A GRAND DAY CYCLING IN THE NORTH PENNINES
Cumbria, Northumberland, a well-known climb, the highest town, Hadrian’s Wall, fabulous scenery, bustling market towns, and some good old hills. Not to mention all the fun of the NCN fair and beautiful spring weather. Then there’s …. Steve Dyster had a really grand day out in the north Pennines, the day after marvellous day cycling in Cumbria’s Border Country Here's his routes on Route You
An early start is the thing, in my opinion, when the weather is fare and your ride is likely to be taxing at times. With a few inches of Cumberland sausage spitting away in the pan amidst tomatoes and mushrooms, the Eden Valley was bathed in the sun that had risen far enough to peek over the tops of the fells.
Decently fed, the ascent of that well-known cyclists’ delight - Hartside, beloved of C2Cers - began, but not too soon. A prologue roll along the flanks of the Geltsdale hills, and up to Renwick, warmed the legs nicely for the work that lay ahead. Renwick is where NCR7 met my route - or vice-versa. C2Cers, choosing the on-road option, have already climbed from the Vale of Eden, but it is at Renwick that the road rears up ahead and the gears go down and down.
There is an off-road alternative for C2Cers, but on the tourer, I stuck to the asphalt, convincing myself that I was twiddling slowly ever upward in order to admire the view. Crossing onto open moorland, a cyclists passed me and sped on with a cheery “Good morning!” Hitting a hairpin bend he accelerated and disappeared from view.
At the summit
Reaching the A686, none too busy this sunny Thursday morning, and continuing to climb, I spied the speedster standing at Hartside Summit, admiring the view. He was still there when I pulled in. “It’s an electric,” he said, apologising at the same time. I am never sure why people on e.bikes feel the need to apologise - all I ask is that they don’t gloat. “I broke my ankle a little while back and I can’t ride my tandem except on the flat.” He was cycling the C2C and would not have been able to do so without the power assist.
“It is a new lease of life,” he explained. His bike was hefty and power would only assist when pedalled. “The charge is good and i’ve got spare battery, because it is ridiculously heavy if you have to pedal with no help, or worse have to push it.”
The cafe that slaked the thirst of thousands of cyclist has burned down. I’d read about this in the news, but still felt that some likely lad or lass might have turned up with a snack van. Be a good spot on a summer’s weekend.
Another cyclist reached the summit, but seemed to see us and immediately pulled a U-turn and headed down the way he had just come up. As my electric acquaintance set off, I took the inevitable photos to prove to people that I had not shirked all day in the cafe.
The kind folk at Cumbria County Council had had their team out repairing the road surface, so I let the tourer go, slowing a good deal when reaching the current end of their work. The winter takes its toll up here and, despite the sunshine, there was still snow on the north side of Cross Fell. Picking a line amongst the pot-holes enhanced the fun and games, which could too easily turn to tragedy in heavier traffic.
Cycling down into Alston, England's highest town, seemed a bit incongruous, although it was quick. The whole area around Alston has been the scene of mineral extraction for many, many centuries. The heart of the town still has the feel of something of a tough, frontier town. Fortunately, it has cafes, pubs and shops, many of which have in their windows a brief history of the building and the people who lived and worked there. A really pleasant way to spend a while before sitting down to tea and cake.
I first came to Alston in 1976 when walking the Pennine Way. Up until that year a branch railway line ran up to the town. Nowadays the northern end of the line is used as a heritage railway and the southern section, from Slaggyford to Haltwhistle, as part of the NCN.
Following NCR68 out of town takes the cyclist along the eastern side of South Tynedale. A stunningly beautiful ride above, sometimes next to, the sparkling river South Tyne. Earning the views with some very stiff climbs, you’ll want to spend a while admiring things. Eventually one climbs to the A689, before turning up a track to join a traffic free section of the route.
Now on the western slopes of the valley, the scenery maintains the high standard set by the opposite side. You’ll spend more time looking dead ahead, though. The route changes from stoney track, to sound surface, to patches of gloop. At one stage it enters a field where sheep peacefully graze and the only sign of a track is a level, grassy curve. Then we are back to a fine solid surface. All the fun of the NCN fair can be found in this short section.
Sadly, one has to leave the line of the old railway, and ascend to the main road again, just before the old Lambley Station. You’ll get a great view of the magnificent viaduct, sweeping across the valley. It seems that the landowner did not want cyclists passing close to what is now a private residence. Needless to say, I followed the NCR signs, crossed the valley and doubled-back to cycle across the viaduct until the way was barred.
It may be a pain to go out of the way, but do not miss the viaduct. It is spectacular. There are ways down to the river, too. Chain your bike up on the viaduct.
The traffic-free run down to the main A69 at Haltwhistle was straightforward. Following NCR68 into town is a bit of a faff, until emerging at the railway station (on the Carlisle-Newcastle line). Haltwhistle is a good place to replenish before hitting Hadrian’s Wall. It’s also a fascinating little town in its own right, so spend some time wandering.
A little further up the hill toward the Wall is a The Sill, a huge visitor “experience” explaining the landscape of the Great Whin Sill, the ridge which the Wall marches along in these parts. The B6318 is a fast, straight road with many a switchback. I followed it without incident, but it may not be the most comfortable place for novices, though the scenery is good. Beyond Gilsland a minor road runs closer to the Wall. However, I was running out of time, so sped back down to Haltwhistle ad the way home. Another one, for another day.
There was only one convenient road to back over the moors toward Brampton, and the question was how to get to it. The easy way would have been to retrace tyre-tracks along the old railway line to Lambley and then to follow the A689. Can’t have that, can we? Try a different way to the main road. So I did. Without the OS 1:50000 map, I was unaware that the tiny minor roads I followed were awash with gradient arrows. Vigorous, it was, but brilliant; strenuous, but exhilarating, with a short section of riverside cycling.
I was suitably grateful when two cars crossing the hillside ahead indicated that the main road was within reach. That was pretty much the sum total of the rush hour traffic heading for Brampton. A lovely moorland ride with fabulous views ahead announcing the crossing of the watershed.
The views continued as minor roads cut the corner to Castle Carrock, where the Duke of Cumberland beckoned. The Blacksmith had beckoned in Talkin, but this was not a pub crawl. This had been a long day, well worth a couple of beers and a fabulous three course dinner.
The maze of lanes on the way to Carlisle, next day, made for gentler, pretty cycling, on the way back to the station, in the mist of a chilly morning. There’s much more to riding a bike in Cumbria than hitting the hills.
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.
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 MAY 2018