Kielder in Northumberland holds the dubious honour of being the British village furthest from a cash machine.
Residents of this picturesque community, which is just three miles south of the English/Scottish border, have to travel 18 miles to reach the nearest free ATM machine at a Co-operative store in the village of Bellingham.
A return car trip on the winding lanes can take two hours or more.Those who rely on public transport face an even greater struggle.
Getting to a bank is a bigger challenge. Bellingham once had three branches – a Lloyds, Barclays and TSB – but these have shut in recent years, leaving Kielder residents no option but to travel to Hexham, 30 miles away, to reach a branch.
Kielder may seem like an extreme example.Yet it offers a glimpse into the future of thousands of communities around the UK, which face being turned into cash deserts without access to physical money.
Take me to cash: Toby Walne with farmer John Richardson, and going by bike
The fact is that banks are hurtling us towards a cashless society as they close ever-more branches and ATM machines.The number of high street banks has halved over the past eight years – and a further 263 are already earmarked for closure this year.
As the banks flee, they also rip out their cash machines. Almost a third of ATMs have been stripped out over the same period, amounting to more than 20,000.
Kielder parish council chair Dick Graham shakes his head in disbelief at how banks have been allowed to abandon communities without any accountability.
The 69-year-old retired Forestry Commission worker says: ‘Banks spend millions on publicity claiming they are there to support us, but the truth is they just want to squeeze us out of every penny we have.
‘Axeing branches and ATMs, forcing people to spend with cards rather than cash, only boosts their profits.’
The cash network organisation Link claims that banking hubs where a number of different banks share the same premises could be a solution for Kielder and Bellingham residents.
However, although 34 such hubs are in the pipeline up and down the country, just four have actually opened.Branch closures steam on ahead while banking hubs open at a snail’s pace.
Graham adds: ‘Hordes of tourists come to enjoy our rural location, but struggle to get hold of cash. An ATM or visiting mobile bank could be a godsend for our village.’
Getting to the cash machine
Driving is by far the easiest option to get from Kielder to Bellingham – though even this can take as long as an hour when the weather closes in. Meanwhile, a return trip to Hexham on difficult lanes can take three hours or more.
As I am in Kielder without a car, I inquire about a taxi instead.But, the return trip will set me back £120 – a huge sum for anyone’s budget and hardly practical when the ATM limit is just £250.
Next I look into public transport.Kielder resident Jeannette Barron, 63, tells me she pays £10 return for a dial-a-ride service to get to a bank and shops in Hexham.
But the service is only available on a Tuesday and Friday, with just one bus per day. Passengers are picked up in Kielder at 8.45am and arrive in Hexham close to two hours later.The bus returns at 1.45pm.
Jeannette, a retired custody officer, says: ‘Unfortunately, due to our location, it is necessary to bank online – but not out of choice. It makes you more vulnerable to hackers, and those of us not keen on computers can really struggle.If more banks close, millions more will be forced to bank online.’
I phone the dial-a-ride firm Adapt (NE) to book a lift. Someone answers and says they are busy and will ring back in ten minutes. I am still waiting for that call.
Next, I visit the village’s bike hire company, The Bike Place.Here, I can hire a pedal bike for £35 for the day or £60 for an electric. Manager Martin Lively says: ‘If you get pedalling now and don’t dawdle, you can get to the Bellingham cash machine in 90 minutes.’
But the rain is starting to spit and I don’t much like the look of the steep hills ahead of me.Politely declining the offer, I make a swift exit.
Running out of options, I decide to try hitch-hiking.
<div class="art-ins mol-factbox money" data-version="2" id="mol-a3fcec40-bb46-11ed-b496-2f1ca73e786d" website visit Kielder – the remotest spot in UK's cash desert