Stone Circles, Tweed and Hills
I woke to the sound of rain tapping loudly on my bedroom window. Peering through the curtains the weather looked set and the weather app on my phone also suggested that this was the case. Having woken up I started the day with a bath (real luxury having had one when I had arrived the evening before) before heading down for a marvellous Full English with the obligatory Cumberland Sausage. The food was good and the service charming and after plenty of coffee and orange juice I went back up to finish loading the paniers and climb into the wet riding gear.
I was ready to go on the dot of nine and as if by magic, as the hotel staff fetched my bike out of the lockup the rain stopped. The hill tops were still hidden in the clouds however as I climbed into the saddle and pulled out of Portinscale. The riding started slowly and easily; crossing the River Derwent and heading into Kewsick; stopping at a garage on the way into town to pick up some supplies for the day.
I had last been in Keswick about 18 years earlier and the little I saw from the bicycle did not look remotely familiar. However the last time had been whilst drinking after an end of season rugby match playing for Ormskirk RUFC and my memory of the evening is largely hazy and what I do remember is best forgotten. The town looks nice though….
At a set of lights I picked up three other cyclists on fancy road bikes. They were also doing the C2C but at what I suspect would be a rather different pace and with someone following along behind them with all of their luggage. What cheats! They were sure to be leaving behind fairly quickly anyway but not long after joining the old railway line that the route follows eastwards out of town I turned off anyway and left them to it.
I had made the decision to take a little detour to the south of the route and so rather than following the valley on the old railway line I instead headed up the steep climb out of town in the direction of Castlerigg Stone Circle. The climb up was tough going but a good leg stretcher and was definitely worth it as the views opened up from the top of the hill. The site itself is in a field immediately to the right of the side road I had taken. The site is absolutely stunning and the light and clouds gave it an incredible atmosphere. I could have sat there for ages but I had a lot of riding ahead and I could see rain coming back in so I headed back to the bike just as the rain did indeed start again. I put the wet weather gear back on and headed back down towards the main cycle track joining it at Threlkeld.
From here the route headed along some quiet tracks to the side of the main road, undulating as it headed along the side of the valley. The lane passed through some lovely farms and fields. The surface is good however the riding was a little stop start as there are a number of gates to pass through; normally just as you’d get some speed up on a down hill section. After a mile or two the lane turned slightly northwards towards Mungrisdale where the route crosses the river, and then immediately heads back down the other side of the valley before joining along the side of the A66.
Here I was to make my first overtaking of ‘Tweed Man’. More of him later. After a mile or two alongside the busy trunk road (not directly on it fortunately) the cycleway headed sideways onto some quiet country lanes which I would be following for most of the rest of the day.
After a couple of miles the road started dropping down into the village of Greystoke and I hunted out of the Cycle Cafe on the edge of the village. This tea shop is a truly remarkable establishment. It is open 10-6 for cyclists (and support drivers) but less frequently for other passers by. As well the glorious tea shop itself they have a barn full of equipment in case you need to give the bike a quick service and also a regular timetable of events occurring. There was a whittling workshop taking place as I arrived so I ordered a milkshake and a brownie and watched as the good folk whittled away. The only down side was the large number of wasps in the garden but this is certainly an absolute must stop site for anyone riding the sea to sea route.
By now the sun was fully out (and it was to remain that way for the rest of the day) and beautifully refreshed and cheered I headed back on the side roads towards Penrith. The riding was pretty good and fast going with the exception of a very short sharp up hill in the village of Newton Rigg where a big screen by the side of the road loudly shouted out that I was climbing up it at a whole 6mph – yeah thanks for that.
A short section of off road track brought me into the edge of Penrith. Having stopped at Greystoke I had no need of the Penrith Tea Rooms and I wasn’t after the finest wines known to humanity anyway (not just yet anyway) so I merely collected some cash and filled up the water bottles before climbing out of town. The climb up Fell Lane onto Beacon Ridge is a tough steep ride but over soon enough and I was soon riding up and down some smaller hills before eventually dropping down into the pretty village of Langwathby, passing ‘Tweed Man’ for the second time on the way into the village (presumably he had passed me whilst I was resting in the cycle cafe – he should have stopped!).
In Langwathby I caught my first sign of the imminent arrival of the Tour of Britain which was due to be heading this in a few weeks from now. The village was already bedecked in signs and there was also a yellow spray painted bicycle by the road sign – these bikes were appearing all over the country in places that the tour was going to be passing through. It therefore seemed that this would be a good place to stop for lunch – especially as there were a few climbs ahead of me that I needed refuelling for and also as there was a village shop from which I could stock up on water and jelly babies.
Have I mentioned the jelly babies? Possibly the most wondrous invention when undertaking long rides or runs. I’d first come across their particular magic during training for the Great North Run some years earlier but had since found them to be even more amazing when spending a day in the saddle. Your Lucozade’s and SIS drinks and sachets of gunk are great; but still not a patch on the amazing energy giving jelly baby. I now would never imagine venturing out on a long day’s ride with a pack (or two) in the panniers. End of advertisement.
After a light lunch on a bench on Langwathby village green and a pop into the local shop to refill my water bottles I was ready for the next stage. Ahead of me from here was about another 10 miles of undulating hills (with a few steep climbs and drops on the way) before I would make it to the bottom of Hartside Hill.
Through Little Salkeld a fairly short but steep climb led me past Tweed Man for the third time today (we appeared to be doing the classic hare and tortoise riding – he was going slow and steady with few if any stops whilst I was shooting past him and then resting allowing him to head past me again). At the top of the hill I took a small diversion to head off to see Long Meg and her daughters. Not some family friends but another stone circle.
In many ways Long Meg is a more impressive site than Castlerigg which I had visited at the start of the day however, almost due to its much larger scale, it didn’t quite much the atmosphere. I was pleased to have visited the site though. Both here and Castlerigg are sites that I’d long had on my list of places to visit and so to do them both in the same day and entirely under my own steam felt really good.
The next five miles were not particularly eventful, other than having the opportunity to pass Tweed Man for the fourth time on another steep incline but there was some tough riding with some short sharp hills that were starting to take effect in my legs. With Hartside ahead I was starting to fear how I would tackle the big one.
I didn’t have long to worry. Before long I came across the sign marking that I was at the bottom of the Hartside climb. Although not the worst climb on the C2C route, Hartside is probably the most famous. At about 1,000 feet over roughly four miles its the single biggest and longest climb on the route (though there are a couple of tougher climbs). I stopped at the bottom, fuelled up on water and jelly babies and got myself ready for the ride up. Just as I was preparing for the off Tweed Man came and joined me. He did at this point choose to have a break for once and joined me briefly. His break did not consist of jelly babies but rather a roll up cigarette instead – to which I have to doff my cap (bike helmet). To climb these hills with the extra weight he had on his bike and in the clothes that he was wearing was pretty good going as it is; but to do so on reduced lung capacity takes some doing.
I choose not to hang around with him whilst he finished his fag but instead said that I’d meet him in the cafe at the top and, both of us wishing the other luck, went on my way.
In the end Hartside didn’t turn out to be too awful; just a very long climb. I set myself off in a low gear at a steady cadence and slowly watched the altitude increasing on my bike computer, and the distance adding up on the phone GPS software strapped onto my arm. I passed a few young lads who I’m sure should have been in much better shape than an overweight 42 year old. This made me feel good at least; though I’m not sure that it did them any good as they all immediately stopped and started pushing up the hill instead. I did take a short breather after about two miles but was soon back on my slow and steady way.
I am writing this blog post up some months after the event and referring back to the diary I made on the day I wrote that “Riding up was tough on my nadgers. Also hands going numb”. This particular mix of sensations was not something that I now particularly recall but I have since noticed it whilst doing other long climbs . Odd…
I was also forced for a second stop where the side road that I had been riding along meets the main A686. This was due to traffic on the main road but the junction also has a particularly nasty corner that did mean that I had to push the bike around onto the main road – but I’ll forgive myself that. The main road section proved easier going than the side road as the incline was very regular. I had heard that riding this section can be a bit hairy due to drivers trying to audition for Top Gear (and generally driving like nobs) but fortunately I encountered no such issues and before too long I was rounding the final hairpin and headed straight for summit and the Hartside Cafe.
I gave myself a hearty cheer as I reached the summit; stopped to pose for some selfies at the top; and then road over the road to the cafe where I was greeted and cheered in by three gentlemen who were working for the Tour of Britiain. Hartside was to be the end of a day’s stage and these guys were making sure that the prep was done ready for when the circus rolled into town. They said that they had been watching me riding up and had been impressed – which was nice to hear. They did also tell me that they had seen a guy in Tweeds further down the hill also making good, if slow, progress.
I sat with them over a coffee and a slice of cake and chatted about their work on the tour. They left before me so I got another cup of coffee. I had finished my final climb for the day; I only had about 5 or 6 miles left for the day and they were downhill so I had no time worries and it lovely to sit and admire the view back over the land that I had ridden across to get here. It all felt rather magic. Just then Tweed Man entered the cafe so I waved him over and we sat and chatted properly for a while at last.
Rather stupidly although I did get his name I never noted in my diary and writing this up now I shamefully cannot recall it. I do recall however that he had been visiting friends in Cumbria and was now on his way home to Newcastle. He was also staying in Alston this evening so was also pretty much done for the day as well. He was camping somewhere in the village but I invited him to come and join me for a pint in the Cumberland Inn (where I was staying) if he fancied; though he never did and as I bade him farewell at the cafe (whilst he had another roll up) that would be the last I saw of him on the trip.
The ride down to Alston was as easy and glorious as I had hoped. The weather had fully cheered up again and once I had got the bike up to speed I let the wheels do all the work for me on the fast open road. Often on descents like this I am left thinking that any such easy ride normally has a big horrible climb at the end of it. This was indeed still true; however that climb would be for tomorrow.
The Cumberland Inn was right at the bottom of the hill not long after entering Alston and I almost overshot it. However before too long the bike was locked up in the cellar and I was soaking in the bath. After writing up my diary and uploading my GPS files I headed downstairs. I had booked bed, breakfast and an evening meal and soon found myself a comfortable perch for the evening. Cumberland Sausage, Mash, Onion Rings and Gravy were washed down with three or four excellent pints of local bitter and then before too long I was back in my room and snoring like a good ‘un.
Day Three Stats:
- Distance: 48.95 Miles
- Ride Time: 4 Hours, 27 minutes and 44 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 38.3 mph
- Average Speed: 10.9 mph
- Average RPM: 61
- Revolutions: 16,332
- Ascent: 4,132 feet
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/374155807