Bike touring normally means a welcome escape from technology and being ‘connected’. On this trip, I’d never been far from my mobile phone as it served as my navigation device via OS maps and the excellent Viewranger. Perched on my Jones bars using a handy Rixen and Kaul Klikfix mount, it had successfully negated the need to carry numerous paper map sheets and guide books.
The technology came into its own yet again securing digs in Berwick. A quick search on late rooms and Google Maps was directing me to the Rob Roy Inn and a comfortable room. The ECR had a comfortable lodging for the night, too – the games room.
After last night’s extravagant meal, my dinner that night was far more modest. Two course for eight quid – mushrooms with dips and a very good pie and chips. I demolished it with guilt-free relish.
A deep sleep gave way to a glorious morning. A large, decent breakfast done, I pushed off with a deep blue above.
I had pedalled Northumberland before and enjoyed it immensely. Today, conditions were better and gave the riding an additional boost. The roads were quiet and the countryside just the right side of wild.
Retracing my coast-to-coast route, I diverted from this familiar course at Ingram where I opted for the Sandstone Way over the shoulders of Wether Hill, Cochrane Pike and Lumsden Hill. Joining pavement again at Prendwick, I met a group of cyclists on a mixture of mountain and cross bikes.
The obligatory questions were asked about the ECR and they expressed their surprise that I’d cycled from Scotland and was heading home. ‘Glossop?!…’ etc etc
They asked me plenty of questions about the Sandstone Way and whether they should continue on the route I’d just pedalled. I assured them it would be fine although I detected they’d had their fill of the rougher stuff that day.
The afternoon passed at a leisurely pace, me stopping frequently to take photos with my now operational camera and to lie in fields full of wildflowers. It was a delight.
The long light of evening had descended by the time I reached Bellingham. I pedalled optimistically to the site on the edge of town where the ever-helpful owners found me a quiet pitch in the trees despite being full. ‘We never turn people away who have got here under their own steam,’ was their reassuring greeting.
My neighbours in a smart caravan brought me a cup of tea while I pitched my tent. I was a little weary and later concerned that I hadn’t expressed my gratitude energetically or effusively enough.
The sunshine prompted a picnic dinner – red wine, a selection of Italian meats and bread with olives. It was all a far cry from rain thundering on the canvas in Scotland. That said, the following day the gold turned to grey and my progress was hampered by a cold south westerly. I followed NCN route 68 which led through forestry on fire roads – ECR country again. The riding was far tougher into the wind but the surroundings more than compensated.
I stopped to admire Hadrian’s Wall before refuelling at Haltwhistle. Here, I picked up a railbed trail, which led along the very pretty South Tynedale and ultimately Alston – the highest market town in England.
I camped at a small site past Nenthall off the A689 – Haggs Bank. It had been a busy weekend for the owner catering for a motorcycling rally and a group of mine enthusiasts who had entertained themselves in the abandoned workings nearby. I’d never presume to judge folk for their interests – cycle tourists can be an odd lot afterall – but I struggle to think of a cliquier bunch than these folk. Not one of them acknowledged my greetings, offering instead an alien stare.
The following morning, I dropped down to Alston again to pick up NCN Route 68 which, by and large, would guide me home. I climbed Hartside and stopped at the cafe. The clouds had closed in and the views non-existent.
Rather than staying on the tarmac in these tricky conditions, I picked up a rough bridlepath which joined a muddy mountain bike diversion for NCN route 7. Great fun and the ECR handled the gloop with ease. The remainder of the day passed through pretty villages on quiet lanes yet again reaffirming my affection for the National Cycle Route. I stopped at a quiet and manicured site in Kirkby Stephen and washed and dried all my kit again, ready for the final push.
When I decided to ride home, I’d made a promise that my route would include un-ridden sections of the Pennine Bridleway – ostensibly the section north of Settle. I pushed down the Eden Valley along sometimes indistinct bridlepaths. The riding was enjoyale apart form the unwelcome attractions of an untethered farm dog which barked and tried to bite my ankles. I grabbed a bidon and sprayed water in its face, eliciting yelp before it scampered off. My Anglo Saxon was choice.
The Pennine Bridleway then climbed Cumpston Hill to the route’s well-photographed landmark sculpture. I revelled in the steady climb and the beguiling scenery only for the moment to be tarnished by a slightly loose feeling in my handlebars. I stopped, applied the front brake and felt a rocking in my stem. The next hour was spent readjusting my Hope headset Doctor – and expansion nut favoured by the Barnoldswick bike component firm over the simple, yet always effective, star-fangled nut.
This was frustrating to say the least, but my Go Lite tent pole helped considerably. Suffice to say, this frankly over engineered solution has been removed from the ECR.
Eventually, I pressed on over High Way and past the Moorcock pub. The infamous Garsdale climb followed and tested the lower ratios of my hub gear before more stunning riding over Dent Fell, Widdale Head and Grove Head where the route plummeted down to Horton in Ribblesdale. The riding had been challenging and, after my exploits with the headset, I decided to call it a day and camped.
The following morning was tinged with a little sadness, as it was likely to be my last day on the bike. I picked up the Bridleway again to Settle where I breakfasted. A mixture of Bridleway and roads followed to Barnoldswick where the canal led to Colne and route 68 again. Here, the riding became very familiar, as I’ve spent many a happy hour grinding along these lanes on my Audax bike.
The Widdop Gate climb provided a salutary reminder that skinny tyres are probably better on road though (!) before eventually reaching Hebden Bridge. Here, route 66 provides an easier route for the legs to Sowerby Bridge where the crazy climbing started out of the valley (or ‘Kermit Arms Climbing’ as my friend Tim would call it). I managed it all without recourse to pushing… just.
I turned off the NCN at Slaithwaite and headed to Marsden as I ‘needed’ the fine victuals provided by Crumbals on the Corner, a favourite café stop. They had my favourite ‘Rolo’ cake and I demolished a huge slice in about 25 second washed down with a cup of tea.
Reinvigorated, I climbed of the town to Diggle and soon picked up the Pennine Bridleway again and followed rough trails to Tintwistle and home. Dropping down into Glossop the weather caught up with me and the heavens opened.