Last week’s C2C was a huge success. I’m still basking in a warm glow (and a slightly dodgy knee) after traveling more than 250 miles over five days.
The pace was leisurely, well this was a holiday after all, but the itinerary did provide a couple of more demanding days in the saddle, not least the trip to Windermere from Whitehaven, which took in 70 miles of rolling roads and some testing headwinds.
Similarly, the stretch from Wooler to Bellingham through the Cheviots proved a test for the legs following very easy first section from Berwick, when I was buoyed by flat roads and a favourable north-easterly.
I enjoyed this uncharacteristic blow for the first two days, but more familiar south westerlies blew in once I reached the summit of the moors along Hadrains’ Wall and crossed the backbone of England.
A stiff and cold ‘facer’ then became my companion, and I didn’t shake it off until boarding the train at Windermere. This wind played havoc with my face, causing the skin to tighten and my eyes to water and swell.
An overriding memory of the trip must be the first phase, though, as my route wended its way through quite Northumberland back roads. This really is heavenly cycling country, with fabulous scenery and a sense of deep, permeating tranquility.
Dotted with castles and other historic distractions, this turbulent border country is to be savoured for fans of the velo.
Anyway, here’s the itinerary and some thoughts…
Day One: Berwick to Wooler. 30 miles
An easy day to start following a lengthy journey to Berwick. I’m always a little apprehensive taking the bike on the train but credit must go to the fine folk at East Coast rail. An Antipodean dispatcher gave me plenty of assistance at York and I was likewise well served when I arrived at my destination. I was told the fine is £1000 every minute they are late so it’s in their interests to help cyclists as much as possible.
Not only was the bike support first class, so was the train. I used to think Branson’s West Coast service was one of the finer ways to travel on the UK rail network, but the Pendolinos pale in comparison with this intercity service.
Alighting, I pushed the bike down to the harbour to get the traditional coastal departure photo. The sun was warm and soon there was nothing else holding me back… time to go.
Finding the route our of Berwick was a little tricky at first, but I was soon reveling in the network of quiet lanes, occasionally crossing the border to Scotland. I made the most of the tailwind and was soon in Wooler.
I camped at Highburn House, which reads better on the web than it actually is. I tried to find a pub showing the cricket (in vain).
Day 2: Wooler to Bellingham. 53 miles
Overnight rain fizzled out by morning and I was soon on the road… which climbed steeply out of Wooler. The guidebook said to prepare for a challenging day tackling the Cheviots and so it proved. At first, the landscape was all fields and sheep, and a slender, brown, rolling ribbon of tarmac. Later hills presented leg and lung-busting climbs.
The route did become perilous at one point, as the road degenerated into a grassy (read muddy) farm track and then a very steep path which was a challenge pushing a heavily laden touring bike. This wasn’t meant to be a mud-plugging tour and I cursed the diversion.
Once back on the road, more fields and lonely farms accompanied me. It was sublime save for one frisson of excitement when a Jack Russell spotted me some 200 yards away from his farmyard perch and decided to make chase, hoping he’d head me off at the end of his owner’s drive.
Yapping as he sped along the track, I too increased my cadence and reached the mouth of the drive first… but only just. I sped by offering him the ‘cyclists’ salute’ and he continued to chase for another 100 yards along the road before boredom won out.
A superb, gated stretch of road, the B6320 if memory serves, led to Bellingham.
I camped at the Bellingham CCC site. Spotless, if a bit pricey. I did find a nice pitch in the woods next to a Dutch family riding rather impressive Rohloff touring bikes. More impressive, perhaps, was the parents’ preparedness to tour with teenage children.
Day 3: Bellingham to Carlisle (and beyond) 77 miles.
Day three was bright but cold. There had been talk of wintry showers and snow in the north. This bleak forecast was far removed from my breakfast in the sunshine.
This long day started again on quiet country lanes but soon found the tourist traffic alongside Hadrian’s Wall. The B6318 follows the Wall a good stretch and here the tail wind was replaced with a stiff, and cold, facer. I stopped at Housesteads for a coffee and threw on my down vest, leaving it underneath my cycling jacket. I regretted not packing full gloves alongside my track mits.
The route eventually left the Wall and things warmed up a little. Heading towards the mayhem of Carlisle, the Cumbrian fells came into view, giving a flavour of what was to come.
The city was an unwelcome obstacle but I soon pedaled through it, finding a scenic but not direct route to Dalston, and Dalston Hall campsite.
A grand hotel concealed a rather splendid little site and an adjoining golf course. I re-supplied at Dalston village store and spent a great evening listening to the England New Zealand game from a neighbouring tent. It transpired that this camper was a little deaf hence the high volume of his digital radio. With the Co-op’s finest organic ale in hand, Test Match Special had never sounded so good.
Day Four: Dalston to Whitehaven. 45 miles (…ish, I inadvertently switched off my odometer).
The final push took on some pretty steep roads ‘back of Skidda’. I haven’t ventured to this remote part of the Lakes before and it had immediate appeal for future journeys by foot. Although there were no steep climbs, a couple of short sharp pulls necessitated the ‘granny gear’.
I dropped into the village store at Hesket Newmarket before venturing to the wilder areas of Cumbria. I picked up four excellent home-baked cheese scones, shortbread and a range of other goodies to fuel the engine.
Yet more sunshine and I was soon enjoying the view of Bassenthwaite Lake and the sea.
Dropping down into Cockermouth, I was alarmed by the trail of destruction last year’s floods have left. Business premises are being refurbished and the town is very much open to tourists, but the scars of that unseemly incident will be felt for years to come.
I followed quiet lanes out of the town west and eventually found the cycleway which forms part of NCN route 10 heading to the coast. I got lost spectacularly in Workington due to a bridge closure (another victim of the floods) but eventually found the track along the coast to my final destination.
Whitehaven came far too quickly and pedaled over a headland to St Bees and the Seacote Holiday Park, an unsightly collection of ugly corrugated holiday statics ruining a perfectly decent piece of coastline.
Travellers with tents are an afterthought here, but you will be charged heavily for your slightly unsatisfactory stay (a tenner, in fact).
I quickly headed into St Bees to find a better pub rather than the dispiriting bar of the Seacote Hotel. Stake and ale pie, a few pints of Cumberland and a conversation with an American group on the finer points of English ale and giant sausage-filled Yorkie puddings ensued. Happy days.
Day 5 Whitehaven to Windermere 69 miles.
I was undecided what to do on Day 5 right until departure. My first plan was to tough it out on the main road, try and get to Kendal and then assess my options for cycling all the way home.
My inadequate mapping had not highlighted the fact that the NCN route 72 threads its way along the coast until Ravenglass. It was only when I saw the sign and ventured along the route that I finalised my plans.
On arriving at Ravenglass, I’d join the A590 but only for a short time before cutting into Lakeland proper and ultimately getting to Windermere. I could get a train, and a direct one at that, and get in my other half’s good books as she was on leave the following day. I guessed it would be in the region of 70 miles, and I wasn’t far off the mark.
The start or end of Route 72 dances with the coastline for over 20 miles south of St Bees. There are some rough sections along the way, but following the coast so closely had tremendous appeal, as did the views of the Western Fells, including Great Gable standing proud at the head of Wasdale.
A blot on the landscape was Sellafield, an ever-present industrial mass the scale of which skewed my perception of distance. Thinking I was on the power station’s doorstep, I would then have to navigate more lanes until finally I reached the barbed perimeter fence.
I crossed the plant’s railway lines and cycled alongside a train of those ominous looking concrete nuclear transport vessels. A blot it may be, but it was inexplicably exhilarating to ride alongside such as huge complex… I was dwarfed by it.
At Ravenglass, I got a bit lost on the cycle lanes and forest tracks around Muntcaster Castle but I soon joined the main road though and the traffic. Motorists were considerate and I made speedy progress on good tarmac.
Turning off on to the A5902, the headwind returned as did the climbs, all short, but some had a real sting. The ascent to Gawthwaite and beyond was more demanding but I found the ‘zone’ on this climb and started to really enjoy the effort.
Eyes down and teeth gritted, I was suddenly aware of a field of extremely excitable and noisy sheep watching me as I trundled up the incline. It felt as though they were cheering me on… once I’d passed, the field was quiet again.
A welcome descent followed before joining the A590 again for miserable miles this time, due to the traffic, and then on the A592… a road that has not survived the winter unscathed and a real test for tired legs.
This long day had been draining with the ever-present pressure to meet train timetables and get that direct train.
A cyclist I met along the way summed it up perfectly… I came across him at a quiet junction on the A5902, red faced, astride a rather nice road bike.
(Apologies as I try to recreate the accent)
Him: ‘I dern know which I’m gannin…’
Me: ‘Where you heading?’
Him: ‘Ahh, back to ‘Barra.
’It dern matta which way I’m ganin, theuw, there’ll be a big fookn’ hill!’