02 June 2014

M2H14: Ferriby to Hull

The final leg was another stretch I've cycled many times. From Ferriby I followed the Trans Pennine Trail alongside the Humber (picture). There's still a sign up claiming the route is 'closed to cyclists', even though it reopened weeks ago. Being an experienced touring cyclist, I always read such signs carefully. And then ignore them.

After the Humber Bridge I went along Hessle Road, which is to Hull what the East End is to London: the heart of its working class, though the Krays wouldn't fit in here. They'd be seen as posh, soft goody-goodies. Anyway, mum came from this area, and dad had his shop here, but it hasn't thrived for decades and many of the shopfronts are a forlorn row of shutters (picture).

Still, Hull has a fair few things to cheer about at last - a Premiership footy team in Europe next season, some glimmers of windfarm industrial development, its status as UK City of Culture 2017... It's not fashionable to sneer at us any more.

All of which would have bemused glum librarian-poet Philip Larkin, who made his home, and wrote his best work, in Hull. His statue adorns the train station with a quote from The Whitsun Weddings. The statue is excellent but lacks one vital element, which I provided (picture): Larkin was a cyclist.

Which seemed a suitably poetic place to end Mull to Hull. It's been two fabulous weeks of awesome Scots and Yorks scenery, friendly people, and mostly decent weather. Apart from the blowout on Day 1, the bike was impeccably behaved: 650 miles without a problem. Another delightful cycle tour across this wonderful island of ours. Final scores: Miles today 9
Total miles Mull to Hull 647

Eagles 1 pr White Tailed, 1 male Sea
Deer 13 live, 1 dead
Two-dimensional rabbits c70
Punctures 1 (blowout on Mull)
Pizzas 1 (blowout in Keswick)
Best scenery Yorkshire Dales
Best meal At Mum's, but Vic and Pete's cauliflower cheese came close
Best beers Skye Red in Ayr Wetherspoon; Old Peculier in Aysgarth Falls Hotel
Total cost £305
Value Priceless

01 June 2014

M2H13: York to Ferriby

York looked lovely, on the hottest, most beautiful day of the year. The Millennium Bridge (picture) was busy with the city's everyday cyclists shuttling across the Ouse to Rowntree Park. If they were hoping to play table tennis at the park's free-access table they were to be disappointed, because we were using it.

I rode the now very familiar route from my house to my mum's. I've done this dozens of times since I moved to York three years ago. By dint of shortcuts, lanes and snickets, I can do the shortest, most car-free, nicest route on autopilot now. In stark contrast to the uproariously hilly Dales, this part of Yorkshire is snooker-table flat (picture). You could almost be in the Netherlands, only with fewer windmills and more breweries.

There's little in the way of postcard-shots in this quiet rural back route: few villages, none especially photogenic. In fact, the settlement with the highest population is probably this one, a sort of Butlin's for pigs. There was a lot of contented grunting and snuffling here, much of it from me.

I did the 37 miles to Ferriby, the village I grew up in, in three joyous hours. Those who have enjoyed mum's legendary generosity will understand that the spent calories were swiftly replenished several times over.

Miles today 37
Total miles 638

31 May 2014

M2H12: Harrogate to York

Back home to York - a service stop for changing socks, offloading camping gear, eating curry etc - so a short day.

In fact, all today's highlights were in Knaresborough, traditional home of 16th-century prophetess Mother Shipton (picture). One of her lesser known predictions, clearly foreseeing the coming of the Tour, runs "...On iron wheels young men shall ride / In yellow garb from France's side / Roads smooth as silk shall now appear / But not in any other year...".

OK, yes, I made that up, but then most of Mother S's predictions were made up by some bloke called Hindley in 1862. Still, Knaresborough looked very nice (picture).

The townspeople, as all over this part of Yorkshire, have embraced the Tour. Bunting, displays, decor and posters are everywhere, and there's even a TdF them to one of Knaresborough's local specialities - trompe l'œuil windows (picture).

Miles today 20
Total miles 601

30 May 2014

M2H11: Aysgarth to Harrogate

A sociable day of beautiful but hilly stuff in and around Wharfedale (picture). I was relieved I'd put new brake blocks on back in Penrith.

Much of the cycling was an uphill struggle. The socialising in cafes (picture, Kettlewell) certainly wasn't. In fact, a combination of pushing up 1 in 5s, stopping constantly to take photos, and chatting amiably to fellow cyclists over coffee, resulted in my taking nine hours to do 45 miles.

There were cyclists everywhere on the lanes and roads, most out on a club-run, but many on a more leisurely basis (picture, Burnsall). Evidence of the forthcoming Tour de France was everywhere too: not only those yellow bikes, but also signs for temporary (and lucrative) TdF camping at every farm field. Where will they put all the sheep that weekend?

Another TdF giveaway was the resurfacing work being done all over the place. Three parts of my route were closed to traffic for the tar'n'chippings gangs, but of course as cyclists we could go through (picture). I was stopped and asked three times by cars if I thought they'd be able to get through. Each time I said No, it really is blocked, you've no chance. And each time the drivers said Well, I'll think I'll risk it anyway.

After Bolton Abbey, where there is this entertainingly low arch for cyclists to duck under (picture), I headed for Harrogate, and had the first proper dinner in two weeks, thanks to Vicky and Pete.

Miles today 45
Total miles 581

29 May 2014

M2H10: Penrith to Aysgarth

I followed quiet, rolling back lanes in the morning from Penrith to Kirkby Stephen, in the shadow of the Pennines. Some of the roads were surprisingly busy with traffic (picture). That's rush hour just outside Appleby...

Handsome Appleby is just about to play host to its famous annual horse fair, when lots of travellers come to trade nags. I was intrigued by a restaurant there called PIZZA ROMA, and wasn't sure what sort of 'Roma' they had in mind.

I had lunch in Kirkby Stephen, where this much-photographed fingerpost (picture) displays distances in miles and furlongs - a mode curiously missing from my otherwise flexibly programmable bike computer.

Out of KS was a monster climb (picture), up to 500m, whatever that it is in furlongs, through Birkdale and over into Swaledale.

I was delighted to see ROAD CLOSED signs at the bottom, as I knew I'd be able to get through on a bike, and that I'd therefore have little traffic - only the people ignoring the signs only to have to turn back when they got to the top (picture). (Some cars tried busting the barrier here, only to be turned back further on by a roadworks gang completely blocking the road with diggers.)

Just past the summit, on the Swaledale side, was this yellow bike (picture). Yorkshire's full of them - they're put up to celebrate the forthcoming Tour de France. Not many are this high up, though.

The views down the long descent of Swaledale, though Keld and Thwaite and Muker, were fabulous (picture). If I'd had any breath left after the long push up, they'd have taken it away.

From Muker I went up and over into Wensleydale - another big climb up to near 500m, and big descent the other side down to Askrigg. Here they're celebrating the TdF too: this was my favourite (picture) out of many displays in the village. Whether this a subtle comment on the Milk Race, or about some cyclists behaving like silly cows, I don't know.

I'm camping in Aysgarth, right next to the Falls, which I will hear gently all night. Better not drink too much in the pub next door, then - chances of making it through the night without wanting to go to the toilet would therefore be slim.

Miles today 52
Total miles 536

28 May 2014

M2H9: Rest day in Penrith

A rest day in Penrith today, sitting out indifferent weather and doing service-town admin such as haircuts. The hostel (Wayfarers Penrith) is excellent, and possibly the best for cyclists I've ever stayed at - it's aimed at Coast to Coast groups. It has a fine bikeshed-cum-workshop in the basement (picture), with workstand and tools and track pumps and a bright clean space for maintenance. Just as well, as there was little left of my brake blocks after all those Scottish hills.

I took a bus to Keswick, whose shops were rammed with walkers chased off the hills by the rain, and spent the afternoon strolling round the lake (picture), which was busy with shoppers chased off the town centre by the walkers.

My chum Tim was in Keswick, also having a rest day from leading a group of Coast-to-Coast walkers, and I spent a sociable evening with him and some of his friends and colleagues. Conscious of our food miles, we had a pint of Dog & Gun Landlord's Choice in the Dog & Gun, brewed by the Keswick Brewery (picture). Tim wasn't sure it had travelled well.

Miles today 0
Total miles 484

27 May 2014

M2H8: Moffat to Penrith

A very early start - I had taken down the tent and was out from the campsite in Moffat by 6am - so that I wouldn't have to lay in bed being disturbed by early risers taking down their tents. Sound travels in campsites.

I had breakfast at Lockerbie, where I was not impressed by the cycle parking in front of the Town Hall (picture). Sheffield stands would have been so much more convenient than sheep-shapes.

Further down the old A74, now the smooth, fast, almost traffic-free, but tedious, NCN74, I dropped into Robert the Bruce's cave at Kirkpatrick Fleming (picture). I came here a few years ago intending to get a photo of a spider spinning a web, but didn't succeed. So I came here once more to try again, but without luck. So I think I'll give up.

A short distance down the road is Gretna Green, famous as the place pre-18s with disapproving parents would elope to wed under Scottish law. Now it's a slightly tacky tourist coach-stop, as demonstrated by a piper on photo-display for tips, a retail outlet, and this curious sculpture (picture) of a couple arm-wrestlling for custody of the kids. When it comes to marriage, Bruce's dictum does not apply.

The Border With England (picture) - the River Sark, pub quiz fans - is a few hundred yards south. Next time I cross the border, could Scotland be an independent country? Well, no, because I'll be back in July.

Anyway, I whizzed down to Carlisle (unlimited coffee refills in one of the two Wetherspoons on Botchergate) and then to Penrith, where it was a heartbreakingly beautiful sunny evening. Just as well, seeing as the weather forecast for tomorrow is incessant heavy rain and headwinds...

Miles today 61
Total miles 484