This winter's storms have made for interesting cycling conditions. Last week I tried to ride the Waskerley Way to Parkhead Station in upper Weardale, but I only managed 15 miles riding at 45 degrees to the ground ... with hail and sleet stinging my face ... before I got a puncture and froze trying to fix it in the middle of nowhere.
Today was different, at least that was the plan. 'Let's ride north with a tailwind' said Dean. I set off into the dark at 6:30am south towards Toft Hill, stopping to admire the view east to Teesside. A pony trotted across the field to say hello and I stroked his nose to thank him for keeping me company.
Dean rode out from Darlington to meet me at Toft Hill and we arrived at the same time, which is unlike me. Dean had no time for a flask of coffee before we rode on together following my lazy route-planning. We stuck to the main road through Woodland but it did give us shelter from the wind across Teesdale.
The wind was tinged with rain, so after 50km we stopped at Middleton-in-Teesdale in our favourite cafe for a toastie and some coffee. The Conduit is good value for money and always quick with the food.
We left into the rain again heading further west to Langdon Beck on the B6277, where we turned north at last and had the wind behind us. Ahead, however, was the road to St. John's Chapel, over Chapel Fell - also known as Harthope Moss. This is the highest through-road in England, so picking a day with stormy wind and rain to ride over it might seem dumb. We waved at the police driving towards us and they gave us the 'thumbs up' - all go for our crossing.
As I stopped to take a photograph, Dean shot off into the wind and I struggled to track him with my camera, which was shaking a lot on full zoom and I only caught an impression of him flying away! I tried to race down after him, but only caught up when he was waiting for me just beyond the beck. We rode the last big climb together.
As we dropped down the far side, the skies started to clear and there was sunshine ahead - marred only by me missing a left turn and riding almost all the way to St John's Chapel before doubling back to follow the route that Dean had chosen... a better route than mine. We met up again in Ireshopeburn before riding on together up Weardale towards Cowshill.
We were entering some of the easiest riding of the day now, with the stormy winds to our backs we took the B6295 north through Allenheads (a great place to stop on the C2C), and further north through Allendale Town all the way to Haydon Bridge. The hills were nothing and the downhills were amazing. Dean commented that the hills just kept on giving as we rolled and rolled and rolled...
I've never been to Haydon Bridge before and was thinking that north of there was Hadrian's Wall country: meaning 'empty of provisions'. I asked if we could stop at the pub for some lunch thinking that 'The Anchor Hotel' was going to be the only place to eat - and not realising that there was actually a whole-otherside to the town across the River South Tyne. The soup was excellent - but it took an hour. We wondered if they were growing the carrots and coriander for the soup from scratch - so it took a long time and it was quite pricey, but it was really good soup. Perhaps not a place to stop if you are in a hurry, but a great place to stop if you want good food and can afford it.
It was 1:30pm when we left Haydon Bridge. We crossed by the new bridge and joined the B6319 to head northeast on the north bank of the river and away from the extremely busy A69. We navigated along tiny country lanes to Wark on the banks of the River North Tyne which we then followed directly north towards Bellingham. Placenames in England can be funny. Bellingham is pronounced Bell_inge_um: a bit like Bell_'hinge'_um but dropping the 'h' from 'hinge'. I did not know this and while we rode along this absorbed us in conversation.
The 'tailwind assist' was drawing to a close and we turned west for Falstone near the base of the Kielder Dam. As soon as the wind was against us we slowed considerably and worked hard to reach Falstone. So we stopped for the third time on this ride, at a tearoom which is supported by funds from the European Union. This European funding means that it can afford to be open and provide hospitality to weary and drenched cyclists. Google-street view misleadingly shows Falstone to be sunny! Imagine this picture with less colour and more water.
With just 50km left to go it was starting to get dark and we returned eastwards towards Bellingham and then north toward Otterburn. There was some tough climbing ahead for tired legs and I was flagging a bit, so I topped up with sickly energy drink in Otterburn before we continued to Elsdon. There is a wonderful cyclist's tearoom in Elsdon but we wanted to see if it was possible to catch the 7pm train from Morpeth back south and decided to just keep going. The climb of Winter's Gibbet features on the Mosstrooper 300km Audax and is much harder with an extra 100km in my legs. This evening it was fairly easy as I found a low gear and twiddled my way to the top. The sun was setting as we reached the Gibbet and felt it best not to stop for photos!
I know that sometimes cyclists say, 'Its all downhill from here.' but honestly we had the most wonderful 30km from the top of Winter's Gibbet to Morpeth. Sure the road undulated a little, but there was nothing to cause us any difficulty. It was a brilliant way to finish our 200km ride and even though it the nighttime darkness had enveloped us we rode along having a really nice time.
We had started in the dark - and finished in the dark. I was really empty of energy and feeling the effects of the wind, rain and hills as we caught the 7pm train home. a 12 hour ride with a couple of hours sat in cafes and pubs. That was a fantastic way to take a break from essay-writing.