Lost Highway

Enough westering. Let’s return back across the Atlantic for this post: to Northumberland north of Hadrian’s Wall, the once lawless Reivers country where northern England meets Scotland. Not exactly east of Elveden but certainly east of Eden, the river that flows southeast from Carlisle on the Solway Firth and bisects the upland areas of the Lake District to the west and the north Pennines that lie to the east. Immediately north of here are the Cheviots, the ancient rounded hills of the Scottish Borders.

Kielder Water, a large reservoir created in the 1970s to provide a water supply for industry, has all sorts of superlatives associated with it. The reservoir itself is the largest artificial lake in the United Kingdom, while the forest that surrounds it is said to be the largest man-made area of woodland in Europe. The village that gives the reservoir its name is considered to be one of the most isolated villages in England and the area is also deemed have the clearest night skies in the UK. There is so little settlement in the vicinity that the area is relatively unsullied by light polution and, as testament to this, an astromony observatory has been constructed close to the reservoir’s northern end.

Artificial perhaps, Kileder Water is still a glorious place of long vistas and a distinct sense of isolation in winter. Alongside huge stands of Norwegian and Sitka Spruce and other would-be Christmas trees are raised banks of mature beeches and lofty stands of Scots Pines surrounding the reservoir’s cold waters. Red squirrels frolic elusively in the tops of the pines while crossbills wrench the seed from cones with their strange twisted beaks. Lying beneath the water are a scattering of buildings that once belonged to the farmland that was sacrificed to a sub-aqua future when the dam was completed. There is no sign of these now; no obvious architectural ghosts other than patterns in the water whipped up by the wind that seem to imply a regular linear structures beneath the surface – old farm walls perhaps?

What can be seen here and there though are fragments of the main road that used to run along the North Tyne Valley in the days before ‘the flood’. A modest tarmac road with a dividing white line (no cats’ eyes), this surfaces for a short stretch along part of the shore of the Bull Crag penisula at the southern end of Kielder Water. Once upon a time, this lonely road would have carried traffic north from Bellingham to Kielder village, from where it would climb higher into the Cheviots and over the Scottish border. These days, the road sees no through traffic – just a handful of walkers and mountain bikers enjoying the facilities of the forest park. The fragment that remains begins and ends in water. This palimpsest of an earlier human landscape is now, quite literally, a road to nowhere.


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