Day 14 - Leeds to Thirsk
Thurs July 7th 2016
Distance: 42.7 miles
Altitude climbed: 376m
Ah, it's sad to wave goodbye to Leeds again! I had actually given passing thought over the last 2 days as to whether to call it a day and finish my trip there; after all, cycling from Lands End to Leeds is an achievement in itself isn't it?! That lethargy is the danger of taking your route via your home I guess, but fortunately I convinced myself that I'm in this for the full trip and not the half-fat version.
The route today started with a long climb up through Chapel Allerton, and nearly my first accident of the trip (that'd be ironic being so close to home!). An idiotic driver pulled out as I cycled past a junction - she had slowed and looked as if she was going to stop (as cars should do at that junction; I've driven it countless times myself) but instead she just accelerated out seemingly not having seen me and missing me literally by only a couple of inches. Needless to say I shouted a few choice words at her - even though she probably didn't hear me and probably stayed oblivious to the fact that she'd nearly run someone over.
Cycling on the old A1 that I used to drive. All the trees and bushes to the right have simply been planted in the middle of the old road to form the cycle track.
Today was a strange day in a way as I've driven from Leeds to Thirsk (where my mum lives) hundreds of times, but only ever on the motorway. Seeing the route on small roads as I did today was a novelty! It was also fascinating cycling around Wetherby, as part of the cycle track there turned out to be on the old A1 that was in use before they built the new motorway section nearby (around 10 years ago?). It seems they simply planted trees and grass in the middle of the old A1 to create a separate cycle track, and left all the old road markings in place including the slip-road arrows that eerily appeared from under bushes. It was kinda surreal to be cycling on a quiet ghost road that I used to drive at 70mph on! I hadn't realised it still even existed until today; I'd just assumed it would have been dug up for housing.
At my mum's house.
My route eventually turned onto regular quiet country roads, the kind I've gotten used to over the last fortnight. To my annoyance I soon realised I couldn't ever stop for a breather as my bright yellow jacket was attracting hundreds of little flies; the only way to keep them away from me was to keep cycling faster than they could fly. This was a problem not because I was tired, but because my bum was really starting to hurt today - I desperately needed to stop and give it a break from being sat down! Eventually I decided to just take the jacket off and put up with the cold in order to have a break. That felt good 🙂
Not long afterwards I finally I arrived at the best B&B of the trip - my mums!
Day 15 - Thirsk to Sedgefield
Fri July 8th 2016
Distance: 43.1 miles
Altitude climbed: 404m
Bike workshops visited: 1
Hmm, can anything else go wrong with my bike? (yes, as it happens) The day started nice and easy with a flat route out of Thirsk, through Northallerton and along quiet country roads to Yarm where I stopped for lunch. It was another beautiful day and I relaxed outside a cafe on the pavement, eating lunch as I watched the world go by. Call it the Last Supper if you will, as at that moment I'd thought my bike was in perfect working order. Oh how I wish it were.
Quiet country roads.
The climb out of Yarm was steep; I'd known it was coming but was glad to get it out of the way as I got to the top. It was at just that point though that my left pedal suddenly felt a little weird, like it was at a downwards angle. I moved my foot, and suddenly my pedal snapped clean off making a nice clinking noise as it bounced along the road; metal crashing along tarmac. WTF? The default pedals that came with the bike had looked cheap and nasty so I'd intentionally replaced them with some proper quality ones; these pedals were not meant to break!
My broken pedal. Grrrr!
For a second or two I was a little panicked as it's obvious that without pedals I can't cycle (you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to know that) and I'd not seen a bike shop since Leeds. After a brief moment of thinking that I might be forced to phone my mum up for a rescue mission in the car, a quick check on Google fortunately revealed a bike shop hidden on a back street back in Yarm. And then after a quick phone call to check they were open I freewheeled back down the hill I'd just climbed - knowing that I was going to have to cycle back up it (again) before too long! Ouch.
I found the bike shop without too much problem, along the way working out a (not particularly elegant) way of pedalling by putting my foot at unnatural angles on the crank. The bike shop itself is aimed more at children and the leisure cyclist so the pedals on sale aren't the best for durability, but they're much better than no pedal at all. The owner was away for the day and had left his wife in charge; she was helpful and friendly but confessed to not knowing much about bikes, leaving me with the wrench to change pedals over! Luckily (if you can call it that!) the pedal had snapped on the internal axle, and not the joint that screws into the arm crank, so it was fairly easy to remove the remaining bits.
The view from my hotel bedroom over Hardwick Park.
From Yarm (and after going back up that hill again - at least I was burning calories!) it should have then been a quiet route to my hotel along country lanes - until when approaching Sedgefield one of those lanes had a firm sign saying 'Private Road - No Cyclists'. Normally, without any easy alternative route available, I'd have ignored that and gone through, except that I was due to ride that road for 3 miles and I didn't know what blockages lay ahead. I cut my losses and manually re-routed using the pre-installed maps I had on my phone (there was no phone reception at the time for Google), however this meant 4 miles along a dual carriageway. For the first time on the trip I was a little scared! This was one busy carriageway. It was warm too so I didn't need my jacket on, however I put it on anyway just for the extra visibility it gave. The carriageways were narrow and the traffic was heavy and fast, but fortunately I made it unscathed. That little experience vindicated my decision to have avoided the entire A30 whilst down in Cornwall!
The hotel is the grandest I've stayed in so far, that's for sure! The receptionist even tells me that the Sky cycling team, including Chris Froome, had stayed the previous week for a local event (I assume as a warm up to the Tour de France?).
Day 16 - Sedgefield to Guide Post
Sat July 9th 2016
Distance: 44.6 miles
Altitude climbed: 566m
Bike workshops visited: 1
Leaving the hotel today was once again on a busy road, although fortunately not as bad as the dual carriageways of yesterday. The weather forecast was for rain - and it rained! It was just a drizzle at first as I left the hotel but turned into a downpour and stayed that way for an hour or two until just before I reached Chester-le-Street. Fortunately, just as I was starting to think about needing shelter from the rain (I was soaked!), it started to dry up. By the time the sun made a small appearance I'd begun to pass through some built up areas - I could tell I was now approaching Newcastle.
Posing in front of the Angel of the North!
I hadn't planned it this way - and hadn't even spotted it on the route when planning it - but I was really pleased when I realised I'd be passing the Angel of the North statue in Gateshead. I've seen it from the motorway a few times but never realised there was a public park around it and that you could actually go right up to it. The weather still wasn't ideal, and I think I annoyed an Australian who was too polite to say no my request to take photos of me with my camera, but today I really felt as if I'd passed the halfway point. I'm in the North baby, yeah!
Crossing the iconic Tyne Bridge into Newcastle
A bit further on then and I reached Newcastle, entering it from Gateshead over the iconic Tyne Bridge high over the river. Even though I knew it'd mean a bit more climbing back uphill I really wanted to go down and cycle along the waterfront, so followed the signs (steeply!) down to the river. I cycled along there for a mile or so, reaching the Saddle Skedaddle HQ (the cycle tour company who I went to Tuscany with on a training week recently) and the bike cafe there where I grabbed a spot of lunch. I also met a group of cyclists doing the infamous Coast-to-Coast ride; they'd made impressive time but were telling me how they'd been soaked by todays heavy rain too!
On the river Tyne waterfront in Newcastle
Back in Newcastle, and after a very steep climb back up from the waterfront, I found the Cycle Surgery store which I headed into to get my temporary pedals replaced with some much beefier ones. I'd not noticed any concerns at all with the pedals I'd got in Yarm but didn't want to risk them snapping somewhere in the remote parts of Scotland. The workshop assistant there said he sees a lot of snapped pedals, especially on hire bikes. Just like my broken spokes it's not a component failure I'd thought was even remotely likely, but maybe it is more common that I think. I'm just glad my pedals didn't snap whilst I was stood up cycling - that could have hurt!!
The hotel tonight is a room above a pub. It's pretty expensive - more than any of the B&Bs so far - so I had been hoping for good things (I didn't have much choice of where to stay tonight) but was soon disappointed. The welcome was polite but unfriendly - no chit chat at all - and the room has the most basic tiny bathroom I've had yet (apart from the youth hostel!). Not good, and certainly not worth the amount they're charging.
Day 17 - Guide Post to Belford
Sun July 10th 2016
Distance: 47.8 miles
Altitude climbed: 554m
I'd been looking forward to this day for most of the trip, as it meant cycling along the spectacular Northumberland coast. The weather was clear, if not quite sunny, as I set off and made my way along some unremarkable roads towards Amble where I consider Northumberland to begin.
I had been cycling on roads to Amble, and that is what was programmed into my GPS, but I soon saw many cyclists on a cycleway that was parallel to the road and separated by a solid hedge. It felt like another 15 minutes or so (but was probably just 2...) before I found an entrance onto it. A quick Google search revealed that it was the National Cycle Network (NCN) route 1, or as it's known here, the "Coasts & Castles route". This route has apparently come all the way from Newcastle and goes as far as Edinburgh. Perfect for me! Why was I not aware of it until now?!
Strava (or more accurately, the maps it uses) doesn't have the NCN network built into it so won't automatically take you on those routes, however now that I know I'm aware of NCN route 1's existence here I'll try to see if I can use it. Today therefore became the first day that I intentionally deviated far off my programmed GPS route - a little nerve wracking as I've come to rely (too?) heavily on my Garmin units.
My original route was to have been inland slightly, avoiding the A1 but not as close to the coast (until Seahouses) as I'd have liked for the views. The Coasts & Castles cycle route that I'd just discovered however looked to thread it's way along much closer to the sea, so I switched onto this without hesitation.
At first it was a little hillier than the roads I had been on, but soon levelled out and hugged the coast on small roads. At one point though I could see from the map that it was going to become off-road towards Dunstanburgh Castle, something I was worried about. Near the turn off for the off-road section I spotted a couple of cyclists coming the other way - they told me the route was passable but muddy and not ideal for anything except mountain bikes. I soon ditched that idea and headed back inland to rejoin my original route on tarmacced road!
Before long I reached my main objective for the day - Seahouses! I have fond memories of Seahouses from a childhood holiday there, including taking a very choppy boat out in the rough sea to see the puffins on the Farne Islands. There was no time for that today sadly, but as the weather was sunny I decided I had to do the obligatory thing all tourists to Seahouses should do - eat fish & chips outside by the sea front! I found a pub with a beer garden that was still serving lunch after 2pm (a rarity in Seahouses it would seem) and based myself there.
When walking my bike into the beer garden though I accidentally clipped the back of my shins with my pedals several times. My new pedals are the BMX type ones with sharp teeth for gripping your feet - and which are also great at tearing clumps of skin out from your legs. By the time I went into the pub to order lunch my legs had become a river of red blood!
After lunch it was then a heavy, but joyful and scenic, ride along the sea front towards Bamburgh castle, wrapping the day up by looping inland slightly to Belford.
The B&B here is another gem, and one that I'd only booked after the first place I'd tried phoning hadn't answered their phone. The owners have only recently made it a B&B, converting the old Post Office into a house with rooms, and their background in hospitality (despite not owning a B&B before) was obvious. If you're ever in Belford in need of accommodation then check out the Old Post Office.
I even made it here in time to watch Andy Murray play his final point to win Wimbledon for the second time! Awesome stuff. The England football team may have been an embarrassment a couple of weeks ago, and British politics is in complete turmoil following the Brexit vote, but Andy Murray and Mark Cavendish are flying the British flag high. And Chris Froome took the lead yesterday on the TdF with a blistering downhill attack - amazing!
Day 18 - Belford to Eyemouth (Scotland!!)
Mon July 11th 2016
Distance: 31.1 miles
Altitude climbed: 499m
Woohoo - today I reach Scotland! Even if something happens and I don't make it any further, at least I'll be able to say I've cycled the length of England.
Cycling offroad on the NCN route 1
Before that though there's the small matter of the A1 ☹ My route plan had initially been to head along a 4 mile stretch of it to avoid either an otherwise huge detour or going offroad, however taking one look at the traffic (and having experienced a few miles of a horrible dual carriageway just a few days ago) I decided to do the off-road route instead.
This involved following some more of the National Cycle Network Route 1 along the coast; pleasant enough for the large part but I was worried about the off-road stretches (roughly 2 miles of it), especially with the words of the couple I met yesterday still ringing in my ear about the section there not being passable. Fortunately though I soon discovered that it wasn't as muddy as it could have been, otherwise it truly would have been a nightmare. Even so, it's not at all suitable for a heavily laden touring bike with narrow wheels!
Lots of level crossings!
Beautiful coastline (Cocklawburn beach)
It's a really beautiful route, running very close to the coast, but the narrow and slightly muddy path make for some extremely slow - and challenging - riding, and at times needed me to draw on all my mountain bike experience from years ago in order to stay upright! It's not really bumpy but the wheel regularly slipped from side to side in the mud, constantly trying to throw me off.
With careful riding I made it safely to the end of the off-road part and onto some small roads that hug the coast as they head north. This part of the route really is beautiful and made the off-road struggle worthwhile, but avoiding those 4 miles of the A1 had taken an additional 2 hours and I was way behind time.
I'm in Scotland!!!
As I got back onto my planned route I put my foot down and soon (after a quick lunch stop) passed through Berwick Upon Tweed and, after a steep climb out of there, reached the "Welcome To Scotland" sign. Yay! I stopped for a few selfies (sadly there's no one around to take a proper photo) and briefly wondered whether the bus shelter ahead will one day be turned into an immigration border post following the Brexit vote (if Scotland use it as an excuse for another independence referendum). For now though (and hopefully forever more...!) I passed into Scotland without needing to flash a passport.
A few more hills - and a lot of headwind - later and I reached Eyemouth, a pretty little fishing town just inside Scotland. I celebrated having made it to Scotland with a haggis pizza at a local restaurant (yes seriously, and it was damned nice too!).
Day 19 - Eyemouth to Macmerry
Tues July 12th 2016
Distance: 39.7 miles
Altitude climbed: 562m
Scotland is windy!! Leaving Eyemouth I straight away found myself heading uphill, with 300m of ascent to do this morning and all of it into the wind. I climbed out of Eyemouth over the moors and straight through the middle of a large wind farm - I wished I could have converted some of the energy they were furiously generating today into helping to push me along!!
Cycling through a (windy!) wind farm
After a lot of huffing and puffing I made it over the top and was rewarded with a great view out to the North Sea. The descent was ridiculously steep and long, but instead of being able to enjoy it I found I still had to pedal to keep moving at any pace - the wind was that strong. Crazy! It's no wonder they'd located a wind farm there.
The views today though were beautiful which made the wind a little bit bearable. By late morning I reached a point where, to avoid some busy roads, I had the option of heading down a steep hill into a cove at Pease Bay, past a beautifully located holiday village, and back up the other side. The only snag was a "road closed" sign at the top of this cove, but after a bit of contemplation decided to gamble that it'd still be passable by bike and set off down towards the holiday village.
Luckily my gamble paid off; coming up the other side I encountered a couple of workers digging the road up to lay fibre cable (I live within walking distance of Leeds and in 2016 can still only get a horribly slow internet line, yet here in the middle of the remote countryside they're getting superfast broadband put in?!). I only just managed to squeeze past the diggers but actually ended up having a great conversation with the workmen about my trip for a few minutes. Panniers are a great conversation starter it seems!
Cyclist diversion signs. Arrggh!
A few miles further on however, having joined a dedicated cycle path alongside the A1, I encountered an official "Cyclist Diversion" sign. Arrggh! It seems as if the cycle lane has been suspended whilst they do roadworks on the A1; fortunately the diversion (around by the Torness nuclear power station) wasn't too bad and only added maybe a mile on.
After that there was a lot of cycling on dirt paths through fields, alongside the railway line, and past a quarry too, before I made it back onto roads and into the village of Haddington where I stopped for a very late lunch.
Cycling along by the railway
The ride from Haddington to my accommodation at Macmerry wasn't too far but was painful - all on a rough road surface and into a strong headwind (yet again - is all of Scotland this windy?!). Reaching my accommodation couldn't have come soon enough!
My guest house tonight is a stunning large house in the middle of nowhere that has been converted fairly luxuriously into several guestrooms; my room even has a separate walled-off sitting area. The only problem though (apart from the wifi signal not reaching my room and there being no phone reception either) was that there are no restaurants within walking distance. I've screwed up here in booking this place! I had to get a taxi back into Haddington for dinner (there's nothing in Macmerry itself), a journey that was longer than I'd realised and cost me a whopping £25 - and that was just one way!! This has turned into an expensive night ☹
Day 20 - Macmerry to South Queensferry
Weds July 13th 2016
Distance: 24.2 miles
Altitude climbed: 282m
Bike shops visited: 2
This was another of my short days, just crossing from one side of Edinburgh (yup, it's a hilly city!) to the other. It was a fairly boring ride towards Edinburgh to begin with, apart from a coastal section at Musselburgh. I'd considered staying in Musselburgh when booking last night's accommodation - having seen the view I wish I had done! It was really sunny when I went through it so the harbourfront was all the more spectacular.
Along the seafront approaching Edinburgh
I knew I was approaching Edinburgh when I could see Arthur's Seat come into view - the classic Edinburgh sight. My route took me around the southern base of it, along Queens Drive, and into the city. As an adult I've only ever spent less than a day in Edinburgh, so cycling through it today was a great way to see it (even if only very briefly).
One issue with my bike that had been bugging me for a few days was a squeaking from my panniers. One of them had lost a clip (the ones that adjust the brackets to fit different size pannier frames) and so the pannier was bouncing around slightly and squeaking. I'd bought both the bike and panniers from the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative and, as I was in Edinburgh, naturally thought I'd try them first for a replacement. These clips aren't normally sold separately but after a bit of persuasion the sales assistant let me take a clip from one of the bags on display leaving them to backfill from the supplier. I figured I'd given them enough money over the last couple of months so I didn't feel guilty at all! I also stocked up on energy gels too so they got some more money from me anyway.
Storing my bike overnight in my hotel room
Out of Edinburgh, and after a brief stop at Haymarket Station to shelter from a passing storm, I then picked up a cycle path that was yet another conversion from a disused rail track. Dr Beeching may have done awful things for public transport in the UK, but he unwittingly created a great cycle path network!
My stop tonight is at the Premier Inn in Queensferry, right by the Forth Road Bridge and ready for crossing it first thing tomorrow.