Inspired by Alastair Humphreys’ Coast to Coast micro adventure, my husband organised a Coast to Coast cycling trip for my birthday. We’re nowhere near as fit, or serious, or willing to suffer, as Humphreys is. Plus this was our first long-distance cycling trip. But we still managed the whole trip within a weekend (with a lot of cheats). The words in brackets there are of great importance. This post is about all the “cheats” that make the Coast to Coast cycling trip possible to even the not-so-fit people, but who still would like something different and enjoyable.
Definitely wear a helmet and bring a lot of water. All the rest of the preparations are for the “just in case” situations. If everything goes well, you won’t need any of the following, but just in case:
Your bike gives up – you need to get your bike checked in advance, learn a little bit of bike emergency fixing, or bring along someone who can do it for you.
You get lost – get a compass and a cycle map for your route. We brought Sustrans route 72 map with us, but the blue and red signposts were very well positioned all the way, as long as you’re not short-sighted, you won’t miss them.
It rains – check weather forecast and bring waterproofs!
It shines – Congratulations! Wear sun cream and sunglasses.
It gets dark – bring high vis jackets and bike lights.
You might not actually need them during the trip, but they make you feel safer.
We did our trip over Friday and Saturday. It’s a Coast to Coast cycling trip, which is supposed to be from Tynemouth on the North East coast of England, all the way along Hadrian’s Wall, to Solway Coast AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) on the North West coast of England. (Correction: Sustrans Route 72/Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway is actually from South Shield to Ravenglass, not Solway. 17 Aug 2015.)
So here is Cheat 1 (I know it’s shocking! We cheated right from the beginning!): we didn’t start from the East coast. Newcastle, where we live, is 8 miles west of Tynemouth. We didn’t want to cycle east first and come all the way back. Plus we have done that journey on bike before, so we had the perfect excuse to skip this section.
Cheat 2: we took a train from Newcastle to Prudhoe. Newcastle has some industrial surroundings. We skipped it for aesthetic reasons (= excuse).
We arrived at our starting point finally at 2pm at Prudhoe and had some packed lunch before we started peddling. You can tell how serious we were, can’t you. The section from Prudhoe to Corbridge took us 45 minutes and it was the most pleasant leg of the whole journey. It was countryside road with few cars and good road surface. There were fields of woods and crops, dotted with cottages. Relaxed cyclists floated swiftly pass and said hello. Most importantly, as I realised later on, it was flat!
The startling sight of the white factories at the outskirt of Hexham emerged above the trees soon after we left Corbridge. We walked across a very busy road bridge, looking down at the River Tyne and cheering for the salmon.
It was such a hot and sunny day. After Hexham, we headed north along the river in the hope of finding somewhere to have a dip in the water. There was a path leading to a Roman bridge opposite Chesters Roman Fort on the other side of River North Tyne, but the kissing gates stopped our bikes half way.
I didn’t know at that point the real climb had just started. The terrain chart looked upsetting from Hexham to Haltwhistle, but ignorant people can be stupid and brave.
Cheat 3: I had to push my bike uphill a lot of the time…
The road went up steeply. As we gained altitude, we could see the Pennines on the right horizon (unless it was Scotland) and the Tyne Valley on the left. We stopped to take photos of the famous tree in the Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall and I received my birthday presents on the Hadrian’s Wall path.
Once Brewed Youth Hostel, where we stayed the night, was the most cheering and welcoming sight. We dumped our bike in a shed and went to the nearby pub at 8pm. The pub was a buzz of laughter and conversation in many languages and accents (I was a bit surprised about that). There was even a two man band later on in the evening, with a lot of local people enjoying and singing along (praising Newcastle Brown Ale). It was definitely the highlight of the day. My British husband said, this was how pubs used to be like.
Once Brewed Youth Hostel is the only YHA Hostel along Hadrian’s Wall. It’s going to shut after this summer and go through refurbishment for a couple of years. The showers and toilets definitely needed some TLC. But we didn’t have any trouble sleep through the night like pigs. The breakfast was standard full English breakfast and tasted very fresh.
Looking at terrain chart in preparation for Saturday, we decided to take a train from Bardon Mill to Carlisle, and to cycle from Carlisle to the sea. So Cheat 4, we were on a train again.
Northern Rail has to be mentioned at this point. The trains along this route (between Newcastle and Carlisle) are Northern Rail trains. The route is extremely scenic and the line allows you to take in/enjoy/get bored of the view fully over a long period of time (it’s pretty slow). Their policy for bikes is: free, no need to book, first come first serve. As cycling has become popular in recent years, the Northern Rail bike storage gets filled up really quick. In Newcastle, a couple from Netherlands (train staff: You from Netherlands? I thought you looked too fit to be British!) had to wait for the next train because the first one was packed with eight bikes. At Bardon Mill where the train only stopped for a couple of minutes, the train staff said if we rushed to the other end of the train as fast as possible, we could squeeze in the corridor, because the bike storage was full again. At Carlisle later on Saturday, a group of 5 or 6 cyclists had to get on separate trains for the same reason. I think Northern Rail could add one more carriage just for bikes and charge a little, that might make everyone happy. Thankfully, we got on all the trains we’d like to. And all the train staff were extremely helpful and friendly. So Northern Rail, please speed up a bit, grow a bit longer and don’t get too expensive, we’ll love you even more!
We stopped by Carlisle Cathedral for lunch. It’s the second smallest Cathedral in England apparently and it is definitely worth a visit. I’m not a fan of buildings. Usually I need a guide to point at things and tell me why it’s considered interesting. But even I could see the odd things about this building and wondered why. I caught a passing verger who was passionate and enthusiastic about the place and was shown all over the place.
Leaving Carlisle (actually on our bikes this time), we rode west through a beautiful park and along the river. After a few bends, we left all the villages behind and greeted Solway Plain. It was one really flat and straight runway-like road all the way to the sea. We decided to stop and turn back as soon as we saw the sea. But there wasn’t much water in the sea at that point, so we cycled against the wind for what felt like a long time. We had one boiled (and peeled) egg and some spinach leaves each (wonderful M&S creations) and some chocolate on a bench covered in bird poo at Drumburgh and turned back. We had a glimpse of Carlisle Castle on the way back to the train station. The wind was against us whichever direction we cycled.
Surprisingly, we didn’t fall asleep on the slow and scenic 16:30 train back to Newcastle at all. New ideas were bubbling in our mind. About next trip, next adventure, possibilities and life. Princess Atsu Hime said, it’s good to be alive, isn’t it.