It's been the last full day of our holiday and, all day, I've been gearing up for a return to London. I did some admin in the youth hostel this morning whilst everyone wafted about around me. I've officially reached the place now where I need a bit of space away from noise. I adore young people, but, after a while, their boundless energy can drain me of mine.
After lunch, we were met by a few old friends of Raily's and we all went off to the place where we'd found the amazing network of natural stepping stones underneath a bridge in a local ravine. It was a brilliant decision. Everyone had a great adventure, inching ever-further along the river, daring each other to jump onto stones which seemed preposterously small, or slippery or were balancing beneath fast-moving water. It was like a lottery. One wrong step and you're on your arse in a pool of water!
The sun came out and shone on the river like a spot light wrapped in a straw gel. The water surging over the stones was brown. So brown, in fact, that the kids called it the Coca-cola river. The sun caught the surface of the water and it suddenly looked as though someone had sprinkled Jersey Milk bottle tops everywhere. A foamy sediment had gathered in some of the slower moving sections of the river and I was instantly reminded of a Coke Float from the Wimpy in 1981!
From the river we headed to Allen Banks, which ought to have been a walk along another river but, due to winter erosion, all the paths had been rerouted into the hills and we didn't get to go anywhere near the river itself which we could hear roaring along in the valley below us. I'm not altogether surprised about the winter erosion thing. When I made 100 Faces back in 2012, we used to drive along the A69 from Newcastle to Carlisle. I remember looking down from the road onto the very river where we were today and thinking how swollen, angry and terrifying it looked. The lack of river walk wasn't a big deal today. We've walked along a lot of rivers on this holiday and I t was great to stroll beneath the dark pines. Rather fortunately, we were under the trees during the one rain storm that briefly came our way.
We picked wild raspberries and then headed back home. One wonders how raspberries end up growing by a river in Northumberland!
This evening Tanya and Paul cooked an early curry for tea which we managed to finish eating by about 7pm. At that point, a little group of us jumped into two cars and sped up to Sycamore Gap, which I think has officially become my favourite place in the North of England with the possible exception of Spurn Point. It had been my plan all week to kidnap Hilary (who'd always missed going there on our previous trips) and take her to he magical place as the sun went down. The heavens were providing us with a glorious treacly light that I felt certain was going to sink into a glorious sunset. I was right.
We walked all the way along the top of the cragg where Hadrian's Wall travels majestically in the direction of Newcastle. The light was beautiful: yellow, then orange, then red. The grasses on the top of the wall were glowing like little flecks of fire.
Sycamore Gap is a thirty-minute walk up and down the ridges, and we arrived there as the sun was about to set. It looked rather stunning against the darkening sky, and I took photos of everyone silhouetted like little Lowry matchstick figures. The sun seemed to go down rather rapidly, and we watched it disappearing behind a hillside from underneath the tree and then again from the top of the hill next door, racing up the steep footpath like maniacs to catch the last red rays for a second time.
As we walked back to the car park, Nathan phoned from Riga in Latvia. It seemed so strange to me that I'd walked down that very path with him less than a week ago, and, whilst for me very little has changed, he's been back to London on a train, taken a plane to Paris and then flown to Latvia! The world we live in gets smaller by the minute, doesn't it?
At the bottom of the cragg, there's an amazing echo. The kids had a fabulous time shouting, and Hilary sang some opera...
Little Tomas and Lily were immensely keen to see bats for the first time and we were utterly blessed with a proper fly by when we arrived at the car park. I swear one bat was looping the loop for us! The kids got very excited. I don't know whether there are more bats about these days. As a child I was absolutely desperate to see a bat and never caught one flapping about.
It was the journey home, however, which got the kids almost hysterical with excitement. We went across the moors and must have done an emergency stop for almost every animal in carnation. I think the end tally was several rabbits, a silly number of hares, two lambs, three pheasants, a weird bird which seemed to be nesting in the middle of the road, a sheep and a hedgehog! We were screaming with laughter by the time we pulled up outside the Youth Hostel. I'm proud to say I didn't hit a single animal.