Post by Jonathan Lake-Thomas
Preparation for the coast to coast cycle trip.
We’d had a wonderful cycling holiday in Mallorca, but it seems one cycling adventure this year was not enough for us. It would be good to get another club trip in before the summer was over. We thought about the options and put them to the WhatsApp group. An Alps trip did not seem like a popular enough option with only mild interest shown. It would have to be the UK, and a Wales trip or the popular Coast to Coast cycle trail were the two remaining choices. Eventually we settled on the coast to coast cycle trip.
Train sorted, time to sort packing options
After looking at all the options, it was decided that we would use the services of Avanti West Coast to get to the coast to coast cycle start line. Many phone calls later, Leila was able to secure our bike places for the train. Turns out it’s not that easy to take your bike this way, with only four bikes being allowed per train, we would have to split the group and go on separate trains.
We also decided to take the bike packing option. This was something new to me, and, to tell the truth, I wasn’t 100% comfortable with it. The rest of the group managed to convince me that this was a good option. To do this, we would need to buy an extremely expensive piece of kit called a ‘Tailfin’. After several attempts at persuading my wallet, the apparatus was finally purchased.
Then, there was the question of how to get 3 days worth of clothes, plus evening wear in this rather small bag. Shoes and jeans were the main problem, but I managed to get everything I needed into the bag.
Coast to coast cycle day One: London to Whitehaven by train. Whitehaven to Penrith
We set off on a rather damp London morning, first getting the train to Waterloo, then cycling to Euston. After loading up with pastries and coffees we boarded the train to Carlisle.
The journey up was uneventful, we had to change at Carlisle to get a very small two coach train to Whitehaven. On arriving in Whitehaven we got a bit lost, but eventually managed to find Kevin, Jeff and John who had just finished their cafe lunch.
After the traditional ‘back wheels in the sea’ photo we set off. Five minutes later and there was a rattling sound at the back of my bike. The Tailfin was trying to break loose. A few minor adjustments later (‘you’ve not got it on properly JLT!’) we were on the move again.
The Lake District
The scenery in the Lake district was a personal highlight of the trip. It also didn’t rain, apart from a few spots. That’s not typical of the Lake District, but I was glad of this fact. The only major climb was Whinlatter, a pass that worked its way through planted forests after which we were gifted with a nice long descent, eventually ending up in Keswick.
Disappointingly we did not stop for coffee at the Keswick Pencil Museum, home to one of the largest pencils in the world. You can’t have it all, and the additional excitement may have tipped the balance. There are bigger pencils in Malaysia and Germany apparently, but I digress.
We made our way to Penrith along quiet gated lanes. Night was beginning to set in and we finished the day’s ride in classic New Malden Velo style, a sprint finish where we all managed to lose each other.
We located our bed and breakfast, the very pleasant No 3, which had a big shed at the back where we could lock our bikes away for the night. After a quick shower we were ready to hit the town. We had been booked into the Salsa Mexican Bistro and had some celebratory beers before tucking into a huge meal that we had trouble finishing. With no room for desert, we went to explore the town and found a nice craft ale establishment in the centre of the town. After a couple of pints, we were ready for our beds.
Coast to coast cycle Day Two. Penrith to Newcastle via Tynemouth
The day started with a huge breakfast for most, with a couple having more modest meals. After getting ready afterwards, I hadn’t realised Jeff had gone in front, he was keen to get going, so four of us set off together to begin our next day of the adventure.
Not paying too much attention to the route beforehand, I tried to work out which direction we would be heading in. From previous experience of New Malden Velo rides, that task was simple enough: look for the biggest hill in the distance, and that’s where we’ll be heading. It was at this point I started to regret my choice of breakfast, as Kevin was keen to point out. This large meal had indeed upset my finely tuned power to weight ratio.
The large hill in front was the Hartside Pass. According to Veloviewer, this is an 8.1km long climb, average gradient 5.1%, max gradient 8.1%, elevation gain 414m, total elevation 572m https://cyclinguphill.com/hartside-fell. So possibly the biggest climb I have done in England. I was carrying extra beans, bacon, sausage, egg, toast and weetabix… I adjusted my pace to suit the situation – slow and steady, that was the name of the game.
It wasn’t a terrible climb, just long, with hairpins, which are always nice. Slightly uncomfortable though as it is very exposed and as we climbed the visibility started to drop and the wind increased (not just due to the beans). Luckily John had waited for me at the top and I took the opportunity to have a bit of a rest.
After a nice descent from Hartside, we eventually arrived at Alston, a small market town, sitting 1000 ft above sea level. Passing through the town over cobbled streets, we headed towards another steep bit. This was ‘Official 100 climbs No185’ (yeah I know) ‘Killhope cross’ which I think was the steepest climb of the whole trip. I’m sure my Garmin mentioned 25% at one point! These roads were obviously built by the Romans, who had not quite got the hang of hairpins.
They had also not anticipated that many years later someone would be attempting this climb with an 11-28t cassette. At least cattle grids had not been invented yet. They say ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’. Taking this into account I can confirm that nobody got off their bike and walked up the last few metres of this climb 🙂
We stopped for lunch at The Chatterbox Cafe in St Johns for coffee and some sausage rolls, then set off again. Not long after this we were on another climb! This was Crawleyside (100 climbs no. 59) with a steep climb through the town, topping out at 20%.
NMV on the Tyne is all mine
There was some helpful encouragement from the locals! This would prove to be the last of the big climbs and we would soon start the gradual descent down towards the East coast. We followed The Tyne most of the way to Newcastle and stopped at a small supermarket to refuel. Not much further down the road was Newcastle itself.
After reaching Newcastle, the route took us along the south bank of the Tyne, through many industrial estates. This was a very quiet route on a Saturday afternoon. Eventually we reached the Tyne Tunnel. This was built in the 1950s to allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross the river. It was an interesting experience to cycle through, and the acoustics were amazing, apparently it is possible to hear a whispered conversation from one end of the tunnel at the other.
Finish line at Tynemouth
After surfacing at the other end of the tunnel on the North side of the river it was only a few miles to the end of the route, the coast at Tynemouth. Unfortunately, on reaching Tynemouth, we could not really find any obvious end point. If there was an official end point to the coast to coast cycle route, we couldn’t find it. Eventually after wandering around for a while, we decided to put our front wheels in the sea at a part of the beach next to the sailing club.
We then headed back down the North side of The Tyne back towards Newcastle. After freshening up at the Premier Inn, we headed out for a night on the town. My colleague Paul joined us at The Lady Grey pub and we also met Claire, Jeff’s sister. After a couple of drinks we headed to the Italian restaurant for dinner
After our celebratory meal, some of us went for celebratory cocktails
Coast to coast cycle day Three: Newcastle and Northumberland and return home
The next day Jeff went to visit his mum. Four of us headed for a bike ride through Northumberland. I was a bit hungover, but we didn’t go at too much of a pace. We stopped for lunch at the Capheaton Village Tea Rooms. John treated us all to lunch – we owe you one for next time, John!
Kevin was greatly troubled by the state of the wiring
After lunch, and a brief interlude while we watched Kevin fix his puncture, we headed back to Newcastle. I had asked John earlier if we could return via the street where my Dad had grown up and take a picture of his house. John kindly obliged and we returned via Jesmond.
9 Salisbury Gardens, Jesmond
After freshening up at our hotel we made our way to the station for the trip home.
On reflection I would not hesitate to go on another short bike packing trip, now I have all the right equipment and know that it’s possible to carry a couple of days worth of stuff. It might have been a different story if the weather was bad, but we were lucky this time. The coast to coast cycle has been an amazing experience and one which I’ll never forget.
Looking forward to the next adventure!
Post by Jonathan Lake Thomas