A long time in coming this trip. One of those back burner things, I’ll get around to doing it at some point. I’ve always quite fancied the Lands End to John ‘O Groats route on a push bike, and now, after mastering this, I really want to do it! This Coast-to-Coast, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, how hard can it possibly be? Well actually, looking back it did have its challenging parts, but it wasn’t hard, in fact it was a complete pleasure from start to finish.
We’d organised to do this trip back in July, oh, the abysmal weather. As luck would have it, not lucky for him I don’t suppose, but one of the crew bust his Achilles tendon just before we were supposed to go, so him and his girlfriend pulled out and Nessy and I rearranged the date. At the time I was thinking, thank fuck for that. Rain. It pissed it down that entire week when we should have been heave-ho up the mountain. The date was duly changed to embark upon the expedition on the 1st September, come what may. Rain probably, I thought, you try not to be pessimistic, but it’s a bit hard to look on the bright side when your six month old wellies, gum boots for my Aussie mates, have rotted because they’ve had six months under water. My first pair of Hunters lasted me 14 years (my Dad bought them for me when I was fourteen), oh how the climate’s changed!
I don’t know how anybody finds time for a full time job. I completely take my hat off to my friends who are parents to small kids, that’s amazing in itself, but those who work full time as well! I’m far too busy for a full time job, let alone the other thing. A wedding in Switzerland, wild camping in Wales, complete solo house renovation, loads of other random fun in between and kaboom! It’s the 1st of September.
I didn’t believe it when the weather man said it was going to be sunny for the trip, I think most meteorologists must sit round drinking tea, probably talking about whotsits crack habit or Annabel’s new tattoo. I don’t think half of them know what they’re on about given this years track record. Want to know what the weathers doing? Look outside. To my delight, the morning we set off, the sun was shining and it just got better and better from there on in. In fact, I’ve got a lovely 2 inch sun tan now, the gap where my leggings ended and my trainers started. Hotpants and hindsight spring to mind.
Simon was a complete legend and offered to drive us up to our set off point in Whitehaven. Is it uncool to get excited about state of the art bike racks? Not having one myself, I was well impressed and amazed to see my bike on top of a roof. Oooh, look at that, isn’t it amazing. Simon picked me up from the farm, Nessy already on board, and away we went. The journey up there seemed to fly past, very comfortable four-track, I could have quite happily sat in there all day watching the scenery go past.
When we arrived in Whitehaven less than two hours later, each of us in turn studied the C2C guide book with some confusion. Why would you have a photograph of a lamppost indicating that this was the starting point for the route? We found the exact lamppost, which was obviously the first red herring because to dip your bike tyre in the ocean as is customary, you’d have needed a crane to lower your bike 15 feet below into the water. Cue man walking dog. I think he was probably laughing behind those glasses, but he kindly pointed out that the C2C monument was 500 yards in the other direction. I thought there was something fishy going on, lamppost… pah, yeah I knew that. Not long after this I decided I might as well write a new, more honest C2C guide. We quickly made our way to seize a snap of the beginning of our mission aside the C2C West coast marker point. I nearly slipped into the Irish Sea with my bike when I was dipping my tyre in, but managed to rescue myself off the algae before I went in feet first on my arse.
We bid Simon farewell, and after a bit of farting about began peddling. We got lost in the first five minutes. Did I mention I was going to write a more navigationally friendly and honest guide? We trucked up an awful hill to get out of Whitehaven, then realised, or at that moment believed that we’d gone the wrong way. About turn! Coming back down the hill was way more fun than going up it, and there went twenty minutes. We still don’t know now if it really was the wrong way. That might sound odd, but the way we eventually ended up getting out of Whitehaven was actually ‘the wrong way’. We didn’t realise this until the map came out and we realised we were going to take in Cockermouth on the way, no pun intended.
Rewinding the tale a little, we were just pleased to be on ‘a route’, any route will do. There was supposedly only two to choose from, what could possibly go wrong if you went on the other one. Route 72, we’ll go down there. We followed the coastline out of Whitehaven along a railway line. I commented that I thought Brunel had built the track, which was right on the waters edge and very scenic, though god knows where I got that from or if it’s even true, might have dreamt it. The first half of the days cycle was so easy, I was completely lead into a false sense of security, though I wasn’t to discover this until the following day.
We literally cruised along the coast to Workington, and then on inland through Seaton and Camerton, the cycle path was traffic free for most part and super easy. From there we found a pub in Broughton, both starving by this point. It’s amazing in these villages over in the West, this one had about five pubs, they must all be alcoholics. In North Yorkshire they struggle to even keep one pub open, but that’s perhaps because everyone’s tight and drinks at home instead? The first pub we came to looked like somebody’s house, inside and out, but apparently it had been a pub for a hundred years or more. Queer little place with damp patches, peeling paint and stained red velvet seats. I mustn’t forget the two ‘savage’ Dinmont terriers (pug-esque small white terrier) that jumped out of their basket and yapped the house down every time anybody walked in through the pub door. You know what a dog lover I am, but it annoyed the shit out of me after about the third customer. The barmaid had purple hair and most definitely must have a had a bit of work done, a very severe look, you couldn’t work out if she was in her thirties or sixties, could have been either and it made you tilt your head on one side a bit. Not one to judge, but she didn’t half look out of place in there. They didn’t do food, probably a blessing in disguise; the case of the missing false eyelashes solved at last, but we were told we could go and buy a sandwich from the post office over the road and bring it in the pub to eat with our pint, which we did. A big slice of quiche, a bag onion rings, a snickers, not food I’d usually eat, but it was all there was, it makes me hungry cycling… and a pint of cider of course. On the TV it was a rerun of Frankie Howards comedy greats, there was about five people in there at this point. One highlight was an old chap who came in on his mobility scooter, probably mid to late 80’s in age. I absolutely love talking to old people, this one had been living in the village for over 50 years. You’d think you’d see a bit of change in that time, or maybe not. It tickled me when the barmaid brought him a cup of tea, in his own special mug. This was definitely a pub for the locals. He came out on his scooter to see us off when we left, I think he was quite impressed with us girls. The lovely people you meet who make an impression on you, that you just know you’re never going to see again sadly.
We set off on the next leg towards Cockermouth. This was where the hills began, and we could see the mountains in the distance which was where we should have been if we’d got on the right route out of Whitehaven. Next time. The scenery all the way along was really pretty, it got more beautiful the closer we got to the Lake District. Up a terrific hill near Papcastle then on through Cockermouth. The last time I was in Cockermouth was two years ago and floods had washed half of the town centre away, they’d done an amazing job with the insurance money but they were still rebuilding parts of it. Part of the riverside C2C path was still closed, so we took a detour, nearly got lost again, and carried our bikes down some steps to rejoin the route further on, back on track. Beyond Cockermouth we cycled through Fisher Wood, Wythop Woods, Kings Wood, Needlee Wood, Calfclose Wood, Windyhill wood and on through Thornthwaite. Somewhere on this leg, we did our first bit of real off-roading, this was where Venessa came a cropper. After my spokes snapping when I was up in the jungle in Australia, my bike and I have been about a bit, I realised my Marin probably wasn’t meant for rough terrain. All the rain had washed the track away, so it was pretty gnarley in places and steep downhill. To avoid any broken bikes on the first day we both walked our bikes down the track for the worst part of it. Shortly after this I heard nothing but ‘Jayne’ quietly yelled a couple of times. When I looked behind, there was Nessy laid on her back in the rubble tangled up with her bike on top of her. I didn’t know whether to laugh or what, but I do wish I’d had my camera handy! I didn’t hear her fall over and thought she’d done it as a prank. She obviously hadn’t so I held the laughter in, and when I asked her if she was OK through bursts of giggle, she just said, “I’d be a lot better without this bike on top of me”. So I put my bike down and went back up the hill to the rescue, Christ, her bike weighs a tonne. No real damage done, but her elbow did have a black and yellow egg on it the next morning.
After the woods we were back onto B roads again and shortly after this arrived in civilization. I thought we’d arrived in Keswick, which was our first overnight destination. Ness asked somebody passing, “Excuse me, where are we?” which caused some amusement, we were in Braithwaite apparently, not Keswick! We still had a few miles after this but it wasn’t long before we were riding through Keswick and parking our bikes up at the pub for the night. It was even less time after this that we had our first congratulatory drink in our hands. Day one done, sluuurp! What a sense of achievement! Beautiful food and wine at a pub in the centre of Keswick, I’m not at all ashamed to say that with rosey cheeks and slightly tight muscles we shuffled back a bit drunk to the Twa Dogs Inn and were in bed by 11pm, and I think we were some of the last people still standing before that point.
What a shit night’s sleep I had, I think I probably only had about four hours! Some issue with my right shoulder from the manic DIY expedition had gone right up into my neck to the base of my skull, it’s still sore as I’m writing this. One gigantic knot of muscle from here to there, when I said I needed a big pair of hands for a massage, I wasn’t joking. I had this for the entire trip following this, but it was nothing a can of deep freeze and a high pain tolerance couldn’t numb. That and the little dust mites, Exterminate… exterminate, must have been partying at about 3am, because I could have scratched my eyeballs out and couldn’t breathe from that point until I left the room. I don’t care what anybody says, there is no such thing as a clean carpet. We shipped out of Keswick after a mammoth full English breakfast, and despite the sleep deprivation, we were raring to go.
The ride out of Keswick was gorgeous, we set off at around 10am. The track took us up off road through the forest along an old railway line, over bridges and off the beaten track. We stopped to take photos on one of the bridges and I almost lost my speedometer off my bike into the river below, but a Japanese man caught it before it went. He thought it was hilarious, probably especially when I said ‘fuck’ very loudly. He took a photo of us both on his own camera, he’ll probably tell that story all the way home.
After a few hours peddling we arrived at the first pub which I think was at Troutbeck, I still can’t believe I had a soft drink, which has got to be a first. I have never equated pubs with drinking lemonade. I knew day 2 was going to be a long one, I don’t think either of us anticipated the endurance ahead at this point, but I know now, a pint of cider would not have helped me later. We stopped at Greystoke for lunch after peddling quite a few more miles, The Boot and Shoe. Two drinks cost nearly nine quid, but I tell you what, the wine, bring me the barrel! And I had the giant house devil burger, which was homemade from top to bottom and on fire, I waxed the entire thing without any problems what so ever, really superb. We were having another stunning day weather wise, couldn’t have been better, wasps were out in their army of thousands which was great. Please don’t sting me, I’m allergic to you, not that they took much notice and did their best to torment me. Sat at the bar in The Boot was an Irish lad who was a jockey at a local stable. He was having none of it that it wasn’t going to be anything but ‘torrents or rain’ the following day, he said. Got all his outside jobs done today, he said. You’re full of shite, I said. And with this, I paid the bill, smiled and walked out of the pub.
Cycling over the River Eden was impressive, so impressive in fact that I decided to stop and take a photograph. I stopped half way along the bridge and fumbled around to get my camera out. I was conscious of my loose speedometer, or I thought I was until… In a moment reminiscent of a friend falling overboard, off it fell and bounced twice on the floor before plopping over the side through a small gap into the river below. Nooooooooooooooo!!!! As I threw my hands out like I might be able to retrieve it. I’d kept saying I was going to dispatch it when I got home, no need to now. The most gutting thing about this was at that point i’d cycled 55km, the furthest I’d ever been in one day at that point and we still cycled for another four hours after that, I just wanted to see the clock at the end of the day, but it wasn’t to be. It was a funny moment though and I’m glad I left a peice of me up there, so to speak.
We came a different route out of Greystoke, it was a happy accident and meant we were on a main road for a bit, straight and fast, which took us directly into Penrith. For those who don’t know, Penrith is a very sprawling border town. We weren’t the only people to find the directions a bit confusing, because as we were turning the map round and round in the market square, we met a young lad who was doing the Lands End to John ’O Groats. He was looking for Carlisle. His trip made mine feel a bit insignificant, but at least he only had a few miles further to go that night! A bit of a pattern was building when once again; we took the wrong way up a one-way street out of town. All up hill again of course, but there was theory behind this manoeuvre. We’d bypassed an even bigger stinking hill on the way out prior to this, with a big ‘bollocks to that’ as we cycled past eyeballing it. You had to crick your neck just to look up it, it was that steep. It turned out, when we ended up asking a couple of locals not long after, that that was the hill we should have gone up… but there was another way, they told us… a slightly easier way. Oh good. So we walked for a while chatting to the couple, who were lovely. They pointed us in the direction of the alternative route and away we went, to tackle another hill, satisfied in the knowledge that it was half the gradient of the other beast.
We followed the A6 then did a left onto Beacon Edge, I’ll never forget the little black baby donkey at the top of the hill, a bundle of joy with enormous ears. Just as we were enjoying a bit of downhill action, up popped a signpost on the right hand side, which made us slam on all anchors. We were stopped by a veteran cyclist at the junction who advised us of a hard up hill… followed by a seriously fun downhill section, but watch out for the loose sand and gravel. He was right, that up hill was a pig, but the downhill, weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. It was a great ride down this hill, wind in my hair, the free wheel lasted ages which was welcomed! We followed the road along until we passed through Langwathby.
Everybody we’d spoken to that day had said the same thing. ‘Where are you heading to tonight? You’re going to where? Alston? What today? From here?” Some laughed, some shook their heads, some looked concerned. We didn’t really have a clue what we had in store, maybe just as well. I think most people who do the trip in the time we chose to do it usually stay either in Penrith or Langwathby on the second night. Not us though, oh no!
I guess it was about 4.30pm by this point and we’d been cycling for about 6 hours. This is where the real up hill started, and went on… and on… and on… for about 2o miles. By the time we got to Renwick, I had about half and inch of water left in my bottle, and I knew we still had 11miles to go, all of which was as up hill as it was going to get. For some reason this time of day seemed to be the hottest, I was sweating like a fat lass on the gack. We wanted to go and have a look at Long Meg. Long Meg is one of the finest stone circles in the north of England, with stones dating back to 1500BC. William Wordsworth wrote ‘Next to Stonehenge it is beyond dispute the most notable relick that this or probably any other country contains.’ (He obviously hadn’t travelled much, sorry Willy, but…) We cycled straight past the junction, but thought, man, that’d be another few miles on top… I’m kicking myself now, but I can always go back and have a look another time. Instead we looked for somewhere to have a quick wee, but couldn’t find a handy gate to jump over. There’s nothing you can’t do, whip your trousers down and then hold a bike upright and wee at the same time, right on the side of the road. I’d rather do that than sit on a public loo (not that there was one), better scenery, better airflow, just all round better, and it’s just the way I like it. Except if anyone catches you in this country, you get threatened with arrest for indecent exposure, I should know. But it was all upright and proper before we offended anyone, no arrests today! And for any of you prudes out there, if it offends you, don’t look, simple as that!
After we passed Renwick, we were really starting to feel the burn. Lactic acid, you what? I told Venessa we needed to get some more water from somewhere. We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere at this point, but we eventually came to a barn conversion that didn’t look like there was anyone at home, and guess what? There wasn’t, oh no. I daydreamed of the mirage in the desert at this point. Slumped over my handlebars, dragging my torn shoes over the sand dunes with my lips cracking in the midday sun, when all of a sudden…Just over the brow of the hill there was a farmhouse… with a car outside it. There was a gorgeous girl there; she filled our water bottles up to the brim. I said she’d saved my life, this might sound a bit over the top, but at that moment in time, it felt as though she potentially was about to, even if I didn’t realise it yet. Looking back I’d have struggled with what was to follow without that elixir.
The incline up to Hartside summit was an absolute bitch, theres no other word for it. This was just about the only time on the trip that I’d seen Venessa look as though she was going to keel over. From somewhere, I got an injection of energy about half way up, and all I could see was that Café on top of the hill and I was going there, even if it meant doing just three snow poles at a time. We’d been cycling for going on eight hours by this point, and it is without a doubt the longest and farthest I have ever been on a bike in my life. The sun was starting to set, the view from the hill up was absolutely sensational. It was great because you could stop and admire it while you were getting your shit together to take on the next few hundred yards. We could see across the entire valley in which we’d come, a long way in just one day, it was pretty special. I suggested we take the off road short cut to the summed, Nessy just nodded.
When we arrived at Hartside we were made up, it was such a great feeling, the sense of achievement was awesome. From here we still had a few miles to go down to Alston, but it was a fantastic down hill run. Poor old Venessa’s handlebars had come loose, so she’s behind me clinging on for grim death trying not to come off, I was just flying. On the other side of Hartside there was no sun, I was absolutely freezing by the time we got to the bottom. When we came into the village it was much bigger than we’d thought it was going to be. On the right hand side as we cycled in there was a lovely Georgian hotel, I assumed we’d be staying there. Ness checked the booking and said it was the ‘Cumberland Inn’. I replied, well, that’ll be that one on the other side of the road then, the one with the paint peeling off. Minor temporary disappointment. We got checked in, it was a quirky little place. The nicest thing about it was that it had been bought by the locals, and was run by the locals. The room was huge, even if the place was falling apart. I think I got the last bit of hot water for the day in the shower, with intermittent bursts of ice. I had to have a shower just to warm up, but I think I must have stood in there looking quite blue for about half an hour before I could get any sensation in my finger ends.
We ate over the road ‘at the other place’, which really was lovely, the food was amazing. We ended the night back at the Cumberland bar where we got talking to a war veteran and a local lad. We kind of regretted ordering ‘another’ last wine as a roady, there’s only so many repeated stories you can handle in one night, but bless them all the same. I’m pretty sure we were out as soon as our heads touched down.
The next morning we ate a breakfast of Kings. We even had Black pudding. I used to hate the stuff but I love it now, as long as I don’t think about what’s in it too much. I had cereal as well as a full English, what a pig. You’ve got to have your peddle power. We had a quick look around the village before we checked out, lovely little place, it was like going back in time 100 years. We counted at least eight pubs, which was extraordinary for a village of that size. We were a bit annoyed we hadn’t realised the night before, perfect place for a pub crawl. Start at the top of the hill, and roll back down. The first leg of the journey was up hill over cobbles streets, I did this on foot given what I’d just thrown down my throat (that’s my excuse). And so the day began. We knew we didn’t have far to go today, it was such a cruisey ride. I could have gone a lot further to be honest, but the trip had been pre booked so we had accommodation waiting.
We had a monster hill after Nenthead, then we were out over the tops into County Durham, Land of Prince Bishops. Lovely how the sign was covered in graffiti I thought, as soon as you get over the border. Across moorland we cycled to Allenheads then a fantastic downhill all the way into Rookhope where we were staying for the night, we arrived there by about 1pm.
On the way down the hill, Nessy lost half her backpack off her back, and nearly wiped me out, but I managed to dodge it then retrieve it. Sports Direct ‘Muddy Fox’ Camel Backpack, no thanks. You do get what you pay for, shame good sports gear costs so much really. There was loads of history around this area. On the right hand side as we were flying down the hill there was iron mine after iron mine, all closed down now, but the old fashioned mine shaft was still there in one place. We half intended to go back up the hill and have a look around once we’d checked in but we met far too many people at the pub that afternoon and it ended up turning into a bit of a session. First of all there was Val, who owned the bunkhouse next door, she had two black Labradors, which instantly became my new best friends. Her daughter Sinnead was a brilliant singer and guitar player who’d just that afternoon wrote a song about digestive biscuits, I’ll try and find the link, but she stood in the pub car park and sang it to us. Then there was Martin, he was in his late 60’s and doing the C2C by himself, he was a beautiful guy. Then there were the two Daves… all washed down with copious amounts of wine. We did manage some food and a quick walk to see the sunset but that was about it. The sunset and food were lovely, you can’t go wrong with lamb shank, and I’m a sucker for a setting sun. The two Dave’s weren’t staying at the Inn with us, they were up the road, but they did come down for some drinks later on and I was about pissed by the time I went to bed.
They were a lovely couple of guys. I have heard from them since and apparently they took a wrong turn the following day and ended up doing a 2 hour detour, that’s not what you want when you’ve already got about 45 miles to cycle! I did laugh.
I woke up with a twinge of a hangover the following morning, which was our last day. Again, full English with all the trimmings, there wasn’t a bean left on my plate. It’s amazing what an uphill gradient in fresh air can do to clear your head, I was as fit as a lop by the time I got onto the first section of moors. We both thought this was our last hill, but how wrong we were. A quick cycle over the tops brought us into Stanhope. I was hoping the next leg would take us through Shittlehope, liked the name, but just as we were about to go forth, a local lad pointed out that would be the wrong way. What we really needed to do was go up that immense hill, yes, that one there. Just when you thought it was going to be all down hill for the final furlong… along comes another one.
The climb up to Crawleyside and onto Stanhope moor was another bitch! It was wild up there; the wind was blowing so hard it nearly knocked me off my bike. There’s absolutely nothing aerodynamic about having an E.T. box on the front of your bike, that and only weighing eight stone in gale force winds was always going to be a bit dodgy. But we hammered on and made it to a point where we could turn onto the off road section. This was where the downhill began. I have never seen such a wicked network of cycle paths in my life. Bascially from the view over Waskerley reservoirs all the way down to Consett was a joy. Once we’d navigated our way through the city we got back on the traffic free cycle path and we were on the home run. We still had about 25 miles to go, but did we fly! It was, as promised, all downhill, I had an absolute blast peddling all the way back into Sunderland. We went through woodland, past railways, and we managed to find the sculpture I’d wanted to see, the one off the front of the C2C map, I was well chuffed about that.
It was awesome; we went under the A1 motorway and through more parkland, flying all the way. I think the last four miles took the longest, or it felt that way, but we were so excited when we saw the ocean. It was a coastal path all the way to the finish line, which was lovely, I had the biggest grin on my face. I was cycling past people shouting, “we’ve just finished the coast to coast”, and people were shouting back, “congratulations!” I Felt like I’d just won an Olympic gold!
There were so many highlights to the trip, if I were to go into some detail, I could write a book about it. This was an easy 5600 words, if only my university essays rolled out so easily. There’s not one part of the trip I didn’t like, I loved every single second of it. I’d recommend taking the plunge to anyone. I’ve seen England from a completely different perspective; you see parts of the country you will never ever get to see any other way. It’s a beautiful country up this way…
Would I do it again? Absolutely.
Thanks Ness for being a great cycle buddy and thank you sun for shining on us every single day…
Until next time…
Captain Over and Out… X