MY SPECIAL RIDE
Explore the Boarders’ roller-coaster thrills p22
Once the Angel Of The North has risen above the treeline like a giant rusty billboard and the stop-start tedium of the A1 has drizzled out into a pedestrian slog around Newcastle and over the Tyne, two-wheeled salvation arrives at the junction with the A696. Because this road, and the A68 it bleeds into, is as superb a stretch of blacktop as you’ll find south of the border. Its long, languid high-speed curves and roller-coaster fun through conifer plantations and moorland serves as the perfect sharpener for further delights later on in the ride.
The A696 peels off the A1 at the signpost for Newcastle International Airport. You might want to stop for fuel at the airport’s Shell filling station before tramping on – if Wetherby was your last fill-up, you’re 90 miles into your tank; stick with the A696 and A68 and your next fuel is another 50 miles away (local services along the route at Knowesgate never seem to be open).
Clear Ponteland’s town centre (pronounced Pon-tee-lund, just so you know) and the national speed limit sign is at the exit of a long right-hander – just after a farm entrance, so pay attention (Google Streetview shows what can happen at that point).
For the next few miles you pulse rhythmically through low countryside – a fixed speed camera sign after a few miles is followed by a yellow box on a stick just past the Highlander pub; but after that, you’re in the clear until the 30mph village of Belsay. Further on, drink in the long, steady straights climbing to a peak at Ottercops.
The landscape is now the brown and purple patches of open high moor approaching the Northumberland National Park, and this is where the road gets really good, dropping in a sudden rush of fast corners getting tighter as you descend. Be careful at the 90-degree right at Monkridge Hall – once it was Shellgrip, now it’s a patchy mess. Slow for the village of Otterburn, then merge with the A68 – and go deeper into the National Park. At Rochester you’ll find Camien Café, the self-proclaimed last café in England.
Onwards, sweeping past the ripples of Catcleugh reservoir on your left, glittering flashes of light reflected between fir trees, and then start the climb up to Carter Bar – the border between Scotland and England, at 1400ft. There you’ll find a layby, magnificent views into Scotland, a big rock with the country of your choice painted on it for a selfie and, if you time it right, a burger van for a brew.