Hadrians Cycleway and the C2C
Having completed the lovely, but largely flat, Avenue Verte ride in 2014 I wanted to try and tackle some hills in the summer of 2015. I searched around online and found the Coast to Coast route in the North of England as a good possible ride. However the route wasn’t quite as long as I was looking to ride so I made up my own tour; I started by riding (most of) the Hadrian’s Cycleway from East to West before picking up the C2C route and heading back to the East again….
You can read about the whole trip in one go on this page, or if you’d prefer you can read the individual posts from each of the days of the trip using these links:
- C2C And Back – 18 August 2015
- C2C And Back Day 1 – 19 August 2015
- C2C And Back Day 2 – 20 August 2015
- C2C And Back Day 3 – 21 August 2015
- C2C And Back Day 4 – 22 August 2015
The Whole Adventure:
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
Almost following in the cycle clips of Hadrian
I woke up well rested in the Britannia Guesthouse in South Shields and sorted my (now dried) gear and packed my bags before heading to the breakfast room. My guess at being the only guest in the house appeared to be confirmed as I had the place to myself (apart from the lovely lady serving me). A good full fry up set me up for the long day ahead and before too long the bike was loaded back up for the day and I was heading off.
A brief starter ride took me back to Arbeia Roman Fort which marked the start of the Hadrian’s Cycleway.
The Hadrian’s Cycleway is normally ridden in the opposite direction and actually starts quite a way down the Cumbrian Coast at Ravenglass from where it follows the coast north eventually meeting the the western end of the wall at Bowness on Solway before roughly following its route (though very little of the official cycle way follows the wall exactly) across county to where I was now standing. My plan for this trip was to follow the route along the length of the wall from east to west but then only stay with it as far along the coast as Workington from where I would head back east on the Sea 2 Sea (C2C) route to Sunderland.
Today was due to be the longest of my four days riding with roughly 85 miles planned to take me into Carlisle. As such I was pleased to be up and on my way early as this was going to be a long days riding. As it transpired things didn’t exactly go to plan as events would go awry a while east of Carlisle; but as I set off I wasn’t to know this!
The South Shields section is actually a bit of an added extra to the route which many people don’t bother with; choosing to finish instead on the north bank of the Tyne at the ruins of Tynemouth Priory. The reason being that from Arbeia fort it is only a very short ride to the South Shields Ferry which then takes you to the north bank of the river. This is a nice added extra though. I caught a sparsely populated 8:45 ferry which gave a lovely view up and down the Tyne before we docked at North Shields.
The first few miles were uneventful beyond having to nurse my GPS equipment which had chosen today to start playing up (it seemingly just didn’t like this part of town as by the time I hit Newcastle proper it was happily up and running). The ride into the city centre was good and easy going. Kudos to the council – the route was very well signposted and laid out – some of the best urban riding I have done. The route did travel slightly more inland away from the river (and slightly higher above its banks) than I had anticipated but that allowed for some excellent views when there was the occasional gap in the housing/industry.
Another ‘official’ start point was marked when I passed by Segendum Roman Fort at the aptly named Wallsend. Segendum is now a proper visitor attraction which I didn’t go into (I don’t think it was open at that time of the morning) but the route passes along its southern edge and the last remaining stretch of wall comes right down onto the cycle path; what would have been its final few yards down the river have since been obliterated by the (now derelict) Swan Hunter ship yard lying between the cycle path and the river.
From here the ride followed an old railway line for a distance before diverting off and diving back down to the riverside and into Newcastle City Centre. The Millennium and Tyne bridges were looking much more welcoming in the bright sunshine today and my sprits were well and truly raised.
I would now be following the Tyne west for the next few hours. Having passed under the iconic Tyne Bridge the route varied between some lovely riverside paths and occasional forays slightly inland; normally on old railway tracks. The city slowly faded away and by the time I had reached Newburn the day was in full majesty. I stopped in a lovely riverside park; removed an unnecessary extra layer of clothing; applied some sun cream and had a quick bite to eat and a short rest.
Back on the bike the route soon turned slightly away from the river in order to join the line of the old ‘Wylam Waggonway’. The waggonway played a vital role in the development of steam locomotion. Wylam was the birthplace of George Stephenson as were other steam pioneers Hackworth and Hedley; the latter of whom, in 1813, built the ‘Puffing Billy’ steam locomotive that carried coal from Wylam colliery into Newcastle. Nowadays the waggonway serves as a lovely cycle way and path up the Tyne valley (passing directly past Stephenson’s birthplace); occasionally crossing the river including at the magnificent shell of the Haggs Bank bridge before eventually petering out in the village of Ovingham.
From Ovingham the route leaves the sanctuary of the dedicated cycle paths and instead onto small country lanes. The roads were all very quiet and there were certainly more cyclists on them than cars. However they also marked the end of the largely flat river side routes and the start of some more undulating countryside. I was still going well and enjoying the day as I rode into Corbridge; a lovely little rural market town nestling on the north bank of the Tyne and just south of the line of the wall. I had my first proper break here; taking on some food and plenty of water. I was happy with progress. I knew that I had my first big climb not too far ahead of me but was confident enough. I was nicely warmed up but not too tired. This climb should be fairly easy compared to some of those I knew were ahead of me in the next three days.
Leaving Corbridge the route continues following country lanes with the occasional section along the riverside paths until arriving into Hexham. I had my first slight route deviation here; I must have missed a sign and ended up cycling over a golf course. I don’t think that would have been a popular route alteration but I managed to avoid being spotted and soon found myself back where I should have been following the railway line next to the river. Cutting back onto some country lanes (and by taking a sneaky short cut along a slightly busier B road) I soon found myself in the excellently named ‘Fourstones’. A quick drinks break and map check later I was ready for what was coming; the climb out of Newborough and up onto the hills proper.
The climb, of roughtly 500-600 feet ascent was long but largely steady and it went well and as planned. I made it up without a break and before too long the hills opened out onto glorious open countryside. The day was going great and I happily rode along singing loudly to any passing wildlife and generally enjoying everything that Northumberland had to offer me here. At this stage the route is on one of its sections closer to the wall but actually rides parallel to it on the next hill across. Along this section it would be possible to follow the wall much more closely but the road alongside it is much busier and I guess that is why the smaller lanes are chosen instead. It’s a bit of shame that you don’t get closer to the wall; but the riding is certainly more pleasant for it. What’s more the wall is visible along this section and I could soon make out the distinctive remains of Housesteads Roman Fort on the hill opposite.
Not long after Housesteads the route started to drop back down off the hills and there were soon a couple of very steep descents as it drops down to Vindolanda fort. One of the main attractions directly on the wall I had taken the decision to stop here. 85 miles riding wasn’t going to leave me with too much time to stop on route but at the same time I didn’t want to be just heads down cycling and not getting to see anything.
I parked up at the visitor centre, paid my way in (leaving my paniers with the friendly staff) and went for a good wander around the site. Ignoring some of the romanticised displays near the tea shop, the site was indeed well worth the visit. The scale of the excavations is impressive and the location equally so. After a good walk around i retired back to the tea shop and sat sheltering from the still bright sun under a parasol having tea and cake.
…and then the day started to turn (and from this point in the day I noticed afterwards that I failed to take a single picture)…
First a big line of clouds started to roll over and the parasol was no longer needed. Taking the hint I gathered my paniers, and got myself ready to get back on the road.
As I pulled out and worked up through the gears I noticed that the chain was slipping in the higher cogs. There had been no such problems up until that point so this was unexpected and unwanted. I had a few fairly easy, mostly downhill miles into Haltwhistle so took the decision to ride easily into the town there and take a look where I could find somewhere safer to stop.
The first rain drops started just on the very edge of Haltwhistle. By the time I rolled into the high street it was raining properly. I pulled into a bus shelter and took a look at the chain. I soon found the troublesome link that had stiffened up. I didnt have the tools to fix it but a quick check on my phone pointed me to a nearby bike shop. A quick ride across town proved it to be long gone. At this point I had around twenty miles remaining into Carlisle so the best bet was to continue on at an easy pace avoiding the higher gears where the slipping was most noticeable.
Before setting off again I sent a quick message to my friend Jules. An old University friend who I had not seen for many years, she lives now in Brampton, way between Haltwhistle and Carlisle. I had arranged to pop in for a cuppa and a catch up so I let her know that i had been delayed but was now a little under an hour away.
I headed out of Haltwhistle avoiding the top three gears on my casette. This wasn’t a problem to start with as the route took a steady climb back up onto the hills. Although this was along a smaller road out of the town there was still quite a number of trucks passing a little close for comfort. Combined with the wind and rain in my face this wasn’t the most fun. At the top of the hill the cycle way joined the Roman military road for a short stretch. This was the first time since Newcastle that I’d actually been on the route of the wall – not that you cold actually tell. Peering from under the brim of my helmet which was still angled down to keep the rain out of my face I saw a sign pointing to a quiet lane to the right and I gladly headed off along it.
After a couple of minutes I thought that I should have been heading steeply downhill but instead every downhill was followed by a sharp climb as I rode along the crest of the hills. It was still raining but I was back on some glorious open countryside which, a scattering of sheep apart, I had entirely to myself. There were no route signs but I wasn’t concerned. This was a very quiet road with no turnings – there was no need for any road signs. After a little over three miles since leaving the military road I rounded a corner and saw a farm house a short way off. This was the first sign of habitation along this stretch. I got closer and eventually up to the farm house itself. Where the road completely stopped. This was not right. I had reached an end. And it wasn’t in the right place.
Getting off the bike I reached back into the panniers and pulled out my maps. On previous rides I had learned the hard way that not stopping to check maps in the event of an uncertain junction can lead to trouble. Thanks to the rain I had ignored these lessons and now I was learning it all over again. I should never have turned right. The whole of this road was wrong. It was three miles of ups and downs that I should never have taken and there were no short cuts back. I sent a message to Jules to let her know my mishap but that I was back on track and now a little under an hour away.
I decided to put my head down and clear the three miles back to the main road as quickly as possible. I’d done less than one of them when I had that tell tale feeling from my front tyre after riding over some gravel. A flat. Bloody typical. Never mind. I had all the kit with me.
As the rain came more steadily down I took the front wheel off and started the replacement. As I was doing three ladies appeared on the road walking towards me. I recognised the look on their faces. They were lost as well. Did I know where the Roman Army Museum was? This one I could answer. It was on this track but right at the very start – just yards from the main road. I had managed to spot that earlier but they had missed it – probably also down to not looking around in the rain. I assured them that from harsh experience that there was nothing further down the track in the direction they were presently headed. Deflated they turned back and left me to my tyre.
I got the new tube in and the wheel back on; gathered up my kit and loaded the bags back onto the rack. I sent a text to Jules. I had had a flat but was back underway and was now a little under an hour away….
All enthusiasm fading fast I got back on my way. I caught up with the ladies still heading back to the Museum and wished them luck. They were not too far away from it now but looking despondent. I carried on and not much further saw the entrance to the museum so I rode back and pointed them to the woods in which it sat and which they could see were not too far away at all. They did seem relieved and I felt better for having helped them a little at least.
I made it back to the main road and looked to see where I had gone wrong. I found the sign I had followed. It did exist, it was labelled route 72 (the Hadrians Cycleway route number) and it did point the way I had travelled. However it did also say ‘Museum’ and next to it there was another sign pointing straight ahead which was the main route. Bugger.
Still. I was back on the right track now. I was soon on a very steep descent down into Greenhead. Something didn’t feel right on the descent but I wasn’t sure what. At the bottom of the hill the route turned onto a bridleway and across a river and then I noticed a bulge in the front tyre. I immediately realised what was happening. In the wet I had been in such a haste to replace the tube that I hadn’t checked it was in correctly. Something had gone horribly wrong with the repair and I needed to sort it quickly. I jumped off the bike and whipped the paniers off ready to turn the bike over. As I did so the rail on one panier that holds it securely onto the rack snapped clean off. Great. I turned the bike over and was just about to take a look when BANG.
And there my day essentially ended. In not fixing the tube properly I had forced it against the tyre which was under undue pressure and both it, and my replacement tube, exploded! There was a huge tear in the side of the tyre. I took one look and knew I was in tears or laughter territory.
The young couple walking their dog who I had already spoted flinching when the tyre exploded quietly skirted around the loon who was at this point in hysterical laughter waving a bike wheel in the air in a vaguely Basil Fawlty fashion. There was no getting back from this. The day was done. All I could do was walk the bike back to Haltwhistle (without the six mile detour) and get a train to Carlisle. I rang Jules to cancel our meet up.
Twenty minutes later, my bike was loaded into the back of my guardian angel Jules’ people carrier and we were headed to hers in Brampton. Not only had she come to pick me up even though I was wet through and caked in mud and oil but she insisted on feeding me before driving me on to Carlisle. This is what friends are. And once again I say huge, huge thanks to her and Frank for taking me in that day; letting me freshen up (of sorts) and making me feel human again. After a lovely evening Jules drove me into Carlisle and dropped me at my hotel. The day was done and I had failed to ride the final 15-20 miles of the day (though I had done 6 unplanned additional miles!).
Showered and changed I sorted out my kit and taking a very short walk along the road that the hotel was on I passed two bike shops. I might just be able to recover the rest of this ride yet…
Day One Stats:
- Distance: 66.3 Miles
- Ride Time: 5 Hours, 31 minutes and 26 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 37.4 mph
- Average Speed: 11.9 mph
- Average RPM: 59
- Revolutions: 19,555
- Ascent: 2,825 feet
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/372906681
West, South and East
I woke fairly early although not as early as originally planned on account of needing to get the bike repaired. I tidied up my kit (some was still not quite dry), showered and went down for the joys of an Ibis hotel breakfast buffet. Collecting the bike from its storage place hiding behind a service lift at the rear of the hotel I wheeled it around to one of the two neighbouring bike shops (one did not open until 10am so they were ruled out by default). The shop were able to fix the chain and give me a replacement tyre – although the only one they had in stock was more for ‘city’ riding (its still on the bike quite happily several months and another thousand miles later). The work would take them about an hour so I wandered around a bit and then and back to the hotel to finish packing and to check out. Back at the bike shop my bike was made ready and, after also buying an extra couple of tubes and a bungee cord to keep the broken panier in place, I was back under way shortly after 10am.
Unfortunately I was not able to make up too much time straight away on account of my (apparently foolishly) choosing to follow the proper advertised cycle route out of Carlisle. Route 72 follows the River Eden out of the town and I was expecting and hoping for a nice riverside ride to start the day. Which to be fair I almost did. Unfortunately however having to lug the bike up and down several sets of steps and over a stile was not ideal. It took almost an hour to get out of the town and onto the cycle way proper.
The road to Bowness started off with some nice undulating terrain through some pretty villages before heading onto the very flat and low lying tidal plain from which I could look across to Scotland a short distance the other side of the Solway Firth. Bowness on Solway marked the end of Hadrians Wall and, just off a little side path, I found the shed that formally marks the western end of it. I wished a group of walkers well as they were starting to begin walking the route from west to east and then I set off again.
From Bowness I had reached the end of the wall and as I was not planning on completing the whole of the Hadrians Cycleway as it continues another 70 miles down the west Cumbria coast I allowed myself a couple of short cuts from the advertised route, cutting off detours around Cardurnock and Silloth. After stopping to get some supplies and to chat with another couple of cyclists out on day rides in the pretty village of Abbeytown, I pointed the bike in the direction of the coast.
There was an ever increasing headwind as I headed south westwards and the going was quite tough but eventually I met the west coast proper just north of the village of Allonby.
The coastline here is quite open and exposed and the going remained difficult as I followed the coast southwards through Maryport and into Workington and the end of the first leg of my ride. From the centre of the town I rode out to the lighthouse at the end of the harbour arm which marks the western end of the Workington leg of the Sea to Sea (C2C) route.
After stopping for some lunch here I wheeled the bike down to dip the rear wheel into the sea to formally start the ride back east.
The first few miles out of Workington were along a very welcome stretch of disused railway although that ran out sooner than hoped and it was back on to some quiet, but undulating, country lanes up the Derwent Valley towards Cockermouth. I don’t really recall much of this stretch of the route to be honest, or of Cockermouth itself. At this point I was just trying to prepare myself for the big climb a few miles outside of Cockermouth up to Wythop Woods.
One of the benefits of starting at Workington rather Whitehaven was that the routes did not join until the final ride into Keswick. The route from Workington has a big enough climb but considerably less than the ride over the Whinlatter pass that riders from Whitehaven have to endure. You can therefore imagine just how pleased I was to find a sign a couple of miles outside of Cockermouth informing me that the Wythop Woods route was closed and that I would have to divert across several hilly miles just so that I could swap over onto the Whinlatter Pass route instead. Avoiding the diversion signs that tried to push me further back the way that I had come I cut across along a busy B road adding to the pleasure before eventually dropping into the hamlet of Low Lorton from where the climb would start.
I took a rest before starting the climb but it was still a hard climb. I was already 66 miles into the day at this point and now had an 800 foot climb stretching out in front of me. The climb properly started upon leaving the neighbouring village of High Lorton. This was quite a struggle that took a lot out of me and I wasn’t able to complete the climb without having to stop a couple of times for a breather.
At the top of the first section of tough climb I had one of the oddest feelings I’ve ever had whilst cycling. The road levelled out and though it was still climbing it was such a change from the previous section of road that my head actually thought I was going downhill and couldn’t understand why it was still a struggle to keep the bike moving. It actually got to getting off the bike to check that the wheels were moving freely and that the brakes were not rubbing. After establishing that they were all fine it was only when I took a step back that I realised that I was indeed still climbing and not going down at all. Confused, but relieved that the bike was ok, I got back on my way and it was not long anyway before any confusion was again out of the window as the climb began again in earnest.
This time the climb was still tough but not as relentless as the first section and I was able to keep my head down and just keep pedalling. Eventually I saw the sign for the Forestry Commission site that marked the top of the pass and was soon very able to prove that the bike was free wheeling happily as I started the sharp descent back towards Keswick. Other than a stop to admire the view down over Bassenthwaite Lake I let the bike run freely down to the bottom of the hill at Braithwaite from where a couple of miles of fairly easy riding eventually brought me into the village of Portinscale and the Rickerby Grange Hotel that was my base for the night.
On arriving the owner met me and took my bike to lock it away safely and then showed me to my room. I had a single room with an ‘off suite’ private bathroom with a good sized bath tub that I was soon making good use of. The late start, slow going out of Carlisle and the diversion over Whinlatter had meant I had arrived later than planned and by the time I got there the local pub had stopped serving food; although I did persuade them to do me a bowl of chips and, coupled with two welcome pints of bitter I was soon relaxed and refreshed and ready for my bed.
Day Two Stats:
- Distance: 74.05 Miles
- Ride Time: 6 Hours, 13 minutes and 14 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 36.4 mph
- Average Speed: 11.8 mph
- Average RPM: 57
- Revolutions: 21,274
- Ascent: 3,215 feet
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/373575672
Stone Circles, Tweed and Hills
I woke to the sound of rain tapping loudly on my bedroom window. Peering through the curtains the weather looked set and the weather app on my phone also suggested that this was the case. Having woken up I started the day with a bath (real luxury having had one when I had arrived the evening before) before heading down for a marvellous Full English with the obligatory Cumberland Sausage. The food was good and the service charming and after plenty of coffee and orange juice I went back up to finish loading the paniers and climb into the wet riding gear.
I was ready to go on the dot of nine and as if by magic, as the hotel staff fetched my bike out of the lockup the rain stopped. The hill tops were still hidden in the clouds however as I climbed into the saddle and pulled out of Portinscale. The riding started slowly and easily; crossing the River Derwent and heading into Kewsick; stopping at a garage on the way into town to pick up some supplies for the day.
I had last been in Keswick about 18 years earlier and the little I saw from the bicycle did not look remotely familiar. However the last time had been whilst drinking after an end of season rugby match playing for Ormskirk RUFC and my memory of the evening is largely hazy and what I do remember is best forgotten. The town looks nice though….
At a set of lights I picked up three other cyclists on fancy road bikes. They were also doing the C2C but at what I suspect would be a rather different pace and with someone following along behind them with all of their luggage. What cheats! They were sure to be leaving behind fairly quickly anyway but not long after joining the old railway line that the route follows eastwards out of town I turned off anyway and left them to it.
I had made the decision to take a little detour to the south of the route and so rather than following the valley on the old railway line I instead headed up the steep climb out of town in the direction of Castlerigg Stone Circle. The climb up was tough going but a good leg stretcher and was definitely worth it as the views opened up from the top of the hill. The site itself is in a field immediately to the right of the side road I had taken. The site is absolutely stunning and the light and clouds gave it an incredible atmosphere. I could have sat there for ages but I had a lot of riding ahead and I could see rain coming back in so I headed back to the bike just as the rain did indeed start again. I put the wet weather gear back on and headed back down towards the main cycle track joining it at Threlkeld.
From here the route headed along some quiet tracks to the side of the main road, undulating as it headed along the side of the valley. The lane passed through some lovely farms and fields. The surface is good however the riding was a little stop start as there are a number of gates to pass through; normally just as you’d get some speed up on a down hill section. After a mile or two the lane turned slightly northwards towards Mungrisdale where the route crosses the river, and then immediately heads back down the other side of the valley before joining along the side of the A66.
Here I was to make my first overtaking of ‘Tweed Man’. More of him later. After a mile or two alongside the busy trunk road (not directly on it fortunately) the cycleway headed sideways onto some quiet country lanes which I would be following for most of the rest of the day.
After a couple of miles the road started dropping down into the village of Greystoke and I hunted out of the Cycle Cafe on the edge of the village. This tea shop is a truly remarkable establishment. It is open 10-6 for cyclists (and support drivers) but less frequently for other passers by. As well the glorious tea shop itself they have a barn full of equipment in case you need to give the bike a quick service and also a regular timetable of events occurring. There was a whittling workshop taking place as I arrived so I ordered a milkshake and a brownie and watched as the good folk whittled away. The only down side was the large number of wasps in the garden but this is certainly an absolute must stop site for anyone riding the sea to sea route.
By now the sun was fully out (and it was to remain that way for the rest of the day) and beautifully refreshed and cheered I headed back on the side roads towards Penrith. The riding was pretty good and fast going with the exception of a very short sharp up hill in the village of Newton Rigg where a big screen by the side of the road loudly shouted out that I was climbing up it at a whole 6mph – yeah thanks for that.
A short section of off road track brought me into the edge of Penrith. Having stopped at Greystoke I had no need of the Penrith Tea Rooms and I wasn’t after the finest wines known to humanity anyway (not just yet anyway) so I merely collected some cash and filled up the water bottles before climbing out of town. The climb up Fell Lane onto Beacon Ridge is a tough steep ride but over soon enough and I was soon riding up and down some smaller hills before eventually dropping down into the pretty village of Langwathby, passing ‘Tweed Man’ for the second time on the way into the village (presumably he had passed me whilst I was resting in the cycle cafe – he should have stopped!).
In Langwathby I caught my first sign of the imminent arrival of the Tour of Britain which was due to be heading this in a few weeks from now. The village was already bedecked in signs and there was also a yellow spray painted bicycle by the road sign – these bikes were appearing all over the country in places that the tour was going to be passing through. It therefore seemed that this would be a good place to stop for lunch – especially as there were a few climbs ahead of me that I needed refuelling for and also as there was a village shop from which I could stock up on water and jelly babies.
Have I mentioned the jelly babies? Possibly the most wondrous invention when undertaking long rides or runs. I’d first come across their particular magic during training for the Great North Run some years earlier but had since found them to be even more amazing when spending a day in the saddle. Your Lucozade’s and SIS drinks and sachets of gunk are great; but still not a patch on the amazing energy giving jelly baby. I now would never imagine venturing out on a long day’s ride with a pack (or two) in the panniers. End of advertisement.
After a light lunch on a bench on Langwathby village green and a pop into the local shop to refill my water bottles I was ready for the next stage. Ahead of me from here was about another 10 miles of undulating hills (with a few steep climbs and drops on the way) before I would make it to the bottom of Hartside Hill.
Through Little Salkeld a fairly short but steep climb led me past Tweed Man for the third time today (we appeared to be doing the classic hare and tortoise riding – he was going slow and steady with few if any stops whilst I was shooting past him and then resting allowing him to head past me again). At the top of the hill I took a small diversion to head off to see Long Meg and her daughters. Not some family friends but another stone circle.
In many ways Long Meg is a more impressive site than Castlerigg which I had visited at the start of the day however, almost due to its much larger scale, it didn’t quite much the atmosphere. I was pleased to have visited the site though. Both here and Castlerigg are sites that I’d long had on my list of places to visit and so to do them both in the same day and entirely under my own steam felt really good.
The next five miles were not particularly eventful, other than having the opportunity to pass Tweed Man for the fourth time on another steep incline but there was some tough riding with some short sharp hills that were starting to take effect in my legs. With Hartside ahead I was starting to fear how I would tackle the big one.
I didn’t have long to worry. Before long I came across the sign marking that I was at the bottom of the Hartside climb. Although not the worst climb on the C2C route, Hartside is probably the most famous. At about 1,000 feet over roughly four miles its the single biggest and longest climb on the route (though there are a couple of tougher climbs). I stopped at the bottom, fuelled up on water and jelly babies and got myself ready for the ride up. Just as I was preparing for the off Tweed Man came and joined me. He did at this point choose to have a break for once and joined me briefly. His break did not consist of jelly babies but rather a roll up cigarette instead – to which I have to doff my cap (bike helmet). To climb these hills with the extra weight he had on his bike and in the clothes that he was wearing was pretty good going as it is; but to do so on reduced lung capacity takes some doing.
I choose not to hang around with him whilst he finished his fag but instead said that I’d meet him in the cafe at the top and, both of us wishing the other luck, went on my way.
In the end Hartside didn’t turn out to be too awful; just a very long climb. I set myself off in a low gear at a steady cadence and slowly watched the altitude increasing on my bike computer, and the distance adding up on the phone GPS software strapped onto my arm. I passed a few young lads who I’m sure should have been in much better shape than an overweight 42 year old. This made me feel good at least; though I’m not sure that it did them any good as they all immediately stopped and started pushing up the hill instead. I did take a short breather after about two miles but was soon back on my slow and steady way.
I am writing this blog post up some months after the event and referring back to the diary I made on the day I wrote that “Riding up was tough on my nadgers. Also hands going numb”. This particular mix of sensations was not something that I now particularly recall but I have since noticed it whilst doing other long climbs . Odd…
I was also forced for a second stop where the side road that I had been riding along meets the main A686. This was due to traffic on the main road but the junction also has a particularly nasty corner that did mean that I had to push the bike around onto the main road – but I’ll forgive myself that. The main road section proved easier going than the side road as the incline was very regular. I had heard that riding this section can be a bit hairy due to drivers trying to audition for Top Gear (and generally driving like nobs) but fortunately I encountered no such issues and before too long I was rounding the final hairpin and headed straight for summit and the Hartside Cafe.
I gave myself a hearty cheer as I reached the summit; stopped to pose for some selfies at the top; and then road over the road to the cafe where I was greeted and cheered in by three gentlemen who were working for the Tour of Britiain. Hartside was to be the end of a day’s stage and these guys were making sure that the prep was done ready for when the circus rolled into town. They said that they had been watching me riding up and had been impressed – which was nice to hear. They did also tell me that they had seen a guy in Tweeds further down the hill also making good, if slow, progress.
I sat with them over a coffee and a slice of cake and chatted about their work on the tour. They left before me so I got another cup of coffee. I had finished my final climb for the day; I only had about 5 or 6 miles left for the day and they were downhill so I had no time worries and it lovely to sit and admire the view back over the land that I had ridden across to get here. It all felt rather magic. Just then Tweed Man entered the cafe so I waved him over and we sat and chatted properly for a while at last.
Rather stupidly although I did get his name I never noted in my diary and writing this up now I shamefully cannot recall it. I do recall however that he had been visiting friends in Cumbria and was now on his way home to Newcastle. He was also staying in Alston this evening so was also pretty much done for the day as well. He was camping somewhere in the village but I invited him to come and join me for a pint in the Cumberland Inn (where I was staying) if he fancied; though he never did and as I bade him farewell at the cafe (whilst he had another roll up) that would be the last I saw of him on the trip.
The ride down to Alston was as easy and glorious as I had hoped. The weather had fully cheered up again and once I had got the bike up to speed I let the wheels do all the work for me on the fast open road. Often on descents like this I am left thinking that any such easy ride normally has a big horrible climb at the end of it. This was indeed still true; however that climb would be for tomorrow.
The Cumberland Inn was right at the bottom of the hill not long after entering Alston and I almost overshot it. However before too long the bike was locked up in the cellar and I was soaking in the bath. After writing up my diary and uploading my GPS files I headed downstairs. I had booked bed, breakfast and an evening meal and soon found myself a comfortable perch for the evening. Cumberland Sausage, Mash, Onion Rings and Gravy were washed down with three or four excellent pints of local bitter and then before too long I was back in my room and snoring like a good ‘un.
Day Three Stats:
- Distance: 48.95 Miles
- Ride Time: 4 Hours, 27 minutes and 44 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 38.3 mph
- Average Speed: 10.9 mph
- Average RPM: 61
- Revolutions: 16,332
- Ascent: 4,132 feet
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/374155807
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