IN AND OUT OF TEESDALE
Mark Jacobson continues hsi quest for clues on the British Cycle Quest, with his Brommie carrying the camping gear into the valley of the River Tees.
The train from Carlisle had been on time, so I soon rode into Brampton, Cumbria, in search of lunch. The landlady at the Nag's Head PH made a special light meal, suitable for later cycling, which set me up for the afternoon's riding. After passing the station approach on my way, I started my gradual climb up the minor valley of the Milton Beck to Hallbankgate, more or less at the highest point, before plunging down to Midgeholme Bridge, crossing Harley Burn, and regaining height until Halton-Lea-Gate and the descent into the South Tyne Valley, along the A689, not a busy road by any measure.
The South Tyne Valley is a delight, as the road gradually rises above the river, giving wider views into the North Pennine hills. Below, in places the bank descending to the river appears to have a scalloped edge, which seems to be caused by a layer of poor quality shale or coal being washed out by the river in horse-shoe shapes, allowing the soil above to slide downwards, forming this pattern continuously along the steep edge.
The road ran almost at the top of the hillside - it reaches around 300m in altitude before plunging to the river - leading to a sudden climb to Alston, and a break for tea at a convenient café. As it was still fairly early in the day, and the weather glorious, it seemed a shame to pause in my journey by camping here, as it was only another 23 miles to Middleton-in-Teesdale, an equally suitable overnight stopping place, so, feet on pedals, I proceeded - after the refreshing tea.
The B6277 road continues the high level running below the crests of the hills, undulating up and down until, beyond the Cookburn Ridge, it reaches just below 600m, thereafter rising and falling over the breezy moorland - on this occasion the breeze forward movement - until dropping to Middleton-in-Teesdale, at about 230m. That final 14 mile run taking a mere 40 minutes or so of easy pedalling! It was no surprise to have an average speed of almost 11.5 mph that day!
The Leekworth Caravan Park is an ideal backpacker camping ground with good facilities and a pitch near the field boundary, alongside the Tees, whose chuckling lulled me to sleep that night.
The town has quite a splendid ornate drinking fountain centrally placed, worth stopping to investigate. It lies close to where Teesdale and Lunedale meet, in this especially green valley. The upland hay meadows are here regarded as fine examples of species-rich mesotrophic grassland communities, showing plants not readily found elsewhere.
Looking from above, as I did next morning after a hard climb, is a delight. However, my road soon plunged once more to cross the Eggleston Burn. From there only slow progress could be made, as I travelled in a northerly direction, straight into a very stiff breeze. At the same time I was climbing the Eggleston Valley, from about 250m at the bridge, to 510m at the highest point, after which it fell again to Bollihope Burn, in its deep valley, at about 280m, and then climbing rapidly to another high of 397m!
These did not prove to be hard climbs, since, hindered further by the stiff heading breeze, they were merely slow pushes!
The descent to Stanhope came as a shock, and I am surprised that the brakes did not complain. On entering the town I passed Horn Hall Farm Tea Rooms, and came back for tea! Suitably refreshed, I then rode into the centre where, by the market place, is a fossil tree stump just within the churchyard, clearly visible from the road. It was found elsewhere in a quarry, sawn into pieces, and then brought here to be reassembled as an unusual scientific object.
Leaving Stanhope was not easy: within a short distance the road rises from 200m to over 430m, the steepest part being through Crawleyside. As it eases off beyond that, it becomes more exposed to the headwind, so the struggle continued. Further on the road forks to the left, this lane being totally exposed to any weather that may come: the wind being strong and the only bike-leaning poles available being plastic snow poles, it was not possible to stop and take a photograph but the view is superb. To the north, all of Northumberland lies below, almost appearing to be flat, all the way to the horizon where The Cheviot stands sentinel and to its left, a high ridge, which I believed to be that of the nearer Simonside.
There is another sudden drop, this time into Blanchland. Here, housing is clustered on three sides and, by the arch (which may have been where the road first went) is a shop with drinks machine and eats, and an outside picnic table for comfort, a goodly tea stop. A rest was surely needed. To leave Blanchland, as for Stanhope earlier, is to push! Passing the Slaley Forest, its shady cluster cutting the breeze, in a few miles the village of Slalely comes, and then the turn for Rye Hill Farm, my campsite for the night. It was very welcome, after the day's struggle.
Not surprisingly, I rode only some 32 miles, taking over four and a half hours of pedalling, and averaging below 7 mph! But what open scenery, in these Northern Pennine hills! The air so fresh, so pure, away from densely populated towns.
Camp sites used:
Leekworth Caravn Park, Leekworth Lane, Middleton-in-Teesdale, DL12 0TL
tel. 01833 640842 / 07779 522960 / 07815 857597
Rye Hill Farm, Slaley, Hexham, NE47 0AH
tel. 01434 673259
Other accommodation could include
YHA Langdon Beck http://www.yha.org.uk/hostel/langdon-beck
For the BCQ see http://www.cyclinguk.org/british-cycle-quest
PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2016