Thursday 30 September 2010

Day 15 : York YHA to High Melton, 51 miles on a very wet day!

There is a risk that I could feel a little sorry for myself but I do seem to have been a little unlucky with the weather of late. However, that is not to say that I haven;t been lucky in other ways. Today's ride, although very wet (did I mention that yet!), was fantastic and I really enjoyed it. 
That was partly because the issue with the back axle has now entirely gone away. I have to thank the guys from Cyclestreet bike shop (Dawes dealer) in York and I now have a new wheel on the back, the previous one had had a good run, the ride is as good as new. They dropped everything, and despite a hearing of a fatality of someone they knew overnight, they both were extremely helpful and did what was necessary to get me moving again. More of the country needs businesses like this. 
The next door deli is also fantastic and I had a couple of very exciting sandwiches later in the day that I bought there. I also learnt that the faster time for Land's End to John O'Groats is less than 2 days and that the guy on the left in the photo below (done the trip twice) completed one of his runs in 7 days including a 180 mile day!! I still think the Dean of Rochester at 12 days was fairly good going. You won't be reading about me complaining about any long days for me in future.   
Jon Dean (right) MD of Cycle Street at 1 Heworth Village, York The business has been going for six months and  provided me with great service  (
York is clearly one of those cities that takes its cycling very seriously. The road markings and cycle routes are brilliant all over the place - although I was told that bicycle theft is on the increase. A really great place that I must get Jane to take me back to.
Route 62 to Selby follows an old railway line and has been a traffic-free route for the last 25 years.
The path is fantastic and fast for at least 50% of the way to Selby
Selby Abbey, founded in 1069, 
The Abbey was apparently founded when Benedict saw three swans on a lake in Selby, and he saw it as a sign of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This is why the official crest of Selby Abbey is three swans.
I was familiar with Selby as an important coal mining town but was no so familiar with the fact that its position on the Selby Canal led to it having a substantial ship building industry. According to the Wikipedia for Selby the current Greenpeace craft bearing the name Rainbow Warrior was built in Selby in 1957  
One of a number of locks along the route - not many boats using the canal today though!
Riding along side the Selby Canal makes short work of the distance from the cooling towers of Drax to those of power stations closer to Doncaster.
There were plenty of people out working in the rain today from the people clearing the vital land drainage ditches near Selby to the manually operated level crossings closer to Doncaster. In fact I am not sure I have ever seen so many level crossings in a stretch of 2-3 miles before - from Ouston Wood to Bentley; some automated, some operated manually by others and one I had to open and close all the gates myself.
I stayed at Doncaster College's Conference Centre - the Stables at High Melton - that has rooms for hire when not used for other purposes. Jane found it for me and at £30 including breakfast is great value although I couldn't eat last night as there is nothing within walking distance I am looking forward to a big breakfast in the morning.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Day 14 : High Leven (Yarm) to York YHA, 53 miles, overcast, dull and mild

Good journey over the top of the Yorkshire Moors on Route 65 via Hutton Rudby, 
Swainby followed by some very steep climbing sections to 
Swainby Village Store - source of my ham salad sandwich for lunch today.
Osmotherley just a little beyond Yorkshire Water Cod Beck Reservoir where there is an a slightly off-road section on Route 65. Here I looked out for a little a sausage dog that had escaped his owner's lead and onto the higher ground. 
The journey across the top of the moors was very pleasant despite the weather.
It can get a little lonesome when the weather is like this of my companions for the day!
One of the gentler hills before getting to the top of the moors
The first really steep downhill section - given the wieght I was carrying on the bike, the wet road and the mud etc I had to take these very slowly!
Although there were a few stretches of steep downhill before I reached the White Horse Hill above Kilburn nothing had really prepared me for the lengthy and severity of this drop - perhaps the home of the Yorkshire Gliding Club at the top should have been an obvious clue and the faces on the ten or so horse riders who had just made it to the top. Apparently in the Milk Race a few years ago riders effortlessly tackled this climb.
(very steep downhill by the white horse) and then along to Easingwold which was very pleasant. 
Looking back towards the hill, a little indistinct in the gloom, from Kilburn village

The ride down past Linton-on-Ouse to York was then fairly simple.
Approaching York, I was reminded that it was a long way back to Edinburgh and I hadn't in fact taken the most direct route. The did note that the four track mainline here was particularly quiet for the whole time I passed. 

Bootham Bar - one of the gates in York City Walls provides access into High Petergate.
West end of York Minster whose bells were ringing out loud and clear and could easily be heard from the YHA a  mile away.
Still some reoccurring issues with the back axle on the bike which I hope to get fixed whilst I'm in York. I've found a place on the internet that looks promising so here's hoping. 
At the recommendation of Jane, who studied Psychology at York University, I had fish and chips for supper buying these from Drake's in Low Petersgate.   

Monday 27 September 2010

Day 13: Castle Eden to High Leven (Yarm) : 27 miles, overcast, wet, cold

The main achievement for me today was getting the back wheel sorted - travelling less than 30 miles will simply mean I have more to do tomorrow in order to get to York. Hopefully the weather will improve a little as it was desperately dreary today. 
The street lights were still on in Blackhall Colliery on the Durham coast at 10.00 this morning as I travelled to an industrial estate alongside Peterlee. Unfortunately the bright lights and sounds of Strawberry Cycles here weren't able to help - they specialise in MTB (mountain bikes) with either much longer or shorter spokes than mine.
After limping down to Stockton on Tees, I eventually managed to get the bike back to normally with the input of Doug at Halfords; Doug was also a great source of knowledge on cycling in the North Yorkshire Moors. At least getting to Stockton enabled me to have a look at the Infinity Bridge that I saw win the Supreme Award at the Structural Awards (designed by Expedition Engineering - I love the graphics for the people on their website- led team) in the National History Museum last year.
On the positive side of things in Stockton the cycle routes were well marked and plentiful - it is a little unfortunate that the northern end of the bridge approach paths are incomplete and some of the light fittings are already corroding.
Infinity Bridge in Stockton-on-Tees opened 2009 and cost £15m to build. It is for pedestrian and cycling use. The bridge is a dual, tied arch bridge or bowstring bridge. It has a pair of continuous, differently-sized structural steel arches with suspended precast concrete decking and one asymmetrically placed river pier. The tapering arches are fabricated from weathering steel plate box sections. The arches both bifurcate within the spans to form a double rib over the river pier. A reflex piece between the two arches holds them together making the two arches one continuous curve. No other bridge is known to have quite the same design. 

From Wikipedia... There were more than 1,000 entries to the competition but this was slimmed down to a shortlist of five. The successful competition design was by Expedition Engineering and Spence Associates.
The subsequent design was led by Expedition Engineering assisted by Arup Materials, Balfour Beatty Regional Civil Engineering, Black and VeatchBridon, Cambridge University,Cleveland Bridge UK, Dorman Long Technology, Flint & Neill (checkers), Formfab, GCG, GERB, Imperial College, RWDI, Spence Associates, Speirs & Major, Stainton, and William Cook while White Young Green were project managers.
 Apparently the Old Mill B&B that I'm staying at tonight has a hot tub outside - I'm going to pass on that!

Day 12: Hexham to Castle Eden : 56 miles, overcast, dry(-ish!)

I was joined for my ride today by my brother Major (retired) Angus and nephew Robert, who is studying Civil Engineering at University. Before heading off on route 72, or Hadrian's Cycleway, we had a hearty breakfast in Hexham. I also took an opportunity to look around Angus's hard work in the garden - although there didn't appear to be any gooseberries left. The weather today remained fine but slightly overcast - so no need for waterproofs again..
Angus and Robert in Corbridge market square. Corbridge is a jewel in the crown of Northumberland. It grew from the Roman town of Corstopitum, a supply town for the troops on Hadrian's Wall. In the thirteenth century Corbridge was second only to Newcastle in wealth and its citizens were heavily taxed to help pay for Edward 1's Scottish wars and its mediaeval street plan is much the same today. The bridge at Corbridge is the oldest of the mediaeval bridges which became derelict by the 17th century, and was finally replaced in 1674.
The section of route 72 we followed follows the River Tyne through Corbridge, Bywell and Ovingham and Prudhoe - we decided to ride up on a short diversion to near the course of Hadrian's Wall high above Corbridge. The view was well worth it and we returned to the main trace through Newton to Bywell. 
We had some good fun although Robert did particularly well given the number of gears available on his bike was restricted to just a couple of high ones - in the above photo there are a couple of horses being caught up. After a good 12 miles or so we said farewell at Prudhoe where the cycle route becomes traffic free right along to South Shields. 
From Wylam to Newburn, the route follows the old North Wylam Branch Railway.
The wrought iron Wylam Railway Bridge (1876), also known locally as Points Bridge, Half-moon Bridge, Hagg Bank Bridge, Bird Cage Bridge, or The Tin Bridge, is a footbridge and former railway bridge crossing the River Tyne at Hagg Bank. I recall cycling over this 28 years ago when I used to spend too much time in and around the Boathouse Pub in Wylam.
The 18th century stone cottage was the birthplace (June 1781) and home of rail pioneer George Stephenson. It is owned by the National Trust and is situated along the waggonway (correct spelling) some 0.5 miles east of Wylam Railway Bridge.
I enjoyed the rest of the journey into the heart of the Quayside districts of Newcastle and Gateshead. There were a lot of people out on their bikes and enjoying the sunshine and the market in and around the many bridges.
Gateshead Millemium Bridge opened September 2001 and cost £22m to build by Volker Stevin. It was conceived and designed by architects Wilkinson Eyre and structural engineers Gifford. The bridge is sometimes referred to as the 'Blinking Eye Bridge'.
I continued to follow route 72 towards the coast, seeing the huge Duco and Shepherd offshore facilities down towards Swan Hunters and other famous names of the past ship building heritage of the lower Tyne. It also looks like good progress has been made in constructing the new and second Tyne Tunnel at Jarrow.
At this point I turned to the south and headed towards a place near Castle Eden south of Peterlee. The old Caste Eden brewery is now an Italian restaurant although I didn't stop to see if the food was a good as the beer.
The quality of the signage and paths of cycle ways deteriorated significantly near to Hetton-le-Hole. Unfortunately it was around this time that I lost a spoke on the rear wheel, just next to the chain block for those who know, and I couldn't fix it my the side of the road. In the end I limped in to my accommodation, near to the sea, rather tired and exhausted at 18.30 after a great ride earlier in the day. Tomorrow I'll need to sort it all out and perhaps lose some weight from the bike (thanks Angus for the observations and advice - you were right!)

Sunday 26 September 2010

Day 11: Tweedsmuir to Hexham : 98 miles, sunshine all day, cool

Cycle route alongside Talla Reservoir
I decided to leave at 07.30 today - I was a little concerned about the distance and total height I'd have to climb. There was a light frost on the ground by the reservoir and the temperature was 1degC and so I felt quite pleased I had bought the new gloves. By the way, for those who have asked me the frost damage I suffered from my trip across to Tongue has now all but disappeared.
The change in temperature had in part been as a result of the clear blue sky overnight and this continued all day. In fact this was the first day I haven't needed to put on my waterproof trousers at any stage - so unfortunately people were subjected to my raw cycling tights!
Talla reservoir constructed 1897-1905 to provide drinking water for Edinburgh. The Talla railway along the Tweed valley from Broughton mentioned yesterday was used in its construction.
I have to confess that for the first 5 miles of this journey I only had to transport myself and the bike up to the Megget Stone as my parents kindly offered to take the panniers up by car. As you may see from the photo there is a fairly steep climb away from Talla.
My route then took me past Megget and St Mary's Loch which was a fantastic early morning ride and the miles just seemed to disappear.
B711 to Hawick
Taking the B709 south, I took up riding along with a professional cricketer from Nottingham. I must admit to forgetting his name but it was great to meet up. He retires next year and was taking 10 days to cycle from John O'Groats to Land's End - an average of 100 miles a day. He did admit to have a companion with him taking the bulk of his gear and also practising for her massage exams in the evenings to make sure he was ready for his next ride. We parted at Tushielaw as he was heading for Carlisle via Langholm (the 'Lonely Planet' route) and I set off towards Hawick along the B711. The B711 is a another fabulous and easy ride and I make great progress along here arriving in Hawick in good time to enjoy a piece of fruitcake near the centre of this.
Hawick is a pleasant place with its sandstone houses and I am familiar with it from the Melrose Sevens rugby where it always seems to do very well. The town also styles itself as the home of cashmere and the knitting capital of the Scottish Borders.
The landscapes opened up as I continued to head south-east towards the border country with England.
South-east of Hawick on A6088
Crossing into England near Keilder
Still not quite halfway I was making good time as I was a little ahead of 10mph target by this stage. The border came just have a hearty lunch of ham, mustard and tomato filled rolls and with it the sky had become more overcast but still pleasant.
The area around Keilder Forest and Water has changed dramatically since I last visited c 1979 with the completion and opening of the Dam in 1982. There are now all sorts of water sports, cycle routes, walks and a Youth Hostel around the vast area.
Kielder Water is a large artificial reservoir in Northumberland in North East England. It is the largest artificial lake in the United Kingdom by capacity and it is surrounded by Kielder Forest, the largest human-made woodland in Europe. It was planned in the late 1960s to satisfy an expected rise in demand for water to support a booming UK industrial economy. It was constructed between 1975 and 1981 by an AMEC/Balfour Beatty joint venture and was opened in 1982. It took two years for the valley to fill with water completely once construction was completed. (Wikipedia info)

Kielder Water is also the site of England's largest hydro electric plant. In December 2005, RWE Npower Renewables bought the rights to operate the plant and sell the electricity generated by it, with a contract lasting until 2025. Following the takeover, the turbines were refurbished in 2005–2006, which increased the efficiency of the electricity generation. Controls were also updated, meaning that the plant can be operated from Dolgarrog in Wales.
The plant generates electricity using dual turbines which produce 6 megawatts (MW) of electricity. It also uses a 5.5 MW Kaplan turbine, which generates electricity when water release takes place. A 500 kilowatt (kW) Francis turbine also generates constantly from the compensation flow of water from the reservoir into the North Tyne. This gives the reservoir a total generating capacity of 12 MW, and an average production of 20,000 MWh of electricity per year, a saving of 8,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year compared to fossil fuel based methods of generation. (Wikipedia info)
After Keilder I mainly followed the River North Tyne down to Hexham and although I'd had originally thought this would be the easiest part of the day it turned out to be the toughest. Whether this was the switch back effect of the up and down hills, because it was the end of a long day or because the wind had picked I don't know. However, I was relieved to be made very welcome at my brother's family house in Hexham. Thank you.
I've had a number of requests to mention the food I'm eating more often. Therefore I thought you might be interesting to know that I stocked up recently with some snacks to have when I'm feeling a little peckish.
Mum's home made fruitcake bagged and placed handily in a front pannier!
If you're looking for more detail on what to do with the fruit you see in hedgerows etc. - I'm not the person to write much about there. However, fortunately I have a good friend who writes a popular and interesting blog, The Knit-Nurse Chronicles. In a recent article she covers the recipe for making the most of your sloes into gin.  
Pictures from the Knit-Nurse Chronicles - read for yourself at

Friday 24 September 2010

Day 10 : Tweedsmuir, Broughton, Peebles and Glentress - 0 miles (first day off)

I planned to take a day off today before the 98 miles trip to Hexham in the morning. I took the opportunity to buy some new gloves - the replace one of a pair I dropped on the road somewhere on the A701 after Leadburn.
There is plenty to do in this area of the lowlands and in particular the walking, such as the John Buchan Way and Glentress, a great centre of mountain biking, are strongly recommended.
John Buchan centre centre in Broughton. John Buchan is best known for his 1915 spy thriller, The Thirty-Nine Steps, set just prior to World War I. He became Lord Tweedsmuir and was 15th Governor General of Canada (1940). The John Buchan Way from Broughton Peebles is well worth taking if you have the time in this area -
Glenn Tress's Hub Bike shop - great for hiring and buying cycling related equipment.
The trails ....see

Day 9 : Aberdour to Tweedsmuir : 57 miles, overcast with 2 hours rain

This morning I set off a little later than I have previously - to see if the rain would ease off at all and was fortunate to have a short hour or so of heavy rain.

Stewart Fairley, Winchburgh
Overnight I had received some free advice, from my sister and niece, that I should be wearing a cycle helmet on this trip and also told of some examples of where people had suffered from not doing so. Although I have a helmet in Kent, I had decided I could do without. So it was a little to my surprise when, not ten hours later, Stewart Fairley approached me in  Inverkeithing High Street and told me his story about how he believes his helmet saved his life a few weeks ago. I was so struck by this that I did say that I would buy a helmet at the next cycle store I passed by. 'That's great' said Stewart, 'as there is one not 200 yards down the road.'  I am now the proud owner of a £30 helmet which I bought from that Sandy Wallace Cycles and very grateful to Stewart and others for getting me see some sense. Thank you.

Crossing the Firth of Forth was always going to have to mention the bridges. These, despite the dull weather, looked elegant and dramatic.
First view of the Forth rail and road bridges from the cycle route along the northern coastline near Dalgety Bay
Cycle path - maximum speed 15 mph! - along the western side of the Forth road bridge; the bridge construction started in September 1958 and it opened in September 1964. It is 2,512m long and carries circa 32,000 vehicles daily (2004).
The actual cycle route is presently only on the western side of the road bridge (thank you Stewart again) and after a short steep section affords good views up to the estuary to the west towards amongst other place Longannet coal fired power station. This was the largest coal fired station in Europe when it was fully operational and it began generating in 1970  and is now capable of co-firing biomass, natural gas and sludge. Its generating capacity of 2,400 megawatts is the highest of any power station in Scotland. and is now the third largest, after Bełchatów in Poland and Drax in England. The reason I have written about it is because ScottishPower, and others, are seeking to prove Carbon Capture and Storage technology at this site supported by the UK government by 2014. 

Looking the other way the Forth Bridge can be seen - still being painted!
The Forth Bridge, opened on 4 March 1890, was until 1917, when the Quebec Bridge was completed, the longest cantilever bridge in the world; the Forth Bridge remains the second longest. The bridge was built in steel alone, the first bridge in Britain to use that material. It was the first major structure in Britain to be constructed of steel. Its contemporary, the Eiffel Tower was built of wrought iron. Construction started in 1883 and over 4,500 people were employed at the peak; over 450 workers were injured and 98 lost their lives.
There is a great cycle route (NCN1) that goes into the heart of Edinburgh following along the coast. I followed this as far as the A902. From there I decided to follow the signed green 'RR' route which guides cyclists around the city to the eastwards exiting on the Biggar Road (A702). This route took me within a mile of Rosslyn Chapel that was a major feature in the last part of Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code.
Further up the road, I joined the upper tweed valley after Broughton just short of my final destination. I was very happy to arrive, somewhat cold, at 18.30. A fairly long ride for only 57 miles I feel.
The Tweed valley upstream from Broughton. The temporary railway used in the  construction of Megget and Talla dams can be seen in the foreground at the base of the A701 embankment.
I have written about this previously.