Thursday, 13 August 2015

Walney 2 Wear: Coast to coasting again

Cycling round Kendal I kept on seeing little blue cycle signs. Well, there are quite a lot of them. But quite a few of them I noticed said W2W. So I Googled it. 150 miles from Walney (Island, Barrow) to the Wear (Sunderland), or Walney to Whitby. Hm, the start and end points of Walney and Sunderland didn't sound the stuff of dreams. But as has been shown, I'm a bit easily seduced by little blue signs. And I was too lazy to go to Whitby cos it was 30 miles further, hillier and harder to get back from. Then I happened to have 3 days holiday going spare unexpectedly in August. Was meant to be playing at a festival in Southampton, it didn't happen, you know how it is (no, I don't think I do either). 3 days and what to do? Hm. Cycle across England for no particular reason, again? Why not. Battling round Anglesey into what seemed like a constant headwind a few days earlier trying to keep up with Cath on her carbon fibre road bike (clearly cheating) this seemed less of A Good Idea. Nonetheless, after a quick trip to Halfords to buy lightweight bike lock #3 (because the laws of physics mean that a bike lock and it's keys cannot exist in the same dimension for more than a week) and in the face of a very unsettled looking weather forecast, I got a lift with George on a Wednesday morning most of the way to Arnside then caught the train to Barrow.

Day 1: Walney to Kendal

45 miles, 3093ft ascent
Ah, Barrow. It does have some very handsome Victorian buildings, you know. And a lot of roundabouts. I was only 2 minutes from the station before I was making rude gestures at a driver who didn't let me change lanes (not entirely fair, I didn't entirely know where I was going, except round a roundabout somewhere). I managed to find my way to the end of the road on Walney Island (a cul de sac in the place known for being at the end of the UK's longest cul de sac) and the start of the route.
The start of the route at Walney
I declined to dip my wheel in the sea as the tide was out so it would have added a couple of extra miles to my journey... There was a sign stuck to a lamp post which seemed to suggest this was the start anyway. So I started Strava up (very important!) and set off back the way I'd just come across Walney and Barrow... Having successfully (i.e. I didn't get knocked off my bike) negotiated Barrow I headed out up Abbey Road until an unexpected right hand turn took me to the delights of Furness Abbey.
Furness Abbey
It would have been even more delightful if they hadn't been chipping the road. In fact, pretty much the entire of the South Lakes region the roads were covered in slippery chippings. I offer this in mitigation for my Strava times... I then proceeded to get lost, end up back on Abbey Road and do an unintentional lap of Dalton. Having escaped Dalton (though it has its charms) I proceeded through Lindal-in-Furness which would give some Cotswold villages a run for their money in village green niceness. I went around some back roads I thought I recognised (in the region of the current residence of the Drs. Carlisle) and then ended up in Ulverston. These chaps looked pleased to see me (honestly, if it's not bagpipes it's bikes, poor guys).
Another fine mess...
. From there, to Haverthwaite on some single track (bad enough on a hybrid bike, was glad I wasn't on a tourer), tracks and then over the Col du Bigland Hall. Remind me never to go that way again... It was Cartmel Show and so even more chaotic than usual in Cartmel. So I went the wrong way, missed out Alithwaite and cruised through Grange. On the home straight! The section from Grange to Witherslack is always pleasant (read: not very hilly or busy). I treated myself to cheesy chips at the Dalton Arms, then a half at the Strickland Arms then arrived at my accommodation for the night at 4ish. Any resemblance to our house is purely because it is.
5* accommodation
. Yes we do need a new front door.

Day 2: Kendal to Barnard Castle

60.8 miles, 5,471ft ascent
The bad weather forecast for Wednesday (day 1) appeared on the Thursday morning. I packed and repacked (mostly to put more stuff in plastic bags) and when I ran out of creative faffing methods set off in the drizzle up The Old Sedbergh Road. This deserves capitals as is is a git of a road. It's not actually on the W2W but the most direct way of regaining the route from my house. The route would probably be very pleasant from Kendal (it kind of was) but it was doing that heavy drizzle thing that the Lakes specialises in. I stopped under the motorway bridge at the Lune Gorge near junction 36 of the M6 and had a sulk. By Orton it had started to dry up and cycling over by Sunbiggin Tarn to Kirkby Stephen was verging dangerously on being pleasant. There were also some really good long descents past Crosby Garret and into Kirkby Stephen where I stopped for lunch. here a From Kirkby Stephen the route starts to climb, slowly, towards the road to the Tan Hill. There are a couple of steep climbs before the ascent starts proper but most of it is just a bit of a drag. This wasn't a high point (in any sense). A lot of pushing the bike happened. Finally, there is a decent climb up and you end up with great views over the Eden valley.
Out of Eden
This was followed by some really pleasant riding across the moors to finally (after a few more bits of sneaky pushing on the steep bits) end up at the legendary Tan Hill Inn.
At the Tan Hill Inn
At this point I got a bit 20th century, forgot what selfies were and got some random bloke to take a picture of me and my bike in front of the pub. It's all very well the Tan Hill Inn but it is in essence 1) mostly car park outside 2) riddled with midgies 2) and Scousers (I'm half Scouse, it's ok!) 3) they don't have nice crisps. The beer was good though! From the Tan Hill Inn I wobbled along a rough track (front suspension would have been nice) down to Bowes, climbing out of which I was punished for more sneaky walking uphill by whacking my shin with a pedal. About 5pm I entered Barnard Castle in glorious sunshine and dodged round the roadworks to find my B&B (Homelands on Galgate - it was very nice with lovely cyclist friendly owners). Also go to the Old Well pub - it's (well) good.

Day 3: Barnard Castle to Sunderland

55.2 miles, 3,161 ft ascent
I set off still in beautiful sunshine on Friday morning on some roads that seemed to have escaped from Norhumberland - dead straight and roller coaster up and downs. I was particularly enjoying one when the little blue signposts sent me down into Hamsterly Forest for some shade and some more spine-jarring tracks. The road climbs back out of Hamsterly (you could stay on a B road and avoid the descent and ascent I reckon) towards Bishop Auckland. In fact, I went the wrong way again and ended up in a pretty village at the bottom of a big hill. Out of which, the ladies at the bus stop gleefully informed me, the only way out was back up the same hill... I wasn't supposed to go through Bishop Auckland but I couldn't resist some pointless cycling round roundabouts 3 times, so I went through it. It somehow reminded me of school summer holidays: hot tarmac, suburbs and boredom. From Barnard Castle you end up on cinder-path cycle ways for 9 miles or so through the odd villages of varying degrees of oddness and some chemical works type place
Heavy industry
. Finally, after a lot of jiggly off road stuff you end up in Durham. I went round a few roundabouts a few times just for good measure, and got lost a bit. You follow the river out of Durham and get some really nice views of the cathedral and castle:
. Just after taking this picture the pleasant riverside path was blocked by a temporary wire fence and a diversion was signposted up a near vertical mud bank, through a lot of greenery for about 1/3 of a mile then back down another muddy bank (with some steps, yay) to the river. I was glad I was travelling quite light... After passing Old Durham I found myself on the edge of a council estate and retail park and the little blue signs might have been nicked. I hoped for the best and headed past Tescos, and whooped when a little blue sign appeared to send me through an industrial estate and under the A1. There then followed road/arbitrary cycle path/road/arbitrary cycle path through to Hetton le Hole where the route goes through an old colliery (I think) converted to a country park, then up through some huge wind turbines on another particularly spine-jarring track and you are afforded your first view of the sea.
Wind turbines above Sunderland
From there, oh look some more random cycle tracks (by this stage I was saying out loud "oh where the hell now? for god's sake!") but eventually you end up in Sunderland. To be fair the network of cycle routes in the North East was very impressive. I crossed over one of those impressive Tyne and Wear type bridges (well, a Wear bridge in this case) and down the side of the Wear towards the sea.
The Wear
This is where the W2W wins out over the way of the Roses as there is a sculpture trail, some flash new buildings and lots of little signs saying "W2W & C2C this way!" to keep you going over the last mile or so. You cycle past the marina, round the end of the quay and to the seafront at Roker where there are various sculptures, a bike hire place (as if you'd want to see a bike again!) and the nice lady in the cafe asked unprompted where I'd cycled from when I'd bought a cup of tea then stamped my map with a special Roker stamp. I said this was a good thing as it would remind me not to do the route again...
The end!
Back I cycled to Sunderland, did a few valedictory laps of the centre in search of the train station then jumped on a train back to Carlisle along what must be one of the most scenic train lines in Britain up the Tyne valley through Corbridge, Hexham and Haltwhistle.

Would I recommend the ride? Well of course. But take a bike with some thick tyres, pack light and hope for reasonable weather!

There is more info on the Walney to Wear/Whitby route available here:

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