Catch up with Tommy Wilkinson
Anyone who vaguely knows me will have it imprinted in their brain that my favourite set of hills is Northumberland’s own Cheviots. That’s pronounced Chee-vee-ots for those not in the know. After years and years of getting to know every nook and cranny of these ancient hills I organised our very first event in 2015, the Clennell Colossus. It was a mountian bike event to push people hard on tough natural terrain with steep sided hills and quite a few expletives punctured the tranquil air that day.
A few years on and the social circles have widened with one such new acquaintance being Tommy Wilkinson of DWACO. He and I organise the Naughty Northumbrian enduro with Carl Davison at Alwinton. I thought I’d catch up with Tommy and see what he’s up to.
What’s your link with the valley?
Oosha. It starts way back in the ’60s, when my Grandparents were at Uswayford. My Dad, also Tom, and his brother Coke were brought up in the shadow of Cheviot. They still dine out on stories about the winter of ’63 and how the Forestry Commission provided them with a 12-mile rally test track when they upgraded the road in preparation for planting Uswayford plantation!
They left in ’91 after the old man passed away, with my Gran (“Mad Ag”) moving “in by” down to Harbottle. Both Grandparents are sadly dead now and buried at Alwinton.
I didn’t frequent the valley again until about 2005 when I was learning my trade at a small design agency called Lazy Grace. I was close enough to go up after work to ride in various parts of the valley.
It’s an amazing place, and even without that family link, I’d still be there.
As it is, it’s great speaking to folk who knew the “brothers grim” (Dad and Uncle) when they were in their prime. Most people up the Coquet seem to have story-telling imbued into their DNA.
Do you get out into the hills much these days?
Quite a lot. Evening missions up Cheviot, Wyndy Gyle via Clennel, Whiteburn Shank, into Fairhaugh and over Middle hill are pretty common in summer. I like Hedgehope and Dunmoor in Winter, along with the Bizzle, but the Hen Hole suits me better in summer!
Favorite place in the Cheviots?
It’s controversial with my old man, but the College Valley is my favorite valley. Partly the views from Bellyside and the uniqueness of the Hen Hole but more so how they manage the land, economics and cultural elements. It’s got great hilltops with awesome views, amazing wildlife, good and developing riparian woodland, some trad upland farming, climbing and bouldering, unique geological features and it’s easy to get out of it and into other valleys.
That said, everyone enjoys a dip in the Coquet at Linnbriggs!
What’s the thinking behind the Naughty Northumbrian?
I could bore you to death here! I’ll stick with the short answer – There is nowhere in England with the same potential to offer a wild, raw, medium-to-advanced level riding experience. I’ve done over 120 races in my time and have been all over the globe riding my bike so I have a good gauge on that.
Of course, riding comes first and foremost but the complete experience becomes a huge driver for why you’d bother to trek up here once you’re over 30. That’s the transitions, the diversity of riding, the views, the location, the people, and the general feeling a place gives you. A very large percentage of our entrants are over 30.
The Coquet Valley has those assets, and the Naughty could become a truly great event. I’d like to be proud of it in the years to come and put a stamp on riders maps as a must-do, and keep coming back to, event.
Do you think mountain biking can be developed in the Cheviots in general or happy to keep it a hidden gem?
There’s a huge, huge amount of factors and I really can’t answer it all in such a short space. In short, yes, but it will take a herculean effort and clarity in any proposition that we haven’t been able to generate yet. There’s a lot of different people with a lot of different ideas…..
What does the future hold for you personally?
I’m just thinking about my porridge and honey in the morning at this point.