Back to the East Coast
The final day of my ride started brightly. I had a shower and then went down to the bar for breakfast before throwing my kit back in the bags and setting off at 8.45.
Alston, where I was staying, is not strictly on the C2C route though many people come this way as it has more amenities than Garrigill which also has, what I hear is, a particularly vicious climb. This was not to say however that riding out of Alston was easy. The pub was at the bottom of the town and so the day started with a tough ride. The main drag of Alston is a steep cobbled street and with tired legs that had not yet warmed up so I started the day with a struggle. I took the opportunity of taking some photos of the town as a ruse to keep stopping. (You’ll not see those pictures here – they aren’t very good; but the excuse to stop was still useful).
The climbing continued out of the town and the next few miles continued mostly uphill before a descent down into Nenthead. Fortunately although this climbing was a hard start to the morning it did finally start to get my legs warmed up. This was just as well.
In Nenthead I stopped to check directions and promptly got taunted by a young boy on a BMX who insisted on showing me the way and racing ahead of on the climb out of the village. However as soon as the climb started getting properly steep he bottled out and rode home. The wimp!
Nenthead was another pretty tough climb. Most of it was OK – hard but doable. But every now and again it had some very sharp stretches and I did end up walking a short section. The landscape here was changing now and we definitely into the North Pennines. This was also into old lead mining territory and the hillsides around Nenthead were covered in old mine works which really added to the atmosphere in this part of the country. The climb continued on up for a while until reaching the top of Black Hill; the highest point on the whole of the National Cycle Network. I stopped here where I then met a couple of Dutch guys who were also riding the C2C. We had a quick chat and then both headed off – them first with my following a few minutes later after admiring the views.
From Black Hill there were some lovely descents across to Allenheads (there were a couple of climbs but nothing tough and the landscape was so beautiful I barely noticed them anyway). Allenheads is another old mining village with lots of industrial archaeology all over the place from furnaces to the cobbled track way that gave access to the mines for the pit ponies.
There was another tough climb out of the village up a zig zag road. At the top of the hill an odd conical cairn marked the border into County Durham and another nice downhill to Rookhope.
Following the Rookhope Burn this section is even deeper into lead mining country with the remains of much more recent mine heads still extant and, towards the bottom of the valley the Lintgarth Arch. This one arch is all that remains of what was once about a mile long horizontal chimney from the nearby lead smelting works. The chimney had been so built when the factory owners realised that they were losing lots of lead that was literally going up in smoke. By building the chimney horizontally they could send people in on a regular basis to scrape out any residues.
From the tiny village of Rookhope riders sometimes have the choice of routes however one of the options depends on the landowner allowing access and, as we were in the middle of Grouse hunting season, that route was closed when I got there. This left me with a ride into Stanhope and then the notorious climb up to Parkhead.
The hill profile on the map I had did show that at least I had a nice easy downhill ride into Stanhope to begin with so I was rather surprised to find myself climbing out of the village. Whether it was actually a tough climb or maybe just felt tough as it was completely unexpected, I really struggled with the climb and the ride across to Stanhope – or at least most of it – there was an eventual steep and much welcome ride down to the village. It was along this section that I found myself shepherding a hedgehog off the road. Its always nice to be at one with nature when out on the road.
Again expecting a tough climb I stopped on a bench in the village and had some lunch (and a belly full of jelly babies) before getting back on the saddle and heading on the road towards Parkhead. I had read on forums that the Crawleyside Bank climb was the worst part of the route and by God I wasn’t disappointed! This hill hurts. I mean really hurts. Its the last climb of the route and so by this time I was tired anyway. I admit I did end up pushing a fair bit on the worst climbs. I really tried not to and rode as much as I could but in some sections I just couldn’t avoid it. It wasn’t even worth (as I sometimes do) stopping to get my breath back before starting again. On this hill there were bits I just was not going to make.
I was pleased therefore to eventually find the hill start to flatten out. Not that it was really flat but compared to what had gone before it was at least rideable. And then finally I hit the top and crossed to the Parkhead Café. The café is an old station master’s house that has since been developed into a lovely café; ideally placed at the top of the final hill on the C2C route. I stopped for some more coffee and cake and to admire the views. It was a bit windy on the exposed tops but glorious nonetheless and I can see why the place is so popular with cyclists and walkers.
From here on I was on the home straight; albeit with another 30 miles to go quite a long straight. From here on in it would be all downhill (well there is the occasional rise; but no more hills to speak of) to the coast. The route here joins the Waskerley Way – the former Stanhope and Tyne railway that carried limestone from the quarries on the hill tops here down to South Shields. It did also carry passengers as well though was never successful. Now however it forms a lovely gentle route downhill and despite a bit of rain in the air now the ride down to Consett was easy going and left me grinning like a Cheshire Cat again. If the whole of the route down to Sunderland would be like this I would be there before I knew it.
Coming into Consett the route did divert off onto some regular cycle paths and back streets which did slow me down again but after getting through the town, and through a rather magically weird section where the route passes through a large landscaped sculpture and back onto old railway lines through Annfield and Stanley. Along the next few miles a range of line side sculptures added to the quirkiness of the route and before long I had passed over the main East Coast Railway and A1(M) and came down into Washington.
From here on unfortunately the way become much slower and a bit less fun. The route does pass through some lovely parks but also follows a number of side roads around industrial estates and takes a large number of weaves and turns, not all of them signposted clearly. The downhill was now largely finished as well as I was following the Wear valley. As such the remaining few miles did feel as though they were taking a long to complete and I lost a bit of the joy as I was now feeling tired and was ready to see the sea.
As the route passed under the A19 and came onto the Wear riverside path I did realise that I was almost in Sunderland however the route did again divert slightly inland through some more industrial estates and I did get lost in one poorly signed area; but I carried on and soon could see the Stadium of Light on the river bank a short way ahead and knew that now I was really getting close.
I passed by the stadium; a match was taking place inside but there didn’t seem to be much atmosphere coming from inside and I had to weave my way around a large number of hot dog wagons parked up around the concourse before re-joining the riverside path and following the last section of the Wear down to the sea.
One final diversion around a small marina and some new housing and there was the sea and a short way further along the official end point of the route. Arms off the handlebar and high in the air I crossed the finish line and rode the bike down onto the beach for the customary photo of the bike with the front wheel in the sea – to mirror the picture I had taken previously at Workington. Just to make sure I also rode along the harbour arm for a few more pictures by the lighthouse at its end and then headed back to get properly off the saddle and finished up.
There was another bunch of about twenty people on bikes there also celebrating. They had just finished as well and some of the guys said that they had seen me yesterday at Hartside – they were just leaving the café as I was pulling in (they had continued on a fair way further that day so were less inclined to linger at the café). We shared stories of the hills, and I was certainly glad from what they said that I had ridden through Alston rather than Garrigill – apparently that climb was as bad as Crawleyside Bank. Then I bade them farewell – grabbed a burger from a little café across the road and got changed into civvies and waited for one of my old university friends Trixie to collect me. Living in Durham now Trixie was putting me up for the night and we got through a few bottles of wine whilst I slowly fell comfortably and sound asleep before waking the next day and getting the train back down South – with a rather marvellous adventure complete and a tremendous feeling of achievement.
Day Four Stats:
- Distance: 62.12 Miles
- Ride Time: 5 Hours, 21 minutes and 44 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 36.0 mph
- Average Speed: 11.5 mph
- Average RPM: 54
- Revolutions: 17,374
- Ascent: 3,878 feet
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/375334617
- Distance: 266.35 Miles
- Ride Time: 22 Hours, 59 minutes and 51 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 38.3 mph
- Average Speed: 11.59 mph
- Revolutions: 78,746
- Ascent: 14,546 feet