Sally and Iain's C2C Tandem Experience

Thursday 2 September 2010, Filed in: General

Left home in York at 9:45am for the 120 mile trip to Whitehaven. Travelling through many very heavy storms, a few road-works and with a poor forecast, James (our son and driver) kept reminding us that it wasn't too late to turn back.

Arrived and parked at Tesco’s. Light lunch for 3 for under £10, a useful toilet stop and very handy for the start. Waving goodbye to James we found the C2C sign with a little difficulty, took the ubiquitous Irish Sea wheel dipping photo and were off.

We were blessed with dry and sunny weather for the first few tricky miles as we wound our way through housing estates and negotiated (with some difficulty, our tandem being heavily laden) the ‘anti-motorbike’ obstacles. The railway track provided easy and interesting riding with wildflowers both sides and the occasional sculpture to amuse us. This gave way to quiet country roads and the steady climb to the Whinlatter Forest and the highest point on our first day.

Once at the visitor centre, the heavens opened. The signposted detour through the forest looked un-navigable on our bike, so we took to the now wringing wet roads. We soon found the C2C route again, through Braithwaite and on to our dry B&B and garage in Portinscale (Skiddaw Croft – friendly welcome and an excellent breakfast). A short walk to Keswick for a fish and chip supper and a glimpse at the weather report followed by early to bed.

Facts and Figures:
Days mileage 32.98, time in saddle 3h 14m, max speed 34.1 mph, average speed 10.1 mph
Total climb 904 metres, max elevation 342 metres.

Tuesday – Wet start, then even wetter

The Forecast was threatening and yes, it was actually raining as we set off. A very steep climb out of Keswick and our legs were not fully awake yet. Fortunately the rain stopped within two miles and it was a bit cooler with our waterproofs removed. We were soon on to an idyllic gated road for a few miles before dropping into Penrith. The Purple Sage café was closed so we stopped nearby at the excellent Eden Gallery Tearooms for homemade soup and sandwiches served by friendly local lasses. With railings right outside to lock the bike to and in full view from the tea-room, what more do you need?

Unfortunately, as we set off it was raining again and we had the threat of Hartside looming. It was a hard climb from Renwick in the heavy rain and the last few metres to the A686 defeated us and we had to resort to pushing for the first time.

Once on the ‘A’ road we were off again, and although it was steep we could press on with the thought of the Café at the top to encourage us. The Hartside Café was nothing short of brilliant, with steaming cups of tea and home made cakes served in a warm friendly atmosphere, that even the most wet and grubby cyclists will be welcome in – don’t miss it!

It was quite a storm outside, so we resorted to 2nd mugs of tea, to delay setting off a bit longer. Eventually we admitted defeat and set off down the hill at great speed to our B&B in Alston and a warm welcome from Pat Dent at Greycroft. We borrowed ‘brolly’s’ for the short walk to Alston centre where we found good food in The Cumberland Hotel (don’t be frightened to ask to sit in the restaurant if you find the bar too smoky).

Facts and figures:
Days mileage 48.78, time in saddle 4h 55m, max speed 37.4 mph, average speed 9.9 mph
Total climb 1476 metres, max elevation 599 metres.

Wednesday – A day of hills
A dreadful weather forecast and heavy rain outside meant a delayed start. This was not a problem as we had only a moderate mileage to cover and the breakfast at the B&B was particularly good. Surprisingly, by 10:15am, the rain had eased and we followed the road back to Garrigill, after which the going got tough and we resorted to a second, short push to the crossroads with the B6277. After that the incline eased and we enjoyed a steadier climb with lots of wild flowers to appreciate and a very quiet road.

The descent into Nenthead was very, very steep and treacherous. By the bottom, our disk brake, which had bravely slowed 2 adults, bike and luggage down the 1 in 4 hill, didn’t feel right and we made a detour to see the blacksmith, come bicycle repair man. Though an extremely helpful man, Mr Fearn was simply not equipped to service running repairs on exotic Italian hydraulics. Still we had at least fed his pet midges! Back on the road, we found the climb to Black Hill top not at all demanding and the descent to Allenheads steady enough for our depleted braking systems to cope. We found the excellent Hemmel Tea shop, a little way through the village and stopped for tea and sustenance. (Another stop not to be missed, though note that the tea shop’s phone number on the C2C site and in our guide book was wrong).

The hard climb immediately after the stop was tough, plus it had started to rain again. There followed a wonderful drop with simultaneous rain and sunshine to Rookhope, Then, just when we thought we had done climbing for the day another surprise hill to scale before swooping into Stanhope and our B&B. Dinner was curry, rice, chips and salad by special appointment at the Queens Head.

Facts and figures:
Days mileage 26.26, time in saddle 2h 54m, max speed 41.6 mph(with dodgy brake, could have gone faster), average speed 9.0 mph
Total climb 1213 metres, max elevation 614 metres.

Thursday – What’s that hissing noise, is it a snake?
We set off at 9:30am after a great night’s sleep and a huge breakfast courtesy of Gerry at the Burnside. There we had met Paul and Dave from Derbyshire who were doing the C2C for the Marie Curie Charity. They were doing similar mileages to us each day, but unfortunately our paths were not to cross again. Hope they made it! Not the sunny day the forecast had promised but at least it was dry. Within 2 minutes of leaving the B&B we were on to the aptly named Crawler Bank which climbs 215 metres in 2 miles and resorted to our third and final push of the trip.

Down the Waskerley Way (which is an absolute joy) all the way to Consett and made the decision to go to Sunderland. The path then became rough, not ideal for our 700×25 wheels and the inevitable happened near Stanley and we suffered our first (and only) puncture. The problem turned out to be a minuscule shard of glass. We replaced the tube and were on our way again within 15 minutes. During the halt, the sun had come out with vengeance and we threaded our way through numerous, frustrating, gates, impeding our progress considerably. The route round the Stadium of Light is rather vague, but thanks to the map, our C2C Guide book and our trusty GPS we were soon on the quayside.

The end was an anticlimax, as we stopped at 3.30pm for tea at a café behind the Marina (we found they had just stopped serving food) before ceremoniously dipping the front wheel in the North Sea at precisely 4.10pm. Total distance (including unintended detours) 146 miles.

Of course Sunderland isn’t home, and we needed to get back to York. Newcastle Central Station was where we would find the necessary transportation. We had been told of the pedestrian and cycle tunnel under the Tyne and thought it sounded interesting, so we set off North along the coast in bright sunshine but into a strong headwind. At Marsden, for reasons of expediency, we turned inland and fought with an increasing level of local traffic. The tunnel itself is an experience not to be missed. We descended using a lift into which our tandem would only fit by us holding the front wheel in the air, then rode along what appeared to be an elongated, Victorian public convenience before using an escalator at the other end. A little used but excellent facility. The C2C path to the North of the Tyne was more enjoyable for us than the Sunderland route as there were fewer obstacles to impede our progress. 7th July 2005 was a bad day to choose to travel by train, but the nice guard on the Virgin train accommodated us. Note: Virgin cannot officially carry tandems, due to insufficient room in the guards van – only GNER of the UK operators have the ability, though space cannot be booked and tandems are carried at the discretion of the guard.

We were met at York by our driver and were home with a stack of pizzas by 8.50pm.

Facts and figures:
Days mileage 59.46, time in saddle 6h 00m, max speed 26.8 mph, average speed 10.0 mph
Total climb 887 metres, max elevation 445 metres.

Overall we covered 167.48 miles over 4 days. Total time on the bike 17h 3m. Average speed 9.8 mph. 33 mugs of tea each, one puncture and, miraculously, no arguments.

Already we are planning our next ‘big-trip’ – the tip of Northern Ireland to the tip of Eire.

Sally and Iain


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