that seemed the roof of England.
The great sweep of the moor would rise against the sky like land against the sea, it looked like the edge of the earth, as though to pass over the ridge would be to topple into space, so abrupt was the line. There was no distance, and over the close horizon the gaze fell only on clouds. A wild country of glorious colours. To pass here in autumn glory would be a delight.
Alnwick was entered through a stout stone portal, for the ancient fortifications that protected this adjunct to the castle of Northumberland's duke are well preserved. Several gateways still stand over the entries to the little town and the castle guards behind it, anachronisms now in these days of explosive besieging, but interesting and picturesque.
I got four miles on the way to Wooler when I was punctured and there was nothing for it but to attend to the damage at once. I carried the machine down to a river's brink and stripped off the tyre to an accompaniment of grieved profanity. After difficult searching the hole appeared and I took out my solution tube to mend it. The tube had gone dry. I was helpless. Loud and long arose my recrimination to heaven. Further progress was hopeless. I took the four miles back, rather than the 13 miles forward and, after re-inflating the tube six or eight times, plodded back into Alnwick in a shameful retreat. The misfortune was not serious. I reconciled myself to staying overnight in the pleasant little town, and I spent the evening strolling up and down the lively main street, listening to the strains of a patriotic town band ensconced in the room above the gateway, beneath which I had entered for the first time.
I was up betimes. I breakfasted, took my bicycle from the repairers', packed up and caught a train for Wooler, being unwilling to lose the time spent through my puncture. The journey over the moorland was full of glorious scenery and I did not regret it. Rain was falling as I left Wooler and I cycled for an hour in a downpour, making for Coldstream. I had just passed Flodden Field, that spot of ill-omen for a Scotsman, when I discovered another puncture. But I had scarcely time to feel the distress of the affliction when at a blacksmith's door I sighted in passing a cycle wheel and my presence of mind served me sufficiently to ask in an inspiration if they repaired cycles there. In a trice, my machine was being attended to by a smart and tidy apprentice. After the shortest of delays I was spinning securely off again.
I crossed the Tweed into Scotland with a thrill of joy. I felt at home again! The view here was full of dignity and a grave beauty. Scotland prepares a worthy reception for the traveller, entering her gate. The calm Tweed flows beneath a fine bridge, past trees and fields, the village of Coldstream overhanging the banks.
I cycled to Kelso under a clearing sky and left the rain behind as I sped by the winding Tweed. Now and then a view of some old castle uprose by the wayside reminding of the warring days of early history; with often a pretentious modern mansion neighbouring it across the river, the home probably of the present day heir of the old family, and offering in the contrast of opulent luxury with rugged crudity, a striking lesson in history and change of social conditions.
From Kelso I rode to St Boswells (neglecting Dryburgh Abbey and Abbotsford, both off the main road) to Melrose, where I visited the abbey, a red sandstone ruin much carved and once, no doubt, of considerable dignity. Thence I strove over a steep hill to Galashiels, then through a long pass to Innerleithen and at last to Peebles (60 miles).
The scenery of this run was, perhaps, the most magnificent of the whole fortnight. What countless hills! What glorious fields and valleys! What colour and variety! And what beauty of the gleaming winding Tweed with its reflections and placid calm and peace! It was a fitting termination to a glorious tour and I took the train home, full of a deep satisfaction and content with a well spent holiday, such as I have never had before.
These diaries by Robins Millar first appeared in SR in 2008-09
for a profile of Robins Millar by his daughter-in-law