TWO-HOUR trip to the nearest ATM… the disturbing warnings from Kielder, the remotest spot in UK’s cash desert

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  • Residents have to travel 18 miles to get to the nearest free ATM.
  • The return journey by car through the winding streets can take two hours or more.
  • Those who rely on public transport face an even bigger challenge.

Kielder in Northumberland has the dubious honor of being the furthest British village from an ATM.

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Residents of this picturesque village, located just three miles south of the Anglo-Scottish border, have to travel 18 miles to get to the nearest free ATM at the cooperative store in the village of Bellingham.

The return journey by car through the winding streets can take two hours or more. Those who use public transport face an even bigger problem.

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Getting to the bank is a big problem. There used to be three branches in Bellingham – Lloyds, Barclays and TSB – but in recent years they have closed and Kildare residents have no choice but to travel to Hexham, 30 miles away, to get to the branch.

Kielder might seem like an extreme example. However, he offers a glimpse into the future of thousands of communities across the UK that are in danger of becoming cash deserts with no access to physical money.

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Take Me to the Money: Toby Waln with Farmer John Richardson and on a Bicycle

The fact is that banks are pushing us towards a cashless society by closing more and more branches and ATMs. Over the past eight years, the number of large banks has halved, and another 263 banks are scheduled to close this year.

When banks run, they also rip out their ATMs. During the same period, almost a third of ATMs were taken out of production, which is more than 20,000 units.

Kielder Parish Council Chairman Dick Graham shakes his head in disbelief at how banks have been allowed to leave communities without any liability.

The 69-year-old Forestry Commission retiree says: “Banks spend millions on advertising claiming they are here to support us, but the truth is they just want to squeeze every penny we have out of us.

“Closing branches and ATMs, forcing people to pay with cards rather than cash, only increases their profits.”

Cash network organization Link says banking centers, which have several different banks in the same premises, could be a solution for residents of Kildare and Bellingham.

However, while 34 such centers are under development across the country, only four have actually opened. Branch closures are in full swing, and banking centers are opening at a snail’s pace.

Graham adds: “Crowds of tourists come to enjoy our rural location, but it’s hard for them to get cash. An ATM or mobile mobile bank could be a godsend for our village.”

We approach the ATM

Traveling from Kielder to Bellingham by car is by far the easiest way, although even that can take up to an hour when the weather turns bad. Meanwhile, the journey back to Hexham through difficult lanes can take three hours or more.

Since I am in Kildera without a car, I ask for a taxi instead. But the return trip will cost me £120 – a huge amount for any budget and hardly feasible when the ATM limit is only £250.

Unfortunately, due to our location, online banking is required, but not by choice.
Kildare resident Jeannette Barron

Next I look at public transport. Kildare resident Jeannette Barron, 63, tells me she pays £10 for a phone call service to get to the bank and shops in Hexham.

But the service is only available on Tuesday and Friday, only one bus per day. Passengers pick up at Kilder at 8:45 am and arrive in Hexham approximately two hours later. The bus returns at 13:45.

Jeanette, a former welfare officer, says: “Unfortunately, due to our location, it is necessary to do banking online, but not by choice. This makes you more vulnerable to hackers, and those of us who aren’t computer addicts may find it difficult. If more banks close, millions more will be forced to bank online.”

I call Adapt (NE) to book a ride. Someone answers and says they are busy and will call back in ten minutes. I’m still waiting for that call.

Then I visit a local bike rental company, The Bike Place. Here I can rent a pedal bike for £35 a day or £60 for an electric one. Manager Martin Lively says: “If you start pedaling now and don’t linger, you can get to a Bellingham ATM in 90 minutes.”

But the rain is beginning to pour, and I don’t really like the view of the steep hills ahead. I politely decline the offer and leave quickly.

When there are no more options, I decide to try hitchhiking.

Check if banks close to you

Zoom in and click on the colored icons to see which banks will close in 2023.

Source: big banks

However, this is a gamble because I risk getting stuck on my way there or trying to get back. There is also a slight problem with the fact that there are few cars on the road and the locals quite rightly do not trust the strange stranger clutching a notepad.

I think I got lucky when I stumbled upon John Richardson, a sheep farmer who was testing his 300 Swaildales on a 100-acre property in nearby Yarrow—right on the edge of the six-mile Kielder Water.

The 83-year-old man’s eyes twinkle as he pulls up in his 450cc ATV and urges me to jump on board. He says: “Of course we all need money, even if we live here. But banks just don’t want to know or care.

However, John admits that an ATV would not be suitable for a trip to the Halifax branch in Hexham, where he works. He can only take me on the tarmac trails as he doesn’t have an ATV road license – not ideal when it’s raining.

At least the mail survives.

For those who are very flexible in timing and do not prefer the anonymity of the ATM, the post office offers another option. It is open from 9:30 am to noon on Monday and Saturday and for six hours every day from Tuesday to Friday.

Unlike banks in the area,…

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