Had a rather good nights sleep in the tent. This was the first night of use for some new equipment (including the tent!) and it all worked rather well. Star buy has to be the Alpkit Dumo mattress though. Was amazingly comfortable.
Started the morning after breakfast and packing up heading off west and south through the open Northumberland countryside. It actually reminded me of Italy. The vast open expanses, wide rolling hills, covered in ripening corn caressed by the wind making patterns like waves on the open sea.
It should have been idyllic.
Unfortunately Northumberland was trying to kill me. It was out to get me no question about it. First there was the hills, but those were expected. Then there was the wind. An unrelenting 20 mph westerly that was either trying to slow me to a crawl, or blow me into the nearside hedge. It was chilling me to the bone unless I wore my wind proof jacket as well. Then there was the sun that meant that I was sweating my arse off and drinking all my water too quickly. Finally though, Sustrans (obviously in collusion with Northumberland) routed me over paths that wouldn’t look out of place in the Dirty Reiver Gravel race, or a mountain bike downhill course.
Hardest day of cycling ever.
Starting off I headed down from Norham to Wooler through back lanes. This is a really pretty section of the ride. You go past a few castles as well, which if you have the time look worth a look around. Just be aware the off road section north of Etal has a double switch back down a very steep hill on gravel. Just stick to the road (something of a re-occurring point throughout this ride).
I had a distance to go today though so didn’t and pushed on to Wooler . Climbing out of Wooler I passed a local who took one look at me struggling in bottom gear on the slope, and said:
“the world’s round, but all we ever seem to do is go up.”
Couldn’t agree more. It became somewhat of a motto for the next few days!
Back to the route, if you do this, DO NOT follow the sustrans path from Wooler south. For the love of god, just cycle down the A road. First you get to a ford. You can’t go through it, it’s a foot deep. You’ll need to push your bike over the little bridge to one side. Then the first section of off road path is a newly graveled road, about 2 miles long.
The gravel is way to large for a normal touring bike and I ended up walking up a crappy hill. Oh and there’s also a ford at the bottom. Which you can’t cross. And this time the little bridge is up a bank.
After that I was back on lanes and thought the worst was over. Oh no. The worse was yet to come. Probably to this point the worse piece of off road “cycle track” that sustrans has ever routed me over. It started off ok going over a grass field. Then the grass disappears and I was cycling down a rocky slope. Then you get to another ford. I say ford, it’s just a river here really with a path through it. The small bridge this time is up a 8 foot bank to the right which I had to manhandle a loaded touring bike up. Finally the route out is up a really steep rock strewn, muddy, wet, stream bed. God I was glad when that ended.
Afterwards the ride along the river Breamish valley was just excellent. Beautiful surroundings made better by the fact that this was the one point of the whole day I was riding with the wind behind me. 14mph without pedaling on the flat. Lovely. Still didn’t make up for the crap beforehand though.
After crossing the Breamish using another small (well not so small this time!) bridge the next section was the hardest for me of the whole ride. 10 miles with no cover directly into the wind with some mildly dodgy off-road sections. I did it, but it almost killed me. Even with stopping for lunch huddled behind a wall out of the wind.
I had an unplanned stop at the pub in Alwinton at the end of it to just stop and feed up for a bit (and convince myself not to call a taxi!)
After that the route turned south and out of the wind a bit, and I cracked on. Got to a road closed sign. The diversion was another 5 miles, so I went for it and just hoped I could get round the closure. Speaking to a nice lady on a horse, turns out they’d done all the work days ago and just hadn’t bothered to remove the signs!
Finally to finish the day off, I had a large climb over the edge of the Northumberland national park. It started spitting at the top and only really stopped when I rolled into Otterburn.
The William de Percy is definitely recommended for Sunday roast by the way. Massive and tasty.