Not long after completing my first bike tour on the Avenue Verte last summer I was starting to contemplate my next challenge. Doing some more riding in Europe was my first thought with a few possible routes coming to mind. However after a bit more consideration it struck me that maybe I should find a good ride within the UK instead and give myself more of a challenge in terms of hills. My regular commuting rides are mostly along the flat coastline between Eastbourne and Hastings and as such I should try and gear myself up for some climbs instead.
I picked up a set of the Sustrans guides to three of the main coast to coast rides (Hadrian’s Cycleway, Way of the Roses and Sea to Sea). I quickly decided that each route was a little shorter than I was hoping to achieve and after a fair bit of study decided on a combination of two routes.
I would start by following the Hadrian’s route in reverse from South Shields. I would follow it to the end of the wall at Bowness on Solway and continue riding it as it headed down the west coast as far as Workington. Despite having no connection with the wall here the Hadrian Cycleway route actually continues South to Ravenglass. However from Workington I’d abandon that route and instead swap onto the Sea to Sea ride back across country to Sunderland (it might have given some symmetry to return to Tyne Mouth but I quite liked the idea of keeping the start and finish a bit more separate).
This would have given me a total ride of about 250 miles (similar to the Avenue Verte) but I chose to give myself one less day (4 rather than 5) for the ride.
One of these days I will try my hand at cycle camping but until I’m a bit more used to cycle touring in general I think I’ll stick with some home comforts. Also I had some longer days planned at the start of the ride and didn’t really want to add too much more weight on to the bike. With that in mind I fully planned my stops and booked in some B&Bs at South Shields (I will be travelling up the day before staying overnight and heading off first thing on day one), Carlisle, Portinscale (near Keswick) and Alston. Trains were also booked (with cycle space – an easy enough process with the East Coast route) and then it was a matter of getting myself in shape for the hills and then waiting for the off.
As things got close I did some final trial rides; a 100+ mile ride across the Kent and Sussex Weald (lots of ups and downs) and a 25 mile ride deliberately planned to give me a few of the biggest climbs on the East Sussex part of the South Downs. These rides went well. I was as ready as I was going to be and after getting the bike a good clean and a service, so was she.
The night before the ride I made sure that everything was packed and ready for an easy getaway. I’d primed the young lad next door to keep an eye on the house and water the tomatoes and I went to bed ready.
The first day was actually mostly travelling with only a small ‘Prologue’ ride. So I had a leisurely breakfast, walked up to the allotment to give it a good soak, made the final adjustments to my bags, loaded them onto the bike and rode down the hill to Hastings station.
PANIC!! After pushing my bike into the station building I walked to the ticket machine to collect my ticket for the first trains up to London (via Ashford). I had packed light and was not taking my wallet; just cash and the essential bank cards. I’d packed the wrong credit card; not the one I’d used when booking the tickets. I had 20 minutes until the train. If I missed it I’d miss all the connections. Quickly locking the bike up I jumped into a cab with my panniers and explained my predicament to the driver. He shot back up the hill at record speed and waited whilst I dived into the house . The credit card was fortunately where I thought it should be (a miracle) and I soon ran out of the house (remembering to lock it!), dived back into the taxi and we headed back down the hill. We might just make it. The traffic near the station however had other ideas and the line of traffic at the lights was too much. Throwing a tenner at the driver I jumped out and ran lugging my laden panniers the last couple of hundred yards to the station. Grabbing my bike I had no time to actually collect my ticket but instead ran straight to the platform. I made the train. Just!
I explained my situation to the guard who kindly let me continue and confirmed that I should be able to pick up my tickets at Ashford. And so the journey was underway. I was considerably more sweaty and on edge than planned; but I was going!
After that the journey was uneventful. I was indeed able to get my tickets at Ashford and continued on to St Pancras and then to Kings Cross and the train to Newcastle. Getting the bike onto the luggage carriage was easily done and though I wondered why my seat had to be at the opposite end of the train from the luggage car I was soon settled in and headed north. Somewhere between Stevenage and Peterborough the rain started, but not to worry. Finally at around 4pm the train pulled into Newcastle.
The rain was chucking down in Newcastle now. This was not exactly a part of the plan but I had to be prepared for any weather so putting on my wet gear I set off out of the station, down to the riverside and over the Millennium Bridge onto the Gateshead side of the Tyne next to the Baltic Gallery. From here the ‘Prologue’ ride would be to simply follow National Cycle Network Route 14 towards the coast at South Shields.
The rain kept steady throughout most of the ride (though it did slowly start to ease off) and I took things nice and steady. This would be a total of 15 miles riding, a distance that I might normally look to knock off at quite a pace; however today was just about taking it easy. So avoiding breaking into a sweat I followed the (mostly) riverside path eastwards.
The route here is quite a mix of river path riding interspersed with some inland sections where (mostly closed down) industry sits on the water front. One such section took me into Hebburn around the old Hawthorn Leslie ship works and the rather magnificent Presbyterian church built by Leslie for the ship workers. From here on the route was less scenic, passing the ‘Bede Industrial Estate’ (I’m sure that he would have appreciated it) before heading into South Shields where the route finally re-joins the river next to the South Shields Ferry.
I found my way to the Roman fort (Arbeia) which was to be my starting point in the morning for the Hadrian’s Cycleway part of my grand adventure. From there it was a matter of metres to my B&B for the night. The owner was not yet in when I arrived (I was a little earlier than I had said that I would be there) so I rode a little further to take a look over the mouth of the Tyne from the a park overlooking the coast and on my return the owner was in and showed me to my room.
The Britannia Guesthouse is a fairly traditional bed and breakfast but I appeared to have it to myself. I showered and sorted my gear out, filling the radiators with my wet clothes, and then headed into the town for a drink and some food.
It was quite odd to see South Shields on a wet weekday evening. I have been here on a few occasions before and it was always, to say the least, a little more busy than today. South Shields is at the end of the Great North Run course, an event which I have completed four times (indeed developing ankle problems training for the last time I ran it in 2013 was what had driven me back onto the bike as my primary form of exercise). I was now walking down a deserted street that I had only ever seen packed full of runners and supporters heading from the finish line to the Metro station back into the city. It felt like a very different town this evening.
I popped into Morrison’s to gather some food supplies for the next day’s ride and then settled into a comfortable chair in the Kirkpatrick pub for a couple of excellent pints (and at only £1.95 a pint – welcome to the North). That was followed by a good curry in the ‘Asha’ before heading back to the guesthouse and to bed in preparation of a long day to come.
- Distance: 14.93 Miles
- Ride Time: 1 Hour 25 minutes and 57 seconds
- Average Speed: 10.4 mph
- Average RPM: 49
- Revolutions: 4,211
- Ascent: 496 feet
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/371981858