The North

October 26th

It feels like an age since I last updated this blog but it’s actually less than a week. The miles keep rolling under the tyres and we’ve crossed a border; one country down, another biggie to go. But I’ll start where I left off last time.

We departed from our Malton digs early on Monday morning (wary, now more than ever, about frosty roads!) and headed in the wrong direction down to Howsham Mill; the site of an old waterwheel (c. 1750 I think) that has been restored as a modern micro-hydro power station. Our early start rewarded us with a gorgeous bucolic scene with mist hanging over the mill pond and Finn went out with the drone for a few nice shots to set the scene. By the time Dave Mann arrived to chat about his hydro projects, however, Finn had crashed the drone into a tree at which point it had decided to take a swim. Although the interview went well, and was made easier by Jack King who joined us for this week to help with filming, the highlight of the day was me taking over camera operation while Finn donned a wetsuit and went drone-diving, unfortunately to no avail.

Now even further behind schedule than usual, I (being slower) set off first for our next appointment at Leeming Biogas  before returning after a few miles after being informed I’d set off with the van keys in my pocket. It looked like it would be one of those days. We had a slightly rushed session at Leeming, racing against the setting sun and the end of the working day but it went well and everyone was extremely helpful, as always. A long, cold run on a full charge then delivered me up to Middleton-in-Teesdale where my sister’s hospitality left us all well fed and watered, and a roof over our heads on a horribly windy, autumnal evening.

The morning was little better and after a good breakfast (and with a van full of sandwiches, courtesy of sister Florence) we headed out ‘over the tops’ towards Durham. Biking out over the moors was an experience, I reckon the winds were steady at 30-40mph and gusting a bit too. Headwinds and long climbs left me doing 30mph flat out and I was leaning right over and anticipating gusts just to stay upright! Hard work, especially as we were filming a few bits of it, and very surreal when a sharp right hand bend put me rolling along at 40mph in dead still air! Weird.

Durham university was excellent, their solar car project is at the cutting edge of electric propulsion. To put it in context, their new car weighs no more than the Bullet but can cruise at 50mph on only 1kw! The bike would be using about 12kW to do the same thing. Their entry in the solar challenge in 2019 will see the car attempting to cover 3,000km across the outback on solar power alone! Good luck guys.

From Durham we dived into Newcastle, crossing the Tyne and doing a few pieces to camera before we lost the light and headed up to stop just before our next appointment, at Cragside in the morning. The internet showed absolutely no campsites in the area so we settled on a bunk room in the Newcastle House, Rothbury, who were incredible welcoming and friendly. It was a gorgeous ride up through the warm evening air, and after I escaped the main roads leaving Newcastle I saw only about half a dozen cars in the rest of the ride and arrived only a few minutes after the boys in the van who had taken the faster, but more circuitous route. The bike spent the night by the piano (!) and we had a great evening in a great pub. Good food, good atmosphere; it was just what Jack, Finn and I needed after a long day on the road.

We managed to peel off to bed before it got too late so were in reasonable order when we got up in the morning to save a few quid by cooking egg butties in the van for breakfast. I then wheeled the bike out only to find a puncture! A nail had lodged up into the sidewall and the tip had rubbed it’s way through the tube over the previous evening’s run. Luckily we have two spare inner tubes with us (courtesy of Vintage Tyres), unluckily I nipped the first one while fitting the tyre and so when we set off for Cragside we were an hour late and I was sweaty and tired from fitting the same tyre twice.

Cragside is the former home of Lord Armstrong, a Victorian arms manufacturer who took a personal interest in electricity, leading Cragside to become the world’s first electrically lit house in 1880; the home of renewable electricity! We spent a busy few hours filming around the grounds (perfect for riding shots) with Finn hanging out the back of the van inches in front of my front tyre before doing the ‘real’ Cragside bits about Armstrong and his engineering. Fascinating stuff!

From there we headed for Coldstream, the crossing of the Tweed and Scotland – this project’s very own chargepoint-sparse Heart of Darkness…