Way of the Roses Day Three – 3 August 2023

Brighter to Bridlington

After the persistent rain of the previous day, it was a pleasant surprise to open the curtains of my 8th floor bedroom in the Radisson in York to be greeted by a bright and cheery day.

The same view as yesterday evening looked even more stunning with a blue sky.  I started to get myself ready.  My cycling gear from yesterday was still wet.  Fortunately I had two sets with me; and though I was putting back on the clothes from Day One, they were dry (and only a little bit stinky – day one was a shorter day’s riding after all).  The wet gear got double bagged (I’d picked up some bin bags the previous morning in Settle.  Past experience of a wet day riding between the Somme and Agincourt had taught me the value of double bagging).  With most of my kit ready, I headed downstairs for another excellent breakfast – admiring the even more stunning view across the Minster from the elevator lobby.

View over York
View over York from the Radisson Hotel

Breakfast was good; though apparently not as good as the one from the Golden Lion in Settle as I didn’t photograph it.  Either that or I was so hungry I just wolfed it down.

After a quick retreat to the room to finally gather everything up I headed downstairs to check out and collect my bike from the secure staff parking area, then loaded it up and got ready to set off.

There are few better places to start a cycle ride than going through the heart of medieval York.  I headed past the Minster and up through Goodramgate and out of Monkgate Bar.  I was so happy to be cycling through the city gates that I was 100 yards through them when I realised my cycle computer was flashing to warn me that I was off route.  I wasn’t actually supposed to have ridden through the bar so I had to double back and ride through it a second time!

York Minster Selfie
York Minster Selfie

Back on the correct route I left the City by crossing over the Fosse and found my way onto the former York to Beverley railway line.

Route 66
Route 66

A mix of railway path and quiet roads and farm tracks would take me through Dunnington and into Stamford Bridge.

Stamford Bridge Station
Stamford Bridge Station

More flat country lanes led me nice and steadily on towards Pocklington. I was taking it easy but the riding was easy and lovely.  It was so much nicer to be out and about in clear blue skies.

Low Slung Finger Posts
Low Slung Finger Posts – Not that Bolton

Pocklington would mark the start of riding into the Yorkshire Wolds.  It was also going to be biggest settlement I’d be in for a while so I decided to stop for a second breakfast.  I pulled over at the first place I came across, Swirlz Gelato.  I parked up, ordered a smoothie and a sweet crepe and settled down at an outside table.  It was a good break and though barely two hours on since breakfast it was certainly a good choice.

Second Breakfast in Pocklington
Second Breakfast in Pocklington

A short way after leaving Pocklington on one its busier roads, a turning to the left and onto country lanes marked the start of the Yorkshire Wolds. The fields started to open up and the road rolled up and down (mostly up) into Millington and slowly and gradually onward and upwards.  Around a corner the views opened up further to reveal a lovely valley ahead and the road dropped down to meet its floor.

Hills of the Wolds
Hills of the Wolds

From the valley bottom I now started to follow it back uphill.  The climbing was largely gentle and never beyond mildly steep; although the valley on either side rose up steeply; reminding me of the chalk hills of Wilshire and Sussex I’ve spent so many years riding up.

I was briefly distracted by some fine looking highland cattle but got on my way and climbed up and out of the back of Millington Dale. 

A Yorkshire Highland Cow
A Yorkshire Highland Cow

At the top, the landscape flattened back out into wide rolling views as I headed through Huggate and onwards towards Tibthorpe.  Somewhere along this stretch a small but threatening looking cloud lived up to expectation as it opened up right above me with a sharp but short shower.  I stopped to put my rain jacket on; and stopped again only another mile or two further on to take it back off again as the cloud passed over and the sun came back out.

I passed through Tibthorpe and into Kirkburn, and that was the Yorkshire Weald done and dusted. There was one last set of small hills before the coast, but the Weald had been the last proper set of hills of the whole trip and they had been steady going, but tackled without incident.

From Kirkburn its only about 4 miles into the centre of Driffield by the most direct route.  However that route is along the busy A614 and so the Way of the Roses takes a detour along some country lanes in a loop to the south of the town, adding an additional 6 miles riding.  These miles were pretty close to pan flat across some open arable land and pretty easy going, albeit with a fair breeze from the north west which the twisty turning route did head into for a fair part of the way.

At a junction before Hutton Cranswick the Way of the Roses joins with cycle route NCN1.  NCN1 was a regular part of my riding in Kent when living in Sussex as it starts at the Port of Dover and heads around the Kent North and then northwards up the country.  I’ve encountered it in a few other places, most notably in the North of Scotland and Orkney.  I’d love to complete the full distance of the route all the way to the very top of Shetland; even if done in stages over many years.  Adding a few miles of the route in Yorkshire was therefore something of a bonus.

On National Cycle Route 1
On National Cycle Route 1

At Hutton Cranswick, and again on entering Driffield, I’d also cross the Bridlington to Hull line on level crossings for the first two times.  The last few miles from Skerne into Driffield were a bit tougher on account of being almost fully into the wind, but I kept pedalling and soon found myself turning into the Driffield main drag on a lively market day.

Lunch Break in Driffield
Lunch Break in Driffield

I found a bench at the top end of the high street, got a sandwich and some pop from a bakers and had a pleasant rest watching the world go by whilst sitting under some colourful, ornamental, umbrellas.

Driffield Umbrellas
Driffield Umbrellas

I enjoyed the rest but chivvied myself along into getting back onto the bike. I still had another 20 miles or thereabouts before I’d see the sea including one last final set of hills (even if they were the lowest on the route).

The route leaves Driffield heading east on a fairly busy road so I made the most of a shared footpath/cycleway alongside the route towards the pretty village of Nafferton at which point the route heads south again and over a third level crossing.  Before too long a couple of left hand turns put me back northwards on an even quieter road bearing signs that the (fourth) level crossing ahead was closed to traffic.  It is, but not to pedestrians or cyclists.

Once across the railway line again a couple of right hand turns around Harpham had me heading on another even more forlorn road to the fifth level crossing (cyclists and walkers only again) before almost immediately turning left onto a more open road and over the sixth (and final) level crossing; the last four of which had been crossed within 6 miles.

The final level crossing brought me into Burton Agnes and the start of the final set of hills.  Some brown tourist signs at Burton Agnes suggested a couple of historic attractions in the form of a Hall and a Manor House.  I stopped to look them up online and was pleased to see that the Manor House was a free to enter English Heritage property so I diverted into the car park to take a look.  The advertising was a bit misleading.  It is a ‘free’ EH property, but only if you pay to go into the hall in the grounds of which it sits.  I didn’t have the time to properly get value for money on such a visit so I sadly headed back on my way and up into the final set of hills before the coast.

The climbing wasn’t difficult but I was quite tired now so it was also far from easy but I steadily made my way up the short climb to the ridge and onto the Roman Road heading towards Bridlington and Flamborough Head.  The map shows a lot of potentially interesting historical and archaeological sites in this small area so I will have to come back another time and explore the area.

Heading East along the ridge I got my first look at the North Sea and the East Coast.  The end was visible but I still had a few miles to go.  Those are the hard miles when you know you’re almost there but not quite close enough. They passed slowly but pleasantly until the final descent to Bridlington.

First Sighting of the North Sea
First Sighting of the North Sea

Within Bridlington itself the route takes as long as possible to find a way to get you to the sea front. It is actually less than 2 miles from the Old Town around residential streets before suddenly arriving at the sea front. It felt longer.

Bridlington Priory Church
Bridlington Priory Church – Almost there!

Once on the prom, the sign marking the end of the ride appeared and I was happy to pull up and mark the ride from Morecambe as complete.

Way of the Roses. Done
Way of the Roses. Done

Well, almost complete.  There was the small matter of riding back across town, this time along the prom and past all the seafront rock and tat stalls, arcades, and chip shops back to the rather pretty station.  I had made it back a couple of hours before my booked train so I decided to pay for an earlier alternative and was soon settled onto the train, passing over the same six level crossings and through Hull to York, and then on to Darlington to the car and back home.

Bridlingon Station
Heading Home – At Bridlingon Station

Stats:

Way of the Roses – Day 3 – Timelapse Video

Way of the Roses Day Two – 2 August 2023

The Wettest Day on Two Wheels

Despite a very comfortable bed in a lovely room, the sound of the rain outside the window of the Golden Lion had been creeping into my sleep throughout the night.  It was still sounding heavy when my alarm went off.

I got dressed into my cycling gear, half loaded the bags and headed downstairs for an excellent full breakfast.  It was probably too much to have just before heading out into the hills that were going to be immediately in front of me.  It was very good though.

A Golden Lion Breakfast
A Golden Lion Breakfast

I went back upstairs, finished getting myself ready, listened to the rain a bit more, and braced myself to head out into the wet and onto the hills.

As anticipated, it wasn’t long before I started climbing.  I had pulled out of the Golden Lion, taken a couple of right turns around the town square, and was on the edge of the hills within about 1/4 mile.  There was no gentle start. The gradient quickly headed into double figures and to add to the fun there is a nice stretch of cobbles as the road rises.

The cobbles soon gave way, but the hill just got steeper.  There would be about 750 feet of climbing ahead of me in around two miles.  That would be tough in any situation but add in

  • A heavy bike
  • Laden panniers
  • A massive breakfast
  • Unrelenting rain
  • A strong headwind

and it wasn’t going to be easy.  When touring I try not to beat myself up too much if I have to get off and walk at any point, but it would have been nice for that to happen a little bit further into the day.  The first 2.5 miles would end up taking me 35 minutes – not much faster than walking pace.  I was in the saddle more often than I was pushing, but probably not by much.

Climbing out of Settle
Climbing out of Settle

Eventually the road levelled out and I knew that the next 5 or 6 miles would be largely downhill.  It was a huge relief but it was still wet and windy and the views from the tops were not as stunning today as I imagine they can often be.  Coming down was lovely riding to start with, but as things levelled off again, the roads got wetter and wetter with puddles crossing ever further across the width of the carriageway.

Not long past the small village of Calton things got wetter still.  A short downhill section led me with little warning to a completely flooded section of road.  With a long enough days riding ahead of me; not wanting to have to double back to add even more miles to the ride; having already got to the point of wet that a little more probably wouldn’t hurt; and with just a little bit of gung ho/sod it in me,  I powered on and kept pedalling through, hoping that there wouldn’t be any hidden rocks or potholes, and praying I could keep going to avoid having to get off and wade.  I made it. A car at the other end of the flooding had watched my progress and elected to make a u-turn.

River or Road?
River or Road?

Shortly afterwards I came to the hamlet of Winterburn. That’s Winterburn.  Presumably named for the river that normally only shows itself in the winter months.  Yet here it was in early August and the burn was not merely visible, but close to bursting its banks.

A Winterburn in August
A Winterburn in August

The way continued through Hetton and Cracoe, into ever narrowing lanes and into Thorpe before heading down towards Burnsall and a beautiful bridge crossing the River Wharfe.

Crossing one of the major rivers of the Yorkshire Dales could only mean one thing.  Time to start climbing hills again.

The climb from Burnsall up to Greenhow Hill takes you to the highest point on the Way of the Roses route. The difference in elevation between summit and river valley is greater than the climb out of Settle; however it occurs over almost twice the distance.

It’s not without some very steep sections but it was nothing like as brutal and has plenty of easier stretches of road allowing for recovery between the sharpest sections.

It was a long slog though, and for the last mile or thereabouts the route joins the B6265. It’s not a particularly busy road, but much more so than any point in the ride up to this point.

The final drag up takes you past Stump Cross Caverns. It might have been nice to be able to stop and go caving, but I was still only a fraction of the day done and quite well behind where I would have liked to have been by this time so I carried on. The hill continues, albeit it a much reduced gradient, a short way further to the watershed between Wharfdale and Nidderdale.

The view from Greenhow
The view from Greenhow

I bet there are some lovely views from here. But for me all I could see was the cloud I was riding in.  It was a relief to see the start of the downhill, although that soon tempered as the descent gets steeper and steeper. I was having to balance between keeping the brakes on to slow the descent, whilst preventing the blocks from overheating.

At the bottom of the hill, on the western edge of Pately Bridge I pulled over by a bakery and a garage for a short break.  I climbed off the bike, squelching as I did so. I looked back up the hill. I was glad not be heading up it.  I dragged my soggy carcass into the bakery for a decent slab of flapjack, and then filled up my water bottles at the garage next door. I didn’t fancy starting to get cold, and the garage forecourt was not the prettiest so I pulled my right leg back over the crossbar and headed back on my way.

The Climb/Descent at Pately Bridge
The Climb/Descent at Pately Bridge

The main part of Pately Bridge looked to be a rather pretty market town. However it was also busy with traffic, narrow, and climbed up away from the river valley with enough of a gradient to allow me such that I could feel the growl of the impatient cars behind me. I kept on as quickly as I could manage.

It was nice therefore, approximately a mile beyond the town centre, to see the signs pointing me back onto some quiet country lanes.

There was more climbing to do, but other than one short stretch at Smelthouses where the legs complained and forced a short walk, it was routine enough riding up the hill, then hang a left, and head towards the next (and final) summit by Brimham Rocks.

Brimham Rocks is a beautiful and wonderful (National Trust) site of stunning natural rock formations. I’ve been on a few occasions but not for over 20 years. On a better day I would have risked adding a further delay to proceedings but the weather was grim again and the low clouds would only have damaged my fond memories of the site. On. On.

At least I had now all but completed the climbing for the day and I had a largely downhill run in to Ripon where I was planning to stop for lunch.

Fountains Abbey is another fantastic National Trust property and in this instance the route passes straight through the estate. I had been here a few weeks earlier and had revelled in the beautiful landscapes. Today it was all just grey.

A herd of deer were sitting, disconsolately but appropriately, by the road in the Deer Park. I pulled over to take a picture, but on taking my phone out of my pocket it was so wet I couldn’t persuade the touchscreen to work to take a picture. I had to rely on using the GoPro instead.

Fountains Abbey Deer
Fountains Abbey Deer

The phone situation made me realise just how wet I had now become so pressed on through the final few miles into Ripon.

Arriving in the town centre I forsook looking around for a nice local coffee shop but headed straight for the Caffe Nero I could see in front of me.

Stopped for lunch in Ripon
Stopped for lunch in Ripon

I found a table (and a leather sofa which would be comfortable but probably wouldn’t appreciate how wet I was) and got a hot sandwich, a massive coffee, and a big slab of something cakeish.

It was good to get warm and be out of the increasingly hard rain for a bit. I wasn’t going to get dry, but I wasn’t getting any wetter. Though eventually I knew I’d have to get moving again.

From here though I was onto the edge of the Vale of York and it would be all level riding for the rest of the day.

First I had to get out of Ripon. Navigation was easy enough, but at one point the route follows an older, largely abandoned road which has been cut in two by a more recent bypass.

As well as dividing the houses either side of the main road, it’s other purpose was apparently to cause flooding on the old way. 

Much like the earlier section, I came upon the flood water with no notice and decided to push on. This time though something underwater did knock me off stride enough for me to lose balance and put one foot down straight into the water.

Leaving Ripon
Leaving Ripon

It did demonstrate that I was right in thinking I couldn’t get any wetter though as there didn’t really appear to be any difference between my fully submerged right foot and the rest of me.

Despite the extra watering I was still enjoying the riding and though the rain was still a constant, the wind had eased off by now and with the flatter roads of the Vale the miles started  finally to tick off at a decent pace.

On the way to Boroughbridge there were two points of note:

1. The route passed a couple of times underneath bridges of a disused railway line.  Unlike the majority of closed lines which tended to be smaller services, the Leeds to Thirsk line was clearly a much more major route with big old solid bridges remaining.

2. I had now got so wet that every time I shifted in the saddle there was not only an unpleasant squelching noise but a channel of water would run off the Lycra and down my leg.

Old Railway Bridge
Old Railway Bridge

Crossing the A1 and passing through Boroughbridge would see a change in direction toward York which lay to the South East.  In the pretty village of Aldborough I initially rode past the signs to the site of the Roman Town.  After a hundred yards or so of passing the sign however I thought that I should probably actually get off the bike and go and see something as so far I had just kept riding.  I turned around, doubled back, and rode up the hill on the west of the village to the English Heritage site.  It was shut. Despite the opening hours sign which suggested otherwise.  I guess the custodian had decided that nobody was coming out to see it in that weather.  I can’t really blame them if that was the case, but it was a bit of a shame.  I shall just crack on then.

Alborough May Pole
Alborough May Pole

Although the change in direction, and coming off the Dales and into the Vale had made it feel like I was almost done, I still had 20 miles to go.

The next few miles I was also taking a bit of a gamble.  I was aware that the toll bridge at Aldwark was closed for major repairs.  The semi official diversion would add an extra five miles which I could do without.  I had spotted an alternative foot bridge not far upstream from the toll bridge which could be reached by a path along the side of a golf course.  If it didn’t work out however, the five mile diversion would become 10 or more.

Fortunately as I squelched my way towards the closed bridge, I found the path and followed it along the river.  It is on the grounds of the golf course and cycling was probably frowned on.  However I confess that I made an equation:

Too wet and wanting to just keep moving + (evidence that the path had been used by golf buggies x nobody foolish enough to be outside playing golf to stop me) = I cycled to the bridge

Crossing the Ouse felt like I was getting close to York at last and was on a (long) homeward straight.

Crossing the Ouse
Crossing the Ouse

The remaining miles were quite uneventful and went quickly.  Through Beninbrough Park (another National Trust site), past the Edinburgh 200 Miles sign on the East Coast Mainline, and finally onto the riverside cycle/footpath that would lead me the final few miles into the City of York.

It was great to be on familiar territory and to be so close to done for the day. To see the Museum Gardens to my left and then be crossing Lendal Bridge and onto Tanners Moat. I was done.  The 75 wettest miles I’ve ever ridden.

Home for the night was to the place that to me will always be The Viking Hotel.  Nowadays it’s the Radisson, but for my three university years in the city my local pub was across the road so it was a familiar site that I never went into.  Something I could finally put right.

View from the Radisson
View from the Radisson

The staff guided me to the staff car park where I could lock the bike up, and then I checked in and made my way to my room.  I had a splendid room on the 8th floor overlooking the south side of the city across the part of the town that I had known so well for those years.  I had a shower and used the hangers to hang up my cycling gear in the large shower cubicle.  I doubted that they would be dry in the morning, but they had a fighting chance at least.

Drip Dry
Drip Dry

Warm and dry and in dry clothing I made my way into the City to meet up with one of best and loveliest friends Nicky, who had remained living in York after we graduated in 1994.  We had a lovely evening having some great food in Marzano’s Grill, sandwiched with a couple of visits (and probably one pint too many) in the Blue Bell Inn.

Cheers
Cheers

At the end of the evening, with the world put to rights and a liberal dosing of reminiscing I said farewell to Nicky and headed back to the hotel and a good night’s sleep.

Stats:

Way of the Roses – Day 2 – Timelapse Video

Next Up: Brighter to Bridlington

Way of the Roses Day One – 1 August 2023

Back on Tour

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to start one of my posts about a multi day cycle ride. My last such trip was in 2018 when I cycled around some of the many battlefields of Belgium and France. In 2019 I went for a walk instead of a cycle, along Hadrians Wall. Covid curtailed any tentative touring plans early in 2020, and 2021 saw me move from the South Coast at Hastings to Teesdale in the North Pennines.

I hadn’t made any firm plans to get out and about again in 2022 before I managed to lose control of my bike downhill and around a corner onto some loose gravel on a short ride after work on my birthday. That left me spending five days in Darlington Memorial Hospital with a broken collarbone, ten broken ribs, and a small fracture on my left hip. All in all not the best birthday ride.

I started riding again in the new year, on the indoor trainer at first but eventually back outdoors. I added a mountain bike to the garage which has been a real boon for getting out and about in bad weather. Its an awful lot slower that being on the carbon fibre road bike, but much safer on the fatter tyres. I also enjoyed the recuperation period by increasing my bike maintenance skills. My touring bike was in major need of an overall so I spent the downtime replacing the chain, front and rear casettes and derauillerurs, the cranks and bottom bracket, brake arms and pads, the shifters and all associated cables. With the touring bike all refreshed, it only seemed right to think of venturing out on an, albeit slightly shorter than previous trips, multi day tour.

A few possible routes came to mind but I settled on the coast to coast “Way of the Roses” route between Morecambe and Bridlington. I already had the guidebook and the travel should be fairly easy from my new base in the north. I planned a route starting with the longer train journey to Morecambe on day one with a shorter ride to Settle in the afternoon that day. And that’s the day that this post is all about.

Having packed the night before (using the same basics as my previous multi day trips, but taking things a bit lighter having learned lessons from over packing in the past) I was up early on the Tuesday morning. I took the dog for a walk and then put everything into/onto the car and drove across to Darlington station.

Fortunately everything train related ran smoothly. First up was a train to Leeds. The Cross Country train didn’t have the best bike storage but there was a space. I sat on the luggage racks rather than my booked seat to ensure that the bike didn’t come loose from its less than ideal strapping, but all was ok. I only had ten minutes in Leeds to make my connection (though there was a backup later train if I missed it) but we arrvied into Leeds on time and I was easily able to make it up and over onto the next platform where the Northern rail direct service to Morecambe was already waiting. This time I was able to strap the bike in a bit better and settle into a seat where I could relax whilst keeping an eye on the bike. It was then a steady and uneventful journey across the country arriving on time into Morecambe.

Before I got going properly I rode out to the seafront, found the Eric Morecambe statue where I took my turn to pose in the traditional style (another group of people doing the same kindly took the lovely picture you see here of Eric and I), and then along the front to the Stone Jetty and pulled into the Stone Jetty cafe for a bit of lunch before starting off.

Sunshine will not be brought
Sunshine will not be brought
Morecambe Bay
Morecambe Bay

Ready to go, I double checked everything on the bike and rode to the far end of the pier. There was nowhere to easily dip the wheel into the water so I just started off from the end of the Jetty, pointed my front wheel eastwards, and set off.

Let's Go That A'Way
Let’s Go That A’Way

The first few miles were the flattest of the whole route, following an old railway line towards Lancaster. Having made into that city, and across the Lune on the Millenium Bridge, I took a short detour off the route. I had spent some time in the second half of the 1990s occassionally working for the then Lancaster University Archaeological Unit. I took a short detour up towards the castle (which was still an operational prison back then) to find the old office building and a few other landmarks (mostly pubs) in that part of town. I did remember where things were, but the distraction quickly wore off and I headed back down to the river and picked the route back up where I had left it.

The route continued following the South bank of the Lune as it headed inland and upstream although the river remained largely hidden by the trees lining both sides of the former Lancaster to Wennington railway line. The railway path was quite popular with walkers and cyclists so I continued to take it nice and steady until, having passed the former station at Halton, we came to the Crook O’Lune. After crossing the river once, but before the second bridge cutting across the Crook, the Way of the Roses route leaves the railway line and transfers onto quiet roads for the next few miles.

Crook o'Lune
Crook o’Lune

After 8 miles of largely flat riding it was time to start climbing for the first time on the ride. A quiet lane through Halton Park has a 350 foot climb over three miles; nothing too strenous but certainly noticable after the previously flat riverside riding.

Fog on the Lune
Fog on the Lune

Once on top of the hill, with the Lune valley opening up down to the right of me, the rain started. It was fairly light at this point but threatened getting heavier. A few easy miles got easier as the road headed back down towards the river; crossing the Lune again on a lovely old stone bridge just before entering Hornby.

With the rain increasing, and an interesting looking church to step into, I pulled over in Hornby for a quick break. The church was nice, though writing this a month or two after the event I don’t recall anythign particularly exciting inside it. So I had an energy gel, put my coat on, and headed back on my way.

Hornby Church
Hornby Church

For the next 18 miles the road continued to slowly climb back up along some pretty, open roads.

Not too much further on and a big roadside stone marked the boundary of the parishes of Bentham and Tatham, and with it the boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire. At only 21 miles into a 170 miles tour I was leaving the Red Rose behind and it would all be White Rose from this point on.

County Boundary
County Boundary

As we moved into Yorkshire and continued to climb, the roads seemed to get gradually narrower but also more open as thick hedgerows gave way to dry stone walls and open moorland. Between Clapham and Austwick a sign welcomed me to the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Welcome to the Dales
Welcome to the Dales

Into the Dales and past Austwick the climb got a lot steeper on single track roads for another couple of miles, eventually reaching the high point of the day (c900 feet) after almost 34 miles riding.

At the top of Day One
At the top of Day One

The final three and a bit miles gave a nice chance to relax on the way down into Settle. I rode into the town centre and parked up at The Golden Lion pub; my base for the night. I was shown to the secure bike store and then up to my room. I showered and put on my off bike clothes and went to explore Settle; wandering around the town and down to the famous railway station, and up to to Castleberg Crag to get a look at the town from on high.

With the legs properly cooled down I headed back to the pub for a few pints of Settle Bitter and a glorious plate of Fish and Chips before heading to a very comfortable bed.

Stats:

Way of the Roses – Day 1 – Timelapse Video

Next Up: The Wettest Day on Two Wheels

Cycling to the roof of England

In the summer of 2021 we made a rather big change to our lives and left the South Coast for Teesdale in County Durham. Since moving here I’ve made a few explorations up some of the bigger cycling hill climbs that I have ever done. I’ll write about some of those trips later, but with a day off work on Friday 13th August 2021, and some reasonable weather (though quite a breeze blowing over the hills) I decided to try my hand at the biggest cycle climb that England has to offer.

I started by loading the car onto the roof bars and driving the short distance to the Tan Hill Inn; the highest pub in England, which I had chosen a start and finish point for the day’s ride (hopefully there would be time for a quick drink at the end of the ride).

The last few miles driving across the hill tops to the pub had got very windy to the point to my being a little concerned about the bike on the roof. Fortunately, I made it in one piece but was happy to get the bike down to ground level as quickly as possible.

Ready to ride but wary of heading into the wind I climbed onto the saddle and headed west. It was quite tough going but not too awful. The first few miles were glorious weaving up and down across the top of the Pennines. The open hills are lovely and there are some fantastic views from the top of the hills to the west across the Eden Valley and over to the Lakes.

We come to Cum
Good work, sign defacers

Before too long though the road started to descend as I came to the edge of the hills and dropped down towards Kaber and Winton and onto the relative flat lying Eden valley. It was fairly easy going riding into Warcop where I had a quick stop to stretch out my legs before heading back towards the edge of the North Pennines.

First I had to cross the A66, which involved riding along it for about a mile. Not a pleasant experience but I was soon turning off and onto a quiet road heading next to the army ranges. The road was peaceful and empty as it followed the edge of the ranges and followed the base of the hills. Normally I might enjoy powering through the ups and downs but today I was saving myself for something bigger so took it nice and steady, stopping off on the way at the cafe in Dufton for fortifying coffee and cake.

Post Box Pantry, Dufton
Post Box Pantry, Dufton

Refreshed and energised I had a short distance left on the road to get myself back into a rhythm before turning right onto a smaller lane just through the village of Knock.

Dufton Green
Dufton Green

And now the fun starts.

I was now at the start of the climb up to Great Dun Fell. The track is a well paved service road to the national air traffic radar station at the top and whilst closed to the public in cars, is open for walkers and cyclists. Reaching the summit at 2,740 feet, this is the highest paved road in the UK and one of the toughest and most notorious climbs in the country.

I’d been getting used to some of the climbs that the North Pennines have to offer; long and steady hills on wide open, windswept roads. Great Dun Fell is a whole extra level of hill. Simon Warren describes this as “the greatest climb in England” and scores it as an 11/10 climb!

You don’t have to go far from the turnoff at Knock before the climbing really starts. The low-level fields soon open up into the more familiar open landscape of the North Pennines as you pass the signs that tell motorists that they are not allowed any further up. The next mile or so is a chance to get into the rhythm of the ride and to realise that you still have a hell of a long way to climb.

The sight of snow poles by the side of the road common in these parts, but having each one numbered was new to me. The road surface is great – after all the road needs to be used throughout the year by vehicles servicing the air traffic control radar at the top, but the climbing is relentless.

A short section of flatter road (even with a hint of descent) is a false opportunity to relax. Before long the climb starts again and from here on it just gets more and more intense. Roadside barriers serve to remind you that there is a long drop off the side of the road as it sweeps around a ravine. As that narrows the climb get steeper again. My legs here were burning but I somehow managed to keep going; albeit at a crawl. Scree and rocks line both sides of the valley here making it feel even more foreign and inhospitable. The barriers stop as the valley gets tighter; but the road gets steeper.

Eventually the climb slightly eases off; but at only by opening out onto more exposed landscape at over 2,500 feet altitude. The wind was completely different than the breeze I’d experienced earlier. The road snakes around the back of the hill allowing the wind to hit you at all angles. A gate across the road stops progress whilst you work your way around it (I guess you might be supposed to stop here; but having made it this far I don’t imagine many cyclists stop at this small obstacle).

On the final push beyond the gate, heading into ferocious winds, I passed a couple of riders on their way down (the gate had not stopped them). I recognised them having seen them at the cafe in Dufton. I tried to puff a greeting at them and they roared me on up the final stretch. Another corner into the wind and another increase in gradient had me in trouble but I could see the top and I wasn’t being beaten here. A few more pedal strokes and I was at the top and parked the bike next to the radar station.

Made it to the Golf Ball
Made it to the Golf Ball

Want to see what the climb looks like? Well here’s a video for you.

At the top I got off and walked around the site to take in the views. In the wind this was almost as hard as the climb itself. Staying upright on the north facing side was incredibly tough but what views and what a thing to have done.

I got ready for the descent. As I was about to head downhill I spotted another rider making his approach to the summit so I stopped to grab some pics of him as he made the top. We had a quick chat at the top and, as one might, we swapped Strava details. Hello Ted!

Ted at the Top
Ted at the Top

We set off downhill together. Although Ted had made the climb at a fair pace faster than me, I was pleased that even on my old tourer, I was quicker on the descent. The way down was much easier, and the good road surface and lack of traffic made for a fun ride back to Knock.

Eden Valley and the Lakes from Great Dun Fell
Eden Valley and the Lakes from Great Dun Fell

From here the plan was to head back via Appleby-in-Westmorland. However I had failed to realise quite how busy the famous Horse Fair, which was occurring this week, would make the town. As I approached the number of people camping by the roadside kept increasing and the numbers of people on foot and horse grew and grew. Before long I was in a full scale crowd and realised I had no choice but to turn back. Following my trail back a few miles towards Dufton again wasn’t fun on tired legs.

I ended up having to retrace my route along the base of the hills through Warcop, but eventually deviating from my original path by heading on towards Kirkby Stephen. Passing through the town it was time to hang a left and head for the hills again.

The next climb, Lamp Moss, would be tough enough at the best of times but by now I was tired and my legs were struggling. I had to stop on a couple of occasions to let the legs rest. I got to admire the views better though and was rewarded with another lovely sweeping downhill towards Keld and into Swaledale.

Struggling up Lamp Moss
Struggling up Lamp Moss

One last climb to make. From Keld I headed north. A couple of sharp hairpins whilst climbing out of the valley was a sharp start to the hill back up to the Tan Hill Inn.

On the way back to Tan Hill
On the way back to Tan Hill

Despite my earlier problems on Lamp Moss I made it up without stopping though, and though the last few miles were all uphill and into the wind, I managed to keep making slow progress back to the pub and the car.

Stats:

Hadrians Wall Walk Day Six – 24 September 2019

We slept well in the cabin at Roman Wall Lodgings, woke up, dressed (gingerly putting our well worn feet into our boots) and headed to the reception cabin where Paul was cooking up some excellent breakfast wraps and preparing us a packed lunch.

We discussed our plans for the day.  The original plan was to crack on with the last few miles to the end of the Wall at Bowness on Solway.  From there we could get one of the two or three busses running back to Carlisle.  This plan involved us having to carry our kit with us.  We had rather got used to the idea of travelling a bit lighter over the last two days.  We were tired.  Our legs and feet were not happy with us. Paul had a much better idea.

Heading off at the start of the final day
Heading off at the start of the final day

We could leave our bags at the site and arrange for a taxi to meet us in Bowness.  Paul had a deal with a local driver who would do the run into Carlisle for a fixed price, and would be happy to come back via the site for us to collect our bags on the way.  Not only did this sound like a much better plan, but on checking, the cost of the taxi was not much more than the price of two bus tickets.  Sold.

Setting Off Day Six
Setting Off Day Six

We left the campsite the way we had come the previous evening, re-joining the wall path at Beaumont.  The lovely church is likely made of stone from the wall and is, apparently, the only church that sits exactly on the wall’s line anywhere on its route.

The Church on the Wall
The Church on the Wall

In Burgh-on-Sands we sadly didn’t have time for me to make a hoped for pilgrimage to the monument to Edward I.  It lies about a mile north of the route and marks the spot where he died on his way to fight the Scots in 1307.  At least the village has a statue to him next to the path which I could pull some stupid poses next to instead.

Hanging Out With Edward I
Hanging Out With Edward I

Leaving Burgh we were following an arrow straight road along the line of the wall and across the very flat and low lying marshes of the Solway Firth.  Fortunately the fabled winds were relatively light and we were not in a time of year at which any potentially dangerous high tides were forecast.

Don't Get Wet Feet
Don’t Get Wet Feet

At Drumburgh, the ‘castle’ built to protect its occupants from attacks by the Rievers has a couple of Roman Altars sitting in the front yard.  The village also has an enhanced honesty snack box:  a covered tuckshop with toilet facilities.  We made use of both. I do like a Calippo and to get one here was most welcome. 

For the next few miles we left the road and were back across some fields; passing through the village of Glasson, and then some more fields, re-joining the road close to Port Carlisle.

Port Carlisle is a strange place.  Built in 1819 (on the previously named hamlet of Fisher’s Cross) the port was built at the end of a canal designed to allow goods traffic directly into the centre of Carlisle.  The canal was short lived but was superseded by another short-lived enterprise, the Port Carlisle Railway.  The wall path follows the edge of the Solway Firth into the village and across the silted up remains of the harbour entrance.

Port Carlisle Harbour
Port Carlisle Harbour

We left Port Carlisle and were back onto the road, but we were now almost there.  We were into the final mile.  It seemed to both go quickly and yet take forever.  By this time we were just putting one foot in front of the other more in hope than expectation.  We rounded a corner and there was the start of the village.  A footpath in the village leads you back to the waterfront, and around another corner, and there it was.  I’d been here before and so knew what to expect.  Nash saw the little hut that sits on the path and looked round to me.  “Is that it? Have we done it?”  We had indeed.

We were both quite emotional.  It had been a long walk.  Over 80 miles across four full and two half days.  We took in the results of our efforts, put the final stamps into our passports, and finished our lunch as a celebratory treat.

Made It!
Made It!

We had finished about 15-20 minutes before our taxi was due to arrive.  We wandered into the village centre.  Sadly we didn’t have time to visit a pub, but did find an open toilet in the village hall.  As we came out we saw a taxi pull up (a few minutes early).  We met him and poured ourselves into the cab.

The driver was nice and friendly.  Though he was driving nice and steadily it took a disconcertingly short amount of time to get back to Roman Wall Lodges to collect our bags.  After a few more minutes we were driving into the big city and were dropped off at the station.  We bought our tickets and, with about half an hour to wait for the train, picked up a couple of take away coffees.

The ride back on the train was rather surreal.  We couldn’t really directly see where we had walked but we could work it out and it was odd to count back the days as we passed the places where he had our overnight stops.  We were too exhausted now to contemplate the possibility of breaking the journey at Bardon Mill and making the 3 miles or so round trip to Vindolanda.  We had tickets from our visit to the Roman Army museum but they were valid for a year.  We promised ourselves that we would use this as an excuse to come back in 2020 and do a more leisurely visit with the car.  Sadly of course, Covid-19 prevented that from happening in the end.

Instead we stayed on the train and all too quickly we were pulling into Newcastle.  We had one final bit of walking to do; down to the riverside and along to the Malmaison. 

Our suitcase was still waiting for us and the reception team greeted us and congratulated us.  We had been given a better room higher up in the hotel overlooking the riverside.  We made our way up in the lift are gladly crashed out on the massive and comfortable bed.  When we were washed and refreshed and ready we were more than happy to put on the nice clothes that we had left in the hotel.  First up we had a voucher for a celebratory cocktail that we cashed in at the hotel bar before making our way to a restaurant a few doors down for a slap up Mexican banquet.

We ate well, taking our time and savouring that tomorrow we didn’t have to walk anywhere.  We were actually booked in for two nights at the Malmaison and spent the next day exploring the city – but entirely at our own leisure and with nothing that we had to do and, more importantly, nowhere that we had to get to by the end of the day.  Newcastle is a great city and we had a lovely day.  We didn’t venture far but made the most of the day and our extra night at the hotel.

Back in Newcastle
Back in Newcastle

What a fantastic end to an amazing trip.  There is quite a diversity of landscape across the width of the country and all of it is lovely. 

Hadrians Wall Walk Day Five – 23 September 2019

We had a fantastic nights sleep in the lovely room in Quarryside Bed and Breakfast in Banks.  The view from the bedroom window was gorgeous with lovely views out across the Irthing valley and the fells to the South.  The garden was filled with birdlife and, though a little cloudy, the day looked like it would be a good one.  The breakfast did not disappoint and soon, feeling full, we were ready to put our boots on and get walking.  As we had the day before we left our bags at the accommodation ready for them to be collected and taken to our final night’s resting point another 20 miles or thereabouts to the West.

View from Quarryside
View from Quarryside

As we left our host suggested that stop for a coffee in the village of Walton. We said that we would.

We left the village of Banks behind us and, after passing a tall section of (largely reconstructed in the 19th century) wall, we were back into some fields and admiring the views ahead of us.  We were on some of the last of the high ground.  From the hills on the field we had a lovely panorama of the flatter land ahead of us and also, off to the side, the hills of the Lake District were filling the landscape to the South.

The most westerly wall on the walk
The most westerly wall on the walk

We walked across more fields still following the line of the wall, although there was less evidence as we moved on.  Before Walton a diversion due to a broken footbridge had us following a small country lane into the village.  As we crossed King Water River, off to our right, and covered under turf (to protect its structural integrity) were the remains of the Roman Bridge. These hidden remains would be, according to our guidebook, the last time that we would ‘see’ the wall.

Dovecote Bridge
Dovecote Bridge

In Walton we found the Reading Room coffee shop.  We were still full from breakfast and were low on cash at this point so we only stopped for a coffee but we were glad that we did.  The café owner told us that Elizabeth from the B&B had a habit of popping in to see if her visitors had stopped in as per her instructions.  Although we were not likely to be back this way and staying at Quarryside again at any time soon we somehow felt as though we had passed a test and avoided a curse!

Reading Room Cafe
Reading Room Cafe

On leaving the village we came across the first of many honesty boxes that we would find from here on.  With very few shops on the route a number of households leave cool boxes full of pop and snacks to sell to passers by who are asked to just leave money in a pot.  It’s a lovely system and hopefully the number of boxes we passed are an indicator that it works.

Honesty Box
Honesty Box

The next few miles were largely uneventful.  The path mostly cuts across fields with the occasional short section on a quiet lane.  We passed to the side of Carlisle Airport and, in the village of Crosby on Eden, left the line of the wall behind us for the remainder of the walk into Carlisle.  We would now be largely following the line of the River Eden to the city instead.  We stopped on a bench in Linstock to have some refreshments (Quarryside had prepared us a packed lunch for the day) and then crossed over the M6, passed through Rickerby and into Rickerby Park, crossed the Eden and followed the riverside path into the centre of Carlisle.

Across the Eden
Across the Eden

The next stopping point was the unassuming leisure and entertainment complex, the Sands Centre.  We stopped here both to use the toilets and also as this is the latest of the passport stamping sites on the route.  As were low on cash, I made a mercy dash into the city centre to find a cashpoint and also to pick up some blister plasters!  On the way I almost ran into a TV crew.  This was the day that Thomas Cook had gone into liquidation and the local BBC crew were filming a piece outside of the closed store.  I wonder if I made it onto local news?

Ready to continue, we would still be following the meandering twists and turns of the River Eden for the next few miles Westwards.  We were now tired and though the path is quite pleasant it did feel much as though we were merely walking for the sake of it by now.

At Grinsdale we finally got to leave the riverside path and were back to following the line of the wall. Not that there is much evidence of it.  At Beaumont we had reached the end of our day on the wall; though still had a short walk towards Monkhill and our base for the night at Roman Wall Lodges.  We were more than glad to have found our way to the accommodation.  The very friendly and welcoming host, Paul, met us and showed us to the log cabin which was to be our home for our final overnight stop.  Our bags were waiting for us and we gladly kicked off our boots, showered, and rested up for a few minutes.

Large man in a large landscape
Large man in a large landscape

Once refreshed, although our feet were swollen and though not keen to put shoes back on, another short walk down the road took us to the Drovers Rest pub where we had our fill of some excellent value, and well stacked burgers.  Stuffed and properly refreshed, we made our way back to the cabin and fell soundly asleep.

Hadrians Wall Walk Day Four – 22 September 2019

Sunday morning and we awoke in our bunk beds at the Old Repeater Station. We were tired but ready for another day on the wall.  This wouldn’t just be any day. We knew that this was likely to be toughest and, spoilers, it was.

After breakfast I made a call to the luggage company that the other walkers were using and, in exchange for leaving them £20 in an envelope, they would take our bags to our overnight stops on both of our remaining days.  Some of our kit had to be transferred into carrier bags as I was still going to be taking one rucksack, but it would only be carrying the supplies we would need for the walking hours.

We set off into a beautiful morning. However it was a beautiful mix of low sun and dark clouds. It looked unlikely that we’d get through the day completely dry.

A very short walk on the busy road and a trek along a farm track brought us back onto the wall path at Sewing Shields Farm and onto the crags.

Climbing Up
Climbing Up

Although we’d been watching the countryside open up as we headed west the previous day, we really noticed the difference now. From the urban sprawl around Newcastle the country had been expanding, even until later in the day (somewhere around Limestone Corner), the landscape was still regular farm fields with hedges and fences. Now everything was high open moorland intercut only with occasional low stone walls. It is a beautiful part of the world.

After about a mile we approached Housesteads Fort, probably the best of the sites situated directly on the wall.  The last time I came here (on a short afternoon walk from Brocolitia whilst visiting an old friend in the North East) it was possible to continue walking on the wall straight into the fort. Now, however, a fence on the wall meant that we had to go to the English Heritage ticket office and pay entry. Which was, of course, perfectly fine with us.

We had started the day a little later than planned (largely due to sorting the luggage). We had anticipated being at Housesteads before opening hours so it was a double edged sword that we were able to get in. We could visit, but we couldn’t spare too much time so we had a brief look around, used the toilets, stamped our passports, and walked back to the wall at the West side of the fort.

The path continues along the crags. With such a sharp cliff face making a natural barrier from the north it’s a wonder that a wall was needed at all. If any attackers did make it up the crags they would surely have little energy left for a fight.

Mile Castle 37
Mile Castle 37

We passed the beautiful remains of Mile Castle 37 and dropped down to the farm next to Mile Castle 38, then back up some stone steps onto the narrow path overlooking the drop to Crag Lough.

Crag Lough
Crag Lough

From Housteads, atop the crags, admiring the wall, and the countryside across the Lough is one iconic view after another.

And then you come to Sycamore Gap.

The most famous and photographed section of the wall, and therefore the busiest section full of daytrippers coming here from the nearby Castle Rigg carpark. It was also where the first drops of rain started to fall.

Sycamore Gap
Sycamore Gap

We had the approach to the famous tree largely to ourselves but there was a lot of for traffic from there on for the next mile.

We also had the first taste of how the walking would be for the next few miles as we headed up and down some steep, rocky tracks.  We had been warned that this section felt a lot longer due to all the hills and we were about to find out how true this is.

The rain was quite heavy as we approached the car park and some of the group of German students being marched across to Sycamore Gap did not seem pleased to be dragged out in the rain and mud.

After passing to the other side of the nearest car park from the gap, the number of other walkers dropped back down again and we largely had the path to ourselves along the ridge of Winshields Crags.

On a Hill Top
On a Hill Top

We had, at one point, considered a diversion here to visit Vindolanda. We had by now however agreed to just continue on our way without deviation. It would be a three mile extra walk plus time (which we couldn’t spare) at the site.  We would come back another time. Possibly even by breaking our journey back to Newcastle.

Winshields Crags
Winshields Crags

It was the right decision.

At the trig point on Winshields Crags we reached the highest point on the trail however, whilst the direction now would be West and Down, we were far from down with any uphill climbing.

Another Hill Top
Another Hill Top

Bogle Hole, Caw Gap, Bloody Gap, Thorny Doors, Hole Gap.  The next few miles were a near constant round of ups and downs. The rain had eased but the path was now slippery and as a result, carefully picking our way down from the crags was just as slow as climbing back up the other side of each of the gaps. It was also very tiring work.

Striding On
Striding On

At Cawfields we made use of the toilet facilities in the car park and took a break on a bench for a mouthful of coffee and a biscuit.  We needed some sustenance, however, today we did not have any lunch with us so only had the lightest of snacks.

Cawfields Gap
Cawfields Gap

From Cawfields there was a bit of respite on some more even territory across to Great Chester Fort, another of those still buried under fields, yet whose outlines are easy to see.

Marking the wall lines at Great Chesters Fort
Marking the wall lines at Great Chesters Fort

If we thought we had been lulled into the easier walking of the last mile, we were right and we were soon brought back to earth. The ground became more undulating and. as such. our progress slowed again.

At King Arthur’s Turret we were close to done. At the bottom of that gap was a road. Spying more crags and climbs and dips ahead we took a quick look at the map and without any hesitation followed the road. Yes, we might officially be deviating from the path but the distance would be the same. We were tired. We were hungry. We were both a little emotional. We were close to throwing in the towel. We needed the easier walking on the much more even road and would follow it to its end and our planned break at the Roman Army Museum.

We might have missed something amazing here by taking the road. Who can tell? Not me that’s for sure.  But for us, at that time, we had made the right decision.  We paid entry into the museum and had a quick look around. It was much later than we hoped to be here. It was gone 3pm and the museum closed at 4. 

We enjoyed the exhibition, though not as well as we should. Then we went to the tearoom and ordered the last remaining sandwiches and cake that were still available.

Had it not been Sunday we may well have finished the day at this point. There was another 8 miles or so to go and we were shattered. However, the AD122 bus along the wall was not running today.  If we were going to bail we’d either have to try and persuade a taxi to pick us up here and take us to our B&B, or we could get a bus back to Haltwhistle, a train to Brampton or (more likely) Carlisle, and then get a taxi.  It seemed more trouble than just keeping walking.  What was more, having rested and actually having eaten properly for the first time since setting off from the Old Repeater Station, we both felt refreshed and ready to tackle the remaining miles. I was doubly glad that the new feeling of refreshment would keep us walking. Not only as we naturally really had no desire to give up, but also as it was very close to this point that I had suffered a major mechanical problem when cycling along the wall a few years earlier and had to abandon from here and start again the following morning in Carlisle.

We were now almost off the hills (and almost out of Northumberland National Park). Leaving the museum we were back to following the line of the vallum rather than the wall; indeed we were not going to see too much of the wall from here on in.

Thirlwall Castle
Thirlwall Castle

We passed Thirlwall Castle and carried on across some fields towards Gilsland. Through the village, across a couple more fields, and down towards the River Irthing, which not only has another great section of wall to admire, but also the footings of the Roman Bridge that crossed the river here.

Down to the Bridge
Down to the Bridge

The bridge itself has long gone, but a new replacement has, fortunately, been built and so we were very soon and easily on the other bank and ready to head back up a surprisingly steep hill to rejoin the wall, which was surviving quite well here.

A few yards on and we came to the fort of Birdoswald. By now we were too tired to stop and admire the site. This was just as well as it was also too late and had just closed up. We were able to stamp our passports from a box on the wall though before carrying on along our way.

We were now 2 to 3 miles from our base for the night and were desperate to push on and get there. The path here crosses some fields to avoid the road but we wanted to push on. It was late and the road was quiet. Unlike our earlier tarmac diversion we were actually closer to the line of the wall by staying on the road. Being dead straight and largely flat, we could vaguely see our destination in the distance but it felt as though we were never getting any closer.

The Final Road of the Day
The Final Road of the Day

It was close to 7pm by the time we finally made it to our destination; Quarryside B&B. We arrived and were welcomed by our hosts and we were pleased to find our bags waiting for us. I’m so glad we had made those arrangements. We were exhausted and not having to carry our luggage had been a godsend.

As pleased as we were to get to our room, we had to shower quickly and get changed as our hosts were keen to get us out of the house. This was not a bad thing.  The village of Banks does not have any facilities so the hosts were driving us to a local pub for dinner.

We were taken to the Belted Will Inn a fair few miles away where we had an excellent and massive meal. When we were finished the pub landlord, once he had cleaned up in the kitchen, took us back to the B&B.  Apparently this arrangement has been in place almost every day for around 15 years. Hospitality at its most remarkable.  It made for an excellent end to a very long day and was most welcome.  Once back at the B&B we were soon fast asleep in a very comfortable, large double bed.

Hadrians Wall Walk Day Three – 21 September 2019

We woke up on the Saturday morning stiff but ready for another day of walking.  The day was looking quite bright as we dressed and stiffly negotiated the stairs down to the bar for breakfast.  We’d done one full day of walking but were still unsure how we might get on today. We ate well – though not so much that we couldn’t move!  As well as breakfast, the Robin Hood Inn had prepared a packed lunch for us both. As we continued westwards we would be in fairly open countryside and were not likely to come upon too many supermarkets.

Setting Off from the Robin Hood Inn
Setting Off from the Robin Hood Inn

Ready for off we gathered our bags, checked out, stamped our passports at the box on the wall of the pub, and started walking West, leaving just after 8am.  By now, in late September, the sun was still low on the horizon at this hour.  There were a few morning clouds but it looked like they would burn off and it promised to turn into a nice day.  The path follows the line of the ditch by the side of the busy road but it was a pleasant start.  We passed Wallhouses and Halton Shields and across a small part of the unexcavated fort at Halton Chester before coming to the roundabout that marked the junction of the Wall and the Roman Dere Street (which ran from York into Scotland).  There was likely an impressive gate here at the time of the wall but now there is just an old pub recently converted to a coffee shop and café.  There weren’t going to be many places to stop so, although we had not yet ventured overly far, we took a quick break for coffee and cake.

For the next few miles, the remains of the Vallum on the South side of the wall were particularly clear.  The path then carried on through a plantation which had some uneven ground and lots of tree root trip hazards, however the trees did provide some cover from the sun which was now getting quite strong.  We were about 8 miles into the day by the time we arrived at the site of the Battle of Heavenfield where we made a quick diversion to look at St Oswald’s Church (where we also made grateful use of the pews for a few minutes to rest our feet).

From here we started to drop down from the hills and came upon the first visible stretch of wall since Heddon. The path then takes a diversion along some lanes  to avoid a busy stretch of wall side road with no footpath.  We headed down into the North Tyne Valley and towards the first major Roman site since Wallsend.  After walking to, and across, the bridge over the river, and having walked through Chollerford we were very much ready to have a break at Chesters Fort.

We paid the entrance fee and started with a good look around the excellent antiquarian museum and then found a bench to sit and eat our packed lunch.  We had a look around the excavated remains of the fort, probably slightly less full heartedly than we would if we weren’t already tired.  We had an ice cream, stamped our passports, and got back on the road.

From the valley the only way was up. From the top some stiles (there are a lot of stiles on the route) led us into a field and into Northumberland National Park.  Upon entering the park we were soon we were starting to get to the good stuff so far as the wall is concerned. The stretch through the National Park would take us the rest of today and most of tomorrow. Within the Park we would be following some of the best preserved bits of the wall along the most beautiful and dramatic countryside.

Black Carts
Black Carts

The start of this stretch is marked by a stretch of wall at Black Carts. This is the longest section of wall so far on the route coming in this direction. The joy of finding some proper wall remains here also helps to hide that you are still slowly but steadily climbing onto the hills.

The wall remains disappear but the ditch remains very evident and before long we were turning the ‘corner’ at Limestone Corner. We were at the most northerly point on the walk and the landscape was opening up wider and wider with every passing mile.

It was also getting later though and we had to press on. It was almost 5 o’clock by the time we turned the corner with the best part of 4 or 5 miles to walk.  The path follows the line of the ditch close to the road but on the grass, the path is quite uneven and the walking was slower as a result.

Despite this we were soon at the site of Brocolitia Fort, partially excavated but with no extant above ground remains. The path here crosses the road and skirts around the fort. It is pretty, but did add a few more yards onto the straight line distance remaining. You do, however, get to visit the temple of Mithras which is evacuated and open for viewing.  After the fort we crossed the road back onto the ditch and some more uneven ground.

With time ticking on, and the sun beginning to set, we came to a point where the path and the road diverge.  Here we jumped the fence and onto the road.  Our guide book warned against doing this, but we were late and our B&B was a short way ahead alongside the road so this should be a good shortcut.  It wasn’t much fun though. Although not the busiest stretch of road, being straight and open most drivers were, shall we say, playing fast and loose with the speed regulations.

Approaching the Old Repeater Station
Approaching the Old Repeater Station

However in front of us we could spy the Old Repeater Station and, at just around half past six and roughly 10 and a half hours after leaving the Robin Hood, we arrived and kicked off our walking boots.  Les, the owner of the B&B was cooking and we had just enough time to shower and change and join him and two other walkers for a simple but excellent supper and a couple of beers.  The other two gentlemen, not traveling together, were an American retired teacher and a Dutch airplane mechanic and Roman reenactor.

The company was excellent. We exchanged tales of where we had been and what was ahead (we were walking in different directions so could share tips). Both gents were using a service that was transporting their luggage from one B&B to the next. Why didn’t we think of that? I resolved to call the company in the morning and see if we could do the same.

Tired, but feed and refreshed, we went back to our bunk beds and fell quickly to sleep.

Hadrians Wall Walk Day Two – 20 September 2019

Friday morning and it was time to start the walking proper.  We got all of our kit ready, leaving anything that we wouldn’t need for the next five days in the suitcase which we would be leaving at the hotel.  We made sure our respective troublesome joints were strapped and ready for a full day of walking.  Before setting off we made full use of the hotel buffet breakfast and made final adjustments to the bags.  Then it was time to checkout and shortly afterwards we were standing on the quayside ready to walk.

Ahead of us today we had 15 miles. The day promised to be one of two halves. We would start with 9 or 10 miles following the Tyne valley upstream, and then the remainder would be following the wall on higher ground above the valley.

Heading Out of the City
Heading Out of the City

We had a glorious bright and clear morning to set off into, and the gorgeous Tyne bridges lay just in front of us. After a quick diversion to a Tesco Metro to gather lunch and snack supplies  we headed upstream out of the City through Elswood.  We soon got into a good, steady, stride.  The path is tarmac here, though it does lead away from the riverside every now and again following some old waggon way routes and various other footpaths, but you get a real feeling for how lovely the Newcastle area is even in some of its more deprived areas.  We passed the Lemington Glass Works site and a statue commemorating the 38 lives lost in the Montagu Mining Disaster of 1925.

At Newburn the path passes back down to the riverside and we took a break on a bench by the Riverside Country Park visitor centre where the cafe provided us with coffee and a biscuit as well as refilling our water bottles.  I had stopped on pretty much the same bench on my cycle ride a few years earlier on a similarly warm day.

The Tyne valley along here is glorious and the going was still good, although by now we feeling a little frazzled and hadn’t gone quite as far as we had hoped by this time of the day.  The path diverts away from the river to follow the old Wylam Waggonway track for a mile or so before we had to turn to the right and tackle the first hill of the walk; a long but steady climb up onto Heddon on the Wall. 

Wylam Waggonway
Wylam Waggonway

After a few hours walking and having got used to flat ground the hill took it out of us a bit, but eventually we made it to the top. We took a short diversion (although it felt a lot longer at the time) to get our first glance of the wall since leaving Wallsend, and then found a small park close to a garage and shop.  We got some fresh drinks and some extra food from the shop, made use of the garage toilet, and had a good refreshing lunch on a bench in the shade of the park.

The Wall at Heddon-on-the-Wall
The Wall at Heddon-on-the-Wall

Despite the time we had already taken we still had a long way to walk today.  We were over half way; but not by too much.  From now on up we were off the flat riverside land and, whilst we had climbed the main hill of the day, the path ahead promised some good undulations and lots of stiles to climb over.

The Way Ahead
The Way Ahead

At least we now had the feeling that we were actually following the wall.  The vallum was obvious to the south in many places and there were some suspiciously well faced stones in some of the field walls.  The miles ticked over slowly.  We were tired now; out of snacks and low on water.  A couple of diversions around some fields were known and planned for, but still felt like they were taking us out of our way when we just wanted to get to the end of the day.  Passing the Great Northern Lake (a couple of reservoirs built to power some of the Victorian factories of Newcastle) indicated that we were getting close – just a mile or two to go – but despite the open countryside we couldn’t yet see our destination in front of us; it was hopefully hidden behind some trees rather than still beyond the horizon. 

Along the Line of the Wall
Along the Line of the Wall

The light was starting to fail as we eventually came out of a footpath to the side of the road and realised that we had made it to the hamlet of East Wallhouses and our destination for the night The Robin Hood Inn was clearly visible.  It was a very welcome site and is a lovely pub – if you’re up that way it’s definitely worth a visit.

The Robin Hood Inn
The Robin Hood Inn

We had twin rooms for the night (due to availability rather than choice).  We rested up and got refreshed and slowly and gingerly on tired legs walked back down to the bar for a much needed pint or two and a lovely pie based supper before heading back up for a well earned sleep.

Passport Stamping Point
Passport Stamping Point

Hadrians Wall Walk Day One – 19 September 2019

2019 was a different year for me.  I didn’t do one of my annual cycling tours due to a variety of factors; mostly just time slipping away during the year.  I had some tentative plans for a couple of possible routes but I’m going to keep hold of those ideas for the future (though, as I am writing this up almost a year on from the walk described here, Covid-19 has put paid to those plans happening in 2020 as well).

Instead, towards the end of the summer when we’d still not had any real sort of a break, Nash suggested planning a trip.  I was thinking of something nice and relaxing. A week somewhere to France to chill quietly perhaps?  “I thought we could walk the length of Hadrian’s Wall” came the suggestion.  So I was almost right.

I won’t bore you with the details, but after a few checks of maps, B&B booking websites and guide books, we came up with a plan to complete the route over six days of walking (four full days with a “half day” at either end).  So it was that on a Thursday in the middle of September we set off drove north up the A1.  We parked the car up in the long stay parking at Newcastle Airport and, laden with a suitcase and a medium sized rucksack each, we walked into the terminal, straight back out the other side, and got the Metro into the City Centre.  After getting lost in some underpasses we made it down to the river front and checked into our base camp: the Malmaison hotel.  We would be staying overnight here tonight and we were also booked back here for a final night at the end of the trip.  With some more spartan accommodation awaiting us en-route we had treated ourselves to a quality room to bookend the adventure.  As such we could bring some nicer clothes for travelling and the evenings in town here and leave the suitcase with the hotel whilst we were away walking.  We were too early to check in but we left the suitcase and one of our rucksacks at reception.  We wouldn’t need to be carrying much for today’s warm up walk.

Manors
Manors

We headed back up the hill to Manors Metro station and got the yellow train east towards the end of the wall at the appropriately named Wallsend (aka Segedunum).  As the name suggests, the station is close to the fort that guarded the end of the wall overlooking the River Tyne.  The museum was quiet so we had a good chance to explore the excellent exhibitions, take a look over the site from the viewing gallery, take a wander around the site itself, and have a panini each in the café.

Having got ourselves into the Roman spirit we made ready to begin.  Back at the museum entrance we bought our “passports” and collected our first stamps just as a small group entered.  They had just completed the walk in the opposite direction.  After congratulations and good lucks were shared, Nash and I made our way down to the southern gate of the site and onto the path ready to start the walk.

Today we had just four miles or thereabouts ahead of us, more aligned with the river than the line of the wall.  It was a hot afternoon and we were going to need plenty of water, even for this short walk.

Let's Go That-A-Way
Let’s Go That-A-Way

The very end of the wall is now lost under the remains of the derelict Swan Hunter ship building yard but one of the best remaining sections of wall is right outside the fort and as such forms the traditional start to of the route.  From here we headed Westwards.  For most of the today we would be following the start of the Hadrian’s Wall cycle route which I had ridden back in 2015

For the first mile or two the path sits at a good height above Tyne, but the views are intermittent as you pass through wooded parks and around housing estates.  The walking was nice but largely uneventful.  One of the key tests for today was to see how our limbs would hold up.  Nash had damaged her knee a month or two previously and she was a little concerned about how it might take to all this walking. She was testing a new knee bandage which needed a bit of regular adjustment but seemed to be helping. I had been forced off my bike 3 or 4 weeks earlier by a driver pulling out at a roundabout and as a result had a fairly badly swollen foot. It was much improved by now but still not quite right.

The Start of the Wall
The Start of the Wall

At the end of one stretch of park the pathway drops down to the riverside and the rest of today would be at waterfront level as we walked back towards the city centre.  It’s hard to believe that you are so close to one of the major UK city centres as you follow the lovely waterside path.  We were just a mile or so from the centre of the town but could barely tell as we looked across the river to the green banks on the other side.  The occasional riverside industrial units gave the game away a little, but it’s still hard to imagine that you are so close to the core of one of the UK’s major cities at this point.

Across The Tyne
Across The Tyne

After only  a little over an hours walking from Segedunum we turned a corner in the river and saw the sites of Newcastle honing into view in front of us. Within very short order you glimpse the Baltic Mills and the Sage on the Gateshead side of the river, and the various bridges crossing the Tyne, most notably the iconic Tyne Bridge. After a brief stop to fill up a water bottle at a bike shop we carried on and before we knew it we were back at the Malmaison.

We were both hot and had a few aches and niggles but on the whole we felt pretty good.  We settled ourselves into our room and both had a long bath each before heading to the hotel restaurant – we had got a deal which included a two course meal and a glass of Prosecco along with a nice room overlooking the River.  It was nice to then be able to simply get the lift back up a couple of floors to our room with its very large and very comfortable bed.  Our accommodation for most of the remainder of the trip was likely to be a bit more basic.

Next Up: Day Two from Newcastle to East Wallhouses