The Scribbler

10 May 2016

C2C day 4 – Stanhope to Tynemouth

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 18:55
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While those who had already climbed the hill enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, Gary, David and I set out to tackle the notorious climb that is Crawleyside Bank.

We didn’t have much chance to get our legs going before the ascent out of Stanhope began. Fellow rider Hilary had given us a good description of the challenge that she’d tackled the day before. She broke it down into three sections – to the cattle grid, to the white house and then to Parkhead. With tales of an hour’s climb and the steepest part of the route ahead, we set off a little nervously.

It was cooler than it had been the previous afternoon, but still the day promised to be bright and mild. There was a bit of traffic as the road twisted and turned on the climb and unfortunately I stopped just before the steepest section, giving myself a hard job to get back on and climb on the bike, but I made it.

Soon came signs for the cattle grid. I saw almost a mile done – that was practically half way already. I feared a steeper and harder climb ahead, but just kept going.

20160510-6I knew this would be the hardest part of the day and kept my eyes focused a short way ahead as I climbed. Using the snow poles at the sides of the road as markers, I just kept pushing on to the next one, then the next. Soon I was past the white house.

The landscape changed again. Vegetation was spare and scrubby on the exposed ground. Up ahead the road rose again, but off to the side was what looked like a farm building with an old metal wagon at the edge of the turn into the driveway. That couldn’t be Parkhead could it?

The road I was on dipped a little and levelled out as I approached, remembering Hilary’s description of the landmarks. It was Parkhead! I saw the sign and turned in with a smile.

David and Gary weren’t far behind me. We had made it! And what’s more, we had beaten the van carrying the other riders and their bikes on the trailer and Elaine and Jack who set out after us on their electric bikes.

As we sheltered from the wind, waiting for them to arrive, we felt a great sense of satisfaction. Crawleyside Bank conquered, we had been promised an easy ride the rest of the way.

20160510-16Once everyone was back together and bikes unloaded, we headed out onto the Wasterley Way, a section of gravelly track over the moor. A bleaker landscape than our start in the Lakes, but no less beautiful. The wind continued to challenge, but became easier to deal with once we dropped out of the most exposed paths towards Consett.

At the site of the former steel works, there’s now a sculpture of a silver theodolite held up on animal legs. Les met us here and gave us directions to the van, parked at a nearby retail park ready for a snack stop.

Refreshed and refueled, we were soon making great progress on the tree lined off-road tracks of the Derwent walk, meeting a number of other cyclists and walkers along the way, enjoying the sunshine.

As we crossed the high bridges and viaducts, we kept our eyes open for red kites, but didn’t see any.

20160510-11 (1)By now we were on familiar ground and recognizing place names. There’s a surprising amount of parkland and countryside close to the big urban centre of Gateshead that you only discover when you get away from a car.

A few twists and turns and we were into the industrial landscape around the Metrocentre, passing office buildings and heading towards the river Tyne. From the old Vickers Armstrong factory, past Dunston Staithes and onto the iconic bridges.

We made good progress, crossing over the Tyne and stopping for photos on the Millennium Bridge, before our lunch stop at the Cycle Hub on the Quayside.

From here it was an easy run to Tynemouth. We were cycling home, but the rest of the group were still exploring and asking lots of questions about the locations. Past Wallsend and Hadrian’s Wall at Segedunum, over the paths past the Tyne Tunnel and we could smell the sea air. Through the marina and on, down the steep bank to the Fish Quay at North Shields, and out along towards the mouth of the river.

20160510-29 (1)One last sharp rise, up the hill towards Tynemouth Priory and our final stop at the Spanish Battery car park. We’d made it from one coast to the other!

There had been some talk of going on a little further to dip our wheels in the sea at Tynemouth Longsands, but with many of the group having trains and planes to catch, we said our goodbyes, thanked the guides and went our separate ways.

We met a really nice group of people, and it seemed strange to think this was the end of our journey. We wouldn’t be gathering to eat together that evening and share tales of our adventures and wondering how tough the next day would be.

We picked up our bags and walked our bikes the last half or mile or so through the village and home. It felt like a great achievement, a brilliant challenge and a good holiday.

 

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9 May 2016

C2C Day 3 – Alston to Stanhope

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 20:55
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A hearty breakfast at Alston House fuelled us for another day’s cycling, starting with a sharp ascent over the cobbles out of the village and up onto Alston Moor.

A morning of steady and almost continuous climbs brought us to Nenthead for our first stop. Cloudless blue skies and rising temperatures had us slapping on the sunscreen for another stunning day in the saddle.

Having managed the cobbled hill first thing, today was the day I felt like I got the hang of climbing in the lowest gear, keeping a steady turn of the pedals and managing to stay in balance while clipped in.

20160509-5 (1)My previous experience had been of shorter hills that I’ve tried to power up, leaving me breathless at the top. Now I understand how to climb on a long day’s cycling and leave myself enough energy for another ten miles. I felt good and strong, just going steady, not pushing too hard on the uphills and enjoying the flats and descents.

We soon passed out of Cumbria and into Northumberland and through the highest point on the route. Seeing the county sign was a signal that we really were making progress towards home.

We stopped near Allenheads for lunch, enjoying a picnic in a field and soaking up some sunshine. The post lunch ride has proved hard to get started each day, and it was the same again. Climbing in bright, hot sunshine out of Allenheads, we were soon up into scrubby moorland with no shade, being challenged by an easterly headwind.

Today we were accompanied by Ollie, a photographer who popped up at regular spots on the route with a still camera and also a flying drone cam. Hearing the buzz of the drone was a great incentive to keep pedaling when the going got tough. With growing confidence in my ability to pedal slowly and not fall over, I didn’t walk at all today.

20160509-10 (1)The electric bikes continued to speed away up the hills, and the remaining human powered crew stuck together until we were offered a choice of routes just after Rookhope – one going up and over on the official route and the other taking a slightly longer but less hilly road to Stanhope.

Three of us opted for the lower route for the last section of the day. It was scorching hot by now and the wind had picked up, so at times, even though we were heading downhill we had to pedal into the wind. It felt like being blasted in a fan oven.

I started to recognise the roads approaching Stanhope from riding the Weardale triathlon route a few years ago. It was a shorter mileage day and we were glad to arrive in the village and find our B&B, before heading into the village for an ice cream. It was a shame that the outdoor pool doesn’t open until the end of May, as it was perfect weather for a dip. But, finding that Janice, our fabulous host at Burnside Brace had carried our bags up to our room for us was an added bonus.

Some of the group opted to get the climb scheduled for the next morning out of the way and continued on to Parkhead station, but after being blasted by the easterly wind and picking up some interesting tan lines in our cycling tops, we opted to tackle it in the morning, hoping for cooler weather.

 

7 May 2016

C2C Day 2 – Threlkeld to Alston

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 21:57
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Another day of hot sunshine forecast and as we left The Horse and Farrier at Threlkeld we started to climb under big blue skies with mere wisps of cloud.

We were soon away from the road on good tracks, enjoying a nice sequence of undulations. Each of the climbs came with a nicely rewarding descent and we made good progress to our first snack stop at the pretty village of Greystoke.

20160508-6Taking advantage of the services of a guided tour run by Newcastle based Saddle Skedaddle and doing the C2C route over 4 days was a good decision based on our cycling ability and leaving all the organisation to someone else.

Each day we get a briefing of each section of the route and our lead guide Brad rides with us. He is often at the back so he can check everyone is okay, but sometimes takes the lead through sections where we may take a wrong turn.

Les, the other guide on this trip, provides back up, excellent route and local knowledge and very welcome food and drinks from the van. That means there’s the option to take a ride in the van if cycling becomes too challenging.

Brad and Les were fantastic dealing with the very mixed abilities and demands of the group. I couldn’t fault them.

The landscape started to change as we left the Lakes behind. It became more open and rolling with cultivated fields. A group of five with regular, rather than electric bikes found we were maintaining a nice pace and stuck together.

Despite clear instructions from Les, we missed a turning and ended up on the slightly busier road route into Penrith. But after a bit of navigating we made it through the town centre and up a deceptively steep climb back on the route again.

20160507-16We stopped at Langwathby for lunch – another amazing spread with salmon, Spanish omelette, tomato and mozzarella salad, chicken and all sorts of goodies laid on.

It was a long lunch. Maybe a bit too long to be still, having the hardest climb to tackle in the afternoon – up the hill to Hartside.

Gary and I both struggled to get going after lunch and the rest of the group moved ahead as we started to climb. The day before, Gary got cramp, so I kept an eye on him, stopping at the top of each set of rises, but I needed a break to get my breath back too.

Seeing Hartside cafe in the distance on the hill, never getting closer was taunting – especially when Gary had convinced himself that the total distance for the day was 35 miles, when that was the distance to Hartside. He started cursing the descents for undoing all the hard work on the climbs and got annoyed at the wind.

He kept telling me to go on, but I know how demoralising that can be, so I continued to move forwards and then wait so we could re-group.

Behind us another rider had given up and called the van, so when he passed us on his way back for her, we decided we’d struggle to make it to the top and down again in time for dinner, so we took advantage of the ride. It was 5pm when we stopped, just below the final tarmac section and sharp climb to the top.

So we did reach the summit, but under motor power. We congratulated those who made it and who were posing for photos at the sign, then joined them for the long descent and ride on to Alston.

The wind was sharply in our faces at the top and down the descent. It was so strong we had to pedal downhill at times, although I enjoyed a lovely long freewheel.

Our stop for the night was Alston House where we received a warm welcome to a lovely big room and many laughs over a good dinner.

6 May 2016

Cycling the C2c Day 1 Whitehaven to Threlkeld

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 20:40
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The C2C, or sea to sea is a popular route that crosses England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. And, like many others, we decided we’d like to take on the challenge of cycling the route from Whitehaven on the West coast to Tynemouth on the East – over 140 miles.

20160507-3We opted for the easy option of an organised tour with Newcastle based cycling holiday company Saddle Skedaddle, and doing the route over four days. It meant that we handed over the hassle of arranging accommodation, transporting luggage, understanding the route, and importantly where and when we were going to eat to someone else. A good move as I’d need all my energy for cycling, especially some of the big climbs.

Our challenge began in Gateshead, where we met our fellow cyclists and guides, Brad and Les. Here we loaded our bikes onto a trailer and piled into a minibus for the road trip over to our starting point.

We stayed overnight at The Horse and Farrier in Threlkeld, where a warm welcome and a pub meal gave us chance to get to know each other. Out of a group of ten, there were four using electric bikes on this trip and a mixture of experienced and less experienced cyclists. Most had travelled from far further afield to enjoy the scenery and challenge of the ride starting in the Lake District.

The forecast was fair for our first day cycling, so after an early breakfast, we took the bus and the bikes over to Whitehaven for the start of our trek. As we arrived, we saw plenty of other cyclists getting ready to set off. They all looked better prepared that we did!

We were a little delayed as there was a problem with one of the electric bikes. But support guide Les got his hands mucky and sorted it out and we were soon lining up for a photo on the slipway with the sea in the background. The North East coast felt a very long way away.

The first section was a gradual steady climb along old railway tracks and we motored along really nicely, enjoying the sunshine as the temperature rose. We stopped for a snack break and regroup after about 10 miles along the tracks and then the climbs really started.

We cycled on, into real Lakes scenery – glowering hills and still waters. Pale yellow primroses peeped out from deep green banks. It really was stunning.

To get the best views, you have to climb and, living on the North East coast as I do, it’s not something I do much of, so I found it challenging, but the descent into Loweswater was fantastic fun and allowed me to reach unheard of speeds on my bike.

Just after Loweswater was our first stop and our first experience of a Skedaddle lunch. No soggy sandwiches here – Les set out the first of many magnificent spreads and we fuelled up for the afternoon.

By now the wind had picked up and was in our faces. It wasn’t cold, but it added a resistance factor. I dropped into the lowest gears for the uphills and kept pedalling slowly, getting the feel for climbing on the bike.

It was an undulating afternoon, with a climb up to Whinlatter and then another thrilling fast descent. I lost my nerve a bit on this downhill and made good use of my disc brakes. I was glad I was on my Crosstrail, rather than my road bike.

20160507-15Parts of the route have been diverted due to the damage in the winter floods, meaning that after Keswick we had no option but to climb up through Castlerigg Stone Circle. That was a brute of a climb and I struggled to keep my balance in the lowest gear, and resorted to  walking the steepest bits.

But the view and the atmosphere in the Neolithic stone circle were worth the stiff legs. It was stunning in the early evening sunshine.

From here it was an easy descent and a run back to Threkeld to the Horse and Farrier, where we made the most of the sunshine in the beer garden before a well deserved evening meal. Day two was set to be a tough one…

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