C2C Ride – May 2008 – Whitehaven to Sunderland

Saturday 24th May -  Drove up to Whitehaven. Arrived in sunshine but with a fresh Easterly breeze (sign of things to come?)

Dinner in nice bistro called Zest and interesting walk along the sea front.

Sunday 25th May – Clear and bright but with cold easterly wind. Arrived at the official start point on the slipway around 9.00am and joined a queue of three groups all waiting to have their photos taken by the C2C sign. Dipped our back wheels in the Irish Sea and photos duly taken we said our farewells to the wife and girlfriends and the three of us set off again with memories of last year’s Land’s End to John O’ Groats in our mind. Immediately we found that the Sustrans signs were excellent and we easily wound our way out of Whitehaven and onto the first cycleway that followed the route of a disused mineral train line out of the town to the NE.  The route was climbing gently all the time and would normally be a very easy ride but today it was made harder by the constant headwind. The surface was pretty good though and some interesting signs and novel route markers that looked like small blue post boxes on posts provided some entertainment on the way. As we came out to the more exposed areas the wind really showed itself and we were almost stopped in our tracks a couple of times. The cycleway eventually gave way to small roads but the Sustrans signage remained excellent. Mid morning and we were ready for a cup of tea and a break but there was no sign of a cafe or teashop anywhere. A false hope was raised when we came across what looked like a caravan park and saw another group of six women cyclists in the entrance. Unfortunately they informed us that everything was closed so we all continued en route. The women were all doing the C2C whilst their husbands supported by car.  We found out that last year the roles had been reversed when the women provided support for their husbands who, like us, had ridden the LEJOG.

We stopped in the lea of a hill to stretch our legs eat a snack and take a drink. Then on with increasingly steep climbs and the ever present head wind towards the Lake District. Late morning we reached the foot of the Whinlatter pass and began our steepest climb of the day. Ben was feeling the effects of virtually no preparation and the long climb took its toll such that even the excellent sweeping ride down the far side into Braithwaite did not raise his spirits.  Another few miles across relatively level roads but still into a strong headwind and we reached Keswick. In the centre of the town we contacted the girls and they met us with hot pasties which were very welcome.  By this time Ben had reached his limit and wisely decided that this year he would not go on with the ride.  We spent an hour or so looking around a very busy Keswick, then the girls and Ben left to drive on to the Horse and Farrier pub which was our home for the night whilst Phil and I rode on via a very attractive cycleway with even a section of boardwalk to take us across a gap in the old railway track.  We arrived at the pub about an hour later.  Beautiful pub, nice rooms and excellent food in the evening.

36.2 miles

Monday 26th May – Another bright day but if anything the easterly wind was even stronger. Nevertheless Phil and I set off after a good ‘full english’ and began an hour’s steady climb along a very small back roads out of Threkeld. It was frustrating that every half mile or so we had to stop to negotiate gates across the road which kept the sheep in certain areas.  The route detours about 3 miles north and then doubles back through the hamlet of Mungrisdale to avoid the main road and get to the next crossing of the River Glenderamakin.  The road back from Mungrisdale was superb, wide smooth traffic free and with some fantastic downhill bits, and it was even out of wind, such that we both clocked 35mph and really enjoyed the short return to the main route.  Then it was steady climbing for about another hour into wind before a mid morning sweep down into the pretty village of Greystoke. No sign of Tarzan but we did find the excellent Greystoke Cycle Cafe. An idyllic cottage set in a sheltered area with a lovely tea garden, free cold drinks for cyclists and free oil and even a tube of essential ointment!!. We stopped there for tea and photos of the garden and the nearby Greystoke Manor. We found out that we were the first cyclists of the day to pass through and as we sipped our tea another group appeared but stopped only to get their cards stamped for the Sustrans record.   On out of the shelter of Greystoke and into a fierce headwind for the rest of the morning.  The route through Penrith was easy again thanks to excellent signs which swept us through the University grounds and down over a very rough track to the far side of the town. A long climb out of the town was rewarded with some great views back across the valley with the mountains of the Lake District in the distance. We cycled on until after midday but again found nowhere to stop for a proper lunch so ate our sandwiches and biscuits in what little shelter we could find from the biting wind in a farm gate. After lunch we set off towards the notorious Hartside hill and our first encounter with the Pennines. Before this though we suddenly recognised the village of Langwathby where we had stopped for lunch the previous year on our way to Carlisle on the LEJOG.  This time we cycled quickly through passing a father and young 10 year old son who had cycled out from Penrith, and we soon arrived at the bottom of Hartside. The first part of the 1122 foot climb is very steep but luckily each zig zag had at least one leg out of the wind!  After climbing about 400 feet the wind and turbulence coming over the top was intense. Both of us were nearly blown over and the large amounts of cars and motor bikes going up and down made it too dangerous to cycle so we slogged up the reminder of the climb on foot pushing the bikes. All the more frustrating as the actual gradient was much less than we had cycled already but the wind was extreme and the only safe way was to walk.  Finally reaching the Hartside Cafe we could only just stand and went in for a well earned cup of tea and a break from the wind.  We discussed the wind and the ride down the other side and decided to try it as there was only about 4 miles on the main road before we turned off again onto minor roads and tracks where the wind effects would not be so dangerous without the traffic.  As we set off we had only gone about 50 yards when a car passed close to me and the sudden blocking then return of the wind just sent me and the bike sailing into the ditch. Luckily I was not hurt and apart from the computer popping off the bike, which was quickly retrieved, the bike was OK as well. Gingerly we continued down the hill having to pedal in low gears to keep moving despite the steep down slope. Finally we reached the turn off to the minor roads and breathed a sigh of relief. The riding did not get much easier as we were still into or slightly across the wind but at least we did not have to worry about being blown in front of a car.  The afternoon then became a series of increasingly steep and windy ascents as we struggled over the Pennines towards Allenheads.

The final climb over Allendale Common was dreadful, the wind was up to 30 – 40 knots and icy cold. The tiredness and strain of the day made us both feel very cold and uncomfortable as we eventually rounded the hill and slid down into Allenheads where we met the others at the Allenheads pub.  A strange pub obviously used by hunting parties a lot in the season as it was liberally sprinkled with all manner of stuffed dead things! Food was good though and it was out of the wind!

52.8 miles

Tuesday 27th May – A grey start with the promise of rain and still a very strong headwind, still it was the last day and once clear of the Pennines would be mostly downhill!

Leaving Allenheads we immediately had a steep and longish climb up out of the valley before a gentle run down past some old lead smelt works into Rookhope.  Here we decided not to take the recommended route which was over a highly exposed heath and instead took the slightly longer but more sheltered road to Stanhope.  A very steep climb out of Stanhope brought us to the junction with the Waskerley Way.  At first we missed the turn off and had to retrace our steps a few hundred yards. Once on the Waskerley Way we continued our climb in wind and drizzle and almost missed the lovely cafe at the highest point. We sheltered for a tea with about 30 other riders and commiserated with each other on the wind.  As it was about 11:30 we decided not to take lunch there but to go on to get down the other side of the Pennines to lower ground where the wind might be less. The rest of the Waskerley way as very exposed and the wind more than cancelled the gentle down slope so we had to pedal hard to make a decent speed. Eventually we began to lose height and get some shelter and warm up a bit.  The route was a pretty good cycle path with few people on it and we made good time stopping occasionally to take photographs of the amazing sculptures created from a variety of recycled steel. We arrived at Consett and followed the devious route through the town were on one occasion the signs actually failed us and the trusty sat nav proved its worth by taking us on to rejoin the route.  At this point the cycle path entered a pub car park and despite the fact that we had just bought sandwiches in a petrol station we decided to keep them for tomorrow and went into the pub for a toastie and half a beer. After lunch we continued along the well marked cycle path passing yet more statues.  At one stage the drizzle intensified and we put full foul weather clothing on for about half an hour but then it dried up and just before reaching the outskirts of Sunderland we both stripped off to normal cold weather clothing for the final run in.  As we closed on Sunderland we caught up with a team of women who we had seen at the very start at Whitehaven all tired but in high spirits as they could almost see the end. We cycled down the final mile of the riverside promenade at Sunderland to see Anne and Nicola waiting for us by the finish sign. We stopped for photos and then with the team of women all cycled over a final rise to the beach to complete the ride by dipping our front wheels in the North Sea.  It had been a tough 3 day ride along a very interesting and well marked route. We had been largely dry throughout but we were glad not to have to face ‘that wind’ anymore.

54.6 miles

Total 143.6 miles

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