We took a train to Newcastle and rode the 12.5 miles out to Tynemouth. By the time we'd got there, and fueled ourselves with coffee and cake, it was already 3pm.
We'd 30 miles to our first night at a campsite close to Ponteland. The Newcastle conurbation is well served with cycleways, notably the Waggonways; old railway routes. Failed batteries in my rear lamp and a puncture for Chris delayed our progress. The last few miles saw lots of uphill in the dark.
Our second day had us heading to a planned wild camp in Kielder forest. An estimated 48 miles. Dividing the route into bite-sized chunks of around 12 miles saw us snacking by a roadside, relaxing in our Helinox chairs like two OAPs, brewing coffee.
By lunchtime we'd reached the little town of Bellingham. Cafe time. Once I'd ordered, Chris cancelled his veggie choice for sausage egg and chips too.
A new tube was purchased in the bike shop to replace Chris's spare, then we were off again, up the hilly backroads to the Kielder dam. And after more coffee we made away for the final 10 miles to our wild camp. Chrissie had phoned the water authority to check we could use one of the official backpacking sites in the forest. We got within a few hundred yards of the location, down a grassy, muddy lane, before being thwarted by fallen trees. With backpacks we'd have got round but not with laden touring bikes. We backtracked to the forest track resolving to find somewhere else. In failing light, along the way we stopped to filter water from a muddy, peaty puddle.
Only a short way along the track we found a disused farmhouse. An ideal camp site. We pitched, hidden from view, in the back garden.
Our third day had us continuing a further 8 miles through the forest on tracks of reducing width. Though no warnings exist on either my official route map nor the Sustrans guide, a sign before our camp informed us that a "good quality off-road bicycle" would be needed to complete what they call the cross-border route ahead (it dips into Scotland). My Thorn Sherpa fits that description though mebbe not when fully laden. Chris's Dawes Ultra Galaxy? Well, we'd soon find out.
For about half a mile the route became what mountain bikers would call single track and included an interesting, steep downhill section. It WAS challenging, but we both survived, agreeing it was right on the edge of what's rideable on a fully laden touring bike. On the, only slightly easier, track down the other side Chris requested a try of my Thorn, declaring it required less concentration on the rough tracks. I found his Ultra Galaxy surprisingly competent though, but I knew what he meant. We also made the interesting discovery that, on my Thorn, Chris was trailing behind me (usually it's the other way around). I took this as reassurance that the reason I usually lag is simply cos the bike's slower than Chris's, with it's 26" wheels and off-roady, 2" wide tyres. I still love it though. And, the experience left Chris resolving to buy some slightly wider, slightly more aggressive tyres should we ever tackle a route like this again.
The rest of that third day's route was a delight. We wound through quiet lanes and cycle tracks 'til emerging at another small campsite just north of Carlisle. With a dearth of cafes on the route we fed and watered ourselves with coffee, butties and spaghetti bolognese during a couple of much-needed stops.
The fourth day would see us almost completing our route. I'd found a campsite which would leave only 7 miles into Whitehaven on the final morning.
Now crossing the Lake District, our route took us within spitting distance of High Pike where Chrissie and I, and the pups, had enjoyed a wild camp with Peter and Oscar (the Mountain Dog) only a couple of weeks earlier; see here.
It was a gorgeously sunny day, but damn cold...and windy.
In Cockermouth we found a cafe for tea and cake, then rattled along the final 6 miles to our campsite near Winscales. Despite being well out of nearby Workington or Whitehaven, my internet research had revealed a pleasant sounding pub a mere 200 yards down the road.
"Oily's", as it's called, did not disappoint.
The meals were superb. The service was excellent. The price was right and the Theakstons went down VERY well. Highly recommended! With full stomachs, we ambled cheerily back to our tents.
It was bloody cold as we awoke on the fifth morning. We breakfasted quickly before embarking on the final 7 miles down cycleways into Whitehaven.
Accosting two lads to take the obligatory end-of-route photo, we were directed to a good cafe and soon devoured a full English with gusto, in high spirits.
And all that was left was the train journey back home. By 5:30 we were bimbling down our local bike track, the Sett Valley Trail, back into Hayfield.
A fine trip. In my view, far and away the best coast to coast route I've so far undertaken. The slight edginess of the forest route had delighted us both and it's a route I could well imagine repeating in the future.
We'd ridden around 180 miles including all our deviations.
Equipment notes: my recently purchased Paramo Velez Adventure jacket proved excellent for cycling (as well as backpacking) being comfy, light, slightly insulative, waterproof and breathable. Our Anker PowerCore 20000 allowed me to recharge my Garmin Edge Touring bike satnav and my phone each night in the tent. Connecting this to my bike dyno hub whilst riding meant it kept its four neons ablaze for the whole trip. My new Rigida Grizzly Carbide Super Sonic rims provided superb stopping power with only a little, tolerable noise (there's a health warning about them squealing).
We had little rain but our Hilleberg Enan was drenched with condensation each night (as was Chris's Akto). Opening both end vents and even sleeping with the door half open made no difference. My sleeping bag was wetted by the drips every morning. It will NOT accompany me on any cold trips in future!
Thanks for reading. Enjoy your own adventures and, above all...smile!