Cycling across the hilly north
19.08.2009 - 24.08.2009
Above is the route I chose after much umm-ing and err-ing. I really wanted to cycle Lands End to John O'Groats (E2E) but with New Zealand coming up and my dodgy knee I didn't have the money nor the confidence. I also had the conventional C2C route planned with a friend but they pulled out so as I was alone and out to prove to myself I could do it, I chose a route that started in Barrow in Furness on the west coast, cut through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Yorkshire moors and then along the east coast to end in Scarborough.
My beloved bike to do this on I spent a lot of time researching. I needed something strong, adaptable, not flashy and of course not too expensive. Touring bikes are damned expensive reaching a grand easily and then upwards. I managed to get a discounted Raleigh Royal and fitted some extra components to make it both uniquely mine and ready to take on the world. I call it 'my monster' and the second pic above is of my guardian angel that stayed on my monster throughout my trip and I never came to harm.
My self-appointed rules:
- Follow cycle routes at all times (mostly worked out, lost the route only a few times)
- Camp Wherever is suitable whenever your done for the day (worked out very well)
- Re-stock supplies when passing through larger towns (I never went hungry)
- Fill up water bottles wherever possible for free (never paid for water)
I tried to buy things that would keep in my panniers but that had lots of carbs for energy and salts to replace what I lost sweating. I always had a small bottle of concentrate juice to keep my water tasty. I tried to have one cooked meal a day but all other times I ate:
- Trail mix bags containing: Oat crunch cereal, mixed fruit and pretzels (good stuff and kept me going)
- Bananas (whenever I could get them)
- Baby Bell cheeses
- Rivita Wholegrain
- Baked Beans
- Rice Yogurts (bought in the morning)
- Peanut Butter
*Day 1: Huntingdon to Barrow-in-Furness by train.
Barrow -in-Furness to Ulverston by bike (13 miles)
Ready and rearing to go I set off from home and cycle to my station. It was my first time taking bikes on trains and with my big fat panniers I was getting a lot of stares but at least not in a bad way. In fact I've found while cycling in whatever country I've been in (even England) people respond very positively to cyclists.
I had to use 4 trains to get to my start point but only had to book one of them. This meant fingers crossed for most of the day but all was well in the end. The train I had to book between Peterborough and Leeds was actually the worst because they rushed me to put my bike in the bike cabin and so I couldn't secure it properly. I found it on it's side in Leeds but luckily not damaged. I did sit in First class which was a bonus.
In Leeds Station I prepared some food bags filled with a self made tail mix to eat as I cycle to keep my energy levels high.
At my last train change-over a couple recognised me from somewhere along my travels and told me which train I needed to catch and asked about my trip, which was really random because I hadn't noticed them before so I don't know where they saw me or how they knew where I was going but it was nice all the same.
In Barrow, in the early evening, it was time to start my journey eastwards. I cycled to my first camp spot I had researched before I left. Of course I couldn't find the blasted place because it wasn't on any maps and no-one had heard of it. But through some locals pointing me in the right direction and a foreign lady showing me an OS map I eventually found it. Of course the owner wasn't there. Still I pitched anyway and put my bike in his garage.
I thought very carefully how to pack all my items and in what order they should be placed in the bags. I even thought of the most organised way I could place everything inside my tent. This was all worthwhile and made things a lot quicker and easier during the long packing and unpacking every evening and morning.
Time for bed, oh no wait it's only 7pm... better read some more.
*Day 2: Ulverston to Greenholme by bike (55 miles)
Twas a typically early start of about 7am. Throughout the trip getting ready, loading my bike and eating took just under an hour so I was always aiming to be on the road for 8am. The hills started pretty early on and I got a good taste of what the cycle route was going to be like for the next 200 miles. The route, marked my small blue stickers with a number, follows any path or road it can to avoid traffic and give some pleasant scenery. The rain was on and off all day but it was fine as I had a cool rain poncho.
While I was stretching outside the first co-op I came across a small middle aged woman shuffled over to me and said "do you feel better now". I was a bit confused but said "well I haven't started yet". Expecting her to shuffle off she just blurted out "my daughter was raped last night in Manchester" and broke down in tears. I tried to comfort her and asked if there was someone to call or go home to but she just ignored me and kept rambling. When some other guy walked past to his car she started asking him something but he politely shrugged her off. Her problem was that she reaked of fags and booze and she wasn't really asking for anything clear. I felt bad that I couldn't help her but what could have I done really.
The hills were bloody steep. A loaded touring bike is like any other bike except for a clear difference in weight, balance and braking distances.
I had my packed lunch outside a pub, which became an odd tradition each day.
Despite the rain and hills the scenery made up for it big time. Towards the end of the afternoon I was spent though and by chance in a village, on-top of yet another long hill, I saw a woman cooking with her kitchen door open so I gave it a knock and asked her about my camping options. Luckily she knew a farmer a few doors down that lets people camp in his field, which he did, for free. Good eh?
There was a service station not too far away so I had some meat and 2 veg there and then went back to my tent and slept soundly.
*Day 3: Greenholme to Kinninvie by bike (51 miles)
At 6am I woke with that 'where am I feeling' as I could here sheep, birds, a light rain and the distant noise of traffic. It turned out to be a lovely sunny day once I got up and although I was a bit sore after my first day of cycling up and down (but mostly up) steep hills, but I was still smiling from yesterdays luck and that feeling you get when you know that there are many lovely people out there.
I went to a post office in the next town for some water and bananas. When I got out I found my bike on it's side and that my right bar end was bent. Luckily everything still worked as it holds the brake/gear lever which was also bent.
I think this day was the best cycling throughout the whole trip. I got the hang of keeping momentum and speed up and down the hills, the scenery was gorgeous, I made good timing, the weather was great and before I knew it I was where I wanted to reach for the day.
Having had such a nice day and being in the quaint and pretty town of Bernard Castle I decided to call into the tourist info and find out the nearest camp-site and then have the afternoon off.
The tourist info ladies were lovely and a nice shop owner looked after my bike for me while I got some fish & chips, walked around town and re-stocked.
The camp-site was a few miles away and a bit bland especially after what I had the day before and it was 10 quid. The first camp-site was 10 pounds too but the owner was nice and we got on well so he only charged me 8 pounds. The woman at this camp-site was nice and barmy but no discount.
*Day 4: Barnard Castle to Kildale by bike (58 miles)
In contrast this was the worst cycling on the trip. Being in high spirits after the first two days this day was dull dull dull. I made some great pace but the landscape was just flat countryside and it was windy and my walkman died on me. By lunch I was feeling a bit meh.
During lunch I was plagued by a wasp and the woman running the pub was a strange cow. She wouldn't let me put my small tuna can in her garbage and had to think if I could use her bathroom. I didn't even bother asking her for water, which meant I ran out later on and had to knock on someones door and ask if they could fill me up.
The road became a little more interesting but by the time I had gotten to where I needed to be that day I was more than ready to stop.
However the reason I love this kind of travel so much is that you are never far from kind people or interesting events. I stopped in a place called Great Ayton and a nice museum owner gave me some great advice about places to camp and even offered her garden. I also had time to watch the Cricket while I had some lovely rice dish in a pub.
The place I needed to camp was on my route and for 4 pounds I had a pitch in a nice place, with wonderful owners. They even charged my Ipod for me.
*Day 5: Kildale to Scarborough via Whitby by bike (50 miles)
Scarborough to Huntingdon by train
I awoke ready and willing as today I was sure to finish my journey. Not that I was keen to finish but I was eager to feel that great sense of accomplishment after an uncertain start.
The start and indeed most of the way to Whitby was insanely hilly and so steep I had to walk my bike fairly often. But I passed some great scenery again and some nice guys advised me about the rest of my trip.
When I was the sea just outside Whitby I cracked a huge smile that didn't drop all the way downhill to the city centre.
As far as I was concerned I had made it! I had reached the other coast. To celebrate I asked a guy to take my photo of my in-front of my bike with a nice backdrop of an old wooden boat. However he was the worst photographer ever and it camp out crap. Still I didn't care because now I could go get some fish & chips and then head down a disused railway track all the way to Scarborough.
The track was pretty cool and takes you right into the city centre. The views of the coast are quite nice and you pass lots of walkers and cyclists. It's a gentle uphill for 10 miles and then a gentle downhill for 10 miles. All in all a very grand way to end my trip. It was a bit of an anti-climax though as you roll into the crummy end of Scarborough and into traffic.
At 4:30pm I was pleased to have completed what I set out to do and to save a bit of cash I decide to try get a train home straight away. I did and ended up home for 8pm with a chinese take-away to celebrate.
So that's it. I'm keen to do many more Bike Touring trips and am hoping I can do some in New Zealand. I did come to the conclusion though that even though I enjoyed it greatly I was always aware that I was doing it alone and that with a friend of two it could be even better.