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.
I 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.
Once 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.
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.
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.