Whitehaven to Sunderland by bike.

Jaunt number two

The boys decided to join together again to do a second and probably final large cycle in this country. What was the choice – had to be from side to side, better known as the sea to sea (or C2C in cyclist speak!) their choice was Whitehaven to Sunderland. The plan was to take 3 leisurely days the longest day being a mere 56ish miles. The track was from Whitehaven to Thelkeld (just west of Keswick); from Thelkeld to Allenheads (famed as the highest village in England); from Allenheads to Sunderland.

This time I had booked ahead all the B&Bs, having confidence that the trip was well within their capability. Based on previous experience I wanted to book places that could offer en-suite as this had proved an asset last year. What I hadn’t taken into account was the Bank holiday and it nearly went pear-shaped when the second night at Keswick was not possible as, quite understandably the B&Bs wanted people who were planning to stay all the weekend, hence the booking at a pub in Thelkeld.

Off to Whitehaven we went and for once the weather forecast was in our favour. (This being against all the seasonal expectations). Ever the optimist I packed one pair of shorts as well as winter trousers and jumpers. As a rule we never travel at Bank Holidays but this was an exception so that Phil and Ben could do the ride at a time when it would interfere least with their work.  We all agreed to meet at the B&B as we were all coming from various degrees of South!

Just after 4 o’clock Terry and I arrived at the B&B and booked in, not long after Ben and Jane arrived so we greeted them and then Phil and Nicola were greeted when they arrived.  With spirits high we headed into Whitehaven for dinner. After some great grub we eyeballed the start and had a quick look around in the dry.

Day one:

Sunday 25th May ‘08

8:00 Full English breakfast. Memorable for its undrinkable coffee! Paid up and with bikes on the roof racks drove into Whitehaven to start. We were surprised but happy to see a group of 5 women there already taking their start photos. We waited our turn then the boys dunked their wheels in the water and they started their ride, dry but windy. Nicola, Jane and I waved them off and did a quick look around Whitehaven. Being Sunday it was shut apart from a gardening shop. Having got the idea that this area may still adhere to Sunday closing we headed for a tourist attraction that Nicola had found in a brochure at the B&B. The castle at Egremont.  Sat navs to the front synched and we were off. Not long and we were there. It appears that there is only the castle at Egremont and it is not the vast complex that the pamphlet led us to believe, being Sunday everywhere except the Co-op store was closed.  Knowing that Keswick was the centre of the Lakes universe we decided to go straight there and mooch around, maybe a walk to pass time. Keswick was different, for a start everyone seemed to have the same idea as us and finding parking slots for three cars proved a challenge; first Nicola got a slot then Jane and finally, after 4 more attempts, so did I. Into a busy centre. Such a pretty spot with every shop open and busy! The tourist information was helpful and after a Cornish pasty, yes a real Cornish pasty, we headed for Derwent water and the shoreline walk. We hadn’t gone far but Jane pointed out time was moving on and we would be missing the men who were aiming to join us in the centre. About turn and back to the Moot Hall. Almost there and we had a phone call to say they were just walking up to the Moot Hall. We walked around the corner to meet them. They were looking tired as this had been far harder than expected due to the exceptional gale force wind in their faces all the way. Ben was looking shattered. He sat and announced that enough was enough and he would not be doing the rest of the ride. Everyone was impressed by his courage to speak out and respected his decision. We all knew he had done the End to End so his credibility was enhanced by his honesty. Terry and Phil had been able to do some training but Ben had been so busy that he was trying it raw, and those conditions were too much! After a while looking around with the men they had to move on to Thelkeld. Ben put his bike on the back of their car and we drove to the pub, such a find!! A superb place and after freshening up we had a fantastic meal there and turned in.

Day two:

Monday 26th May ‘08

8:00 Full English breakfast. Terry and Phil saddled up and headed off for the part of the trip they knew was going to be hard, over the Pennines and into wind all the way! Ben and Jane went out for the day and we agreed to meet them at Allenheads at about 4 o’clock. Nicola and I decided to go to a pottery that we had seen a pamphlet about at the B&B. At this point I would like to warn you of the dangers of trusting everything that you see in a pamphlet and do not over interpret its contents. We arrived at the pottery and eked out the time by having coffee and a scone. The impression was that you could spend all day. Don’t get me wrong it was nice but not an ‘attraction’ of substance! We did well to spend an hour and a half. Now where? Nearby was a Bird of Prey centre (another pamphlet....).  This was better. We looked around the cages of birds and were told that there was a display at 2 o’clock. So we had another scone and tea and waited. The setting was very pretty and we sat on the benches just before 2 o’clock. At 3:45 we were still sat there, a bit cooler by now as the wind had not abated in the slightest. The falconer held our attention and gave us a fantastic talk and the different falcons and hawks gave a flight show that was captivating. If it had not been for that it would have been disappointing but at the end we both agreed that we were feeling cool but had had value for money. I phoned Ben to tell him we had been delayed. Off we set over some desolate moor. The wind buffeted us as we went along!  As we rounded a corner near the top of the Pennines who should be in front of us but a pair of cyclists – our cyclists! Made a cheery quip over the walky-talky that did not get an over cheery response, we waved and passed. Driving over more bleak countryside we eventually tucked down into a village that sheltered in a valley. Ben and Jane leapt out to great us. Allenheads certainly was remote and I very much doubt if we would have visited it if it had not been for this cycle. It had a strange feel to it, somewhat time warp with many stuffed animals as the decor! Probably reflecting its use in the winter months when all the shooting parties stayed. About an hour later Terry and Phil arrived looking tired and pleased to be at the end of the day’s trip. The pub was heaving with cyclists all with a tale to tell. A warm shower and good food in the pub put a smile back on their faces.

Day three:

Tuesday 27th May ‘08

Ben and Jane had decided to go back home today so after a hearty breakfast (8:15 and you’re a bit early!) and waving goodbye to the men they set off in their car for Lichfield. Great to see them and enjoyed their company, look forward to seeing them again soon. Nicola and I spent a little while doing the nature trail and looking in the heritage centre window. That was all the attractions of Allenheads seen so we set off for Sunderland via the Beamish outdoor Museum. What a lovely place, not cheap but very well done. We arrived just in time for a snack lunch then walked around to see the different areas. A place that I would revisit if I was back in the area. Conscious of time we left around 2:00 and headed for Sunderland and the end of the cycle. Found our B&B, which was handy to the beach and end of the ride in Roker (the beach resort of Sunderland). Roker was the Brighton of the north, tasteful and attractive with a modern marina, no kiss-me-quick hats or slot machines. Sunderland was very interesting, obviously a lot of investment has gone on there and lots of Lottery funding. Imaginative buildings and statues. We found the slipway down onto the beach for the ceremonial dunking of the wheels and then we found the designated end marked by a plaque on the wall. We checked into the B&B, it turned out that we were in two different houses run by the same lady, both impeccable. Next stop the off licence to buy some fizz and a commemorative bottle each of Newcastle Brown. We were all set so we went down to the Marina and sat, in the sheltered sunshine, and waited for their arrival. Great to see them complete the challenge! We were delighted to see the same group of women ending the ride about 5 minutes behind Terry and Phil. We applauded their arrival and directed them to the beach. Photos and dunking over we went back to the B&B to freshen up and get ready for a well earned meal. This was where we made another observation. The restaurant was a nice Italian restaurant. The menu was varied but what we found different was that the accompaniment was chips and no side salad to be seen. This just reinforced our thoughts that most times it was expected to see chips as a standard accompaniment and a side salad was seldom if ever offered – there are still north south differences!  Back to Phil and Nicolas room to drink the fizz and chat before turning in!

Next day we set off for Keswick as we had decided to extend our stay and try a Wainwright walk. But that’s another story....

Again we had noticed how well cyclists are catered for in the lake district and this whole cycle was brilliantly sign posted all the way. We saw several different routes all clearly marked and more cyclists than was healthy to count! For such an up and down area it’s great to see the care and enthusiasm. Once again we met helpful and lovely people, some characters and had a great time. Never did wear the shorts! But I didn’t need my waterproofs either, maybe next time will be better – only joking, not going to happen again. Not in UK anyway! 1010 miles travelling of which 650 were getting up to the Lake District and returning. Thoroughly recommended.

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