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After a brilliant afternoon of workshops, the final screening of The Age of Stupid (with the biggest turn out we’d had all caravan, followed by an evening of patying and talking non-stop about the amazing 11 days behind us… It was time to go home.

A few of us found time between packing up bike trailers and saying our goodbyes to take a visit to the beach at Cambois to take some photos of this strange but friendly little industrial village.

cambois4

cambois3

cambois

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some of the advance party arriving in Newcastle

some of the advance party arriving in Newcastle

Leave the power station in the ground

Leave the power station in the ground

some of the Panic Stations group, Cambois Village Hut

some of the Panic Stations group, Cambois Village Hut

Arrival in Cambois after a long, long ride!

Arrival in Cambois after a long, long ride!

Up at 7.30 – my head just a little sore. A strong cup of coffee and toast, and headlong into the day. We have to leave in two main groups by 9 to get to events planned in Newcastle and Cambois, our final destination. One small group leaves earlier still, to dash for Cambois to run the kids workshops. We do as much sweeping and washing and scrubbing of the community centre as we can. Hopefully we leave it half decent. I am in the first “fast” group heading for Cambois (pronounced ‘Cammass’ by the way), though we don’t quite live up to this epithet. We descend down from the hills to the banks of the Tyne, and along to the great bridges of Newcastle. Then on past the huge Town Moor, where cattle graze virtually in the city centre, and on through a dizzying array of roundabouts and dual carriageways, til we get to Cramlington, and the outskirts of Blyth.

The Blyth power station was on the North bank of the estuary, alongside the tiny village of Cambois. It was flattened a few years ago, just a vast heap of rubble remaining behind the gates and the sign that noone thought to take down. But now a new coal fired powers station is planned for Cambois – six times bigger than the last. There isn’t even any pretence at ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ for this one. There is still coal landing here all the while, going on up the coast by rail to the Alcan works, and its dedicated power plant, at Lynemouth. Strangely Google Earth shows this line as part dismantled – a photoshop job perhaps?

We pass the harbour and the old Power Station as we arrive in the village. The journey’s end. Our pedalling done. What a feeling. Across the North of England under our own steam, without fossil fuel power, and to highlight the very problem of fossil fuel power. We are greeted by the local campaign against the proposed new power station – Panic Stations, other local people, and the local press. The tiny St Andrew’s church, and its tinier ‘village hut’ is our venue this afternoon, before moving on to the Miners Welfare Institute in the evening. An afternoon of workshops and discussions ensues, after much forced pouting at the camera. It feels good to be here. Long coal trains pass, but just beyond the line and beyond the dunes is one of Northumberland’s beautiful beaches, and the strong sea breeze turns the rotors of the wind turbines alongside them.

see http://www.panic-stns.co.uk

After a few hours mending bikes, doing errands, and eating a roast dinner, the evening event, ‘The History of Coal, The Future of Coal’ starts at 7.30. There are a good number of locals, and one or two people from other campaign groups in the North East, joining the evening’s event. It begins with introductions, and then a presentation from the historian who guided this morning’s walk. He tells us in much more detail about the thriving industry that coal was here three hundred years ago, the importance it had to our massive economic and imperial expansion of the industrial era, and the harsh conditions it brought to local workers. The networks of wagon ways – wooden railways effectively – still exist in the landscape. One of these is nine and a half miles long, and is believed to be the longest in the world. UK Coal want to rip some of this out, unconcerned about its historic value. The issue of heritage preservation is a very important part of the local campaign.

After this presentation members of the caravan facilitate some ‘spectrum debates’ which get everyone on their feet and mingling. A statement is put to the room, and people have to stand at one end of the room or the other, or somewhere in between, according to how much they agree with the statement. People discuss their views with those that have stood at a similar point on the ‘spectrum’, before different parts of the room debate with each other. This has worked very well in our experience, and tonight it suceeds in engaging a few of the locals very well. I worry a little though that we caravanners have obviously all got to know each other, and are more at ease speaking to the room than those who don’t. The discussion is lively, covering how much of a threat coal is, whether it is really broader economics or human behaviour bringing the climate crisis, and differing views on all kinds of related issues. The women who run the community centre aren’t afraid to speak up, and chip in nuggets of wisdom from time to time as they busy themselves, in their aprons, between the hall and the kitchen. Finally it becomes apparent what they have been doing, as numerous bowls of hot rhubarb crumble appear by magic, and the debate becomes somewhat sidetracked.

Finally, bellies full with crumble, we make a pitch to get into a local Workingmen’s Club. “Tell them we sent you” the aproned crumble makers suggest. It seems to work, and soon a dozen of us are supping very cheap and very good ale, in a busy room full of locals. They are smartly dressed for a night out, glitzy frocks and all, and having a raucous time. It is a bank holiday tomorrow. By contrast some of us rather needy of a hot bath and a launderette (or at least I am). Nonetheless we are made very welcome, and attract keen interest from all. Much discussion about coal ensues, and some of us wish we had been touring Workingmen’s Clubs as well as church halls and community centres. A couple of women caravaners encounter a drunken challenge in the toilets – one local woman at least is in favour of new opencasting, and doesn’t like us “outsiders” coming in. Her friends don’t agree with her though. In the end a bunch of revellers come back to the community centre with us for another half hour or so chin wagging. I think our common ground wins over our differences. It is one of the locals birthdays, and she insists on having her photo taken with us and our banners and bicycles. A happy end to a good night out in Dipton.

Up at 8 for a fry up! Our first of the trip. I pop out for some ketchup, and the local shop is quite happy to put a stack of our free papers on the counter. Greasy food feels good. Lots of strong coffee with bits in.

The daytime event is a guided local walk up and around the valley with local historian David. He really knows his onions, and his coal, and his dates. He oozes passion about the valley in which his forefathers have lived and worked for generations. He conveys very starkly the realities of coal mining in the past, the children working 14 hour shifts, the men who’s lives weren’t valued as much as those of the horses they worked with. The pock marks and the wagon tracks are relics of these people and these times – archaeology that merits preservation in their memory. Unique features litter the hillside, cows graze on a grassy moonscape of craters formed by collapsed bell pits, and drift mines hide among the bright yellow gorse bushes, not even marked on the map. Since the days of ‘old coal’ the scars have healed gently and very slowly. Great Crested Newts and rare flowers like Milkmaids thrive. UK Coal and other mining interests own most of the valley, and potentially all this is at risk. There are many local people out on the walk, and they are quite clear – coal has had its day. Whatever restitution the coal firms claim they can make afterwards, they couldn’t restore 300 year old archeology, and the valley should be capitalising on its green assets, not going backwards to dirt and destruction.

the start of the walk

the start of the walk

'Milkmaids' in the meadow

'Milkmaids' in the meadow

walking up the threatened valley

walking up the threatened valley

The area in the opencast planning application

The area in the opencast planning application

We arrive back at the community centre for a lunch of soup and dumplings, bread, peas pudding, and vegan muffins. The hospitality is magnificent. (see http://www.pontvalley.net)

We are up at 8 today, and on the road for about ten. It isn’t a huge distance, but there are quite a few steep ups and downs. The destination is Dipton, a small former mining village in County Durham. We have a couple of new cyclists with us today, and one of them pulls the heaviest trailer with the sound system, batteries and everything, up all the steep hills. The other does all the navigating. It feels like we have new energy.

It is quite a slog at times, with some very steep and some very long climbs. We pass through some former County Durham pit villages, with more pit wheels half buried, and coal wagons used as planter boxes for flowers, in memory. We also pass lots of medium or large wind turbines, heralding, I hope, a different energy future for this windswept region. We climb to quite a good altitude, and in addition to our increasing Northerliness, this seems to markedly influence the local microclimate. The daffodils are still out in many spots, a few weeks or more finished in Notts now, where we set off.

Two good ideas

Two good ideas

wagon

wagon

We drop sharply into Dipton, and one of the grandest buildings in the middle of the village (a former pub or coaching inn) is boarded up. There are one or two shops and churches, and the community centre, where we are staying. We get a warm welcome here. There is a local banner against ‘dirty coal’ out on the front, and quite a few locals inside with tea and vegan scones at the ready. Wow. It quickly feels like we are side by side with a vibrant campaign, sharing stories and ideas (and cake!). It feels good after a few days being with ourselves, and doing little but cycling.

The community centre has wooden decking at the back, with stunning views over the Derwent Valley. It is lush and green, and you can see for miles. We chat and mend bikes over a beer, in the sun. This is our first non-teetotal venue I believe. One of our party has ridden a considerable distance with a broken axle, but has managed to find a friendly bike shop that gave him some reclaimed parts for next to nothing. That’s how things should work.

The evening event is a slide show and talk about the caravan, and a showing of the new short film about the 2008 climate camp and Kingsnorth. We have a small number of locals and local campaigners with us, though the main advertised event is tomorrow. Discussion is lively, and the local campaign, run mainly by the Pont Valley Network, is very impressive. You realise immediately that this is a community with a long history of organising. The campaign is also very ecology and education minded, and publishes a series of leaflets of local walks, and local wild edible plants and recipes. I am looking forward now to Elderflower pancakes.

Soon it is bed time, and we seem to strike gold – a cupboard full of ‘exercise mats’ that we can lay on. Sweet dreams everyone…..

Another ‘in-betweeny’ day, with quite a long ride to Newton Aycliff. A slow start with a difficult moment on a roundabout. Sunshine, and a steep climb. Then on North, with the Dales in the distance on our left, and the Moors on our right. This feels like a high green plateaux. The clouds come and go, and the grasses change colour with the sky. We eat masses of cake.

We hear that today, as well as International Workers Day, is the International Solidarity day for Rossport – the Irish West coast community struggling bravely to stop Shell from building a high pressure raw gas pipeline right by their houses. They have been resisting for some years now, but things are very hot. One of the ‘Rossport 5’ – who did a spell in jail a few years ago, was beaten badly with an iron bar by Shell’s security guards recently. We decide to mark this as best we can at short notice by making placards, and going to a Shell garage in Darlington. We make a lot of noise and fuss, but try not to annoy anyone too much, and don’t damage anything. We take some photos to send to Ireland. We want them to know they are not forgotten.

Solidarity with Rossport in Darlington

Solidarity with Rossport in Darlington

I must ask her what this means

I must ask her what this means

After a few more miles we are there. Good food, some new people joining us to swell our ranks again, and spirits are good. We disect the day, icluding our riding styles, and plan the next day, in a fairly informal meeting. Then to our sleeping bags. In this church hall there is a carpeted stage with a variety of layers of curtains, and some piles of old carpets. I have made a little nest among these earlier.

Up early again! Extra cleaning this morning – we don’t want to leave the place at all unclean or untidy as there’s a playgroup on as soon as we leave at 9. Not so much to write about these next couple of days. We are on to the ‘bit inbetween’ now – we get a couple of days riding in between the major coalfields of Northern England, where we aren’t doing much in the way of campaigning. The weather is good, warm with some showers, but not enough to make things difficult. After passing a prison, we stop in a pub for lunch. It is a smart pub with dining tables with napkins on, but I use my charm to persuade the landlord that we should be able to eat our own sandwiches inside. Maybe, as the census records, I am a Jedi after all. There is a difficult moment as we fail to hide the stuffed fox from the animal rights contingent, but she doesn’t flip out, and we manage to have the best cup of coffee in several days, as well as stuff supplemental crisps into already bulging sandwiches. We are met in Ripon by tiny pink ballerinas. I am not joking actually. They were rehearsing in the church hall when we arrived. We entertain and educate ourselves with films. The Bicycology one is very good. After the cake ran out yesterday, someone has secured ingredients, and bakes a large chocolate cake. We manage not to devour it hot, but retire to our sleeping bags again, salivating. Some people construct bed arrangements of two rows of chairs facing each other – the chairs are lushly padded here (this is Rippon…..).

somewhere in the North of England!

somewhere in the North of England!