Dashed hopes, Thwarted possibilities

Graham had an idea to do the Bob Graham round so we ran in the dark and snow to train but then he was plagued with colds and sickness so that was forgotten about. The Old County Tops was on the hottest day in May – great for the marshalls on top of Sca Fell Pike but not so good for us – Nick got to the col below Swirl Howe and called it a day. You don’t get a T-shirt for completing only 32 miles of the 37 . . .

Having found the C2C in a day a fairly straightforward experience last year it made us wonder how far it would be possible to cycle in a day. So the idea of a Grand Tour of Northumberland was born. Actually, it was already born being a linking of the sustrans routes up the Northumberland coast, the Pennine Cycleway and the Hadrian’s Cycleway adding up to 220 miles or so – but could it be done in a day?

We decided that rather than follow the routes religiously we’d just take a triangle with Berwick, Haltwhistle and Tynemouth being the corners. All shortcuts in between were fair game, within reason.

An Alpine start from Beadnell saw me up at 2.30am and we were cycling at just after 4.00am in the morning chill. Smooth roads and a slight tail wind made for fast progress to Berwick – over the old bridge and back over the new, higher one – then on towards Etal. Immediately the variety of the Northumberland landscape was apparent as we exchanged dunes and links for rolling hills and arable fields with the larger hills of the Cheviots in the distance. Wooler was just waking up when we got there, just after 7, and the bakery provided us with freshly baked sausage rolls for breakfast – fantastic.

Nick had a GPS on his bars and became increasingly fascinated by our average speeds – moving average and overall average. He had a figure in his mind that we needed to stick to in order to get back to Beadnell in the same day based on how far he thought we would go. At this point everything looked great but having stopped to eat then been slowed by the hills and rough tracks, not to mention a couple of stops to check the map, and our overall average gradually dropped away. Still, we knew this section would be slower so just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery and the intimate views you get of it on a bicycle. Although the road was rolling we had been steadily gaining height until we dropped down dramatically at Alwinton, swooping round the bends down into the valley. From here we entered more familiar territory being the area we had ridden most in training, so we knew the climb at Billsmoor was ahead. Graham seemed to be flagging a bit here and later admitted that he needed refueling!

Luckily the café at Elsdon could provide. It’s a well known cyclists’ café but by accident really as the owner explained to us over a cup of tea or five. He knew he hadn’t seen us before so came and chatted with us while we ate cake and before long we’d heard how another café had closed just before he’d moved into the village with his wife. Cyclists kept arriving and knocking on his door asking for cups of tea so, since they didn’t use the front lounge, they decided to open a café themselves. Now, thirty years on, stuffed full of cycling memorabilia and a regular haunt of the regions cycling clubs, business seemed brisk. Too much of a distraction when you’ve an average speed to maintain though . . .

On through Bellingham then it was Nick’s turn to run out of fuel and he struggled up the hill at Brown Rigg waiting for the flapjack to kick in. Onward towards Kielder where our route took us on a rough forest track for about 4 miles in the heat of the day. That was tough and rough, so rough in fact that Nick discovered the bolt that retained his crank had rattled out. With no hope of finding it this could have been the end of his day but we managed to bodge it back together with cable ties and tyre levers – this worked for the next 100 miles!

Having taken in the panorama that stretched from southern Scotland to the North Pennines the way was down to Haltwhistle. Our average speed was now in tatters so a concerted effort along the Tyne Valley was needed. Unfortunately we had a headwind and, having had a bowlful of pasta at Fourstones, Graham was feeling sickly! Still he soldiered on and soon the quayside of Newcastle beckoned. It was Northumberland Plate day and although we were early there were a number of revellers out already – none of them were dressed in lycra. Nick’s friend John met us a supplied biscuits and water – he’d have loved to join us but was happy to play a support role instead.

We’d chosen to follow the main roads through Wallsend and North Shields rather than the river. For me this was the hardest section – I didn’t really know where I was and was growing tired of the headwind and sitting on my saddle! Tynemouth came soon enough though and there was John with more biscuits.

Turning North was a joy! Still with 50 miles or so to go we now had a strong tailwind and blasting along the seafront at Whitley Bay was a hoot. At this stage we forsook the cycle route and stuck to the main roads covering 20 miles in the next hour to bring us to Amble and some chips. Here, sadly, Graham decided he’d had enough and just couldn’t face the hills out of Warkworth and Lesbury which had assumed Alpine proportions in his imagination. This proved to be the correct decision as he was sick on the way up in the car and doesn’t remember much after that!

Nick and I pedalled steadily on into the gathering gloom as first the lights of Beadnell appeared, then grew closer, until finally we rolled back onto the caravan site, 210 miles and 18hrs, 40 min since we’d set off! Making the most of the day. A fantastic welcome from the families, some cake, champagne and bed was all we needed.

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