Last autumn Daughter and I were talking. One of her friends is now a regular at our local Park Run with her dad. Daughter wanted to do something similar, but really doesn’t fancy running.
So we hatched a plan to ride the C2C – from Whitehaven on the Irish Sea coast in Cumbria to Whitley Bay on the North Sea. This is one of the country’s classic long-distance rides, and takes in both the Lake District and North Pennines.
Put simply, it is a long way. And there are many hills.
So we started training – weekly rides into Newcastle for lunch at The Cycle Hub, varying the route to take it from a 20 mile there-and-back, to a wider circle of up to nearly 35 miles with a few hills thrown in.
In February, we upgraded her bike from a Raleigh Shopper (three gears, frame made from depleted uranium, tyres that roll like treacle) to a “new” ladies bike from Recyke Y’Bike, with a 6×2 gear set up. After some tinkering, this had been modified with a set of tripple chainrings to give 1:1 drive in bottom gear and usable ratios for descents, comfy handlebars and a rack.
Our original intention had been to do the ride over the Easter weekend – train from Newcastle to Whitehaven on the Thursday morning, and back home by Easter Sunday. But the whole of March had strong easterly winds, and I’d tried C2C before into a strong headwind. It’s no fun at all, and as I didn’t want to put Daughter off cycling for life, it looked like we’d have to postpone. I briefly flirted with the idea of riding east to west, but the snow in the week before Easter put paid to that – seeing people on TV in the Pennines clearing snow drifts from their first floor windows made it clear that this was not the weekend.
But then the forecast showed a break in the weather for the weekend after… westerly winds, temperatures above freezing, actual sunshine. So accommodation was booked, train tickets bought, and bags packed. The plan was:
FRIDAY: Get the train from Newcastle to Whitehaven…
Arrive around midday. Do the traditional dipping of the back wheels in the Irish Sea:
& ride to Keswick – 30 miles, including Whinlatter Pass (1,000ft).
This was Daughter’s first experience of proper hills, and she had a bit of a meltdown as we came up the last bit of the climb, and again on the road down into Braithwaite. I had to use the magical powers of Wife’s home-baked chocolate flapjacks to pick her up. By the time these kicked in, it was completely flat as we went around the top of Derwent Water, and she perked up nicely.
We’d booked the Keswick Hostel for the night, and were VERY glad to get there. The only downside was that this was bed only accommodation, so we headed out to the pub for dinner, and set our alarm for early o’clock to give us time to find some breakfast too.
SATURDAY: A big day planned, riding from Keswick to Penrith, and then up the Pennines’ west escarpment to Hartside and down into Alston – a shade over 40 miles. The ride out of Penrith is another old railway track (thank you, Dr Beeching!) running through the woods parallel to the A66. It’s pretty much flat, has an OK surface, and as it crosses the meandering river again and again, is really quite magical. If you get the chance, do go and ride it.
After that, we rode over the last hump of the Lake District – a climb of a few hundred feet over five or six miles via steadily rising ridges. Again, Daughter’s head was not coping well with this, and I resorted to the Voodoo Flapjacks. I was starting to worry that perhaps she wasn’t ready for this ride at all, and resolved to look at Plan B (take the train home) at Penrith.
But there was no need – the four miles down hill to Penrith (we’d gone via Greystoke), plus a monster lunch had fixed her up. Getting out of the town involves quite a steep climb, and she went at it like a thing possessed. On the way to starting the climb up Hartside, we took a detour to the stone circle outside Little Salkeld:
And then it was up, and up, and up. It involved a fair bit of pushing, but once we got onto the top section (the A686), Daughter was up for doing a few hundred yards pedalling, and a couple of hundred walking.
In Alston we stayed in the Youth Hostel, which is just off the first right hand turning as you come into the town. One of the staff there is a Sustrans Ranger, and Daughter noticed his bike as we were stowing ours away in the well-provisioned secure bike shed. Dinner was again in a local pub – the Cumberland Hotel, where we met some other C2C riders, people working in the lead mine, and assorted local types. Great food, and concerned over how little she’d been drinking through the day, I managed to get Daughter to drink a pint and a half of orange juice & lemonade.
SUNDAY started with a huge cooked breakfast while we watched a red squirrel have his in the tree outside. Then it was once more up, up, up for an easy 20 mile ride from Alston to Stanhope. Firstly to the one-horse town of Nenthead, where I can confirm that the hallucinatory North Pennine Cycles is still to be found:
And then it was more of the same – up, up, up. We opted to go straight up the A689, and follow it all the way to Stanhope. The official route goes a little further north to Allenheads, but this adds some miles and a lot of extra climbs with its sawtooth profile.
The road was steep, and we did a fair bit of pushing, but also rode when it counted
and stopped to take the obligatory top of the hill photo:
We chatted to a couple of riders who’d come the other way, and were using the summit as their turnaround point. One was training for the Lanzarote Ironman and riding a piece of carbon bling that had more in common with the space programme than our bikes. After he set off, we talked to a couple of roadies, and I told them that the last one to the pub in Stanhope was buying the beers. They foolishly gave us a headstart… and we never saw them again!
In Stanhope we stayed at the Packhorse Inn. It’s a bit run-down, but has a new landlady, does great fill-yer-belly dinner and breakfasts, and serves appropriately named beer…
MONDAY was the last day, riding from Stanhope to Whitley Bay. It started with the climb up Crawleyside Bank. This is a right pig of a hill, and the higher we got, the more alpine it became. No trees, deep snow either side of the road, and a nasty easterly wind. I’d checked the weather forecast, and was expecting this, along with some snow flurries.
The snow arrived just after we turned off to head down to Castleside & Consett. This should have been an easy start of the descent to home, but the snow had other ideas – it turned out to be hail, and coupled with about a 15-20 mph headwind, made things very unpleasant.
We couldn’t see where we were going, so had to inch our way along. At times were got off and pushed. The problem with this was that we weren’t working hard enough, and despite the extra layers we’d put on in anticipation of the cold, quickly started to suffer. This was Daughter’s first real experience of being properly cold, and she did not have a good time of it at all. It was only the promise of a pub serving hot chocolate in Castleside (“just a couple of miles on…”) that held her together. To be honest, if it had been further, or got any worse, I’d have flagged down a passing car to get a lift. It was that bad.
When we got into the town, we found that the first pub was closed & sold, the second was just closed, and the third had been demolished.
This was getting desperate, and it was the last pub that we got to that was open. I’m not sure what it’s called now, but according to the Googles it used to be the Castleside Inn. It’s now some sort of Italian bistro gastropub. We were the only customers, and the guy there served us amazing coffee, hot milk, a couple of enormous bowls of freshly made tomato soup (hereafter referred to as The Soup Of Happiness), and most of a loaf of bread straight from his pizza oven. It was probably the best tenner I’ve ever spent.
After that, it was plain sailing. Up to Consett, then down the Derwent Walk to Gateshead, along the river to Newcastle, and home. I jokingly appologised to Daughter for the horror of the morning’s ride, saying that it clearly marked me as a Bad Person. Of course, only Bad People get punctures, so you can guess what happened next…
All that was left to do was dip the front wheels into the North Sea, and I made sure she did it properly:
When we got home, I presented Daughter with a little surprise I’d bought from the Sustrans shop before we left …
I think she quite likes it – she’s worn it for the last five days, and sooner or later we’re going to have to get it off her to wash it!
So there we go. Overall a brilliant four days, despite the horror of that last morning. We’re already talking about our next ride (Coast & Castles from Edinburgh to Whitley Bay?), and planning C2C again next year, taking Daughter’s Friend & her dad along for the ride…