The Coast to Coast Ride by Roger Smith
We were very lucky to get to the start, the East Coast main line was under water at Grantham. You will no doubt recall the floods at the end of June. We finally got away on the 4 o'clock to Newcastle which turned out to be the last train of the day. We had about an hour there, during which we grabbed a quick half bite, then caught the last train to Carlisle where we had a B&B booked.
The next morning we took the train down to Whitehaven, and finally at 11.15, we pushed off from the water's edge. We were impressed by the C2C cut-out sign in the harbour and the fact thart Sustrans had gone to the trouble to mark the start. But as the ride went on it was clear that a lot of trouble had gone into creating and signing the route throughout the 141 miles to Tynemouth.
As we threaded our way through the quiet residential roads of Whitehaven the sun came out and soon it was warm enough to remove track suit bottoms. And then the hills of the Lake Distrsict came into view. Over the next few hours the riding got better and better. The road beside Loweswater through the pines then up over Whinlake Pass was particularly good. It was here that we caught the first of our fellow C2Cers.
At the bottom of the descent to Keswick we stopped at a camp site for a late lunch at a cafe. The stop here meant that we would not have to stop in crowded Keswick itself - and it was crowded too. The signed route out of Keswick is a cinder track along the old railway line beside the river. At one point the track goes out along and over the river on a specially constructed boardwalk. Then by contrast we joined the A66 for 2 - 3 miles before thankfully slipping off into the lanes to Greystoke where we arrived at 5. We had decided to stop there for tea, but to press on beyond Penrith before stopping for the night so as to take advantage of the long light evening. Refreshed, we made good time to Penrith although the temperature was dropping all the time.
Suddenly we realised with some sadness that the Lakes were behind us. We stopped on the steep climb out of Penrith to look back at the famous hills, and realised we had made good progress and were well on our way. Our C2C handbook and map - both excellent - sugested Langwathby as the first village to try for accommodation, although we had hoped to make Alston. But crossing the River Eden we suddenly felt that enough was enough. for one day and as we swung into the village there was a lovely looking pub advertising B&B, en suite and evening meals. Entering the cheery bar with its range of real ale pump handles we felt immediately at home. But they didn't do accommodation any more (they'd left the sign up to cover a crack in the wall). The only other B&B was full and we started to feel concerned. We back tracked a couple of miles to a country house hotel sign we'd seen, and there down a lane was a swish place with two beds left - in fact we had a room each. We drew lots for the keys and I got the bridal penthouse suite complete with four-poster, jaccuzi and wonderful views all around.
Day two was grey, chilly and threatening rain - what a contrast to the lovely sunny evening the day before. We dallied over breakfast and finally set off at 10, just as the heavens opened. The Pennines were nothing but a bank of cloud and thick, clinging mist which removed all sense of progress - slog, slog, up, up. Stopped for a chat with a couple sheltering in the lee of a dry stone wall, then on up and up. This almost did for my son's injured knee - souvenir of last winter's rugby season, but he gritted his teeth (while his knee grated) and at last we made the cafe at the top. The roaring log fire (on 27th June!) was wonderful as we stood in front of it shivering and steaming. There were lots of other bikies sheltering there all doing the C2C which made us feel part of a club.
We thought that was the high point of the ride, literally, but there was more climbing still to be done as we headed over Middle Fell on a series of switchbacks. A truly route as the French would say. The good news was that the rain had stopped and the mist blown away, but it was gloves cold.
Finally into Allenheads, for late lunch/early tea and a warm, then another grind in bottom gear across the grain of the country to finally drop down into Stanhope. On reflection we should have called it a day there, but as it was only 5 o'clock we decided to press on driven by the knowledge that we were booked on the 4 o'clock from Newcastle the next day.
The 1 in 4 out of town was too much to cycle so we got off and pushed. By now the evening sun was out and once over the top we could see the tall buildings in Gateshead in the distance. With the end in sight we swished down the edge of the Pennines, past the last B&B before town. Big mistake, for suddenly we were in Consett (ugly) and tearing traffic. And for good measure a short, sharp freezing shower said "welcome". I couldn't stomach the thought of a night in Consett, although Richard had ideas of a nice modem motel. So we pressed on to Shotley Bridge and found a pub with a big CTC sign outside. What a dump. The bedroom window was open when we got there. Once closed the smell of rotting wood from the built-in wash basin took over, The carpets, specially in the shared loo and bathroom had that squashed down greasy look, and the breakfast was much the same. What a contrast to the country house hotel of the night before. But at least it meant we were up and away promptly next morning.
The superb signing took us along beside the River Derwent down to the Tyne and along to Jarrow where we took the cyclists/pedestrians tunnel to the north side. Through Wallsend onto the quay at Tynemouth and out to the finish at noon.
After a celebratory fish and chip and mushy peas - what else - we rode back to Newcastle and made our way on to the 2 o'clock. Shortly after 5.30 we were riding through London's rush hour and on to the route I do every day.
Work commitments limited us to four days, including the travel there and back, this gave us two days one full day for the ride itself. Ample time in retrospect but we felt the need to keep pressing on. But then that's the nature of a place-to-place ride. The route itself is excellent, the signing reliable and a good camaraderie developed with the numerous other riders met en route. I can recommend it.
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