I’m finding that muscle memory (in spite of it being more than more than 40 years since I drove in England) is serving me well for driving here. No problems with driving on the left side of the road and handling roundabouts and even the super narrow country lanes aren’t too much of a problem because I cut my eye teeth on such roads when I first learned to drive (down in Cornwall) so it’s actually very enjoyable. Even the stick shift on the left-hand side seems to have come back quite naturally to me, but I have to admit to having been quite a bit nervous about it all to begin with!
Today we’re driving from Lockerbie through open range again, spruce forests and rollers, rollers, rollers (lucky Bruce!). There are sheep and huge cattle everywhere – often in the centre of the road – and tiny winding, twisting roads. Houses are few and far between and everywhere takes longer to get to than you’d think. Well, that’s because we’re choosing to stay off main roads. If we were to hit the motorways it would be nothing, but we both love the quiet little hamlets that we’re going through with hardly any traffic – just cyclists, horses, motorbikes and the occasional car going at high speed. Tons of motorbikes - I guess because it’s the weekend and the sun has come out finally.
We had breakfast at Langholm before Bruce hit the road at a little place called Pelosi’s Corner Cafe – where everyone knows everyone and everything comes with chips. Egg, chips and beans, sausage, chips and beans, bacon, egg and chips............ etc. After Bruce got under way my next stop was an old market town called Longton which was stuffed full of mountain bikers and motor bikers. It was really busy and I didn’t stop long.
I was keen to get under way because we were close to Hadrian’s Wall and there were a number of locations I wanted to check out. I’ve just finished reading two historical novels about Britons during Roman times ('Arthur Britannicus' by Paul Bannister being one) so a lot of the history is fresh in my head. A good road parallels the wall for much of its distance in the middle of England and my first stop was at the Roman Army Museum – fascinating! Great movies and re-enactments and artifacts. Then on to the Visitor Information Centre at ‘Once Brewed’ (yes, that’s a place!) where I was to meet Bruce. I popped down to the current excavation of Roman artifacts at Vinlandia, then I walked all the way to the top of the hill nearby where there was a view of the Wall that is considered “one of the best”. On this stretch of road, too, is the turnoff to go down to the village of Haltwhistle, which is labeled as ‘The Centre of Britain’. Never been there before, either.......
However, my plans were pulled up short because just after I came back down from the viewpoint I got a phone call from Bruce saying “I’m lost!” From what he told me I didn’t think it would be too difficult to find him, so I backtracked to Gilsland where I thought we’d connect, because he had mentioned Gilsland, but when I got there it turned out there is no cell phone signal so we were unable to communicate. I drove around in a few little circles and asked a couple of local men if they had seen him – they thought it was hilarious that I’d lost my cyclist and roared with laughter. However, just as I was departing the area, I head Bruce’s very loud whistle behind me, fortunately, so I backed up and picked him up.
He’d had a very hard day – he said he’d done at least “half a dozen Brickyards” (that’s the very steep hill on Gabriola) and he had lots more to do, so we called it quits. He put in a pretty good day, though, so we headed for a pub: the ‘Twice Brewed’, pretty close to the area of 'Once Brewed' where we had soup and a drink, then left. We had to backtrack a bit along the road we’d come in on but, about 6 miles down the road he turned to me and asked if I had paid at the pub. No, sez I, didn’t you? No – sez he, so back we went again. That particular stretch of road was getting to be pretty old hat to me by this point but the young fellow at the pub was happy to see us though.........
However, it was getting later in the day by then, and I was concerned about finding a place to stay in that we are loosely following the M6 Motorway, although we are on side roads, but I figured travellers from the M6 would be looking for places to stay off the highway in the same areas that we were. We tried a few villages on our route but nothin’ doin’, and finally arrived in Penrith, Cumbria, around 6pm. There seemed to be only one room left - all the guest houses had ‘no vacancy’ signs out and the only motel we found was full, so we returned to the first place we had looked at, The Villa Bianca Italian Restaurant, that also boasted a couple of rooms for rent and, luckily, found a room was still available. This time we took it with gratitude, having previously left with a “we’ll let you know if we want it” farewell! As it turned out it was an okay place to stay. It’s a very old building and some half-hearted attempts to fix up the rooms have been made, but our floor had a definite slope on it and the mattress seemed to roll to the left, too. We decided to have dinner at the Villa Bianca that night – they said they might be able to squeeze us in. We could not believe how many people they turned over in that small restaurant that night! Every table was constantly full and people were waiting in the bar and out in the garden, having drinks all night! They were lovely people in there: Tiberio and his sister Marta Elena, and their brother who was slaving away in the kitchen, but the meal wasn’t anything special to tell the truth, so I can only assume they’re the only game in town. Met a very nice Australian couple in the bar (where we had a delicious cider, Magner’s, from Ireland) who have been touring for the last couple of months and who came across Siberia in a train – very interesting to talk to them!
It was a lovely warm evening and we had drinks out in the garden after dinner. We continue to be lucky with the current weather, although everyone says “it’s bound to change soon”! Our bedroom window overlooks an intersection on the other corner of which there is a terrific looking two-story cycle shop. Cyclist’s heaven or cyclist’s hell? The shop is closed on Sunday and we arrived Saturday night!
Penrith apparently holds the largest pottery show in Europe once a year and there was one very nice pottery shop just around the corner from where we were staying.