Cycle Touring Northern England – Berwick on Tweed to Glossop

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.

ECR on the Sandstone Way bikepack
Great riding on the Sandstone Way near Ingram

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.

Time to lie back and take a leisurely lunch in a Northumberland field

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.

Pushing into the wind - Northumberland
Pushing into the wind – Northumberland

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.

Surly ECR Northumberland
Taking a breather after battling the headwinds in Northumberland

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.

NCN route 7 hartside
NCN Route 7 near Hartside

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.

Pennine Bridleway Monument
The Pennine Bridleway Monument where I had my little ‘mechanical’


upper eden valley
The lovely Mallerstang and the Upper Eden Valley – wild country

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.

Some great riding on the Pennine Bridleway – the gates can be a pain though


garsdale viaduct
The viaduct near Garsdale Station before ‘that’ climb

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.

Climbing in Yorkshire - testing and superb in equal measure
Climbing in Yorkshire – testing and superb in equal measure


Widdop Gate – hard yards on the bike

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.

Heptonstall on the cobbles
Heptonstall on the cobbles

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.

Cycle touring Scotland – Aviemore to the border

My arrival in Aviemore may have been heralded by soggy conditions, but the following morning was stellar. I woke early and rode the lovely trails of the Rothiemurchus for a while, drinking in my favourite forest. I’ve waxed lyrical (tried to) about this place before and you can still find a quiet spot early in the day to ‘listen to it breathe’.

Leaving the Rothiemurchus
Leaving the Rothiemurchus

I pointed the ECR south, now bent on a new plan I’d formulated over a potent and prodigious curry the previous night. Checking the weather carefully, it appeared the grim conditions to the west were now chasing me east and south. This system’s southerly course would last for the next week or so, with conditions filling in behind the front.

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Bikepacking Scotland – the Great Glen Way

Three soggy days on the West Highland Way had taken their toll. My kit was damp, I’d started to stink a bit while the lens on my trusty Olympus camera was fogged and its operation sporadic. I needed to dry out and clean up.

The camera problems – experienced last time when I cycle toured Iceland – meant I had to shift to the phone for pictures so apologies for the poor quality of the some of the resulting shots.

I bagged a luxury pitch next to the river at the Lochy Holiday Park  just north of Fort William. Such heavily groomed, holiday housing estates are generally not my overnight stop of choice on bike tours but the facilities are normally excellent, and so they proved to be here.

Lochy Holiday park campsite... it rained and rained and rained
Lochy Holiday park campsite… it rained and rained and rained

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Bikepacking the West Highland Way

I shared the train journey to Glasgow with two coast-to-coast road riders who alighted at Carlisle. Their interest – and that of the train steward – in the ECR and it’s ‘ridiculous’ tyres set a tone that would resonate for the whole trip.

Unable to find anything that palatable on the Trans Pennine Express service save for a questionable cup of coffee, I carb loaded at Glasgow station on croissants while consulting Viewranger for a suitable escape route.

I’d walked out of this fine city before using the satisfactory Kelvin and Allander walkways. These seemed fair game for the bike too although I was soon distracted by blue signs drawing me to alternative bikeways.

ECR on the slight detour from the West Highland Way after Mudgock Wood
ECR on the slight detour from the West Highland Way after Mudgock Wood

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Scotland bikepacking – with rather a lot of England thrown in too

Two weeks pedalling the Surly ECR along track, trail, byway and bike route proved a blissful escape from my common routine.

The simple pleasure of riding for maybe eight hours a day and having the time to linger and follow my nose allowed me to break from tyranny of schedule while the physical challenge served as a deliciously singular focus.

Stories to come but you’ll note from the title of this post that I didn’t spend all my time in Scotland. The weather proved to be very challenging in the west and, with little prospect of improvement, I decided to head east instead and, ultimately, pedalled all the way to my front door.

I battled along a good chunk of the West Highland Way, tackled the surprisingly tough Great Glen Way before hitting Inverness and heading to Aviemore. A mixture of NCN routes and bridle paths conveyed me home through the lovely Borders, superb Northumberland and North Yorkshire, giving access to an unfamiliar yet wonderful section of the Pennine Bridleway north of Settle.

In all, I cycled 1,300 km and climbed 13,500 metres.

In addition to rain, hail and snow in Scotland, I enjoyed at least one warm day, mostly headwinds, endured a number of minor mechanical issues and was chased by one dog. More to come…

Surly ECR on the West Highland Way
Surly ECR on the West Highland Way

Packing for bike touring – lightening the load

OldSkool? - Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg of kit across four panniersa dn a drybag
OldSkool? – Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg+ of kit across four panniers and a drybag

I’ve been experimenting with packing for my trip to Scotland later this month. Given I’ll be riding off road as much as weather conditions allow the traditional pannier set up has been ditched and I’ve been forced to re-evaluate my packing routine.

Adios panniers

A traditional cycle touring set up where the load is split across four panniers, bar bag and, maybe, a drybag on the rear rack offers the rider the chance to bring the kitchen sink – literally. For me, this results in luxuries such as books, a (relatively) large tent, hipflasks of whisky and bottles of ale, numerous electronic gizmos, extended camera kit, at least one full change of clothes including ‘evening wear’ for nights in the pub… you get the picture. Continue reading

Easter in the Yorkshire Dales

If a pattern is emerging in 2015, then it’s to squeeze in as much as possible in the time I have away from the office.

While my four camping trips may pale in comparison to the bevy of lightweight backpackers and cycle tourists who pepper the blogosphere with their exploits, for me the tally is an impressive one.

The fourth trip to add to these pages was an Easter amble to the rather lovely Yorkshire Dales – Swaledale in fact. We took the Vango Force Ten to Usha Gap campsite near Muker and revelled in the scenery and simply wonderful weather.

We managed two walks – a gentle 15km circuit to Keld and back via Swinner Gill and a more demanding 26 km tramp over Great Shunner Fell to Hawes and back. The latter was a bit of an intentional test as my other half has ambitions to complete the West Highland Way later this year and I felt the need to give her a flavour of a typical day. I’m pleased to say her enthusiasm remains undiminished.

Our third outing in the Vango Force Ten prompted an addition. A Vango Adventure Tarp has now been added to the rig, which provides an excellent, weather resistant open porch. The two work effortlessly together, the only drawback being the shadow cast by the tarp affecting how the canvas fades in the sun. As a result, our Force 10 now sports a ‘tie-dye’ darkened patch on one flank. Not a problem, but something to bear in mind if you too wish to dabble with the Old Skool.

Vango Force Ten with an Adenture Tarp
Vango Force Ten with an Adenture Tarp
Climbing out of Swaledale
Climbing out of Swaledale
Spring has sprung
Spring has sprung
Fuel stop
Fuel stop
Lovely landscapes up here
Lovely landscapes up here
The Pennine Way to Great Shunner Fell
The Pennine Way to Great Shunner Fell
Beacon on Great Shunner Fell looking to Swaledale
Beacon on Great Shunner Fell looking to Swaledale
Still a good ways to go
Still a good ways to go
Time to go home
Time to go home
Usha Gap campsite - a highly recommended place to stay this way
Usha Gap campsite – a highly recommended place to stay this way