One morning in September I leapt out of bed and decided that I needed a holiday. I had never been to the lake district so jumped onto the internet to find accomodation. Along the way I found loads of references to the C2C (sea to sea: Irish to North) route. That sounded like a great idea so that Saturday I was off.
What did I need to do. Not a lot really. I bought a map of the route, ordered a rack and some panniers for my bike and booked accommodation along the way. This was a holiday not a cycle trek so I decided on 5 days and booked places roughly 30 miles apart. A final check over the bike on Thursday evening revealed that the bottom bracket was grinding and needed replacing. Since this didn’t leave enough time for me to replace it if the part wasn’t in stock at the local bike shop Friday saw my bike’s first ever visit to a bike shop for maintenance. They found a replacement and fitted it. They also confirmed my natural suspicion of bike shops by breaking the mounting for my crank sensor. No major problem as I didn’t need it. I filled the panniers with clothes and toiletries and a frame bag with the first aid kit, tools and a few spares.
In my rush I forgot the following
- Chain splitter and spare links
- Spare cable.
As luck would have it I wouldn’t need the spare cable. I was slightly apprehensive about the brand new (unused) saddle. I am pleased to announce that it was superb, as was the seat-post mounted rack. (Note to manufacturers of both products: For a small donation to the charity of my choosing I’ll mention the brands).
After a leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning (7 Sept) I put the bike in the car and set of with the vague knowlege that I needed to head Westwards and Northwards. The first decision to make was when I hit the M25. Should I follow the Westerly direction or go East instead. I chose West. I gambled and I lost. The gamble wasn’t going West, it was leaving home by car. I thought this would be ok, I mean it was mid morning on a Saturday, out of holiday season so what was the problem. Memo to Tony: (I assume first names are ok in Cool Brittania). I am very concerned with the environment etc etc, but the road infrastructure is shocking . Increasing taxes on vehicles, fuel and road usage may make your budget look better but it won’t make the traffic go away – SO DEAL WITH IT.
Several frustrating hours later I got past the motorways and Headed Westwards along the A50. Early that evening I arrived in Whitehaven where I was spending the evening and abandoning the car. I had been warned by a colleague that Whitehaven is grim and that spending two nights there was a mistake. It was a pretty enough town with a picuresque bay on the Irish Sea. After checking in to the B&B where I was spending the night I set off in search of food. Now I was to discover what my friend meant. There was nothing in the town between the kids who went into the local off-licence before spending the evening drinking their purchases and respectable elderly couples who got dressed up for dinner on Saturday evening. I tried the local Italian but everyone was dressed up and I was in shorts. So it was Pizza from the takeaway and back to the B&B for an early night. Those of you who have accompanied me on previous trips will be pleased (or at least surprised) to hear that I survived just fine without the assistance of Messrs Philip Morris.
After breakfast it was time to get going. It was a couple of miles to the bay – all downhill. I did wonder if I would be cycling back up there on my return or resorting to a taxi. I found the first stamping point, got my card stamped, dipped my wheels in the water and I was off. Getting out of Whitehaven on the cycle route was a little more tricky than I had anticipated. Fortunately most of the locals knew the way and quickly got me back on track. My destination was Keswick.
The first 25 miles passed smoothly. Pleasant cycling with a few hilly bits. It was here that I had my first inkling that I may have mis-read some of the literature. I had interpreted it is recommended to travel from West to East to take advantage of the prevailing winds to mean that the wind would assist in cycling. What they actually meant was that the wind would assist in training because it was the cyclist who would have to prevail.
At about the point I had decided to spend a few hours at the lake I was passing and find a local hostelry for food and a pint my chain snapped – and the chain tool was at home. No problem I thought, I have a book of contact numbers and dug that and my phone out of the bag. Firstly the phone didn’t work. I kept wandering down the road and found a pub that looked perfect for lunch. Their public phone was out of order. The barman pointed out a spot in the car park of the local church where I might get reception. I did but only just. Then it dawned on me – it was Sunday and all the nearby bike shops were closed. I did finally find one in Keswick, about half a mile from where I was headed – but they couldn’t deliver. There was only one thing for it and that was lunch. I asked the barman to book a cab 3 hours in the future and after lunch set off on a walk down to the nearest lake. It was a pleasant ramble lasting about 2 hours. It was during this time that I discovered that my cycling shoes weren’t waterproof despite the fact that they were sold as dual purpose shoes.
The cabbie arrived at the appointed hour and I had to swallow my pride and load up the bike. In the course of the usual taxi chit chat he discovered I was from Surrey and went on at some length about the ridiculous prices in and around London. He then proceeded to charge me £25 for a journey that was just over 3 miles by road. Keswick turned out to be a delightful little town on Derwent Water. I found an open bike shop and they rejoined my chain – with the expected disclaimer that it may jam because it was now too short. I cycled down to the Youth Hostel where I was staying and set off to explore the town after spending a pleasant half an hour over coffee and a sandwich in a nearby cafe. I had remembered just in time not to drink hostel coffee. Before you think I am being unfair to hostels I should point out that the breakfast was definitely better than that which is served at the Holiday Inn in West London that I have been frequenting of late (in the course of work). Of course the rooms in the Holiday Inn cost 10 times as much and the suites 16 times. Note to the marketing department of the Holiday Inn: It will require a substantial donation to the charity of my choosing to retract the meal comparison.
The hostel was on the banks of the river and overlooking the park. Accomodation in such a setting would have cost an absolute fortune had it been a different river, say the Thames for instance.
I pottered around the streets of Keswick for a while and then headed to the waterfront which was very pleasant. I also discovered a theatre right on the edge of the lake. Unfortunatley there was only one production on Sunday evening and it was sold out. A very good supper in a local pub and another early night – which was to become a trend.
Monday dawned bright and Sunny. So much so that I decided to cycle in a vest. The first few miles were along an old railway track and very pleasant cycling. I opted to take the detour to the Castlerigg stone circle. If you don’t like climbing go anyway. There is far worse to come that you cannot avoid and the view from the top is worth the effort. I made the mistake of continuing on the road and ended up back in Keswick and back onto the old railway track. If you do take the detour retrace your steps after getting to Castlerigg as it will save several miles. Fair enough, I had now made up for the taxi trip on Sunday.
After a brief spell on the A66 the route went through farmland. Very pretty and scenic as well as fairly hilly. I got through this section at about the time that I started thinking about lunch so stopped at a conveniently located pub. As it had just started raining I thought that this was perfect timing – after all if I stayed for an hour or so the rain would pass. Lunch was good but my logic wasn’t. The rain, which was now fairly heavy continued well into the night without any respite. For the first and only time on the trip I decided that this was the time to ride hard. About half an hour into the ride on a hilly bit I had my first close call for falling off. As I dropped to the lowest gear up a hill the chain jammed. I very nearly didn’t get myself detached from the pedals in time. I had in fact already started tucking in elbows and knees, assuming the inevitable, when I got one foot free and managed a fairly inelegant dismount.
The rest of the journey to Penrith passed uneventfully although at times I did wonder why I hadn’t just stayed on the A66 as it was shorter and flatter. Just before Penrith there was a great off-road section. It was really a fairly easy downhill path but the rain had turned it into a marsh. I followed the C2C signs into Penrith and managed another near miss. This time it was on a contra-flow cycle lane. A lady pulled out of her parking and only bothered to look behind her on the one way (for cars) street. To be fair I probably wouldn’t have expected anyone to be out on a bike in the torrential rain either. Once in Penrith there was no thought of Cafe’s whatsoever. I still had about 7 miles to go and was wishing I hadn’t booked accomodation in advance. I paid no attention whatsoever to Penrith, stopped at a service station for a bar of chocolate and a soft drink and went on my way – down the wrong road. Once you arrive in the town centre the C2C signs mysteriously disappear. The trick is to retrace your steps. The last sign into the town centre is purely to tell you how to get into the town. Go on straight (ignoring that sign) and you’re fine. I arrived at Little Salked cold, tired and very very wet. This time I stayed in a bunkouse in converted stables. It was very pleasant and as I was the only one staying there I effectively had a fairly large holiday home all to myself. It was pretty expensive as a bunkhouse though.
There is nothing in Little Salked but the owner’s son drove me into the local in Langwathby after a welcome hot bath and collected me later. If you do decide to stay here and are travelling in a group it may be worth stocking up on food and drink in Penrith and spending the evening in. The facilities are good and the surroundings pleasant.
Tuesday dawned bright and clear, much to my relief. And the forecast was good for the rest of the week. Today I did not need bad weather. There was the small matter of the Pennines to cross and I am not the world’s greatest climber. I made a fairly early start with my rain jacket on. The air was still a little cool and that could stay on until I was warmed up. This process took about 75 yards as the first of the days little climbs had begun. I waited till a flat bit and packed the jacket away. I had noticed that my chain and chain gear were absolutely dry after the ordeal in the rain and made a mental note to stop at the next bike shop or garage I came across to replace the can of lubricant that was next to my front door. Gear changes were slightly tacky and so was my left (good) knee – a result of the furious pace I had kept up in the rain.
I decided that the big chain ring was to be reserved for downhill use only. About 6 miles into the ride I revised this strategy. From now on pedals were to be reserved for uphill use only. The decision was academic because the next downhill was over 4 miles along the road. The final assault on Hartside had begun and it was into the lowest gear. While I am not the greatest fan of cycling up hills I still find this preferable to pushing bikes up them so it was head down, tongue out and off I went. Finally I arrived at the top and landed at the perfectly located roadside cafe. Large coffee, enormous scone, bar of chocolate, flapjack – you probably get the picture.
Here I met several other cyclists, as well as some non-cyclists who had previously cycled the route. We all managed to muster a feeling of superiority over those who had driven up. It was here too that I met Jim and Dick, two lads well into their sixties who were cycling from York to Durham for a boys night out – they do feature later in the tale.
After taking 2 hours for the first 10 miles the next 5 were covered in 10 minutes. I have a fairly simple approach to going downhill. I spend a lot of time and energy making my bike move forwards – when it offers to do so by itself it would be rude to try to stop it. This approach also saves on brakes which are kept fresh for stopping and dangerous descents. After the descent the road undulated for a while. On one of the ascents I discovered that I could make my chain jam by changing off the big chainring, and kept getting close to falling off to prove it. So here I was in the Pennines, with some serious climbing left and no climbing gears. While peering at my chain in disgust Jim and Dick arrived and Dick offered me some spare chain links. Sadly they were marginally too thick. So I tagged along with the two of them and we pushed up Garrighill. This is a nasty climb that seems to go on forever.
On the way up we twice saw RAF jets flying below us. They were long gone by the time I had reached for the camera. As we hit the top we started the long descent into Nentheads. This was steep, narrow, twisty and surrounded by stone walls. Even I hung on to the brakes with all my might. What appeared to be the pub was firmly shut, so we made do with sandwiches and fruit. Around the next corner was an open pub, so in for a pint we all went. When 2 pints looked in danger of becoming 3 I bade my farewell and set off in search of a cycle shop. No chance. I did find a bus depot with a workshop and found some engine oil with which to smother all the moving bits.
Just in time for the climb to the highest point on the route I had regained the use of all my gears. Hardly noticing the gradient I flew up – this was definitely better than pushing. Then began the descent to my destination for the night in Allenheads, reportedly the highest village in England. Along the way I hit my top speed for the trip – around 45 MPH. Not bad when you realise that this was with front suspension, fully laden panniers and deliberately softish tires. Allenheads was a lovely little village and I was staying in the pub – well there’s not a lot else there. This was the best pub I found on the trip and well worth a visit.
Day 4 of 5 with an easy days ride ahead I had a later start after a leisurely breakfast. Having psyched myself up for an easy downhill stretch it was a bit of a surprise that the day started uphill – directly into the sun and prevailing breeze. Ok the hill wasn’t that bad, just not what I had been expecting. From the crest it was downhill all the way to Rookhope. By now it was windy enough that this actually required pedalling. At Rookhope I met up with Jim and Dick again. They announced that they were off on the off-road alternative and promptly set off on the road route. Not to be outdone I took the off-road option.
This would have been a great Sunday morning ride. With full panniers and legs into the fourth day the ascent was tough, I pedalled about 60% of it. Then a pleasant but rough ride across the moor. I missed a turn and hit the road where there were no direction signs. So for the first time on the trip it was the map and compass. I needn’t have bothered, uphill and upwind was the way to go. Soon the uphill gave way to a long sweeping downhill. While careering down this I passed a group of cyclists standing at a crossroad. Alarm bells triggered and I turned around and headed back up the hill to stop for a chat. Good move, I almost missed my turn. I spent a longish while chatting to a group of guys from South Shields who were doing the trip. They advised me to finish in Sunderland rather than Tynemouth. Had my East coast geography been better I would have listened. While we were chatting Jim and Dick arrived pushing up the hill accompanied by much swearing and muttering. The hill I had missed by crossing the moors is the 8th steepest in England and a long one. The climb onto the moor is much steeper but shorter.
If you plan to cycle over don’t do this on a road bike. You’ll break it. However, if you plan to push up the big hills its a shorter push over the moors. There are parts on the top that can be managed on any bike, for the rest a front suspension and some off road skills are strongly advised. If you decide to practice these don’t bother with bunny hops. Its hard work and high risk with panniers.
I set off down Waskerly way (an old railway line) with Jim and Dick. The others were waiting for the rest of their group. This was what cycling is all about. Not the greatest scenery but gentle downhill, level ground and just what the weary legs needed. I had not yet begun to think about lunch when I spotted my evening accomodation.
Day 5 was cancelled, my phone was briefly turned on and my deposit forfeited – today I was going all the way. We all continued into Consett were we parted company for the last time as we were going different ways. Concentrate very hard through Consett. There are some wonderful downhills out of Consett, miss your way and you have to pedal back up them. I added an unexpected 10 miles here before discovering the Derwent walk, another old railway. This meandered along pleasantly till I arrived at Gateshead.Then I discovered why the locals had recommended the other finish. the next 10 miles or so were grim. Traffic, smog, many diversions which included horrendous hills (short ones though) and nearly twice the required distance because of losing the way.
After cycling under the Tyne via a pedestrian tunnel with a separate cycle lane all traces of the route markers disappeared. With only 5 miles to go it was onto the road to follow the signs intended for cars. I arrived at the castle and set about trying to find accommodation. Nothing in Tynemouth so my bike and I continued up the coast until we found a hotel with a room. It occurred to me that the hotels that had turned me down might have done so because of my appearance, about 70 miles on a bike, windswept and not looking my best. So it was quite an ego boost when the receptionist / barmaid assured me that I had scored with the other barmaid on account of my legs (see cycling has some benefits). It briefly occurred to me that it wasn’t the other barmaid following me up the stairs before a hot shower sprang to the front of my mind. Both restaurants were full, Toon was playing (and a goal down) in the pub so it was a takeaway and yet another early night for me.
Thursday morning dawned bright and misty. I had one last ride to do. About 4 miles back to Tynemouth to collect my final stamp. Technically I had enough to show that I had done the trip but I felt it was important to get one at the finish point. Then onto the metro into Newcastle. Bicycles are not permitted on the metro but since I already had a ticket the driver suggested that I try to sneak on while his back was turned.
And that was that. Once you put a barrier between yourself and the environment the experience is over. One train to Carlisle and another down to Whitehaven leaving a short uphill ride back to my car. I was a day early and the B&B was full that night, so into the car and on my way home. I stuck with the M6 for a while and then headed East through Staffordshire along quiet country lanes. No traffic and loads of speed cameras but I wasn’t in the mood for speeding. At Derby I had an important decision to make. Head for home with all speed or stop for a nap. I opted for the latter and rejoined the motorway. Tony, if you want to know what it’s like for the rest of us ask for a house further from the office – say 25 miles. If they won’t go for it I have a couple of spare rooms. I should warn you that I cannot guarantee to be polite if you bring your war-mongering mate around for tea, but if you make it before I’m asleep I’ll know you both skived off work early.
And Friday – well off to the gym of course. I once saw a television program that suggested the average person gains 5 pounds on every holiday and never loses it. I may not be average but I’d hate to be part of that stat. Besides, I needed some exercise after almost a week of idle holidaying.
The bike has now been restored to it’s pristine state. New chain and chain-gear (not critical but the last lot had done over a thousand miles). New brake pads – again not critical but small, inexpensive and your life depends on them. And finally new wheels. Definitely not needed but I was at a bike sale looking for winter mud tyres when I spotted a set of wheels (complete with the right tyres attached) for only slightly more. At least when preparing for different terrains its easier to swap wheels than tyres.
Back to work on Monday – on the yellow one…