C2C Day 3 – Alston to Stanhope

Day 3 of our C2C cycle sees us tackling more climbs, cobbles and leaving Cumbria behind.

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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.

 

C2C Day 2 – Threlkeld to Alston

The hardest climb of the route awaits on our cycle adventure from C2C

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.