Barnard Castle, Greta Bridge, Raleigh Firefly bike, Steve Calvert

Beating the Lockdown Blues on a Raleigh Firefly Bike

Cycling

Earlier this year I bought a second-hand Raleigh Firefly bike. I’m glad I did. It’s helping me retain a sense of freedom during the lockdown.

When you are used to changing your countries every month, it’s hard to stay in one place for any length of time. Having the ability to do a little exploring on two wheels makes staying put easier to bear.

I like the Raleigh Firefly a lot and am even toying with the idea of using it to do a bike tour of Europe later in the year.

I also like the idea of doing a little bike tour of Scotland but travelling long-distance by bike would present certain problems because cycling would take up a lot of my time and would probably interfere with my work.

Raleigh Firefly (Fitted with Sony ActionCam)
My Raleigh Firefly (With Sony ActionCam on the Handlebars)

I always used to bomb around on Raleigh bikes when I was a kid. First I had a Raleigh Tomahawk then, for a while, I was riding a Raleigh Chopper. Riding a Raleigh Bike again, after all these years, brings back memories of being a kid.

I’ve also been testing my Sony ActionCam. It was a gift from a friend in the Netherlands. She gave it to me 3-4 years ago but I’ve never had occasion to use it until now. It took a while to figure out a good way to attach the ActionCam to the bike but I managed in the end.

The first time I used ActionCam was during a bike ride from Darlington to Barnard Castle. The journey was longer than it needed to be because I took a detour and visited Greta Bridge.

When I looked at the camera footage, I was surprised out how fast the countryside was flashing by. I was logging my journey as a workout on the fitness app on my phone and it tells me I never exceeded 35 kph but in some places the video makes it appear faster than that.

During the journey to Greta Bridge, I was surprised when Google Maps told me to go down the A66. I had no idea bikes were allowed on dual carriageways in the UK. After a little research, later on, I discovered in some cases they are.

However, I wouldn’t recommend taking a bike on roads of this nature. Not in the UK, anyway. It feels dangerous having so many fast cars and other vehicles whizzing past you at up to 70 mph (112 kph).

Greta Bridge is not far from the A66. The bridge takes its name from the River Greta that flows beneath it. So does Greta village.

Picture of Greta Bridge (May 2020)
Greta Bridge

Greta Bridge is quite impressive to look at when you stand on the river bank. Back in 1805, the artist John Sell Cotman painted a watercolour picture of Greta Bridge. It’s probably his most famous work. Then as now, the river beneath the bridge had a lot of rocks but not much water.

River Greta (Viewed from Greta Bridge)
River Greta (Viewed from Greta Bridge)

All those rocks in the water gave the river its name. “Greta” is derived from the Norse words “grót” and “á”. “Grot a” means stony stream.

Things have changed a lot since Cotman painted his picture of the bridge. When he painted it, Greta was in the historic county boundaries of the North Riding of Yorkshire. It’s now classed as being in County Durham. This has been the case since April 1974.

If my pictures make you feel like visiting Greta Bridge, be aware there’s not much to see in the village. However, there are some nice walks down along the river bank and the countryside in the area is quite scenic.

When I arrived on my bike I’d forgotten how little there is in Greta. The last time I visited I was riding a Suzuki motorbike. I went late in the evening because the area below the bridge is supposedly haunted by the ghostly Maid of Rokeby.

There are also tales about the ghost of a monk in the same area. I never saw any ghosts during any of my previous visits and it was so bright and sunny when I arrived on my Raleigh I didn’t have a ghost of a chance of encountering anything strange.

The ride from Greta Bridge to Barnard Castle wasn’t as long as the ride from Darlington to the bridge. When I reached the centre of town I realized I’d forgotten what a nice place Barnard Castle is. The town has lots of old, stone buildings. I like stone buildings. They have more character than ones built from red brick.

Like Richmond (Richmond, North Yorkshire: Things to Do & Things to Know), Barnard Castle is a market town but the market cross is unusual. I grew up in Yorkshire and spent many of my early years living in Bedale. It’s a market town too and like, Ripon, Thirsk, and most other market towns the market cross in Bedale was on top of a stone pillar. The market cross in Barnard Castle is an octagonal building with a weather vane on top. There is no cross, so it’s a market cross in name only.

Barnard Castle Market Cross (The Butter Mart)
Barnard Castle Market Cross (The Butter Mart)

Perhaps there used to be a cross on the top at some point in the past but I have to be honest and say I don’t know.

The building is known as the Butter Mart and it has several stone columns underneath it that form a veranda. Years ago, farmer’s wives used to sell their homemade butter and other dairy products from within the shade of the veranda. Once you know that, the name Butter Mart makes a lot more sense.

There are a lot of things to see in Barnard Castle, and it’s often praised as a beauty spot, but I’d already had a long bike ride and still had to bike home so I resisted the temptation to go and see the castle that gives the town its name or do anything else. I just walked down the street for a while, pushing my bike beside me, and then headed home.

It was good to get out though. I feel like I’ve spent the last few weeks living in a goldfish bowl when I’d rather be swimming in the sea. The Raleigh bike I bought has given me extra freedom to explore. Will I ever use it to explore Europe? I know I’d like to but I also know doing so would present plenty of challenges. It’s a matter that’s going to require a great deal of thought.

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