Why are we cycling the coast of Britain? A reminder…
Why not? It’s there. Like Everest. Only flatter. Without the lack of oxygen issue. And a lot more local in these Covid restricted times. But there is more to it than that…
I recognise how bloody lucky we both are to have the legs for it. Mike, already in his early at seventies is rather ‘good for age’ and annoyingly can still beat me up any hill. And while I see him eyeing up electric bikes, there’s life in the old dog yet. And in this… hmmm… bitch too.
Because we ride, we stay fit and we stay fit because we ride.
It’s fitting too. We met on the same ‘holiday ‘back in 2013 cycling UP Britain, so why not cycle AROUND our wonderful Island. Slowly, taking our time, this isn’t a race, it’s a tour of our coastline – which we love. Let’s soak it all up, ride the wave, let’s have an adventure.
When I heard Mark Beaumont had done the coast of Britain as a warm up to his ‘cycle around the world in 80 days’ challenge and hearing him speak about ‘it’s the hilliest ride I’ve ever done’ it didn’t put me off, it just made me even more want to do it. But NOT to do it quickly or covering loads of miles each day. Not even for the challenge of doing it, but to SEE the whole coast, experience it, in full, the places, the people, the everything of it all. The being, not the doing, however naff that sounds – and I’ve not even used the word “mindful” or YOLO! But well actually… You DO Only Live Once – and in this life we want to ride the coast. It’s one of those big bucket list goals that I call a HUGG, a Huge, Unbelievable Great Goal. Let’s do this.
Logistics – and leapfrogging!
We wanted to use, where possible, the amazing national network of Sustrans cycle paths that cover the country, including the coast. These are a mixture of on and off road paths that are signed, sometimes hard to spot so the brilliant Ordnance Survey app on our phones really help us stay on track. Luckily, we both love maps, Fiona being especially nerdy on the map front. We also love cycling (doh) so decided to take it in turns to ride, so no fighting! We’d work out a meeting point for lunch or the end of the day, one of us would cycle, the other would drive the van and leapfrog and sort out the essentials like getting in supplies (food and wine) or water or loo emptying. Then swap. It meant we’d cover decent miles and we’d each get our own mini adventure too and a “guess what I saw today” conversation.
So, off we go…
Day 1 – Berwick to Amble. 54 miles (19th April)
We set off in early April exactly where we left off in March 2020 – before lockdown. We had 4 days to get from Berwick to Whitby where we were meeting some old friends from Yorkshire. We drove from York, after delivering very overdue Christmas presents to the grandkids, to Berwick on Monday ready to park for free at the Spittal at Berwick before cycling off the next morning. What a place, right on the seafront, just fabulous to be back!
We were following NCN (National Cycle Network) 1 with its meanderings along coast and country. Mike set off first and it was rough off road climbing out of Berwick with stubborn sheep objecting to moving out of the way from the barely distinguishable track. Things picked up on the small lanes in the Northumbrian “coast and castles” route with the magnificent Bamburgh castle being the highlight. Mike arrived at the lovely town of Seahouses where the cycle track disgorged him into the car park where Fiona was waiting with lunch.
Fiona’s “leg” (wheel?) of the journey to Amble with more of the “coasts and castle” route on NCN 1 passing llamas and Sustrans workers and fantastic coastal views. Northumbria is an amazing place of contrast with golden sand beaches but stacks of industrial history.
We ended up in a free Park4night in Amble – parking near the marina, again what a find. We walked into the town, just good to see life returning to places post the lockdown. Things starting to open after a year of inertia.
Day 2 – Amble to Seaham. 55 miles (20th April)
Fiona set off from Amble down NCN 1 heading for Whitley Bay for lunch and the changeover. In her element as all the beaches were breathtaking and easy flat cycling (so far!). This is definitely a route of industrial history alongside the old coalfields near Ashington (birthplace of the footballing Charlton brothers) and the industrial Cramlington into the holiday resort of Whitley Bay where Mike was waiting with lunch just outside the famous White City of Dire Straits fame in “Tunnel of Love”.
Mike had the next leg to Seaham over the border in County Durham. But this was through the city of Newcastle upon Tyne. And over/under the river! But there is, a small ferry between North and South Shields, and for £1.90 you and your bike can be transported in seven minutes across the Tyne. Then Mike got lost in South Shields but found time to call in at an old friend in Harlow Printing – on the way along the coast past the finish of the Great North Run on the seafront towards Sunderland and the challenge of getting through another large city. Some great new buildings alongside the Wear including the National Glass Centre (wow) before bowling into Seaham in the shadow of the luxurious Seaham Hall Hotel, as Fiona had made a fab find for the night for another freebie place in a car park outside the town that seemed to welcome vans – we were one of four vans. Fiona had time for a proper beach walk too – did we mention she likes the sea?!
Day 3 – Seaham to Saltburn. 55 miles
Mike to start first as he was the last in yesterday with a stretch down the Durham coast to Seaton Carew. This was again a beautiful coast of sandy bays and industrial heritage. The first few miles were uphill on a gravel track (which had not been compacted) and continued that way, off road anyway, for the next 18 miles on old railway tracks built originally to transport coal to the ports on the coast. Flat cycling but a good test of bike – and rider! – to the old port of Hartlepool. No monkeys hanging but a beautiful old dock area with new apartments, a tall ship and a paddle steamer. But the “beach” near the harbour washes up coal not golden sand, a relic of the industrial past.
Met Fiona in Seaton Carew with her taking over for the leg to Saltburn. In theory it was only about 24 miles but turned out to be 34. And a very tricky way through Teeside and through some very dodgy areas of Middlesborough. She made the coast at Redcar and hurtled down to meet me at Saltburn.
We walked out late to see the sun setting over the steel works at Redcar with some amazing tricks of the fading sunlight. A great end to another great day.
Saltburn – deserves its own photos!
Day 4 Saltburn to Whitby (Hawkser). 24 miles
Fiona started a half day’s cycling first heading for Staithes on the cycle route over hill and dale. It turned out to be pretty tough up and down and a “challenging” surface – and a few more than the dozen miles predicted.
Mike drove on to Staithes to a Park4Night overlooking the lovely little village and walked down to the village to get stuff for lunch and had it ready for when Fiona arrived (well nearly!).
After lunch Mike set off on the road for the up and down ride to Sansend just short of Whitby for the rendezvous. Fiona went to the Co-op in Staithes to top up the supplies. It was an easy ride but his shoe cleat was loose and when stopping to take a photo of the Lythe Bank 18% sign neither foot would come out and it ended in an inglorious slow-motion fall! Hey ho! Back to the drawing board. On to Sansend and the meet up with the camper van after descending the infamous Lythe Bank with care.
Day 5 Whitby (Hawkser) to Scarborough and return (37 miles)
This was a different day as we met friends Chris and Kay (from Wakefield Calder Clarion cycling club and the Col du Galibier) and cycled the old railway track together. We are more used to off-roading so were happier with the track but Kay in particular was very careful and with good reason as she slid backwards down a steep slope onto her posterior! And her phone alarm went off to warn her! No damage done other than a bit of pride and we are off again with the smell of fish and chips in the air from Scarborough.
Fish and chips sitting in the sun in Peasholm Park – what a halfway stop! Ace! But idylls don’t last forever and we decided to go back part road/part track. Fiona says, “ON my OS app (oh no not again, the app!) we can go on a small road to Ravenscar” – great , so we did, but that road has all the hills! We actually “enjoyed” the hills (Chris and Kay may have a different view) and trundled into Ravenscar where we picked up the railway track again.
One thing we should note is that on the way out we had seen many trail runners doing the Hardmoor 32 miles run; and we saw many of the same runners on the way back, and Fiona rode with some of them – good for all of them!! Glad I’m on a bike.
Day 6 Whitby (Hawkser) to Filey (11 miles)
OK, I know its not very far but it’s worse. We drove the van there and parked up and walked around Filey Brigg and the town of Filey. Why did we do that – no excuse but it was hilly, windy, busy road; but truth is we couldn’t be bothered putting lycra on for 11 miles!! We were reminded of the Tour de Yorkshire in 2015 where on the way to the finish of the 100 miler in Scarborough we had passed along the seafront of Filey up the cobbled climb (not as severe as Flanders). A lovely day including scrambling down the cliff to the Brigg, with a grey seal sunning itself and waiting for the incoming tide to take to the North Sea (we hoped). Met some lovely fellow campers – young couple from Chesterfield and older couple from Boston Spa (near where to Mike lived).
So, a no cycling day but tomorrow is back in the saddle and south towards Spurn Point. And the “end of the world” feeling.
Day 7 Filey to Spurn Point (35 miles)
Two confessions – we did not cycle (bad weather) and didn’t get to Spurn Point!
What went wrong? Well, we never said this was all cycling – “biking, hiking and vanning” – and we’re not that silly to pass up a warm van as opposed to wet and cold cycling. On reflection the cycling, weather permitting, would have been easy as the terrain is flat.
We ended up wild camping on the Humber estuary with a magnificent sunset and distant views of…Spurn Point. At this stage the plan was to get up early-ish and cycling the 20 miles round trip to Spurn Point but we woke up to 5 degrees and rain. So Spurn Point will have to wait.
So we turned the van south and sped home to recharge batteries and give the washing machine a workout!