01 March 2014

F2B4: Ashington to Bamburgh

Another glorious day of bluesky coastal cycling, a day of space and air and seasmells and freshness and fish and chips. And some lager drinking with Newcastle fans.

From Ashington I headed east out to NCN1, which runs picturesquely up the coast. It was (mostly) fab, a series of backroads and not-too-muddy-tracks and paths that gave expansive views of the sea and sand and cowpats. Some of the dunes scenery reminded me of the Netherlands, if not quite the standard of cycle-track surface.

Alnmouth, Craster, Seahouses, and several cups of coffee later, I reached Bamburgh at 1.30pm. The castle glowed in the low late-winter sun, and lots of runners on a Big Event were arriving one by one, cheered in by friends and relatives in woolly hats. I would have taken a photo of them, but they were running much faster than I was cycling.

The castle proved a splendidly suitable terminus for the trip, with a real sense of arrival. I wanted a sense of fish and chips, though, so I went back to Seahouses.

Seahouses also provided a friendly tourist info who directed me to the smokehouse, where they smoke fish, whatever turns you on. They also suggested I drop in on the Olde Ship Inn, a pub-cum-maritime-museum, in whose beer garden I had a pint of Farne Island overlooking the Farne Islands. A beer full of grace, darling.

I got the train home from isolated Chathill station via Newcastle. Quite a few Toon fans were there, bantering about their eventful match with Hull today, in which their manager head-butted one of our players. They gave me a can of lager as compensation.

It's been another excellent little rhyming bike trip, with stirring coastal scenery, friendly locals on hand when Sustrans signs were ambiguous, which was much of the time, good beer, cosy cheap hotels, and several quirky things en route.

Miles today: 53
Total miles so far: 209
Total miles Flamborough to Bamburgh: 188

28 February 2014

F2B3: Durham to Ashington

A delightful day of windless sunshine up the flattish north-east coast. After the headwinds and hills of the previous two days, my bike felt like an electric-assist model.

I struck north from Durham this morning to Chester-le-Street, where I joined the Coast to Coast route east to Sunderland. On the rare bit of scenic path on that stretch, running alongside the Wear, was this Sustrans sculpture. As you know, they often commission artworks that reflect things local to the area that you see a lot of en route, such as this one, of a dog turd.

At Sunderland I passed by the endpoint of one of that Coast to Coast route, marked by this rather splendid monument.

The route from there north along the coast to Newcastle is glorious - perhaps it's the surprising abundance of light, air, greenery and space that makes it such a pleasure. On a sunny day like today, with friendly locals stopping to chat, it was an utter delight.

Greggs, the bakery chain, comes from Newcastle, and in its home town, every other shop is a Greggs - as you can see from this snap of King St, in South Shields.

The Shields Ferry took me over the Tyne for more lovely coastal riding, with big fresh skies and wide spaces, up to Blyth. Beach huts - yes indeed, they do have them.

I finished in country park just outside of Ashington, in a prebooked Premier Inn. I can promise you, the pleasure of reclining in a steamy hot bath listening to Radio 3 with a bottle of wine, bag of crisps and Co-op cheese sandwich after a full day's cycling never seems to lose its novelty.

Miles today: 52
Total miles so far: 156
Total miles since Flamborough: 146 F

27 February 2014

F2B2: Whitby to Durham

Lots of hills and headwinds today, but I didn't swear once. That once was at about 4 o'clock.

From the hostel it was all downhill into Whitby, some 100m away. Very steeply downhill, as you can see. The road, Donkey Track, is marked 'Unsuitable for Motors'. Indeed. At the bottom, this photo suggests that the gradient is around 60 to 70 per cent. That would make it possibly the steepest in Britain, more precipitous even than the 40 per cent Fford Pen Llech in Wales. Wow. After climbs of max 6 per cent yesterday, and evening beers of about the same, that raises the bar for tonight's drinking.

My early start was rewarded by this curious sight at Sandsend, just north of Whitby, around 8am. A bloke was out on the beach making circles with a rake into this splendid little art happening. Not a commissioned piece, just something he was doing for fun - though he is an artist, part of the small arts organisation www.responsiblefishinguk.co.uk.

I dropped into Runswick Bay, a fabulous little cousin of Robin Hood's Bay with all the same sort of fishing cottages crammed up no-road-access steps, but without the twee tourist shops. I couldn't show you the picture at first because I took it on my iPod which I then lost. But it's now been returned thanks to the residents of Runswick Bay who found it, called up the first person on my contact list (Sue and Si, hello) who called me and I organised its safe return. People are great. I like People.

Next up the coast was Staithes, another delightfully quaint 'fishing village', ie a village full of artists. It has the narrowest alley in Britain: Dog Loup, just up from Captain Cook's Cottage on Church Street.

It's too narrow for my bike handlebars, and at 15.5 inches wide - I measured it - it's comfortably narrower than the much-hyped Temple Bar in Port Isaac, Cornwall, usually cited as Britain's tightest squeeze. Interestingly, this bit of Staithes is not on Google Street View, whose spy-cars evidently couldn't get down the narrow lanes to the harbourfront. Ha ha! Yorkshire wins again!

Lots of hill-climbing, wind-bashing and train-cheating later, I got to Middlesbrough, home of the famous Transporter Bridge. Middlesbrough is the sort of place that makes you want to get on your bike straight away. And cycle fast as possible out of it.

From Middlesbrough to Durham I tried to go by National Cycle Route 1, which looked promising - with a very long railtrail going 20 miles or so north from Stockton - but most of it was too muddy, so I took refuge in the road. Still, as the old Yorkshire saying goes, 'Where there's muck, there's a Sustrans route'.

Miles today: 53
Total miles so far: 104
Total miles since Flamborough: 94

26 February 2014

F2B1: (Bridlington to) Flamborough to Whitby

This is the latest Rhyming Coast to Coast: Flamborough to Bamburgh, F2B.

Pedants among you will protest that it isn't a proper Coast to Coast as it doesn't cross the country, and merely follows a shoreline. But they rhyme and it looks fun, and I'd rather be happy than right any day. I'll tell you when it's the day.

Anyway, it was lovely and sunny as I set off from Bridlington this morning for the short spin out to Flamborough Head. Brid can just look shabby and downtrodden at times, but today it looked bright, friendly, shabby and downtrodden.

Flamborough Head is famous for its two chalk-and-cheese lighthouses: one made of chalk in 1669, and this one made of, er, bricks in 1806.

This bit here was the site of a sea battle in 1779 between Britain and America, who beat us 2-1 after extra time.

At Scarborough station I had a sandwich break on the longest bench in Britain. It's on Platform 1 and is 139m long. I had it to myself, which was just as well, as I don't like sharing a bench with other people.

From Scarborough to Whitby I went by National Cycle Route 1: the 21-mile Cinder Trail, which follows an old railway line. I've been critical of it in the past: a potentially fabulous rail trail with some superb coastal views was spoiled by an awful surface, very rough in places, and deteriorating every year. Well, I'm glad to say that at last some action has been taken...

...They've put up signs saying 'Caution. Surface very rough in places.'

I'm in Whitby Youth Hostel tonight, which is stunningly situated next to the Abbey, high on the promontory overlooking the town and harbour. That means it's 199 steps down to Wetherspoons and 199 steps back up.

Miles today: 51
Total miles so far: 51
Total miles since Flamborough: 41

25 May 2013

D2S3: Clatteringshaws Loch to Stranraer

A glorious morning, and what a view to wake up to: the mirrorlike waters of Clatteringshaws Loch in the heart of Galloway Forest Park, right there in front of my tent (picture). And all mine: not another soul for, literally, miles. Not quite mirrorlike enough to see my haggard reflection clearly, which after two weeks of cycling is probably just as well.

I went offroad 15 miles through fabulous loch and mountain scenery (picture) along National Cycle Route 7. Being a Sustrans 'trunk route', it was quite breathtaking: I had to keep gasping in amazement at how bad much of the surface was. Luckily I have 38C tyres on my tourer, though here, tractor tyres wouldn't have been out of place.

After a lot more lovely Galloway scenery on back roads - where 'rush hour' is a tractor and car in the same hour - I got to Stranraer mid-afternoon (picture).

Stranraer's clearly not a boom town, and the relocation of the Stena ferry port in 2011 to Cairnryan, up the road, hasn't helped. Even the poundshop here has closed down. The harbour (picture) was hardly bustling, but the Custom House pub certainly was, with lots of families, and locals, and bike bloggers using the wifi.

Dunbar to Stranraer has been a memorable and very pleasant trip, with some of Scotland's less-visited but glorious scenery. There were some of the most enjoyable downhills I've had in Britain, and two of the most beautiful and memorable campsite (both by lochs). But, er, just as well I didn't come here for the beer.

Miles today: 48
Miles since Dunbar: 183
Miles since starting at Penzance: 893

24 May 2013

D2S2: St Mary's Loch to Clatteringshaws Loch

It rained all night, and it was a miserable cold squelchy start from the lochside campsite. Even the mad hen was taking shelter. But with a hefty tailwind, the long downhill into Moffat was a delight (picture). As was Moffat itself, a handsome town with a good line in cherry trees and Scotch pies.

Outside Moffat, on a Sustrans route, was this intriguing sculpture (picture). Having recently been cycling in Toulouse, I couldn't quite see the connect between the aircraft industry and Scotch pies.

Having been through the longest village name in Britain on a previous Rhyming Coast to Coast, I couldn't resist dropping in to Ae (picture). It's the shortest place name in Britain, and home to some excellent mountain bike trails in Ae Forest. There's also Ae Bike Shop and Cafe. It used to be written Æ, as a single-letter ligature, apparently.

After quite a lot of pleasant backroads I got to Galloway Forest Park, and camped wild by the side of Clatteringshaws Loch (picture). I had the entire place to myself, and had no shortage of water to brush my teeth with.

Miles today: 75
Miles since Dunbar: 135
Miles since starting at Penzance: 845

23 May 2013

D2S1: Dunbar to St Mary's Loch

This is a Scottish Rhyming Coast-to-Coast: Dunbar to Stranraer, D2S. I'm doing it in the middle of my End to End to End to End ride (Land's End to John o'Groat's via the English End to End and the Scottish End to End). Well, what else is the point of being retired?

So, this morning I left Dunbar (picture). A friendly small town that acts as the administrative centre for the agricultural area and a dormitory town for Edinburgh, it's the home of John Muir, who established the conservation movement; Belhaven Brewery; a nuclear power station; a fishing harbour; and a cement factory. A mixed economy, I'd say.

By chance, the hundred-year-old herring boat The Reaper - Scotland's oldest working fishing boat (picture) - was in the harbour, and it was free to board and look round. In lieu of being able to dip my front wheel in the water, this seemed the best way to officially christen the ride. As for the herring, apparently there are none left. We've eaten them all.

After some humdrum scenery west of Dunbar, things suddenly got beautiful with the B709 from Heriot (picture). Lovely scenery, and the rare treat in Britain of a flat smooth road with virtally no traffic running through it. The final eight miles, thanks to a 20mph tailwind and consistently gentle gradient, were one of the best cycling downhills I've ever enjoyed: a steady 20mph freewheel winding down through the hills. Being chased by a monster raincloud borne by that same 20mph tailwind, which added a frisson.

The B709 continued in similar vein after the mountain bike centre of Innerleithen, and I camped at the Tibbie Shiels Inn at the end of St Mary's Loch, which is superbly scenic, and coincidentally has a pub of the same name next to it. There's a mad hen which wanted to get into my tent (picture) and apparently tries to board buses.

Miles today: 60
Miles since Dunbar: 60
Miles since starting at Penzance: 765