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.