Coastline Britain – cycling (and hiking and “vanning”) the coast of Britain. Bit by bit.
This is how it started
“It’ll give us something to do in the Spring and Autumn when not in France’ said Fiona.
“Do you realise how far it is?”
“Yeh, about 5000 miles – Mark Beaumont did it as a warm up for his round the world in 80 days”
“I rest my case”
So that’s how we ended up in West Wales in March 2020 (Spring technically) starting off.
First thing make sure your bikes are in full working order – tick.
Second thing make sure your camper van is in full working order – oops!
Slight problem with the heating, yes the heating in an abnormally cold March. Let’s just say the trip was aborted after 27.5 miles of coastline and an early trip home to the garage – the oven makes an interesting secondary source of heat!
But all that seemed insignificant when we realised how serious the Coronavirus was. As of 23 March 2020 it was shutting down all pubs, leisure centres etc and telling us to keep our social distance from everyone else. This is something we had planned to do in the camper van and on our bikes whilst cycling the coast, but for the moment there are more serious matters and the Coronavirus trumps all. But we will be back.
Day 1 21 March 2020
So what coast did we do?
We had a very nice, albeit cold, night’s wild camping in Burry Port near Llanelli. We then took the flat millennium coastal path alongside the awesome Tawe estuary, against a troublesome headwind which was as tough any any alpine climb, with beautiful sand galore to Bynea on the outskirts of Swansea (or Abertawe in Welsh) – all the way longing for the wind assisted return journey. Incidentally, the famous Pendine sands, where land speed records were set before someone discovered there was no tide on the Bonneville salt flats in Utah, were in the other direction – next time, eh? So that is a massive 14.5 miles out of 5000!
Day 2 22 March 2020
Woke up to lovely sunny but chilly day and the intention to stay on the site and do more pf the west Wales coast. But then disaster: the campsite is closing today due to the Coronavirus. End of Coastline project, for the moment.
We went home.
At the moment we can still take our normal form of exercise – cycling – so for the next few weeks we will be getting super fit riding around our much loved Malvern Hills; avoiding people and taking picnics to eat on an isolated bench somewhere secret.
So – as of 25 March 2020 Coastline project suspended for the time being.
Update – June 2020
Well, here we are in June 2020 and still no further around the coast. We cannot, because of the Covid travel restrictions, be away from home overnight and, given that we are 100 miles from any serious coast, that means that this project is still on hold (just like a return to New Zealand).
On the positive side, and its hard to be positive, we have been discovering local lanes for cycling in traffic free lockdown. It’s been quite fun cycling along the usual roads, passing a lane and instead of wondering where it leads to actually turning off the main road and down the lane. The joy of “going nowhere in particular” is discovering a freedom that life before lockdown denied as we always, in the words of the White Rabbit…”I’m late for a very important date” – but in reality just hurrying.
It’s likely that this project will start again before the mists (or long white clouds?) clear on New Zealand.
Update : end June 2020
Well here we are at the end of June and there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Shops are open in England and pubs and restaurant open on 4 July – Scotland/Wales is about two weeks behind us – and self catering/campsites open 4 July also. For us that means that the camper van, Silva, is back in the game. Our first trip will be to Scotland to see Fiona’s mum via Yorkshire for Laura, my youngest daughter’s, birthday. We may be able to do some of the coast on the way back from Scotland via Harrogate to pick up my new bike – did I mention my new titanium bike? Let me bore you with it…no, have just been told not to, so here’s a picture!
So, it’s a start and next the plan for the summer in France.
July 6th – we’re on the way
Well, the moment has arrived. Lockdown is being released slowly and we can at last think about cycling the coast and going to France for (hopefully) the Tour. We will be going to Scotland to see Fiona’s mum and doing a bit of the coast (maybe Fife) on the way back down to get my new bike. Then, we have booked the ferry to France for early August and we’re off! Hopefully the Tour will go ahead as scheduled on 29 August and we will be able to catch some of it.
We’re off! The real first cycling the coast (after the brief trip into Wales in March) – from Arbroath to Berwick on Tweed
We didn’t deliberately set off to cycle from A to B but thats the way it, somewhat beautifully, turned out! We had been up nearby visiting Fiona’s mum and cycled the route we had originally planned to do in March. Boy, are we glad it was July because the weather was fantastic – especially for Scotland! Blue skies, temperature in the 20’s but a slightly annoying westerly wind. But you can’t have everything! We probably did about 200 miles of the 4000 coastline, so that’s about 5%!
So here’s a brief day by day of what we did
Day one Fiona started off because she wanted to cycle the Tay bridge and through the Tentsmuir Forest – the former was great but the latter was a disappointing gravel track. We lunched just after Leuchers and changed to Mike cycling through St Andrews, going past the “old course”, and along the Fife coastal path ending up at Anstruthers at a Park4night at the beach. We picked up National Cycle Network route 76 which went nearly all the way to Berwick.
Day two began with Mike cycling the first leg (into the wind of course) up on the cliff top with great views of the Firth of Forth. Plain sailing as far as Dydart, just before Kirkaldy, for lunch and a change of riders. You recall that Fiona wanted to cycle over bridges so the next one was the Forth road bridge and she had a great on the old bridge whilst Mike drove over the new one and we met up in Queensferry. Neither of us could remember spending time in the place before but were bowled over with its quaint beauty – check out the Ferry Inn.
The day ended with a short drive to another Park4night in Musselburgh – and a slight altercation with a local who thought his view was being spoiled by our camper van.
The third day started in glorious sunshine with Fiona cycling along the north coast of Lothian to the incredible North Berwick and its two beaches and gannett populated (and pooed on) Bass Rock. Again a quaint old town bathed in sunshine with happy holidaymakers. onwards then to Dunbar, the birthplace of John Muir (Fiona had been following a coastal path named after him) who helped develop the National Park system in the USA with Yellowstone being the first in 1872.
Mike then took over for what should have been a straight forward 30 miles to Berwick but following route 76 and route 1 turned out the be a hilly 37 miles. However, I did see a fantastic pre 1957 Beetle (I had one just like it) and the outstanding Ayton castle. A brief call for a coffee in the van at picturesque Eyemouth before arriving at yet another Park4night on the seafront in Berwick on Tweed.
So what did we learn from our first go at “relay cycling” the coast?
- That we can do it!
- That we can follow maps and cycle routs – and not lose each other
- That 50 – 60 miles a day between two riders is fine; but…
- We need to make more time for stops en route to take in the special things on Britain’s coast
- There are plenty of opportunities to camp for free (Park4night invaluable)
- We want to finish the other 3800 miles!
UPDATE AUTUMN/WINTER 2020/21
NEW SITUATION – NEW OPTIONS
With the continuation of COVID related restrictions into autumn 2020, new options became available (that’s being optimistic!).
We could add another option to the biking and vanning – hiking!
Why – because in the jaunts to the coast that restrictions allowed in the autumn it was too darned windy for biking so the only option was hiking – along the Cleveland Way in north Yorkshire and the South West Coastal Path in Dorset. All grist to our mill and will continue in the autumn/winter till we can get out again.
First it’s North Yorkshire
On the way back from visiting my family in Yorkshire we decided to grab some days on the North Yorkshire coast – who said this cycling the coast thing would be at the same time/in the same direction etc? – Mike’s old stamping ground as a spotty youth.
We started at the top, just south of Redcar, at Saltburn by the Sea. On the way we nearly climbed Rosebury Topping and it was only the gale force winds and torrential rain that stopped us!
Saltburn is a delightful Victorian seaside resort (no doubt opened up by the railways), with a classic cliff lift operated by water displacement (not working at the time), which is favoured by surfers braving the cold North Sea waves.
We were put off camping on the cliff top by the high winds and the comments on Park4Night about locals complaining. Anyway, we found a car park next to the beach where for a small fee (not payable on the weekends when we were there) you could have a lovely level parking place with toilets (not 24 hours so some early morning leg crossing). Two nights there and a walk on the adjoining cliff top along the Cleveland Way (https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/en_GB/trails/cleveland-way/) in gale force winds.
I (Mike) cannot leave it there – Fiona would persist on the high (200m cliff) windy, muddy path in walking next to the edge. Now I’m no whimp but that really got to me – I think I tasted mortality, albeit Fiona’s – and my efforts to drag her from the edge must have looked comical!
The next day saw us head to Whitby – home of Goths, vampires and Jet, a stone made from decayed monkey puzzle trees when the UK was in warmer climes. But not before we parked up and walked into the super little village of Staithes (or “Steers” as the locals pronounce it) and were treated to rainbows over the little harbour and a pint at the Cod and Lobster on the quay. A truly magical experience – and still on the Cleveland Way.
In Whitby we parked up on a campsite a mile outside the town on top of the cliffs – first mistake (more of which later) – and were allowed to stay for free. I think an act of pity from the site owner who was closing the next day but had seen the weather forecast.
Second mistake – going into Whitby, lovely town that it is, but with fish and chips at the famous Magpie café and several wines at the pubs we tottered into Hamond’s, the famous Whitby Jet jewellers. Fifteen minutes we tottered out with lovely Jet earings but minus several UK pounds!
24 hours in Scotland
Back to the ‘safety” of our cliff top campsite in gale force winds (no wonder it was free and explains the “first mistake”) to batten down the hatches for an “interesting” night of: “What was that?”; “Are you sure we’re safe?”; and “Can’t you hold on till the morning?”. Boy am I glad the van weighs nearly 3.5 tonnes.
Survival through the night brought a change of plan. In the light of imminent further restrictions England in we headed north to Monifieth and Fiona’s mum for a 24 hour visit whilst we still could – mad or what? We actually had a great time and revisited the road to Arbroath first cycled in March. Spent 24 hours in Monifieth (a film title?) and then headed back into lockdown and arrived at one minute to midnight and safety.