June 2014 was a solo tour from Edinburgh back to home in Brecon. This route took in the Northumbria coast, the Northumberland National Park, the Pennines, the Yorkshire Dales, the Lincolnshire Wolds, Cambridgeshire, Oxford, the Cotswolds and then back into Wales and home. A total journey of 750 miles in 10 days.
It gave a varied experience of the hills and valleys in the spine of England, the rolling and flat countryside of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, and the major towns and cities of Edinburgh, Harrogate, York, Lincoln, Ely, Cambridge and Oxford, the first time I had visited many of these significant English destinations.
The trip started with a flight from Bristol to Edinburgh,The bike was soon assembled and I was off on my travels by mid morning, off through the middle of Edinburgh and out along the East Lothian coast.
The coastline was beautiful, passing a continuous stream of links golf courses to the harbour town of North Berwick, then turned south towards the border.
For this trip I had no plans for where I was going to stay, and hoped to find campsites towards the end of each day.
However this part of the coast as I headed towards Berwick on Tweed wasn’t overly touristy, and there was no sign of any campsites. The evening approached in grey rain, and life was a bit grim cycling down the A1 dual carriageway in heavy rain.
There was no sign of anywhere to stop, so I started to look for wild camping spots, for my first wild camping experience. I spotted a wooded area, and headed towards it hoping that I could find some shelter. Luckily Just beyond the wood I spotted an isolated concrete structure on the side of the road.
It was now being used as a farm building, but appeared to be a military building, possibly an observer post, as it was on the coast. Anyway it was dry inside and made an excellent home for me away from the rain. There was no sign of life for miles, so I was unlikely to be disturbed. My only company were the cows in the field who kept a close watch on me through the fence
So, after only 60 miles and a good soaking the first day ended in the dry.
One of the beauties of camping, or sleeping rough in a farm building, is that you wake up early and enjoy a part of the day I don’t normally see.
Down the coast, through Berwick on Tweed, too early so no shops open, past Lindisfarne, and on to Banburgh Castle.
Unfortunately I didn’t visit. One of the issues of solo cycle touring is what to do with bike and kit if you want to visit anything. it is also an issue when you want to do any shopping. Usually it is a case of finding a small shop with a big window and trying to keep an eye on the bike while you shop.
Another reason for no visits today was this trip was against the clock. I had 10 days to cover my planned 750 miles back to Brecon. Sylvia had said she would come and pick me up if I didn’t make it. But that was never going to happen.
So it was press on, and the day ended at Bellingham in Kielder Forest, with 90 miles clocked up. Back on schedule.
This is where the hills started in earnest. An easy start to the day, over Hadrians Wall, close to the main visitor centre, but again no visit. Then into the hills. A recurring theme on this trip would be that every time I climbed up onto high ground it would start to rain. From Allendale I started to climb the Pennines, crossing the Pennine Way regularly. At least the walkers looked more wet and miserable than me, I knew I would be back down into the valley much faster than them, via a picturesque ride down the Tees Valley.
The day ended at Barnard Castle with a struggle to find a campsite. I passed a couple on the way, but they were a bit short of my milage target. When I got to town all that were marked were closed, and I zig zaged around trying to find one. Eventually I gave up and headed into the hills to wild camp, and straight away came to a quiet campsite on a farm.
Prior to the trip I had planned to take my small tent, which is just about acceptable for me touring. However as the weather forecast was not the best I had taken my much larger (and heavier) 3 man tent.
A cycle touring trade off with kit is weight against comfort, and decisions have to be made, continually trying to reduce weight, but balanced against comfort and luxury off the bike. The extra couple of kilos for the tent on this trip proved well worth it.
Today was the Yorkshire Dales, a beautiful area of valleys running from the west to the east. Unfortunately I was traveling from the north to the south, so it was a day of climbing (and pushing) up a succession of steep hills.
I was travelling through Yorkshire a few weeks before the Tour de France Grand Depart and the whole area had clearly gone Tour De France mad.