Sunday, 12 October 2008

Coast-to-(almost)coast along Hadrian's wall. Sort of.

The plan was to follow Cycle Route 72 from Maryport on the West coast to Newcastle-upon-Tyne hopefully making it out to the East coast. A motley band of 8 riders signed up. None had any previous cycle touring experience. One knew how to make road repairs. Somehow, I ended up with the maps. Not a good start...

Day 1 am (Maryport - Newton Arlosh)

The sea was angry that day my friends... our band of intrepid cyclists set off from Maryport, having woken to hear severe weather warnings on the morning news. Thankfully the wind was at our backs along the coast, and the waterproof clothing was in fact waterproof. Riding along country back roads with deep puddles of watery mud and cowpats led to bewildered looks from the locals and inspired the theme song of the day: "Smell like poo on route 72."

Day 1 pm (Newton Arlosh - Carlisle):

After a well-deserved hot pub lunch we set off again, and although the rain had eased, we had to turn in to the wind. Not nice. We rode through Bowness, the Western extremity of the wall but nothing remains to be seen. The weather closed in and all were glad to get back to the Cornerways B&B in Carlisle, and then a typical English night out: Indian followed by a few drinks at the Walkabout. Less typically, there was a flame-eating woman in her knickers outside the walkie. Women in Carlisle are proper 'ard.

Day 2 am (Carlisle - Low Row):

Fortunately the rain had stopped and the sun had appeared. Unfortunately the baggage transport company ruined our plans to leave early, by nicking off with one of the bags we needed for the ride. Eventually we got on the road and enjoyed cycling away in the crisp morning sunshine. All was going well until the first bit of hill caused a broken chain... an hour or so later we were back on the road, and all was going well until a slightly ambiguous cycle route sign and my impetuousness led to the group splitting in two and getting lost. Yes, I had chosen the wrong way to go. Eventually we all reunited at Lanercost Priory, but being behind schedule and hungry we had to cut away from the cycle route and head to Low Row for lunch. I don't know why they have Low in the name of the town, after the hill we had to climb to get there.

Day 2 pm: (Low Row - Twice Brewed)
For fear of losing the light after all the morning's disasters we ignored the scenic cycle route and made straight for Twice Brewed, with only a whistle-stop halt in Haltwhistle, the geographic centre of Britain apparently. With dusk closing in we eventually found the Twice Brewed Inn (after quite a few more steep climbs) and were amply rewarded with one of the greatest pubs I've ever had the pleasure of playing trivial pursuit in.

Day 3 am: (Twice Brewed - Chesters)
Again, our hopes of an early start were dashed when a flat tyre was spotted in the morning. Andy kindly acted as super mechanic while the rest of us went up another hill for a spot of sightseeing and finally got to see a good chunk of the wall up close. To make up time we decided to just head east on the Stanegate (built over the old nice and straight Roman road), which allowed us to cycle along and gaze at the wall while lorries whizzed past us. A quick stop at the Mithraeum to have one of the best coffees I've had in the UK made by a chap with a coffee cart in the middle of nowhere, and to point at a dead sheep. Then on to Chesters for some proper classical nerdery, wandering among the ruins of the cavalry fort and the small museum.

Day 3 pm: (Chesters - Newcastle)
No rest for the wicked, we push on after lunch to get back on route 72, and hopefully make it to Newcastle in time for our trains back to London. With the clock racing against us, there was no time to idle at sites of interest, but zipping down the country lanes and along the banks of the Tyne was one of the most pleasant parts of the whole ride. Apart from the bugs in the hedgerows, stinging against your cheeks or sticking in your throat as you ride past. With some weary legs in the group we made it to Newcastle with plenty of time to make the train. Not with plenty of time to ride out to the coast and back, but Simon was determined to do it and no-one was going to stop him. The rest of us finally managed to pick up our bags at the YHA and settled in for a nice hot meal at the pub before getting on the train... well, that was the plan, but Jo and Andy discovered that everything they ordered wasn't available that day, since the chef was new.

Friday, 10 October 2008

More much needed updates

Like so many fat people with unused gym memberships, my resolution to write more has been a failure. Sure, it left me with a lingering sense of guilt, especially since people (okay, two, but that's still plural) in Sydney had been asking for more entries, but I just couldn't find the motivation. I needed a reason bigger than self-fulfillment or maintaining friendships. What I needed was competition... And then Emma started "feeling fuzzy?", and suddenly I had purpose!

So, here's my metaphorical blitzkrieg in the war of the words: updates on all the travels and goings-on since the start of 2008. Since this blog is more or less a personal diary to one day help me remember what I did and when, I've back-dated and archived the entries.

So that you can find them, here they are, in more or less reverse order:

More links will be added once I write the posts - there's a lot to catch up on!

I hope you enjoy reading them. Both of you. P