CYCLING IN CUMBRIA'S BORDER COUNTRY:
CARLISLE TO CASTLE CARROCK, THE LONG WAY
Scottish Borders have turned the north side of the border into a major cycling destination. Things may be a bit quieter just to the south, but, there’s so much great cycling to be had, that when Steve Dyster got the opportunity to explore, he was off like a shot. Here’s his first day, from the big city, Carlisle, to a rural idyll at Tottergill Farm. Needless to say, he went the long way. RouteYou route here.
Escaping the Citadel
Carlisle railway station is almost smack in the city centre. Shopping, the Tullie House Museum, the Cathedral, the Castle …. I went for the latter …. are close by. The only problem with following NCR7 from just outside the station is that you miss out on the charming square at the heart of the city. However, it is great for a mostly traffic-free escape from this border citadel.
NCR7 and 72 run through the city, meeting close to the Castle and the Eden bridge. They both make pleasantly quiet ways in and out. Keep an eye out - some of the signs are not obvious (at the time of writing).
The way to Longtown provided a warm-up for what was to come. In Rockliffe NCR7 drops down almost to the riverside. Flood-borne wood and sand blocked the route temporarily. High tides must make it an interesting ride, too. A little beyond, after a brief climb, the Eden slides around a bend, catching the eye.
Most of NCR7 is on road all the way to Longtown. Where a section of the A7 would be unavoidable, a stretch of permissive trail - a former railway line - cuts a corner. The filthy look and the fact that I’d ridden on the A7 and not found it so busy before, led me to keep to the road. Granted, this was mid-week mid-morning, but there was not a lot of traffic. Could have used it all the way form Carlisle, but would have missed some pleasant country lanes and the Eden view at Rockliffe.
Into the hills
Longtown has cafes and shops. Stock up, if necessary, because, with the honourable exception of the Pentonbridge Inn, you’ll find no refreshment until Newcastleton. Leaving NCR7 as it elopes to Gretna Green, the inclines commence, long and gentle, moving slowly through the gears until the border is crossed in a defile containing the Kershope Burn. This reminds you that this is hill country and you are going to earn your pleasures.
Speeding down to cross the Liddel Water just outside Newcastleton, the prospect of returning the same way made the excursion for tea and cake a little ambiguous. There are two hotels in Newcastleton, a bar, two cafes and a handful of shops. All are on the straight main street or the broad square in the village centre. I went for the Copshaw Kitchen rather than the Olive Tree, with a stop at the butcher’s shop first.
Self-catering always adds to the burden in the panniers. Initially planning to stock up in Brampton, I was tempted by the steak round and coiled Cumberland sausage. It was a good choice and well-worth the extra kilo on the hills.
These commenced immediately after re-tracing my tracks across the Liddel Water. Heading south, England was reached where NCR10 emerges onto the road after a long crossing from Kielder Water through Kielder and Kershope Forests. This became the way to the market town of Brampton.
Dawn creeping across the Eden Valley tempting you into the saddle? Cumbria’s distant Solway Coast a dazzling strip of light at sunset as you return? Stretch your aching muscles after cycling over Hartside, or relax in a peaceful idyll and contemplate the sights of Hadrian’s Wall?
Tottergill Farm self-catering cottages stand proudly on a hillside on the western edge of the Pennines, nothing but a cock-stride from the pretty village of Castle Carrock. Ideally suited to cyclists who want to explore the Eden Valley, the western end of the Scottish Borders, and Hadrian’s Wall country, as well as those who fancy some hard, hilly miles in magnificent scenery. Gentler routes can be found, too - a trip to the Lake District would not be out off the question. I did not have a car with me, but, with one, even more fascinating routes come within reach.
Owners Tracey and Barnaby have created a community of luxurious award-winning self-catering cottages sleeping between two and eight around the courtyard of Tottergill Farm. “We can accommodate up to forty-four people, if we go all out, so we could cater for a cycling club.” They’ll also welcome dogs and non-cyclists. Mind you, you might just want to keep it all to yourself.
Bikes could be stored in the barn, or, even, if given a nice clean, the cottage. With decent weather forecast, mine settled for a night next to the hot tub. Selected cottages have one attached, so be prepared to fight your club mates for them.
Tracey and Barnaby have created a great website. In addition to all you’d expect, there are history pages which give a real sense of place. Then there’s a friendly pub, the Duke of Cumberland, on the village green … local walks and plenty for non-cyclists to enjoy.
Availability and a lot more can be found at http://www.tottergill.co.uk
In our spirit of transparency, Steve received two nights free accommodation in Oak Cottage, courtesy of Tracey and Barnaby. He did his own cooking, except when he went to the pub.
And what a wonderful road it is. A switchback of sweeping descents and climbs, some frustratingly steep and twisted, but all surrounded by forest and field with moorland views to the left and more distant hills to the right. In each dip is a clear, rushing river; at each summit a new view.
Hadrian’s Wall country was approaching. Bewcastle is, on a fine day, a hamlet of isolated beauty. The Roman fort there predated Hadrian’s Wall, occupying the site of an earlier settlement. The church is quaint, but famous for its Anglo-Saxon cross. There’s a little museum, really worth a look. Helpful, too, on a wet day. There is not much shelter elsewhere, until Lanercost is reached.
My way left NCR10 a few miles on. More vigorous undulations brought me to Hadrian’s Wall, at Banks, where NCR72 runs to Lanercost. After the vigour of cycling across the grain of the country, Lanercost is a lovely place to stop. The main feature is the complex of old buildings surrounding the medieval priory, but the whole valley of the River Irthing and the lovely old bridge is idyllic. A chronicle written at Lanercost recounts the ills of the far north of England, ignored by a King more interested in the south. How times have changed.
Keeping on across the grain, NCR72 rolls into Brampton, the busiest little town since Carlisle. Had I been heading back to the city, I’d have kept on NCR72. However, I had the pleasure of a couple of night’s away, so found my way out of Brampton and kept on the B6413 as it maintained the tradition of the afternoon with undulations all the way to Castle Carrock.
From there minor roads and tracks took me up to Tottergill Farm, home for two nights. A grand ride, ending with a wonderful sunset as the steak round crisped up in the oven.
Cycling From Tottergill
I had no car. Needless to say, a wider variety of routes and destinations are on offer with a bot pf a drive to start with. However, individual cyclists or groups could have a week’s worth of routes with plenty of variety.
A circuit including the iconic C2C climb over Hartside, Alston - England's highest town - beautiful South Tynedale, thriving Haltwhistle, and a quick tour of Hadrian’s Wall, is a long day ride. An article will appear in due course. Exploring the Eden Valley by cycling down to Armathwaite or Lazenby is lovely. Take look at A Rose Between Two Roses. A quick trip into Carlisle and the flatter lands of the Solway Coast would make for some lighter relief after days in the hills.
NCR72 is probably the best way to explore Hadrian’s Wall country by bike, although the B6318 gives better access after Greenhead. This road is straight, with numerous switchbacks. Traffic can move very quickly, but, as a confident cyclist I have not had any problem. There are numerous sites to see. Worth selecting one or two. Housesteads, Birdoswald, Vindolanda? Exploring the Wall properly requires a bit of a walk, so think carefully about footwear.
For a real challenge, cycle south along the Pennine foot through Melmerby on NCR68. A little way before Knock, turn for the Christian Centre and follow the road past it and upward and upward. The approach should have warmed you up nicely for the rather lunatic climb up to the 2782ft summit Great Dun Fell, the second highest top in the Pennines. Adorned by a Radar Station, which you can thank for the road, the views are magnificent and the descent as hard on the hands as the ascent is on the legs.
Cycling info for the area in general can be found at;
http://www.mountain-bike-cumbria.co.uk/trails.php focuses on the Lake District, but if you have a car ....
There are suggested cycle routes for road cycling, electric bicycles (though presumably they could be done easily on other bikes) and MTBs at http://www.explorenorthpennines.org.uk/recreation-opportunity/cycling
A 7stanes Trail centre is not far off, near Newcastleton http://www.7stanes.com/newcastleton-trail-information-c197.html
More MTB trails can be found at Kielder Water http://www.visitkielder.com/play/adventure/mountain-biking
Closer to Tottergill are numerous bridleways and hill tracks, but please respect the rights of landowners and farmers, as well as the flora and fauna of the area.
OS 1:50000 sheets 85 and 86 cover most of the area, but sections of other maps may be useful if travelling far, and certainly if you are heading into Scotland or towards the Lakes or the upper Eden valley. For road cycling the 1:250000 OS sheets for Southern Scotland and/or Northern England is perfect. Steve used Sustrans Pocket guide to NCN sheets 34 and 35, as well.
Seven Day Cyclist tours on RouteYou Carlisle, Newcastleton, Kershope, Brampton, Castle Carrock Hartside and Haltwhistle and Castle Carrock, and Eden ValleyTour.
PUBLISHED APRIL 2018