A short tour of Northern England
This short tour was all about making the most of a week off work. I had only lived in England for a short time, and I wanted to get out there and discover the history and countryside of the north. I studied Roman history at university, so I was naturally interested in the Hadrian Wall frontier just north of my home inLeeds. The trip began in Newcastle by the Tyne river. I then rode westwards following the Hadrian Cycleway, stopping at all the Roman sites along the way. The National Cycle Network route then followed the Cumbrian Coast south to Ravenglass. I then worked my way east back home, cutting through The Lakes District and Yorkshire Dales to get back toLeeds.
On day one, as my mate drove me to the start point in Newcastle from Sheffield, the hours of rain along the highway were very discouraging. However, the weather managed to clear up, and after a delicious coffee in an Italian Cafe I was out of excuses. It was time to begin the ride!
Along the River Tyne
After beginning to pedal it wasn’t long before I stopped to take in the beautiful views of the Tyne River. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of signposts along the cycleway, and the flat path closely followed the river. Despite the heavily laden bike I was therefore able to travel some quick miles.
The flat riding came to an end when I was too curious to ride past the castle in Prudhoe, and I found myself riding a steep hill to see the ruins. My next significant stop was the Roman garrison town of Corstopitum at Corbridge.
The Roman garrison town of Corstopitum
I then pushed on rather painfully to Chesters Roman Fort. After a chat to a couple women doing the Hadrians walk, I decided to jump the fence and see the closed Fort before sunset.
Chesters provided the most ideal improvised campsite I could imagine, and a perfect end to such a great afternoon of riding. The floor of the ancient Roman Bathhouse gave a level surface for my tent, and it wasn’t long before I indulged in a nice can of soup and a cup of tea.
On the second day I woke early as I really didn’t want to explain myself to any museum curators or archaeologists. After a hearty meal of porridge, I snuck out of the ancient site before 7am. It was the perfect crime!
The day was filled with scenic riding through small villages and countryside. As I climbed along one valley I could see the spectacular Roman fort of Vercovicium at Housesteads across the valley. I was glad to arrive again and have the place to myself. However, I had to push the bike through steep farmland, and I’m not sure the sheep were too impressed with my presence. The views were magnificent, and I got my first look at a well preserved section of Hadrians Wall.
I then kept riding to Vindolanda Roman Fort and Museum, and in Walltown Crags I cooked up a nice meal of rice and tuna. The wall at Birdoswald Roman Fort was well preserved across a field, and as I rode on it was the first and only time I was able to actually ride next to the wall.
The descent down into Lanercost was exhilarating, and at the bottom I explored the Priory. The joy of the descent was soon crushed by the realisation that on the other side was countless hills to climb! I eventually got into Carlisle, stopping to see the castle and get some much needed powdered milk at Tesco for my morning and evening cups of tea!
I decided to push on beyond the city, and eventually as the sun was going down I settled for a farm between Monkhill and Burgh-by-Sands. Although it was only my second night, I could already notice subtle improvements in organising my campsite for the night…
On the third morning I pushed myself far beyond what I was capable to get to Silloth for lunch by the sea, where the fish and chips were nowhere near as tasty as I had imagined over the long hours of riding!
There was one advantage of not being able to read a map at this stage of my trip… I didnt notice all the ‘shortcut’ roads which I would have no doubt used. As a result, I stuck to the scenic coastal route through what felt like endless marshes and along the Solway Coastal area. The road was punctuated by cattle grids and farm fences, and it was a constant struggle to avoid the cow dung along the road
In the afternoon the headwind along the coast defeated me, and I was forced to stop early at the rather unattractive town of Maryport. To make matters worse the Senhouse Roman Museumwas extremely disappointing. I was too tired to ride out of town in search of a more scenic camping ground, so I settled for a park nearby. I was a bit worried I would look like a homeless paedophile in a park, but luckily the only problems I experienced was a little yapping dog in the middle of the night.
After a much needed sleep-in I packed my things and headed south towards Workington. I was really surprised at the amount of cycle paths uniting the coastal towns and villages along the coast in Cumbria. It was a welcome change to ride along traffic free cycle routes.
Outside of Whitehaven I met another cyclist from Keswick, and we cycled into Whitehaven together for the last ten kilometres. In Whitehaven we stopped at a cafe near the Beacon Waterside. Soon the last of the clouds had passed over, and it became an absolutely gorgeous day by the water. I was really sad to leave after having a coffee with Chris and reading for a couple hours by the harbour.
Cycling into the town of Whitehaven
I connected up with the C2C route and continued further south. Again, the diversity of landscapes was really rewarding. It was so satisfying having the scenery change after every push to get another five kilometres or up a hill or around the next corner.
Going through scenic towns such as Seascale made me really appreciate the perspective of cycling when travelling. I arrived in Ravenglass late afternoon, finishing the Hadrians Cycleway at the Roman Bath House after about 265km fromNewcastle. In the early evening I continued cycling the dirt backroad to Muncaster Castle and gardens. I once again avoided paying an entrance fee as it was outside hours, and the ride through the gardens to the castle were really enjoyable.
At this stage I decided I had earned a hot shower. I cycled into a campsite and for the first time in days enjoyed multiple hot showers in the Ravenglass campsite. I even went a step further and had some pints and steak and kidney pie at the local pub!
The next two days I left the Hadrians Cycleway and relied on a page ripped out of a Lonely Planet Guide (in hindsight I really should have got myself a better map). I did get lost a couple times, but otherwise I managed okay!
The ride into and across The Lakes District was absolutely spectacular. Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass were hard going; at one point the ascent reached 30%. Needless to say, with the weight on my bike I was defeated rather quickly, and was forced to push most of the way up Hardknott Pass. After cycling on via Great Landsdale, Ambleside and Windermere, I found the perfect campsite along Windermere Lake at Bowness. In the evening I joined a hospitable Polish group, and as well as good company I enjoyed some beers and BBQ by the water.
The next day I decided early to get to my own bed in Leeds, and as a result I endured over twelve hours on the saddle to reach home. After stopping in Kendal for breakfast, the scenery got really picturesque through The Dales from Sedbergh to Ingleton. I also stumbled across the impressive viaducts of Denthead and Ribblehead. In the early afternoon I was forced to join the A65 to get home before nightfall, and the busy road took me all the way into Leeds. The 155km days riding was tough, but I was glad to have all of Sunday to recover before returning to work.
Two thumbs up for a perfect week on the bike
The trip was such a rewarding experience, taking in some of the most spectacular scenery of Northern England. In total, I camped for five nights and rode approximately 500km. It was great to try out my gear and gain valuable confidence for cycle-touring. The trip gave me such a positive impression that within days of being home I began planning a summer tour on the European continent.