Pork, Packing and Ghosts of the Past

I spent the morning reorganizing my packing.

The last couple of days revealed some glaring inefficiencies in my haphazardly loaded trailer. I needed a system, a hierarchy of likely sequential need, and to better utilize the small panniers I'd been reserving for food and cooking equipment. Plus I needed to focus more weight towards the front of the trailer to prevent fishtailing on the downhills. This took an hour or two, then I went shopping for the legend that is: the 500 year old Cumberland sausage.

Of course, like an utter twat I completely forgot about the artisanal butcher shop down the street, and instead biked a mile or two to the Co-op in the next village over. There the Cumberlands disappointingly came packaged in links instead of the traditional continuous coil. To be expected, I suppose, but far from authentic.

The sausage got its name from the extinct (though recently revived, probably by some worrying genetic legerdemain) Cumberland pig, which Wikipedia describes as '...with an upturned snout and ears that flopped forwards'; certainly sounding like every other pig I've ever seen. What set Cumberland sausage apart from its contemporaries was apparently the unique flavour profile of the Cumberland pork, which was traditionally roughly chopped rather than minced, and heavily seasoned thanks to the confluence of the spice trade in Whitehaven during the 18th century.

Butchers in Cumbria had been pursuing Protected Geographical Status for a while, which would afford their product the same label exclusivity enjoyed by Champagne and Parma ham (but sadly not Texan chilli). Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) was eventually granted in 2011 for the name Traditional Cumberland Sausage. This applies only to those produced in Cumbria with the appropriate seasoning, unlinked, and made with more than 80% meat.

I stowed the knock-off Cumbies for the next night's dinner so I could take advantage of Hinderwell's chippy, which turned out to be perfectly passable fare alongside a tasty pork pie from the butcher's.

I set off the next morning in mist, drizzle and an unseasonably cold September wind. I wrapped up and dug deep to grind over the punishing Upton Hill, then swept down into downtrodden Skinningrove, and wished I'd taken another route.

I don't know if you've ever played the creepy video game Silent Hill, where the protagonist is trapped in a deserted town shrouded in mist containing strange, lurching creatures, but this was a lot like that. Most of the houses I could see through the gloom were boarded up, derelict since the ironstone mines closed in the seventies, and the cold fist of doubt gripped my rapidly shrinking bollocks.


Not a car to be seen. No barking dogs, no singing birds, no people about. It was The Walking Dead with a sea fret. Unfortunately, the semi-abandoned village is in a steep coastal river gorge, so the climb up the cliffs opposite was an arduous one; I had to dismount and push. Shady figures occasionally emerged from the ominous brume to watch me struggle past, like zombies staring at food they can't reach. Not a one talked, or even moaned. I put my head down and kept pushing.

Exhausted by my escape but refreshed by the sun peeking through the thinner clifftop mist, I started hunting for a place to camp early, but didn't find anywhere suitable until late afternoon. Tucked away in a forested corner on the outskirts of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, I stumbled upon the ruin of Marske Mill, just off the Cleveland Way. There's been a mill on this site since 1649, and it stayed in use until the 1920s.

Much like the Straight Lane from Aislaby, it's a steep descent while one's wrestling a bike and trailer to save the brake pads. It was too muddy and rocky to ride, which allowed me to appreciate the effort required by folks to get their grain down to the mill before combustion power turned up. A farm apparently occupied the site afterwards, but was demolished in 1971. And now here was I, alone and about to sleep with the ghosts.

At least I would've been alone. While I was settling down to watch the next episode of Battlestar Galactica, ruminating on how people from a different star system manage to get their hands on Cuban cigars when they've never been to Earth and don't know where it is, a courting couple turned up and and started arguing. She was obviously breaking up with him, and he was attempting to dissuade her by bringing her to this local beauty spot.

Dude, give it up. Once they get to that stage the relationship is already over. Hidden in my tent, which itself was out of sight, I willed the guy to bail, but he persisted in pursuing previously unplumbed levels of cringing indignity for a couple of more hours.

Meanwhile, back in space, Starbuck accidentally shot Apollo in a bar gunfight. Jesus fuck, is this woman the Rhamnusian nemesis of the Odama family or what? She'd already got the other son killed by neglecting his flight training to play with his Cumberland. I almost called out to the bickering lovers; 'See what happens? Let her go, man! IF YOU LOVE HER, YOU'LL LET HER GO! She sounds like a bitch anyway,' but I got distracted by wondering how the main characters all have definitive jobs -- pilot, marine, engineer etc, but nevertheless end up doing everything themselves?

The crumbling narrative outside faded into meaningless babble as I realized Galactica pilots were leading special forces operations, ground assaults, spy missions, mechanical maintenance, scientific research, search and rescue attempts... Is everyone else really so shit at their own jobs they've got to put the generically good-looking people in charge? What fucking message does that send to our butt ugly kids? Oh, that's right, we don't have any.

I found these images of the mill in its former glory. This from around 1952 taken from the adjacent railway viaduct:

And an artist's impression:

I made Cumberland sausage sandwiches for dinner along with one of my personal weaknesses; Heinz cream of tomato soup, and they tasted much the same as any other pork sausage. I decided they were far from the genuine article and resolved to sample from a more reliable source.

* * *

Pushed back up the hill by 8am, all my gear still wet from the previous day, but the sun warmed me as I got to the top. Saltburn's quite scenic when you can see it, I mused, as I left through the affluent quarter and headed for Redcar.

Hey up, somebody's nicked the church!

I stopped at a petrol station to buy a coke and a Lion bar, then rode to a high coastal viewpoint to breakfast on them. Two kids cycled up on their BMXs and quizzed me about my rig, and I took not insignificant pleasure in basking in their unfettered admiration.

Afterwards I dropped down the hills to the flat coast road, buffed with sand dunes, and stopped at some public bathrooms to fill up on water and have a nose around an MG car rally in the adjacent car park. I took some pictures, said hello, and buggered off into Redcar.

The last time I'd been to this town was on a fondly-remembered minibus trip about 25 years ago to watch The Stray Cats play a reunion concert. It'd been a dump to rival Skinningrove then, but they've prettied up the place in the interim.

I stopped to take some pictures of giant wind generators in the bay, when an old fella with hiking poles and a Texas baseball cap (I lived in Texas for almost 20 years) stopped for a chat. Turns out he had a daughter living in Katy, Texas, which sounds quite cute until you discover it's an area of Houston, the Birmingham of the Gulf Coast.

This old boy walked six miles every day to stay in shape. He was 83. We talked for a good half hour before I managed to tug away, and I can't for the life of me remember what about. I do recall some mention of a son living in the south of France. He recommended I look him up when I go through there. It's highly unlikely I will, but touring, I was beginning to discover, is peppered with such generous offers, transforming one's faith in humanity. The broad strokes of travelling in such a way means you meet more people you aren't circuitously paying to be there: there's a less perceived difference in status to spark hostility.

I hit a very new-looking cycleway into Middlesborough. The city looks like they're trying to keep up with Redcar, but have a ways to go yet. I joined the path west along the Tees, one of northern England's great industrial rivers still echoing with the thunder of empire, now an easy ride through not unpleasant countryside. I was to turn north in Stockton-on-Tees, but had a hard time finding the correct path, and Stockton is not a town to get lost in. I drifted through some veritable war zones where gangs of roaming youths gawked at me predatorily. I mean mugged back, which must've looked ridiculous while dressed like a lemon lollipop wearing a cock helmet. I became hyper aware of the threat, unzipping my frame bag for easier access to my hefty bike lock, and dangling a handful of chain out so it was easier to grab, just in case.

There was no problem at all, of course, and I eventually found the bridleway and set off at a fair clip, hampered, however, by the increasingly common anti-motorbike gates. Not a problem for people on regular bicycles, but the trailer proved a hindrance. I was philosophical at first about unhooking it to get through, each transition taking a couple of minutes (I had to grab one of my telescopic hiking poles, set it to the required length, prop my bike up with it, carefully unhook the trailer, walk the bike through, prop it up again, get the trailer through or over, hook it up again, retract and stow the pole), but after the thirtieth in a day I could've quite happily visited the Cleveland town planning office with a loaded shotgun and a bottle of Drano.

The upside of having to stop so often is you get to meet a lot of people using the bridleway, most of whom want to chat, particularly other cyclists. I talked with one experienced rider for twenty minutes or so, and he gave me a wealth of advice about where to go in Scotland, the routes to take and things to see. We rode together for a bit and parted ways at a crossroads. About an hour later he caught up with me with an old saddle to replace the one I'd been complaining about. He'd dashed home to fetch it and then must've put in some seriously hard work to catch up, because I wasn't particularly dawdling. What a nice chap and a lovely gesture. Absolutely made my week, that did. I switched saddles immediately and my backside has never been more grateful. It's still on my bike now.

While this bridleway ran for a good thirty or forty miles to Seaham, I couldn't find a single discrete place suitable for a tent. Finally a cyclist commuting home from work told me of a likely site on the shores of Hurworth Burn Reservoir in County Durham about an hour ahead, which turned out to be a perfect spot, and one I would've likely ridden straight past. I hung all my wet stuff on a gate to dry overnight and lit my candle lantern in the tent to take the edge off the chill.


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