Breamish Behemoth 2019 – Moo!
“What shall I have for breakfast tomorrow?” says mischievous mother cow.
“Well grass of course!” replies bullock.
“Not this time son. Tomorrow we’ll have to choose between red and white tape or yellow signs. If you’re feeling strong then how about eating both?” mother cow states.
“Ah! It must be Behemoth time!” and the bullock dances giddily away knowing fine well he’ll be back to gobble up some good old course markings later on.
I’m pretty sure this is what goes on in the minds of livestock in the Cheviots every time we pass through. It’s Wednesday in early June and the Breamish Behemoth ride approaches on the weekend. A full day of riding around on the quad setting up the course is blessed with good weather and a bit of a breeze. The larger hills of the Cheviots are in full view and stand magnificent and sentinel like in the distance, watching with an aged grace that millions of years of existence brings. Two thirds of the course was put out and the rest followed up on the Friday. With a nagging doubt we went out and checked signs again and found, to our complete lack of surprise, that about 1 in every 4 signs had been mangled, knocked over or otherwise eaten by the local resident animals. Once set out again it was time to get back to the hall and see what’s happening.
Friday night and a few vans, cars and motorhomes had arrived on site to stay before the big day. Regulars Jane and Peter Squires were first to appear alongside Brian and Yvonne Kemp who would be marshaling. The solar panels on the village hall were going bananas with all the sun and a steady hum was given off inside by the various gubbins that harness the energy. Final event boxes were being ticked as radios were charged, water filled, food distributed, plans gone over and kit checked. All that was left was some pre ride drinking with Joanne and Keith as well as rider Simon Capaldi and his mate. The latter two would later regret having drank so much.
The wind picked up during the night and as peoples minds drifted away and dreamed of the day ahead those pesky cows were busy digesting plastic and conjuring up devilish ways of causing mayhem. Hopefully with the late night check there wouldn’t be enough time for cowmaggedon to take hold. The wind made for a restless sleep and soon the sun was rising on the horizon at an inexplicably early hour. Does the natural solar system cycle not take in to account that some of us have kids and get no sleep through the week anyway? Outrage. Getting out of the van I realised life was not as bad as the unfortunate soul camping in the top corner who was now surrounded by sheep all belting out “BAA” for a couple of hours. You wouldn’t blame them for exacting revenge the next day by running over several furry animals and being quite happy about it.
Now it’s Saturday morning and the riders are arriving in earnest. The Behemoth as always been a small event and this year there were around 90 people registered but in the end less than 60 crossed the Rubicon and set foot on the start line. The first battle is always in the mind and picking up that number means you’re up for the challenge. Registration was in the excellent Ingram Cafe who really went out of their way to host the event. As people grabbed cable ties the sultry smells of coffee and bacon wafted over and the cafes sumptuous sales techniques took hold when combined with growling stomachs.
With rigs all checked and riders gee’d up they all gathered in rapt anticipation of what lay ahead. Out front of the cafe in the car park Drew gave a safety talk. First time riders who didn’t know the area did know of it’s fearful reputation and regulars were looking to get some good pacing on the go as early as possible. Safety talk done. Quad bike engine fires up. Away we go on the final Breamish Behemoth. Fingers crossed it’s a good one.
Before the ride started I spoke to several people about how they would tackle the day. Warm temperatures, dry ground and big hills would all factor on how a body performs. Marie Meldrum, multiple winner of 10 Under The Ben, stated she was not really in good nick. I read that as: I’m fit and going to smash it (which she did). Peter Squires had sworn blind he was going to pace it out early and what do you know…ride starts, his eyes burn red and he charges off with a fast pack on his heals up the 2 mile climb that kicks things off. 3 years he’s done this and every year he has been consistent with a very fast start!
I waited with my friends the mad cows at mad-sign-munch corner as riders streamed down. Gates had been left open and Keith Fawcett was closing them as he went along at the back. Riders hooked a right and pedaled up on the Thieves Road and towards the awesome vista of the Cheviot and Hedgehope in all their glory. Whilst waiting I spotted 2 accidents on the first descent. One guy looked like he had come down hard but after getting himself sorted he regrouped and cracked on. The second man came down on his wrist and after continuing for several more miles ended up in too much pain on the down hills. With gates closed it was time to rearrange the signs for the return journey. The herd of beasts waited impatiently for another sign based meal so I decided to site them just our of reach. As I turned the last one round on the gate and headed away a mighty beast was licking the sign whilst staring right at me. I’m pretty sure it was thinking “I’ve got your number sonny”.
The course dips down through Thieves Road and then back up on a solid track away from Chesters to hook up with Salters Road. The solid track then gave way to the grass of Salters but even this had firm ground so the pace was good. Salters Road is notorious for damp, leg sapping conditions so I was mildly disappointed to see people whizzing over with so little effort. Not to worry though, the hill after Ewartly Shank up to Little Dod would sort the wheat from the chaf and sure as eggs are eggs it brought a little smile to my face to see so many people off and pushing their bikes. The descent that followed was long and loose but everyone kept it together to fly past Low Bleakhope farm on their way to the abandoned farm of High Bleakhope and the first feed station.
The sweet shop at feed station 1 (and 3 on the way back) was a plethora of sugary options to get brain and body fired up for the task ahead. Vegan friendly options combined with chewable goods of all kinds were on hand for replenishment of lost energy. People were advised to make sure they topped up with water and everyone did so even though the clouds were now providing just that extra layer of protection to keep the edge of the suns direct rays. Following on from the feed station was a steep grass track that led up to the edge of Uswayford Forest. The large northern loop in the forest is all hard packed track but so little used that most is covered with an almost fluorescent algae that is most pleasing to the eye. This high level route kisses up against the Scottish border without people even knowing about it before speeding riders up and spitting them out the western side for a first view of the indomitable Windy Gyle.
A slow chug up to the border highlighted what a great day it was for walking ones bike in the hills. When people reached with stone slabs they remounted and treked along the border, rising all the time. There are a few tricky bits along here and one person punctured by hitting a slab edge too hard. A short walk up a mud kicker and people went through the gate to be standing at the highest point on the ride, the summit of Windy Gyle. Majestic views stretched off in all direction. In the east were the big hills including Hedgehope, Cheviot Auchope and belters such as The Schill further north. To the north from Windy Gyle lay the vast Borders plain and the rolling hills turning to mountain way off. East to south east were the rolling tops around Jedburgh, Hawick and even the Lake District. South of that was the distinctive profile of Cross Fell at the bottom on the North Pennines. It really is a magical view point and encapsulates what the northern end of Northumberland National Park is all about.
The next section was new for the Behemoth. Trotting along the Pennine Way can be tough in moist conditions. As it was the firm under wheel tracks meant that the border lands were a fine ride and people could make swift progress whilst absorbing the land of the far horizon. Over Mozie Law, past the mountain refuge hut and eventually leave the border where Paul Eggleston Brown pointed you away south in the direction of Blindburn and Buckhams Bridge car park. The last grassy traverse plays games with your state of mind before the heavenly feeling of solid tarmac on the Upper Coquet valley. 5km of the black stuff passes in a flash before hitting the feed station in the old camping barn at Barrowburn farm.
On arrival you were met by Brian who gets you sat down and inquires whether you need a spirit restoring coffee or tea. Then Yvonne is out with the soup and doesn’t accept no for an answer. Nutrition is needed to get you back to Blighty! Some people wisely eyed the next two steep hills and measured their intake so as not to see it again half way up. The gluten free flapjacks went down a treat and once the body was ready it was time to get back on the saddle and get spinning. Only a few people chose to pull out at this point and very disappointingly not one of them was crying. Must try harder.
The drag out of Barrowburn is a hard one. It’s then followed by two short steep hills until eventually you hook up with Clennell Street and head up Hazely Law. This is one of those tracks that rises up wickedly at one point and in theory is all rideable. I don’t think that theory takes in to account some very tired legs and there were a number of expletives muttered but soon enough all the remaining bikes had bossed it up Clennell Street and popped back in to Uswayford Forest on route back to the first checkpoint. Back on to Salters is the direct track through the forest and it’s a joy to behold when passing natural wonders such as the waterfall at Davidsons Linn. Out of the forest and that long draggy climb from hours ago is now a gigantic down hill back in to the head of the Breamish valley.
Was it me or did people take a lot more time at the sweet filled feed station the second time round than they did the first? Hmmm, wonder why… When munching on goodies people could see the last major climb of the day. What looks insurmountable from a distance can be approached at a steady chug and before people knew it they were at the top and and in to a high speed rush down to the ford below Ewartly Shank. This high speed track needs to be handled with care and I’m happy to report all riders made it down with no issue whatever.
All that faced people now was a nice reversal of the outward route. A short climb out of Ewartly and then good quality tracks all the way back. Yes the cows had knocked over signs but given that there were three put out at the hot spot junction it was a relief that one still pointed in the right direction. Sheer weight of numbers wins the day. Mind you, I wouldn’t put it past them to be able to take the signs off and reposition things in the future, the crafty beggers.
With a long drop back in to Ingram it was time to sign out, get a post event cup and take in some food and drink from the cafe whilst mulling over the days effort. An almighty day out in the hills and everyone should be proud of themselves for tackling a hard course. 44 miles turned out to be 48. Who knew!? I hope everyone had a great time and it was great to have drinks and craic with both familiar faces and new. The last Behemoth lived up to its billing and it was great that the weather played it’s part to make it so enjoyable. There’s a tiny chance it could come back but it would need a different format such as gps only and possibly with trackers so people can follow progress. That’s all for the future though. For now it’s a massive thanks from Cold Brew Events for coming along and making the event so special. Every special journey must come to an end. We’ll see you all again soon I’m sure.