YHA breakfasts are as they were way back when I worked in the YHA - basic, stodgy, cheap and very much worth it. Geoffrey and I split the last bit of Black Pudding, since apparently the lady booking the breakfasts at reception had got the numbers a bit wrong. Ross got extra veggie sausage, and declined the black pudding - strange that. And there was plenty of cereals and toast available to plug the gaps around the fryup, if so required. We so required, plugged said gaps, donned our best (or second-best) lycra and got the bikes ready for the off. Before we offed, we also donned our best waterproofs, since the morning was, frankly, a bit miserable. Leaving Once Brewed was easy, down the hill into a big dip. Climbing the other side was a bit of a stretch, and led to a wee bit of frantic thrutching, grinding and crunching gears to get up and over and then turn left onto the Stangate towards Vindolanda. This turn marked the start of a long, straight, smooth downhill, which again ended abruptly in a big dip. I think the Romans needed to work on their engineering: They'd mastered straight roads, but they still went down and through some nasty dips. More bridges needed next time, Romans.
The dip at Vindolanda was also particularly rough. It's a shame, as there's good tarmac in one side, a horribly washed out, chopped up, pitted crap bit in the middle, then good tarmac out the other side again. Being the only one with drop bars, I clung grimly on down the rough bit. That said, being the only one with disc brakes, at least I knew I could stop a bit quicker if needed. Anyway, more thrutching and grinding and we were soon up the other side and up to the high point of the ride at Crindledykes. Since it was still precipitating upon us, a continuous heavy drizzle with additional road spray, we didn't stop to take a picture, but plodded on, knowing full well that about 5 miles of continuous downhill was to come. A steady trod alongside Grindon Lough and then the gradient started to decline, and we rolled downwards with ever increasing pace, swiping at the glasses every now and again to clear the spray, and in my case wishing I had brought my waterproof shorts, since through a single layer of lycra my thighs were completely frozen. We finally bottomed out at Newbrough, and tried to ease some life back into frozen fingers, toes, legs and backsides as we started having to pedal again through the backroad to Fourstones, and through another 'Navigator's Choice' route, direct along the South Tyne, rather than loop north-east and come down the North Tyne from Warden. At least it had stopped raining, and once along here, we were back into familiar territory for me, cruising under the A69 into Hexham and across Tyne Green, which doesn't look quite the same when it's not covered in tents, gazebos, and mildly inebriated kayakers.
The first appointed coffee-and-dry-out stop was Tesco cafe. We left the bikes locked up and under the watchful eye of the carwash blokes, in a bike park apparently built to house the entire Tour de France peloton. Ours, oddly enough, were the only bikes in it. The place was just what we needed: cheap, cheerful, has toilets and hand dryers and perhaps most importantly, wipe-clean chairs ("I feel sorry for whoever sits down on these after us" was Dad's considered opinion). After the gap-filling and cooked breakfast, none of us was in need of cake, but a large mug of coffee certainly hit the spot. We trooped to the bathrooms one-at-a-time to try and get some bits dried off and warmed up, then finished up and rolled back out of town.
The next stage of the route was a gentle, undulating roll along easy and well surfaced back roads, via Corbridge (a little bit confusing, signage could be a touch better/more frequent), Bywell (Ross: "I recognise this bit: Last time I drove along here we had to wait for the floodwater to drop") and then absolutely parallel to the river to the first of the 'Tyne Crossings' at Ovingham. Unsure of the signage at the narrow Ovingham bridge (there's a "Pedestrians Only, No Horses" sign on the footbridge, and the vehicle bridge is only just a single car width) we fired across the vehicle bridge and waved to the nice man who'd stopped to let us across. A sharp right just after the bridge and we were into car-less trail in the Tyne Riverside Country Park. Nothing exceptional to reports from here, a couple of short-steep climbs of the 'where the hell did that appear from?!' ilk, then over a lovely old metal railway bridge and along the old lines through and beyond Wylam, birthplace of George Stephenson. That probably explained the railway, then.
After a little navigational dispute ("The pub's thataway!" "Yes, but the NCN Signs says thataway!"), a bit more riverside gravel track and our first bit of dog-dodging since Carlisle we arrived at Feed Station 6, otherwise known as the Keelman Inn, Newburn, home of the Big Lamp Brewery. Dad had been raving about this place since we left Hexham, and he's a fan of both his food and his beer, so we assumed it'd be alright. Credit to the staff, they didn't bat an eyelid at a trio of grubby blokes in lycra standing at the bar on a busy Sunday lunchtime, though they did look relieved when told we were sitting outside. Two stotties full of meat (with chips) and one Mediterranean veggie wrap (with chips) and a pint each and we sat in the sun, enjoying the day and watching the lady in front of us's dog chew its way through a half pack of paracetamol it had found. We obviously weren't the only ones getting anaesthetised.
The Keelman was a bit of a turning point, in a way: We knew that at the YHA, most of the weekend's climbing was done with; we knew that, from Hexham, we had no more big descents; and from Newburn, we were more-or-less off the pleasant, leafy backroads and gravel tracks, and into the urban streets and concrete. After Newburn you start hitting the industrial estates that line the Tyne, and while a good effort effort has been made to put cycle lanes in, make dual-duty pavements, make crossings easy, like a lot of urban cycle infrastructure it's very stop-start. Riding along the dual carriageway through Scotswood might be intimidating and dodgy, but it's more flowing than having to skip backwards-and-forwards across at the traffic lights to follow a cycle path that isn't sure which side of the road it's supposed to be. Things got better as we got closer to the centre, and the Quayside path started, taking us off the busy main roads, and rounding the long corner to the famous view up the Tyne, past the famous bridges - Redheugh bridge, Edward VII rail bridge, Elizabeth II Metro bridge, High Level, Swing bridge, Tyne bridge and the Gateshead Millenium 'blinking eye' - gave a fantastic view. The traditional Quayside Sunday Market was just starting to close, a tradition that even the old restrictions on Sunday trading couldn't stop, and it's been going since the 1700's. There's a temporary restriction on cycling through the market, but instead of following the proscribed detour signs we just dismounted and walked through the crowds.
Beyond the market was the place I'd been raving about since the Keelman - The Cycle Hub at Ouseburn. I first came up here for a 'bike jumble' a while back, and thought it was a cracking little place, part bike shop, part hire joint, part cafe. It seemed to be well timed on our route for the afternoon coffee stop, so stop we did. We locked the bikes up outside and wandered in, ordered coffees and cakes, had a bit of banter with the staff, Dad wanted to know "who do I see about a pot of arse lard?"; Ross, settling into the sofa just asked "I wonder how much they charge for an hours sleep here". I spotted the three-person bike suspended up above the doors and wondered if that would be a good solution for our next tour. We re-sorted ourselves eventually, gathered our belongings and wits about us, and set off once more. We were all wincing at getting back on the bikes at this point, bums a bit sore from the previous miles, but onwards we wandered. This final leg was actually one of the least pretty of the whole ride, a mix of industrial estate, housing estate, glass-strewn cycle path and urban pavement, with a short stretch that looked like it had been the scene of this year's annual 'burn-out-a-car festival'. Not quite the same as the big views and open sky up on the Wall itself, but a necessary evil, and probably better in general than trying to ride along the main roads would have been.
Soon we were at another landmark on our ride, albeit a not-very-scenic one: The Tyne Pedestrian and Cycle Tunnel. The escalators were closed, so we looped round to the lifts, and wheeled our way through the deceptivel short tunnel to the far side of the river and into Jarrow, then through more urban streetwork, though a bit better signed, through old terraces of housing and around the port area into South Shields. One more obstacle, though, a split in the signage, two different cycle routes, and obviously, we took the wrong one. Rather than follow the signs for the Tyne Ferry (since, y'know, we'd just used the tunnel) we followed the Route 1 signs, which took us up and over the ridge upon which South Shields sits, then started to turn Southbound. Knowing that that wasn't quite right, we stopped to ask a couple of people if the knew where Arbeia, the famous (or at least, fairly well know) Roman fort was. The first one: not a clue. While I know we all take our own locality for granted to an extent, not knowing that there's this whacking great Roman fort in the middle of your home town? Crazy. Fortunately, the second one did, and it wasn't that far away. For future reference, it's on Fort Street, surprisingly enough.
We wearily climbed the last hill, having failed to spot a certain Blue octavia pulling across the junction just ahead of us, and spotted the Fort Street sign. Turning the corner, I spotted Mum climbing out of the car, camera in hand: Time to pose as a team. Geoffrey arrived at the summit, we formed a rolling roadblock, and cycled slowly in to the finish.
|The end - Centurions Armer (Jr), Armer (Jr) and Hendry|
All in all, we had a fantastic weekend of riding. Nothing majorly taxing, around 90 miles total (42 on Day 1, 49 on Day 2), plenty of coffee and cake stops (no need for energy gels and bars on this one!), lots of chat, and excellent company. We weren't racing, just enjoying a couple of days of pushing ourselves a little bit, and getting in some lovely scenery on the way. Thanks to Ross and Dad for planning, sorting and being part of the ride, and to Mum for dropping us off, picking us up, and providing the pink fizzy stuff to rehydrate with at the end. I've my eye on a very different coast-to-coast next, but Hadrian's Cycleway was a (mostly) lovely way to get one under the belt.
Thanks for reading!