Category Archives: touring

Autumn Tour 2014 – Old Roads and New (borrowed from the great Jock Wadley)

We, the peloton

  • Me – The Brevet Bird
  • My side kick – the Co-pilot
  • Our trustee steed – Casper the Little White Moulton
  • Guest appearances, the Kit-Kat wrapper & Gollum the GPS

Day 1 – The big tailwind

IMG_1706A late start was cunningly achieved through lack of preparation caused by too many kilometres a-wheel in the preceding weeks. With tracks finally created and loaded onto the Garmin, Casper’s tiny tyres hit the asphalt and started to turn at round about 10am. Our destination was Surfleet, just outside of Spalding and the Ship Inn.

The route was very familiar and at most contained undulations. Sneaking out of the Chilterns back door via Wendover, we then headed to Tingewick via Silverstone. Knowing that lunch opportunities would be thin on the ground, lunch was grabbed at the preferred cafe at Towcester.

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The sun continued to shine and the wind blew from behind. It was a wonderful, almost autumnal day to be out on the bike. Traversing Northampton was its usual painful self. But once we had poppws out the other side into Moulton, the lanes were delightful. Good progress was made and the back of the Kit-Kat wrapper calculation said that despite the late start that arrival at the Ship Inn would be in goodly time.

Spalding seemed to dangle from our grasp for far too long. Then suddenly we zoomed over the Spalding prime sign. Just 10km and we would be at the day’s arrivee.

At 8pm we arrived at the Ship Inn. It turned out to be an excellent choice with a warm welcome, excellent food and a room with a centrally heated washing line located in the bathroom. What more could a super tourist randonneur wish for?  213km

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Day 2 – The Headwinds Start

Our destination was York YHA. We would be traveling mostly on well laid Easter Arrow tramlines with the added frisson of the Lincolnshire Wolds thrown in. Again, not a hilly day if you were counting contour lines, but plenty of Dutch hills created by the rather unkindly headwind that didn’t vanish all day.

The day started in an over relaxed fashion as the back of the Kit-Kat wrapper said we had plenty of time. It lied. Because I thought we had the time, I succumbed to rather too many photo stops, which were on the whole too good to decline. The Co-pilot remonstrated with me that I was stuffing around. I took no notice.

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When we reached Boston, where there was no tea party, I realised that I had made an error on the track. Luckily the Spoons provided the internet power to check what the route should really look like. Thus we headed off to Spilsby, then to Horncastle where it seemed like a good idea to have lunch. This turned out to be quite correct as we didn’t pass any more cafes for the next 130km.

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After lunch we crept up the Lincolnshire wolds as the headwind caused an increase in these gentle climbs. At Brigg, I’d forgotten that we were not travelling just before dawn, so taking the A18 to Scunthorpe wasn’t necessarily the best idea I’d ever had. Scunthorpe at peak hour isn’t a place to endear itself to you. Then it was the switchback lanes following for the most part the River Trent to Goole via Swinefleet.

Goole provide both the highlight and excitement of the day. The swing bridge was in operation. As a child, my dad had waxed lyrical about this bridge as we crossed it in the car most Easters. However, I’d never seen it in action. In the evening sun, approaching dusk it was a pleasure to watch it in action.

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Once the bridge was swung and dropped into place, it was off to Howden and then the bad lands of great flatness to York.

York arrived as per the evil Kit-Kat wrapper’s prediction, late. A cunning plan formed to solve the question of dinner. Pick up take away fish and chips. Simple in the planning, it turned out to be tricky in the executing. After what seemed like ages, but probably wasn’t, fish and chips were purchased and attached to the Carradice.

York YHA had been extended and upgraded since my last visit. It now had a large and welcoming reception area with a bar and plenty of space to eat and relax. Once the fish and chips had been consumed it was time for a shower and bed. I was most pleased to find new bunk beds with individual power points. So there were no dramas charging the various gadgets overnight.  217km

Day 3 – The Lunacy Starts and the Head Wind Continues

I should have known better when I planned the route to Durham, our next stage town. But I was kind of like a kid in a sweet shop. I wanted it all even if it wasn’t god for me. In this case it was going to make the legs hurt. Basically I’d picked places on the basis of revisiting some of my early touring memories and forgetting how the roads between them were going to join up. I’d found 3,000 meters of assent, with it turned out an added bonus headwind.

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The plan was to have lunch in Kirby Stephen as I remembered a great café there. But the wind had been so pesky that I decided that a late elevensees stop was in order. A suitable cafe beckoned in Leycock. The dreaded Kit-Kat wrapper popped its head up and adjusted the truth. The 30km to Kirby Stephen was not going to take us one and a half hours. With the head wind, rain and super gloom it was going to be a good two hours of gutter grovelling. On the upside, once the super gloom disappeared the views didn’t disappoint and the decent into Kirby Stephen was rather pleasurable. That’s where the pleasure of arrival took a temporary halt. Every café was closed, including the one lodged in my memory banks. Desperation set in. Then I spotted a rather odd little shop that promised caike. I hurried in to check. Indeed caike and coffee were on offer. OK, not a perfectly balanced lunch, but hey needs must.

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My meteo observations had been correct. We would get blown down to Middleton in Teesdale. It was a blast. Initially the wind was reasonably friendly, climbing out of Middleton. Then the wind turned nasty. It attacked us relentlessly from the side. So much so that over Weardale we were blown from gutter to gutter and almost onto the road. A short section of nifty SPD sandal work in the 24” gear was necessary to keep us moving, well enough not to grow moss. The rather lovely touch was the police van that drove pass but didn’t think to check that one small woman pushing a shopping bike was OK. I’ve never been quite so worried on a bike. After making a steep descent that felt more like a climb, we reach Stanhope and a very welcome right turn. Yippee, the wind was at our backs and remained so right up to our arrivee at the Star Inn, Durham.

Some undulations, then some climbing and suddenly we were descending and descending for multiple kilometres. There had to be some catch to this as Doughty’s law says ‘what goes down has to climb up again’, but for the moment we enjoyed a free ride.

The staff at the Star Inn were fantastic. I’d arrived just after kitchen close off time and the chef very kindly accepted my order for vegetarian lasagna, which was superb. All round the stay here was brilliant.  206km

Day 4 – Yet more lunacy and further headwinds

Doughty’s law was correct by virtue of my own cunning planning. To get to the next stage town of Bamburgh, we had to climb the descent of the previous evening. Of course the wind had remained in position, so we were climbing into a headwind plus occasional squally showers. Our reward for this putting up with this was some rather fine rainbows.

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Planning a route on soft mapping means that providing your GPS doesn’t have any emotional meltdowns, you always know you are going to get to the arrivee. However, what you can’t tell is how steep the undulations are. The answer to the rather beautiful back road to Alston was super severe.

As we ground up seemingly never ending steep inclines that we had not asked for on our way to Alston, a close relative of the wind that had inhabited Weardale relentlessly toyed with us. Again, keeping Casper upright and perhaps evening moving forwards was a challenge. The payback was magnificent panoramic views. The decent into Alston was down a series of very steep ‘steps’ which popped out onto the top of the famed cobbled road. I’d always wondered where this road went; it’s nice to have a question answered but not a road to be revisited in a hurry.

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This time memory and 2014 actuality matched. The café that I remembered in Alston was still there and as good as I the memory banks said it was. A swift lunch and we were rolling along with a helpful side wind and more down than up. Of course this arrangement couldn’t last forever.

At Haydon Bridge the crinkles started getting bigger and the head wind came back to pester us enough to be noticeable. Because I remembered it’s rather fine castle from a tour way back when, I put Alnwick on the days itinerary. I hadn’t though realised that a roller coster of lumpy bits would sit between us from Rothbury to Alnwick. Just as we had given up hope of reaching Alnwick, in the twilight it appeared. As we swung past the castle it didn’t disappoint.

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Although in theory the roads from Alnwick to Bamburgh were flat, to tired legs worn down by hills and headwinds it didn’t feel flat. A visit by the man with the hammer didn’t help, but a swift bar of Cadbury’s milk chocolate fixed the situation. Once we turned on to the coast road the speed picked up. Noticing the time on the Garmin, we sprinted across the Bamborough prime time to slide the day in just under the 13 hour mark. Despite Bamburgh being such a small place, locating our hotel was more challenging than expected. Finally tucked up in our hotel room enjoying picnic supper and doing the days write up, we looked back on a very fine day a-wheel. Tomorrow would be the rest day.  204km

Day 5 – Thus to Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne had been a place I had wanted to visit for some time. Galloping past it on Rufus the tandem trike on our 600km brevet earlier in the summer had been the nudge I’d needed to finally go. It didn’t disappoint.

After a leisurely breakfast, we set off into quite lanes and sunshine. Mainly using NCN1 we worked our way from Bamburgh to the causeway that takes you from the mainland to Lindisfarne. The magic of Lindisfarne started as soon as the causeway commenced. I’m not sure the impact in a car would have been the same as a-wheel. The smell of the sea, the squawking of the birds and the rustle of the tall grasses all added to a wow factor experience.

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Lindisfarne is very small, but packed with history. It’s where one of the book of Kells was written and where Saint Aidan set up his mission to convert the local pagans to Christianity. With so many tea shops to chose from, lunch was spread over two cafes. After a relaxing couple of hours it was time to retrace back to the mainland before the tide came in and covered the causeway for multiple hours.

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The plan was to hug the coast up to Berwick upon Tweed using NCN1. However, when NCN1 turned into a goat track, that idea was swiftly abandoned and some off the cuff GPS navigating was deployed. Berwick turned out to be a rather delightful stage town. I’d booked the Youth Hostel, which other than the 4am fire alarm provided an excellent place to stay.  65km

Day 6 – Boarder Raid

Meeting up with my very good friends, Mark and Anne Brazier on the new bridge at Berwick, we spent a wonderful morning riding from England into the Scottish boarders. At Galashiels, Mark and Anne turned around to loop back to Berwick and we headed on to Edinburgh, Linlithgow and then Glasgow.

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At Innerleithen a cafe appeared right on time. We stopped. The most memorable item on the menu was haggis and brie panini. On leaving the cafe we took the most amazing road, quietly climbing through a beautiful glen with a gentle back wind. Then onto the hurly burly of Edinburgh. With time in hand, a well earned afternoon tea stop was taken in a little continental cafe just beyond the town centre.

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After that, the roads got a little unpleasant, but fortunately there was a shared use pavement to decamp onto rather than be squashed by the fast moving traffic on the A9. Then onto Linlithgow. Birthplace of Mary Queen of Scotts within the walls of it’s small palace. It didn’t disappoint, although it would have been nice to have stopped rather than just pass through.

Then came green fields, pleasantly undulating lanes and our final sunset of the IMG_1727tour before heading into the grey of Glasgow. The GPS guided us perfectly to Glasgow Central station and the finish of our tour. From here, following a spot of dinner we would take the sleeper back to London, home and work until the next tour beckoned.  210km

Click here for all the photos on Flickr