My city boy batteries needed recharging with some country air, so this weekend Patsy123 and I decided to test out the possibilities of free bus travel with our Old Codgers Travel Pass.
I'd received an invitation to Christina Mingard's exhibition in this year's Art Tour, so I wondered how easy it would be to get there by bus. I've known Christina for quite a few years now and it's always a pleasure to meet up with her again and to see her latest work. We decided that on Sunday we'd make a day of it (or at least a long afternoon) and do a short walk from Christina's house in Bardon Mill up to Vindolanda, close by Hadrian's Wall.
I should have known that public transport would be unable to come through with the goods properly. We ran into problems at Hexham, where the Stagecoach bus had broken down. Incredibly, they have no depot at the Hexham end of the Carlisle to Hexham run and so had to send for a replacement from Carlisle. The driver had no advice about when he'd asked for another bus or how long the replacement would take - "How long's a piece of string?" was his helpful remark, so we had no idea whether it might be advisable to go for the train to Bardon Mill.
As it turned out, we had to hang about the bus station, pacing up and down, trying to avoid standing on the pieces of gum (unsuccessfully), for an hour before the replacement arrived. To give him his due, the driver made the 15 minute trip from Hexham to Bardon Mill in a much shorter time.
We had a good chat with Christina and admired her new series of flower pictures. I'd had my reservations about how they might look, because the invitation card bore an image of red flowers with green foliage - my favourite colour combination - but they were lovely.
After a cup of tea and accepting a kind bottle of Ambre Solaire to protect us from the amazingly hot sun, we set off on our walk. The delay in Hexham meant we had to do the circuit (Bardon Mill to Vindolanda, via Chinely Burn) much quicker than I'd have liked. I've never been up by the Chinely Burn before and it turned out to be a really nice bit of the countryside. There are great pavements of fractured rock in the stream which I'd like to draw sometime, and sudden picturesque views with huge old oaks.
Low Fogrigg (Oil pastel, 8 x 9.5 ins)
No time to take in Vindolanda, either (I've not visited for at least twenty years), but round by Kingcairn Hill on the lonnen that runs down from the Military Road to Henshaw. Deep set, the lonnen has a great profusion of wild flowers in its banks - honeysuckle, briar rose and foxglove, as well as a lot my memory of 'A' level Botany no longer identifies.
Fearful of missing the return bus, we actually got back to Bardon Mill with enough time to have a cool drink with Christina in the painting shelter her husband Paul has built for her in the back garden. She pointed out to me the various views she's often painted and privately I commended her on finding colours within what I could only see as monotonous green.
Christina suggested to me that it would be a Good Thing if I were to up sticks and move out to the Tyne Valley where I could take advantage of the Art Tour, and for a while Patsy123 and I fantasised about the possibility. Then we got the (one an hour, except on Sundays when it's one every three hours) bus back to Hexham. Only to be held up by road works at Haydon Bridge and so miss the connection to Newcastle. The pint of Last Lion of Britain in the County Hotel while we waited for the next Newcastle bus, didn't make me change my mind that I'm better off in town with my once every 15 minutes bus service.
But I think we might go back to Bardon Mill this summer, if only to return the bottle of Ambre Solaire.