Holidays time means outdoor challenge time, this summer I made it onto one of the U.Ks distance routes for the fun of a five day self- organised challenge, here’s how it went. 20 th anniversary Celebration rides have taken place this year on the C2C crediting the innovator of this route David Gray one of the old guard in Sustrans, innovator has planned and mapped a Scottish C2C ride from Solway to the Forth which is just coming to fruition so look out for that in the future. I had wanted to do C2C for a while so tagged it on to the journey I was making to the Lake District to take part in the Lakes 5- an international Orienteering 5 day event. If you haven’t heard of it the C2C is Coast to Coast, and the perceptive will notice my choice was to ride east- west to reach Whitehaven in Cumbria starting in Sunderland. With not a lot of thought other than the desire to ride over the spine of England dates were in the diary and trains were booked for both ends of the journey, and the start was a day with the family in Lincolnshire to watch the end of the tour before starting on the Monday after schools broke up. I hadn’t planned the exact form of this adventure, but was fairly certain I could cover the 136 miles over 5 days and 4 nights camping so sat down the night before and sketched out the rough targets of each days riding.
Day 1 Sunderland to Stanhope. Perfect sun greeted us on the Monday morning and after the drop off at Sunderland a quick peruse of the seafront there I had located the start, didn’t dip my toe in the water as is customary but I was doing it the ‘wrong’ way around east to west anyway so I set off. Trail this end is old railway in the best Sustrans style, old mine workings used to drag stone back to build Sunderland abound here with some cool sculptures made of industrial equipment part of the scenery. Break at an W.W.C bird sanctuary for a snack and rolling well at this point, my load is 2 weeks clothing and running kit, and full camp gear, so came in at 15 Kilos (plus my 70). Finding the way around junctions can be confusing on these type of maps that are printed in sections and don’t follow directional perfection, however I was ticking off the places, and by the time Consett had passed I found myself in Waskerley where it gets wild and you get in the real outdoors. 400 Meters climbing and still no weather around this felt like a good start and a perfect night for a bivvy, so after some sustenance and a cleansing ale I took onto the off road section above Stanhope. This route is an option where you either bash down on the road or navigate a dirt track so it had to be the latter given my love of Mountain Biking too. After 12th August cycling the route isn’t allowed as the grouse shooting begins, and boy are there some grouse! chuckling away to themselves its them and the sheep calling, and In the lee of a small valley is my rest stop for the night. I sit down listening to the silence on the hill and feel like Im home again. 42 miles.
Day 2 Stanhope to Penruddock. Short nights rest in the lovely dry sleeping bag its up and out by 6 and I notice theres a slow puncture on rear wheel. Rolling carefully on the dirt I make it down to Allenheads and before breakfast remove the hub geared wheel, sort the tiny puncture and re-set the rig, some satisfaction here as I wouldn’t give up finding the cause of the puncture- and located a tiny piece of glass lodged in the tyre. Porridge, mmm, and off to the serious hills now, Garrigall is the highest point, and its all views and solitudenous experience, with lots of walking pushing the loaded bike. Making it up to the caff at Hartside was a reward, as here youre on the tops, and as usual in these sorts of places the cloud base is at 450 metres, so youre riding in little visibility. Guys at the café said how sunny it had been recently but I was fairly happy in the knowledge this is how it is up here most days across the highest part of the pennines. Screaming down out of Hartside into Penrith I’d made it over 3 hills, Black Hill 609 m, Flinty Fell 590 m and Hartside 580 m and the reward of fast flowing downhills is heavenly. More issues with the maps and pitiful waymarking in towns becomes annoying by now but its something to live with on this route. Penrith is a Lakes honeypot full of holidaymakers and I head to campsite a well earned shower and some Jennings ale now im in Cumbria. 56 Miles today with 1350 Metres climbing.
Penruddock to Whitehaven. Train to Ravenglass. Out in the road again now and admittedly the experience of pushing up hills with the bike isn’t my cup of tea, I wrote a postcard at Allenheads for friends that said the Draisienne was invented in the late 18th century by a man who wanted to go faster on two wheels than people walking, well someone didn’t tell cyclo-tourists this, as travelling up any inclines fully loaded just kills the speed. To me it takes the fun out of riding bikes, which is all about the speed. Im reminded of the last time I did any real cycle touring in Australia in ’98, few hundred miles in Queensland, whilst that had its moments- like waking up with monitor lizards next to your tent- you need to be happy covering small distances to really enjoy self -supported cycle touring. Passing Blencathra was a treat, big hills past Keswick and the C2C trail uses Whinlater forest to get over here. Have to say Im the only bike tourist here, though theres millions of Mountain bikers grinning from ear to ear from their rides on the dirt- that’s fun! Through the villages trails rolling ups and downs lead me to want the old railway again and I decide to push on to Whitehaven. After Kirkdale it gets seriously good again, a gently sloping old railway line- this is what Sustrans routes are for. All over the U.K the original vision of John Grimshaw and friends who started the Bristol- Bath trailway finds its best outlet in these routes, and the millions of families that discover cycling on them each year are to me the reason for Sustrans existence. Arriving in Ravenglass urban is a very different place as you will discover if ever doing this, with satisfaction I covered 41 miles today with another 800 metres climbing.
Didn’t like the idea of staying in Whitehaven so jump on a train to Ravenglass- and what a reward! 2 minutes from the station theres a delightful campsite, and the unique narrow gauge railway that talks people up into Eskdale. Great couple of pubs and this special village which is like a promontory sitting on the very south west tip of the Lakes District. My C2C ends here on day 3, happy watching and listening to the curlews over the estuary. This is what satisfies after a hard day in the saddle, reaching another coastal spot with its own character, like some of Norfolk or Sussex, or Mersea in Essex or in fact Suffolk, its Britain at its best- our little island with its history of shipping and smugglers, I made it over C2C in 3 days another micro- adventure complete.