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Cycle Tour 2015 - Part 1: UK & Ireland

Home Page > Bicycle Touring > Europe > UK & Ireland 2015 > Northern England

"Back to England, Back to Kaka-laka" - in Mike's words. Yes, today brought back memories of those first nightmarish few days through Cornwall and Devon so many weeks ago. How can it be that we leave Scotland and arrive back in England, and our first day takes us back over the never ending 10, 12 and even 14 percent climbs up and down, up and down? These route planners lose the plot a bit from time to time. The route was the Pennine Cycleway (No. 68). We turned onto it after 12 km on a primary road. It skirts with Northumberland National Park and goes up hill and down dale through green pastures and farmland. We had bought breakfast last night which was a good thing as our first glimpse of a shop of any kind or even a place to buy food or drink, was a post office at 68 km. We laughed to remember our first day riding into Finland a few years back when I was aghast not to see a shop for 50 km and here we are in England, and it is more remote! We had planned to get as far as Hadrian's wall today which was 104 km but due to us being totally hacked off, and also our legs hating us, we aimed for a Caravan and Camping Club site at Bellingham at 73 km. The village of Bellingham was lovely with a shop and good bakery with delicious pies, etc. The campsite was welcoming with fabulous indoor facilities which we made ample use of. We were happy to have a bench at our tent site too, but the midges have arrived! (On that note, for some idiotic reason, benches are usually only provided to campervanners who never step outside - No Jokes! Mike always laughs because they sleep, eat and drive their turd around all day, without getting a breath of fresh air!) That said, how can the midges be here, but summer is not? They must have lowered their standards. We had woken today to blue skies and sunny weather which lasted all of one hour and we were back into gloom, but we are far enough into this caper to know when to call it a day which we gladly did.


We had a relaxed start today, well for us anyway and headed back to the village first to pick up yoghurt for brekky as we ended up eating it last night. We knew we had the option of going 90 km to Carlisle or 60 km to Brampton. A lot would depend on the weather. We headed off on Route 68, the Pennine Cycleway, and entered Northumberland National Park, straight up a crazy hill and then one or two more. It was a misty morning. We had chosen to follow this route as we wanted to spend some time in the Park. The road changed to track after 15 km but it was in reasonable condition and all rideable. Very beautiful forest scenery. We stopped for breakfast in the forest after about 20 km and then saw two men coming along on bikes. We had a chat and they were locals and birds of prey enthusiasts who believed there was a rare sort of bird nesting in a tree about 4 miles further in. They had good knowledge of the area and history and spoke about the people who had lived in isolated communities in these border regions hundreds of years ago before the area had become forestry ground. In particular, they told us about the local breed of sheep here "hefted" sheep which will never wander more than 2 miles from their place of birth, so no need for fences in those days!

When we got going again the road surface deteriorated a great deal but we did not have long on it and soon hit bitumen again. We were looking forward to our first glimpse of Hadrian's Wall which we got not long after. We had turned off the Pennine Cycleway but had not yet joined the Hadrian Wall Cycleway and our road crossed the wall at Caws Gap. We walked up the hill and looked down on it, quite impressive. We continued along the Hadrian's Wall Cycleway all day. We had some drizzle and some rain, and had to put on rain gear and then take it off, and then got wet and put some back on. The riding was pleasant enough and also there was The Wall Run on the go, a cross country run which stretched out over quite a way with runners and walkers. We passed some of the sites along the wall which are visitor attractions; a Roman fort as an example. The wall cycle route is 174 miles long and there is much to see and do along it. For us, riding along sections or crossing sections was enough. We arrived in Brampton and the rain was coming down. We stopped to buy some supplies and saw a group of guys walking along with delicious looking servings of fish and chips and Mike asked "Where did you buy that?". They pointed us in the right direction and we had fish and chips, and haggis, black pudding and peas for lunch. As it was raining we sat on the little bench in the fish and chip shop. There was a campsite in the town but we wanted to use the small Caravan and Camping Certified Site which was 8 km further on near the airport. I rang first to make sure it was open and we could get in. It is a brilliant site; small with cows and calves in the next field and all that we needed. As we arrived the sun came out and it stayed sunny for the rest of the day. We even sat outside until 9 pm! Long may it last.



We woke to steel grey skies which did not inspire optimism! We headed off to Carlisle along a very pretty cycleway which led through outlying parks into the town. It was a great little route especially since it would take us right past Lidl and we had a hankering for their Stratacella yoghurt for brekky. Yes, everyone has their favourites! Unfortunately when we got to Lidl it was undergoing a store refit so we continued to a nearby Co-op. All's well that ends well! We checked the route and discovered that we had quite a big climb in store but chipped away at it and it ended up being okay. The views were great today and meadows abounded with spring flowers. Hills were visable in all directions. The villages were quaint and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds every now and then. No complaints! We had decided to ride shorter days instead of taking any rest days and as we have the deadline of the train from Hull on 29 June, we have 8 days available including today and therefore no rush. We got to our campsite at 1:00 pm and the promised rain showers never arrived, only a sprinkle now and then. We will have another short day tomorrow with another night in the Lakes District. As we have purposefull wound our way back over to the west to see it, we may as well spend some time here! It's like a holiday from the holiday.

As we had only a short day planned and it had rained quite a bit overnight and was still raining when we woke up, we decided to wait for a break in the weather before setting off. We climbed a little towards Keswick but then hit the road towards Thirlmere Reservoir. We were now in the Lakes District National Park proper and it was exceedingly pretty and quite hilly and mountainous all around. We were really disappointed to pass two fabulous farm campsites very close together. Had we known about them, we would not have camped where we did last night. Troutbeck Camping was okay but quite big and the ablutions were miles away from our tent. A farm campsite would have been preferable. National Cycle Route 6 around the Thirlmere Reservoir to Grasmere was inspired. It made the trek over here from Edinburgh worth it! The Lake's District is beautiful! The road was perfectly quiet and very lovely. Grasmere suprised us being a sudden tourist trap with people milling all around. Many visit Wordsworth's home. A few kilometers on we hit Ambleside on the shores of Lake Windermere. We had left our lovely sideroad and approached from a primary road but it was still very picturesque.

We had decided not to replace our trusty MSR water filter before the trip, although it was over 15 years old and the ceramic filter was "getting on". It had now worn to the point where treatment was no longer guaranteed so we had looked into where to replace it, or the entire filter. There was a store in Ambleside that stocked them so that's where we went. If we thought Grasmere was busy, Ambleside was pandemonium. I guess this is all relative when you've been on the road a long time and in remote areas. Beatrix Potter World etc. are all close by here. We stopped to eat lunch at the Ambleside Pier and it was lovely sitting on a bench in the sun! After this we started climbing and that continued for a way. "Lunch Legs" are the pits! We reached our campsite in Kendal which was very nice with all pitches on a hill and great views all around. The light quality here when the sun comes out is wonderful (or maybe we are just not used to the sunlight)! It had been worth the trip to the Lake's District but the actual forested scenery covers a very small area which was suprising. It is mainly still rural farmland.



We are always checking the weather forecast so knew that today's weather was supposed to be good. Even so, it exceeded our expectations! Apart from some cloud mid-morning we had great weather and even rode in short sleeves and pants for the first time since one day in Exmoor, Devon many moons ago. We had a stiff climb out of Kendal and not long after entered the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the village of Sedbergh which was very pretty. We knew the day would have two big climbs, apart from the suprise climb out of Kendal, and the first started here. The park is very beautiful and the climb took us along a tiny narrow lane curling around through temperate, ferny forests and mossy streams. Sheep grazed everywhere and the whole place is idyllic. At this time we were still on Route 68, however later in the day we were to leave it and go onto the Cross Top Yorkshire Dales Cycleway (enough said!). The initial climb took us up above the tree line to heather covered hills and through the village of Dent. It was a great ride and afforded brilliant views for miles around. The road was quiet and narrow all the way, a perfect route.

We descended into Hawes which was having a market day with street stalls. We happily stopped our bikes right at the fudge stall to stock up! We also bought some homebakes and samoosas. There was a big Tour de France sign on a shop wall and many cycling references and also quite a few cyclists, including three other cycle tourists. All in all there was quite a jovial atmosphere. We only had 20 km to ride to our campsite and set off up the second climb. We passed the three tourists soon after as they had stopped to take photos of poppies in the road but they were to return the favour shortly after when a series of 5 short crazy hills left us walking. In our defence they were barely carrying any load at all and the gradients did get up there to as high as 19%. Too steep! (As the third guy passed looking pained I said, "Well done - too steep for me!" he replied "For me too!". We didn't mind it though as on such steep hills if you could ride you would only really just beat your walking/pushing speed. The views were amazing and we were back into the heatherscape again. As we reached the top we heard shouts from our right and there the three were at a lookout on a far hill waving and shouting, we shouted and waved back. The descent was equally picturesque, the road curling down and scree slopes to the right. We were suprised and amazed by the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales. At the bottom we came to Muken a tiny village where we bought the last two bottles of lemonade. Once again, many road bikers around. A few hundred meters down the road we came to one of our favourite campsites of the trip. Exactly our cup of tea, we could pitch at the river and the facilities were simple and good. The farmer spoke to us about our day's ride and only then did we realise that the Tour de France race had come through here last year. So the road that we camped had been packed with thousands! No wonder the place has become such a cycling mecca! When we checked our total ascent for the day it was 1,420 m over 74 km! Cross Top is right!




Well, we had a lazy start as a lie-in was in order after yesterday's exertions and also due to some audible precipitation on the tent this morning! We got going at 8:45 am and followed the same route as the Tour de France would have last year for some of the way. Just like you see on the tv coverage, many houses and bed and breakfasts still had yellow bicycles up outside and the post office in Reeth was decorated like the polka dot jersey. What a day we had today! Downhill, down wind, down river: fantastic! Gave us an average speed of over 20 km an hour which is very unusual on a cycle tour. The day started in the hills of the Yorkshire Dales and ended on rural flatlands which reminded us more of Germany. The day cleared to a glorious one, short sleeves AGAIN; could this be summer? Probably as we leave in 6 days! We stopped in Richmond to do some grocery shopping and also to collect an Amazon delivery of a new watch for me as mine had become unreliable. We then tripped along for the remainder of the day without a care in the world or a hill before us. We arrived at our campsite which was right on the motorway but hey, for us the noise of trucks passing is a novelty!

In the middle of the night I heard the garbage bag go crinkle-crinkle. Normally I keep it in my vestibule but I left it at the fence this time. I got up and picked it up; it was full and tied on top but there was a big tear down the side. No sign of the culprit, and not much in it to eat. I took it to throw away in one of the bigs bins. When I came back to the tent, I spotted him, or her. A hedgehog, which must have been hiding under the bag. Our first live sighting! I was excited so I woke Mike up to see. It was only a metre or so away. It disappeared quickly after that.

It was a really warm day that saw us in short sleeves and pants almost right from the start. When we stopped after a few kilometres to take off our wool jackets, a farm dog ran out and would have attacked me but I managed to get away in time. When Mike dropped his bike and went after the dog the owner called it off. We had good weather all day and no wind.

We were to climb up to the moors today; the North York Moors National Park. We have never had a day with so many warning signs for steep ascents and descents! These varied from 25% to 16%. None of them were acurate of course; a car could barely get up a 25% slope, but they were all scary! The funniest one was a warninig of a 18% descent followed in about 200m by a warning of a 16% ascent! However, in general the day was no laughing matter. We climbed up to the high point in the moors, which entailed walking the last few hundred meters as our front wheels wouldn't stay on the ground. We stopped there and sat with the sheep to enjoy coffee and snacks. Thereafter we had many crazy descents and ascents, some fairly brutal climbs. That feeling once again of just bashing up and down hills and never really getting anywhere. A lady walking her dog said encouragingly "Great job!". We had a lovely section off road along farm boundaries and stopped for a while to watch a pig and her super cute piglets eating and playing. A bit of a highlight!

Eventually things started to become less trying and we crashed down the last hill on a rough track and into the valley of the River Esk. Under the railway bridge and then our final 20% warning when we gratefully hit the Cinder Track, a railtrail that would take us all the way to Scarborough tomorrow! This was also Route 1 again; the North Sea Cycle Route, and afforded us wonderful views of the peaceful North Sea. We soon reached Robin Hood Bay and then our campsite. We walked down into the tiny village through a pretty forest and bought fish and chips and black pudding, sausage and peas which we ate at the small harbour. There was some rain later but we were relaxing in the tent. Only 147 km left to ride in the UK! Can't believe it. Hull in two days!




We had an extra day to use as a rest day somewhere and we thought it would be Hull, but we slept in at Middlewood and as it was so nice and spacious with a pretty coastline to explore, we decided to have the rest day here. We spent a lazy few hours at the tent and then went to check out the local store, which ended up with us going into the local Methodist Church for their coffee and scone morning. We chatted to some "older" locals and had a warm reception. The village of Fylingthorpe with its Robin Hood Bay is really very picturesque. It is steep down to the bay but the area is crossed with walking paths and the views of the North Sea are wonderful. There are old smuggler's tunnels to view under the sea wall. We went for a bit of a ramble around and it really warmed up. We were in sandals and shorts. We timed our walk through the village for lunchtime as we wanted to go to the fish and chip shop again. It opened at 12 pm and this is when the school groups started arriving. Hoards of children snaking through the narrow village streets. As one left so another arrived and we could not get in in between to get our order in! Eventually we queued up with some high school students who had just completed a few days hiking and were also starving for a good meal! Once in the queue, no one gave an inch, we all just stared down the school kiddies with their pre-ordered meals. We ended up eating at 1 pm, and took our food down to the sea wall again as we did yesterday to eat. Delicious! Back at the campsite people were starting to arrive for the weekend. It was also break up day for schools and summer had finally arrived! Things started to get really crazy around 7 pm and so by 10 pm the field was tent city. The warden drove in and out, instructing people where to park their cars and pitch their tents. We had a large group right next to us, about 4 huge tents and 20 children all running wild, playing cricket and tripping over our guy ropes until 11 pm. Our worst nightmare, roll on Norway and bush camps, and peace and quiet.

The sun got us up before 6 am today. It's amazing the effect the weather has, it is so easy to get going when it is warm! This was our first day on tour when we started off in shorts and short sleeves! Mike even wondered if he needed to wear his vest which he has done every day for 3 months! We were on the road at 7 am and jumped back onto the Cinder Track which took us 20 km into Scarborough. How amazing are rail-trails? The climb up to Ravenscar would have been a nightmare on the road but the railtrail just ever so gently at 1 to 2% gets you there! Once again wonderful views today of the cliffs and villages and the sea. The weather was perfect. Scarborough is absolutely the most beautiful coastal town we have seen on this trip, and there have been a few. We would say it beats anything we saw in Cornwall or Devon, or even Wales (but it could also just be that we caught it on the most perfect day!). We stopped to view the spot where an entire hotel ended up down a cliff when a large section of clifftop land slipped away in 1993. Scary! After this, we had a bit of a climb to get over but then things flattened out. Not a hill to be seen. We had planned to loop to Bempton which is on a peninsula but decided against it and ended up quite a lot further along the road as a result, in Ulrome on a Certified Site in fact. We realised too late that we hadn't much food and the villages we passed through had no shops at all. We kept our eyes open for the usual "Free range eggs for sale" honesty box type sign that you see and actualy found one but the egg box inside was empty! Luckily we came across a strawberry farm 2 km from our campsite and so we could buy strawberries, jam and eggs! Happy campers. The site was small but nice; no shower and one toilet and there was already a large group camping there. We rigged up our MSR Dromedary bag in a tree as a shower and got our swimmers on to wash off. Amazing how things change when it is warm! One of the other campers came to chat and very kindly offered to pick us up something as he was going to the shop. We jumped at the chance to get some milk.

In the late afternoon we rode down to the "seaside" which was only 2 km away. The coastline is filled with holiday villages (the static caravan variety) and the area is famous for them. The real feature though is the eroding coastline. A road that ran along it is just falling into the sea in bits and pieces. In order to get to the beach you have to clamber down steep eroded cliffs. The water looked so inviting and we managed to negotiate the steep slope! The swim was cold but worth it; our first proper North Sea swim! Summer is here.



We had a look at our camping options in Hull last night and realised that all the sites entailed a 15 km ride or so to the train station. That seemed a bit far as you have to dress for it, could work up a sweat and then have the train journey, etc. So, back to Premier Inn Hotel! We got a really good rate again on a room booking online and once again, they would store the bikes without a problem. The price was quite competitive to that of a campsite, so why not? Waking this morning we had a late-ish start. I've been having some discomfort in my upper back in the mornings and put it down to 3 months of sleeping on the ground. This morning it seemed a little worse and bending over to pick something up I had a bad spasm which was a little alarming. I took a couple of Nurofen and shuffled about. It did loosen up during the day, but reminded me that I'm no longer a spring chicken (or a free range chicken for that matter)! One knows so many people who develop "back issues". The stories always go, "I don't know what happened, I just bent over to tie my shoes/pick up the cat...". It seems anyone can be a victim! Mike and I chatted about it, wondering what caused it. He had also developed back pain after the Outer Hebrides and he remembered how it had started with those freezing river swims. So, for me it was probably the dip in the sea yesterday. My muscles must have tightened up in response. The trials of a long distance cycle tourist!!

Anyway, we covered about 14 km to Hornsea along the flat and then hit the Trans-Pennine Trail (Route 65). This is a trail that stretches 215 miles from Hornsea to Southport via the Peak District National Park. I'm not sure if it is a rail trail all the way, but if so, bonus! What a way to end the UK portion of the trip; a rail trail! Wonderful stuff! It took us right to our hotel in Hull. Our odometer measures 4,908 km, but as we've said many a time, the trip is not about distance. It feels like we've done far more than that when I think of the diversity that the UK and Ireland have offered.

We were not able to book in on arrival as it was only 12 pm but they were really accomodating and let us get our bikes and luggage into a meeting room for storage. We went into town to eat and to check out where the train station was and so on. Hull is a mixture of down at heel and clever design. As usual we wanted to spend as much time as possible in our environmentally controlled hotel room. It came with a bath, yay for me. Tomorrow we catch the train to King's Cross, London and then from Paddington to Heathrow. We rang two bike stores between the two stations to see if we could pick up empty boxes to avoid paying GBP 25 each at the airport. Norway here we come!


Creatures of habit? Not us! But when we have stayed in a hotel in the UK we do like the Premier Inn! Lovely morning today and great views over our all you can eat breakfast (bonus for cycle tourists) of the river and sea. One of the new idea items we had brought along was a USB chargeable hair clipper as haircuts are necessary, never available when you want one, and expensive. We thought we had the spectrum covered with an adjustable attachment that would do for me and Mike but which broke quite early on just by travelling in my pannier. So I had been three months without a haircut. Starting to look like a wooly mammoth. We found a walk in hairdresser online close to the train station and so went first to the station this morning to pick up our train tickets and then Mike waited there and I was at the salon in time for opening. First in best dressed. The hairdresser was from Hull but had lived in Duncraig for two years and was waiting for her PR Visa to come through for Australia! Small world! (Duncraig is the next suburb along from Woodvale in Perth where we used to live). We compared notes on beaches and weather. We agreed that both are better in Perth. Although local advice is that London is expecting 30 degrees this week which is something of a record breaker for Wimbledon.

Our train left Hull at 10:30 am and arrived in London, Kingscross at 1:07 pm. We both spotted the digital display clock on the platform when we pulled in and laughed. It read 13:06:50 - Right on Schedule!! We then had a thrilling 4 km ride through London to get to Paddington and our connection to Heathrow, dodging black cabs and pedestrians, and actually wasn't as bad as expected. We had arranged with two bike stores to pick up boxes but it didn't work out as it would have been a 6 km walk carrying them for one of us. So we would have to suck up the GBP 25 price per box price tag. It is an option not to box the bikes, you can just wrap them or even do nothing at all, but we need our bikes undamaged when we get to Norway. So boxes it was. We packed the bikes and our large bag at Terminal 2 and put them into storage. Then we looked for a bus to take us to our hotel on Bath Road. The easy option is a GBP 5 one way hotel hopper of which there are many depending on your hotel. This is a rip off! We knew there was a public bus and as you would expect the public bus station is not as easy to find as the Hotel Hopper service! We found a bus that would work but as they are on a card system the driver cannot take cash. He told us to hop on as there is a free transit zone and we would have to get off two stops early as our hotel was not in it. Then he kindly did us a favour and took us all the way. So, GBP 10 saved, which helped ease the pain of the bike box cost a bit! Now that we are here we are quite excited to get on to the second half of our trip. See you in Norway!