20 July 2012

B2J3: Edmundbyers to Jarrow

Most of today’s short concluding run was on NCN14, the well-surfaced railtrail (picture) that takes grateful C2Cers downhill from Consett into Newcastle.

It has two sorts of ‘Cyclists: Slow’ signs. One is because there are narrow barriers coming up at a road crossing, in which case you should slow down; the other also says ‘Give way to walkers’, which means there’s a long straight bit coming up, so you know you can go really fast.

Somewhere round Ebchester I was delighted to see one man and his dog rounding up some sheep (picture), whistles and all.

I once wrote a duet for flute and guitar about border collies. They’re the most intelligent breed of dog; one has a vocabulary of 1022 words.

That's 1000 more than I heard from any of the stag and hen parties in Newcastle who were getting stuck into the Stella at Wetherspoons when I arrived there for breakfast at 10.30am.

I got to Jarrow about noon and visited Bede’s World, a rather good modern museum dedicated to the great 7th-century scholar the Venerable Jeremy Beadle.

He not only figured out how tides work, established the BC/AD system of dating years, and came up with a formula to determine the date of Easter, but he also invented the footnote.* Sadly, his historic first footnote has not survived.

Jarrow is also famous for the Tyne Tunnels, which include a pedestrian-only and cyclist-only tunnel (picture). They were made in 1951, about the same time as the fish and chips I had in Patterdale hostel.

As there was nowhere to dip my wheels into the tidal Tyne to finish the trip officially, the tunnel seemed an appropriate endpoint. Better than Greggs, anyway.

I’m rather enjoying the way these arbitrary routes between rhyming termini produce a mix of expected and unexpected pleasures. This has been three fabulous days of awesome scenery, thrilling climbs and descents, and rural and urban slices of life; another lovely cross-section of England.

*This is true.

Miles today: 42
Miles from Barrow to Jarrow: 143
Long waterside stretches: Morecambe Bay, Coniston, Ullswater, Tyne
Sweary climbs: Kirkstone Pass; Hartside; Dowgang Hush.
Loveliest village: Blanchland
Most embarrassing moment: Using female shower at Patterdale with school group in. By mistake, officer
Best scenery: Tough, but probably Patterdale

19 July 2012

B2J2: Patterdale to Edmundbyers

Alongside Ullswater (picture) to start with, and a visit to see Aira Force, the waterfall area which claims to be the inspiration of Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’. Clearly he, like me, beat the tourist rush by coming here at 7.30am.

Outside Penrith I joined the C2C (Coast to Coast) Sustrans route. In theory this mean s you can dispense with the map and just follow the C2C signs (picture). In practice it means you stop to consult the map at every sign to see why on earth Sustrans is directing you up a needless hill, almost back the way you came, or along four sides of a square.

I visited the Stone Circle of Long Meg and Her Daughters (picture, with Hartside looming in the background) and it was much as I remembered from my trip here doing the C2C with Si, Mark and Martin in 1998. Especially the cow poo.

Anyway, I had lunch at Hartside Cafe on the 580m hilltop overlooking the Eden Valley, and enjoyed my favourite view on the trip so far: that of a plum crumble and custard (eaten before I could photograph it).

Rather a lot of hill-climbing and gleeful long downhill freewheels later (picture), a lovely day of lakes and moors scenery ended in Edmundbyers, a village with those two cycle touring essentials: a youth hostel, and a pub with cask ale and free wifi.

Miles today: 65
Miles since Barrow: 113

18 July 2012

B2J1: Barrow to Patterdale

So, this is Barrow to Jarrow, another rhyming coast to coast, starting this morning at Barrow-in-Furness at the southwest extremity of the Lakes.

I dipped my wheels in the tetchy surf on a windy pebbly beach on Walney Island (picture).

Barrow is, of anywhere in the UK, the place most people want to get away – in the 2011 census it showed the quickest population drop. So I went with the flow and left sharpish for a better life.

Specifically, the coast road to Ulverston, looking majestically across those vast and lethal sands of Morecambe Bay (picture). A tailwind and unforecast sun made things very pleasant.

Ulverston styles itself ‘the friendly market town’, and friendly it certainly was. A local lady asked me if I realised my bike was in the picture (picture) I took of the statue of Stan Laurel, Ulverston’s most famous son, and his sidekick Oliver Hardy. Yes, I reassured her.

Another friendly local with a can of Tennents asked me if I realised he would be glad of any spare change I might have. Yes, I reassured him. I do realise. But I’m certainly not giving you any of it. So piss off.

From there was some wonderful lakeside cycling (picture) along the east shore of Coniston Water, famous as the venue for Si’s stag party, to Ambleside.

And from there was the slog up Kirkstone Pass, the highest in the Lakes, imposingly called ‘The Struggle’ (picture).

They’re darn right. Even with a twenty-ounce high-end road bike – as toted by three keeno cyclists who passed me on the Pass – I’d have a Struggle. On my twenty-kilo tourer with even more than that in my panniers, I hadn’t a hope in Helvellyn.

So, Kirkstone Pass joined Hardknott, Bwlch y Groes and Buttertubs in my List Of Big Passes What I Have Mainly Pushed My Bike Up. I did eventually crest the summit (picture) which is conveniently marked with an Inn.

Then it was a glorious long downhill (one of several today) all the way to Patterdale and the youth hostel.

I stayed here in April when I walked the Wainwright Coast to Coast. Comparing the two experiences reminded me why I like walking but I love cycling. Downhills – especially this one, down Patterdale and surrounded by awesome fells – are far more fun on a bike.

Miles today: 54 miles
Miles since Barrow: 48 miles

06 July 2012

L2T2: Tiverton Parkway to Teignmouth

Cycling over the previous few days has felt like the Argentinian economy: either soaring up or plummeting down, and with perpetual U-turns.

But today Normal Cycle Touring Service was resumed: unremarkable but agreeable back-lanes cycling through undulating countryside. It was south Devon, but could have been anywhere in England.
At Broadhembury, a pleasant thatchy village (above), the nice people in the teashop – impressed by the unconventional frame shape of Nigel’s Airnimal – opened specially for us at 9am.
Clearly unconventional is what they like here, to judge by the position of this door (above), mysteriously located halfway up one of the house walls. Perhaps their builders were as unreliable at following a brief as the ones that did my annexe.
From Exmouth we took the ferry across the Exe estuary to Starcross (above). It took 20 minutes thanks to the unfavourable tide – about the same time as it took us to hike the bicycles up and over the bike-unfriendly footbridge at Starcross station to rejoin the road.
We got to Teignmouth (above and below) and enjoyed watching the local gulls dropping cockles from a great height onto the promenade to break the shells. Perhaps this is why there’s No Cycling on the promenade – to save you from punctures from the shrapnel.
Lynmouth to Teignmouth has been a fine representative coast-to-coast slice of Devon, which in two days has covered hills, plains, moors, valleys, a canal, countless lovely villages and back lanes, a cliff railway and a ferry. Very enjoyable. I’m currently sitting in an Exeter Wetherspoons with a pint of Neptune, and saying what I usually say in such circumstances: I like cycling, don’t you?

Right: Barrow to Jarrow next...

Miles today: 42
Miles since Lynmouth: 98
No of cups of tea/coffee each: 7
Minutes of rainfall: 1
Highest speed recorded on Nigel’s GPS: 16,300mph (poss. error)

05 July 2012

L2T1: Lynmouth to Tiverton Parkway

A glorious mixture of cycling today, starting with the punishing climb from Lynmouth to Lynton (above). The historic funicular (a Latin-derived adjective meaning ‘very expensive’) railway whisks you and bike up the cliff in two minutes for £5.30, which makes it slightly cheaper per second than Cross Country trains.
Several hours of lovely moors cycling after that (above), heading roughly south, like my life.
At one point, Nigel had to cope with Exmoor rush hour (above). But wild horses wouldn’t have dragged us away from this trip. Were they really wild? Well, they weren’t very pleased.
Devon was apparently the only part of the country spared from the rain today, so our luck was clearly in. The final leg was along a surprise canal towpath (above) to Tiverton Parkway, and a Travelodge that yet again encouraged us to take our bikes into the room.

Maybe they just don’t want bicycles hanging around outside the building, advertising the fact that cyclists are staying here.

Miles today: 56
Miles since Lynmouth: 56

04 July 2012

L2T0: Arrival at Lynmouth

We (me and Nigel) have arrived in Lynmouth, on the north Devon coast, to start the Lynmouth to Teignmouth rhyming c2c tomorrow.

We got here by cycling from Plymouth to Ilfracombe along the Sustrans Devon Coast to Coast route. And then by pushing from Ilfracombe to Lynmouth, thanks to north Devon's boom-and-bust ups and downs.

When it's not climbing up or plunging down 1 in 4 hills on breathless back lanes, much of the route goes on railtrails. Dr Beeching was clearly a fan of leisure cycle routes, to judge by how many rural rail lines he axed to create them, though he appears to have axed a few trees too (above).

Many of the railtrail bits run on smooth tarmac (the Drake Way out of Plymouth, Granite Way up to Okehampton, Tarka Trail up to Barnstaple) and they feature some awesome viaducts (above) and tunnels. We preferred the tunnels because, unlike the rest of Devon, it wasn't raining there. It was just dripping.

In Barnstaple we found Britain's most suitably named Wetherspoons for cycle tourists (above).

Anyway, after two and a half days of rain, we had the novelty of seeing our shadows in time to arrive at Lynmouth (above) and prepare for the trip proper to begin tomorrow morning.

08 March 2012

R2R3: Northallerton to Ravenscar

If day 1 was the Lakes, and day 2 the Dales, then day 3 was the North York Moors (above).

This is just about my favourite bike-touring part of the world: a compact, beautiful landscape, where 15 minutes' swearing gets you up to remote sheepy solitude, but three minutes' glorious freewheel down gets you to a teashop or pub.

From Northallerton to Whitby was a flirt with the northern edge of the Moors; from Whitby to Ravenscar it was the 'Cinder Track', the railtrail down to Scarborough (above), perhaps England's most scenic. If you cycled this ten years or so ago, when the surface was appallingly bad - rutted, stony, uneven, muddy - you'd be amazed to see it today. It's even worse.

Anyway, I got to Ravenscar just after 3pm. No chance of dipping my wheels in the North Sea here, to complement what I did in Ravenglass: Ravenscar was conceived as a purpose-built resort in late Victorian times, a grand project to rival Scarborough. However, it never took off, and Ravenscar became 'the town that never was' - partly because it's on top of a cliff, with no easy path down to the rocky 'beach'.

There's little there now except a handful of houses and the Raven Hall Hotel, where I had a very nice cream tea. There's a feeling of timelessness here, especially when you're waiting to get served.

Ravenglass to Ravenscar has been a fabulous little trip, three of the best days' cycling I can remember: wonderful scenery, mild weather, tailwinds. It's a route I'd gladly do again (hint)....

Trip stats

Miles today: 57
Miles since Ravenglass: 170
Highest speed: 42mph, between Kendal and Sedbergh
No of grouse startled: 6
No of Wetherspoons visited: 0
No of minutes rain: 5

07 March 2012

R2R2: Kendal to Northallerton

Glorious cycling with breathtaking scenery today (lots of this sort of stuff, above), in lovely weather: the forecasters were Michael-Fish-wrong, having promised daylong showers which never materialised, rather like the payments for the freelance work I do for Sky Arts.

From Kendal it's all up and down stuff to Sedbergh, which is STILL IN YORKSHIRE WHATEVER THEY SAID IN THE 1974 BOUNDARY CHANGES SO THERE.

Sedbergh is spectacular, with the Howgills looming over it like a massive green breaking surf. It also has a nice line in 21st-century Yorkshire cafes: twelve types of gourmet coffee, free wifi, and a toilet trendily twinned with a crapper in Burundi (above), but toasted crumpets too. (Yup, Toilet Twinning is a real, and serious, scheme.)

From Hawes I went up and over Buttertubs Pass (above) to Swaledale, which was quite glorious. A big fat tailwind conveyor-belted me to Reeth (where I sat out the only precipitation of the day, five minutes of snow, in a bus shelter, and where I once had to kill a rabbit with my bare hands), Richmond, and Northallerton (where I ate fish and chips with my bare hands).

Miles today: 73
Miles since Ravenglass: 113

06 March 2012

R2R1: Ravenglass to Kendal

This trip is another Coast to Coast: Ravenglass (out west, in Cumbria, a bit north of Barrow) to Ravenscar (out east, a bit north of Scarborough). Not exactly rhyming, but maybe someone knows a technical term for when two similar things begin the same way, like 'shampoo' and 'champagne'.

Ravenglass has a Roman Bath House, and a nice line in ludicrously uncyclable fords, such as this one (above).

From there I went along Esk Dale and up Hardknott Pass (above). It used to be an assault course for tanks and was only tarmacked after World War II.

Its 1 in 3 bits may not be quite as steep as Rosedale Chimney Bank in Yorkshire, or Harlech's Ffordd Penllech, but I can promise you, it's much more challenging than either. Even Bwlch y Groes is only a one-biscuit hill; this is a three-biscuit hill.

It's brutal. You'd have to be slightly mad to try and cycle up without stopping several times for, say, a biscuit and drink and pretend-photograph break and defibrillator stop. Si and Mark have cycled up it without stopping. I rest my case.

After that was some delightful Lakes scenery and villages (including Hawkshead, a quirky little gem) and – via the ferry across Windermere (£1 for bikes) – the final roller coaster to Kendal, which is endowed with a Booth's (£1 for beers).

Kendal also has a marked route that takes you all round the town, bringing you back right where you started; just follow the signs to anywhere and get caught in the one-way system.

Miles today: 40
Miles since Ravenglass: 40

24 January 2012

B2Y7: Norwich to Yarmouth

A final leg that was further than planned. And somewhat damper – with rain all day I sometimes wasn’t sure if I was going through the Broads or underneath them.

I had a quick look round Narch in the morning. The riverside path (above) and the cathedral (below) are well explored by bike, and the city centre overall is full of consistent character and historic charm. And a surprising number of hills.

I whizzed out in the rain to UEA, to meet up for a coffee with Sarah, and a pleasant chat encompassing Larkin, Pevsner, organic porridge oats, and Roger Deakin’s swimming trunks (no relation to N).

It was noon, still chucking it down, and time to make east for Yarmouth along NCN1. It has the usual Sustrans four-sides-of-a-square tortuousness, alongside what might have been a river, or water park, or something, and then through some pleasant, or possibly unpleasant, villages, I couldn’t see because it was grey and drizzly. Sadly, Reedham Ferry – the smallest ferry in the world, or something, when it’s running – wasn’t running, being closed for unannounced repairs.

So I cut straight into Yarmouth, and journey’s end (above) at dusk. Though it had been dusk since two.

On the beach by the pier, with everything closed and rainlashed, I was assailed by the only other person there, a mad woman with two carrier bags and a Dutch accent. She talked for twenty minutes about her eksh-hushband, who ish a schitt, and wanted to know if I was married, where was I staying tonight, and could she use my phone to call her husband in Rotterdam liffing vid hish new voman, de schitt.

Then the rain started again, and so I headed for the station, and home.

It’s been a lot of fun: Welsh mountain passes to Norfolk Broads, gloriously sunny tailwinds to howling gales and all-day downpours, sociable pub regulars, mad people, and a quirky little cross-section of England and Wales at its (mostly) best and (occasionally) not so best.

I've cross-mentioned the Barmouth to Yarmouth trip on my main Real Cycling blog.

Miles today: 45
Miles since Barmouth: 355
Highest point: 585m, Bwlch y Groes
Lowest point: -1m, the Fens
No of pheasants startled: 9, arguably 14
No of Wetherspoons visited: 6, plus 2 without entering to steal the wifi just outside
No of punctures: 0
No of Travelodge nights for under £15: 4

23 January 2012

B2Y6: Spalding to Norwich

A day of glorious sunshine, big skies, richly chilled saturated colours, and a tailwind that scooted me over 75 miles of flat East Anglia backroads with ease.

Elevenses was at Kings Lynn (above). It’s good to have your preconceptions about a place challenged; I’d always thought KL was a weird terminus town, full of staring locals with genetic finger conditions.

Well, as I had my bacon roll and coffee, I got chatting to a local lady in her 60s. When I told her I was from York, she said she was going up there, to the Viking Genealogy department at Jorvik, to research her heritage: ‘Come from Voiken, me. See moi lettle fengers?’ She displayed said digits; both were permanently crooked at the main joint, at 90 degrees. ‘Voiken gene, that is. You got Voiken in you?’

Nice lady, but she was staring at me a bit. Come to think of it, most of Kings Lynn seemed to be doing the same.

The challenging of preconceptions will have to wait another day. I rode out sharpish.

Shame, as KL has some characterful historic quarters, many picturesque streets and buildings (above), and a statue of one its famous sons, a seafarer who explored the coast of Canada, name of Vancouver. Wonder if he discovered anything.

The riding was just delightful all afternoon: intimate and untrafficked back lanes, gentle slopes, modestly picturesque village churches and market-town squares, all with summer’s-morning tranquillity, January posing as April.

On another of Mark’s recommendations I dropped by Castle Acre, with its ruined Norman castle and priory, and this rather splendid arch (above) that all traffic has to squeeze through. Every village should have one.

Staying in Narch tonight. Another twelve-quid, city-centre, bike-in-room Travelodge special. Final leg tomorrow.

Miles today: 75
Miles since Barmouth: 310

22 January 2012

B2Y5: Leicester to Spalding

Another wind-assisted day, from Rutland’s rolling hills to south Lincs’s pancake flatness: Oakham for elevenses, Stamford for lunch, Spalding for dinner.

This bloke outside Oakham (above) was ‘walking’ his dog in the laziest way possible: not just doing it on his bike, but with that conveyor-belt tailwind, meaning he didn’t even have to pedal.

The little-known Rutland Water, a reservoir only created in the late 1970s, is by some measures England’s biggest lake – certainly the largest outside the Lake District. Which means it occupies most of Rutland. There’s a well-used cycle track all the way round it (above).

Stamford, a bit beyond, is a kind of east Midlands Bath, rich in honey-coloured Georgian and other period houses (above). There aren’t quite any postcard-friendly killer-views though, so it’s not as touristy as Bath (but serves as a regular setting for TV period dramas). Stamford has had a lucky escape.

The last few miles to Spalding was all like this (above). Every half an hour or so there’s a set of those black and white chevrons warning you of a tight bend, and road kinks about five degrees.

Dinner came from Spalding Aldi. Is it the only British town whose letters include a supermarket chain? Hmm.

Miles today: 60
Miles since Barmouth: 235

21 January 2012

B2Y4: Stafford to Leicester

East out of Stafford town centre this morning. Luckily there was a nice wide cycle track on the pavement (below).

For today’s ride, Mark came up with several recommendations for things to investigate en route. They were all spot on, a slideshow of charming Middle Englishness: thatchy villages (Abbots Bromley, Newtown Linford), picturesque forest lanes (Charnwood Forest), lovely country parks (Staunton Harold, Bradgate Park), quirky castles (Kirby Muxloe).

And, er, Burton upon Trent (lunch at Wetherspoons).

Staunton Harold (above) is a delightful estate to cycle through, and the crafte shoppe courtyarde has a nice line in wooden sheffield stands. Unless they’re meant for tying up horses.

Bradgate Park (above) bustled with weekend strollers braving the ferocious westerly. There were a few cyclists too, all freewheeling one way and pushing the other.

Again, Travelodge has come up trumps with the £12 advance room deal, including in-room bike parking, and a pub with free wifi next door. I should get a Loyalty Card for that Raleigh.

Miles today: 64
Miles since Barmouth: 175

20 January 2012

B2Y3: Oswestry to Stafford

A day of unmremitting feathery drizzle and cloud, which was just as well, as there's little scenic interest between Oswestry and Stafford.

In fact, the only thing of note above my head all day has been the magnificent vaulted art-nouveau ceiling of Stafford Wetherspoons, an old picture house (above).

The chief points of interest today were toponymic.

I went through Ruyton-XI-Towns, surely the only place in Britain with a capital X in its name (above). I went in to the local shop to see if they sold xylophones or xerox machines or x-ray specs. They didn't. They had some homemade chutneys, though.

However, the village store in the previous village, Knockin, had the inevitable name The Knockin Shop.

Later, I went through Gnosall, which is the only place in England beginning with a silent G. (Wales has Gnoll, in Glamorgan.)

There's a Sustrans path from Gnosall to Stafford (NCN 55) along an old railway line which is gnot very gnice at all: too gnobbly, and full of gniggly puddles.

En route - through some rather handsome Shropshire villages, such as Grinshill - I went across this 'closed' bridge (above). Despite some determined jumping up and down, the bridge did not collapse.

When you see a sign saying 'Road Closed' because of bridge works, experience shows that it's usually only closed to cars - peds and bikes can make their way across. This was the case here, just outside Great Bolas, over the River Tern. Well, one good tern...

Miles today: 50
Miles since Barmouth: 111