Coast to Coast

In eight days time The Old Gits Cycle Club will once again set forth on a journey of discovery and sore arses and a three day mission to cycle from (almost) Edinburgh to Tynemouth using the most excellent Sustrans Coast and Castles cycle route in order to raise funds for the Sue Ryder Trustand specifically for their hospice at Wheatfields in Leeds in memory of one of our group who was taken into their palliative care two years ago before passing away peacefully and pain free, for this alone they have earned our support but we do this because they are also nice people and have given us t-shirts.

Two years ago after Chris’s death we all set forth to Workington, land of despair of hopelessness and the starting point for the famous Sustrans Coast to Coast cycle route over Lake District and Pennine mountains – they cursed me for suggesting it, for three gruelling days they cursed me with their every breath but at the end of it all we had raised just over £4000 for Wheatfields and so they suddenly started to feel good about themselves too.

Our JustGiving page for this year is here

Here is the story of that effort in July 2009, spread over three days …



9am in the hotel car park, Blencathra beckons

Day Two – Hellday, the day when a 2000 foot climb was waiting and everyone was desperately trying to get a peek at the route map to pick their ideal spot to pick up a minor injury, thus causing their withdrawal at the foot of Hartside, someone even cruelly suggested that they would be following me closely to see where my next injury would appear, shortly followed by one to themselves, “When he gets on the van then I do too”, I know you said those words Rodney, I heard you.

With a still sore leg but putting on my little brave soldier act again I joined the first group of four on stage one of day two, Threlkeld to Greystoke, yes the real Greystoke, the place where Edgar Rice Burroughs based his “Tarzan of the Apes” story.

Having studied the map closely we had noticed that the C2C route started off the day by following the main A66 road, only to take a four mile detour up a blind valley on the premise that “it was a nice ride up a picturesque valley”.

Any fool could see that it was an unnecessary addition of four miles to the route, half of which was uphill, “picturesque valley my arse” was someones comment, especially when we could easily see that it rejoined the A66 just a half mile further up the road – travel four miles to gain half a mile of distance – duh, what sort of doombrain would do that ?

So we unanimously voted to avoid the blind valley route and continue on cyclepath to the side of the A66, we definitely voted to do that, I remember it well.

You can only imagine our disappointment 40 minutes  later when we realised that we’d actually done the blind valley detour and only gained half a mile of real distance.

I hopped off at Greystoke – leg playing up you see, brave soldier – and gave H a go on my bike, today though I removed the Blackberry from the bag before handing it over, and the secret flapjack, I don’t mind him chucking the Blackberry away but eating all my flapjack, well, a gentleman should know better.

One hour later and well rested I remounted my steed and five of us set off on the foothills of Hartside on a cloudy but warm day.

I’ll say this about the C2C route, its popular, around 12000 people do it every year and small village businesses have literally been built on the back of it, the Saturday that we climbed Hartside was no exception and a group of much younger lads were doing the route to the same timescale as ourselves, we passed and repassed each other many times over the next few days but I’m pleased to say that we beat some of them up Hartside – how gutted must they have been to see a team of fifty-something year olds get to the summit in front of their own twenty year old bones ?

The slopes went on and on, if you’ve never ridden a bike up a mountain you won’t possibly understand, if you have then you will – when riding up a big, big hill, all you see in front of you is the bit that is currently blocking out the view of the rest of it, you can only see what you think is the summit but when you get there you see the next bit rising up again in front of you, only thats not the summit either because when you get to the top of that bit theres another rise waiting for you – and on, and on, and on…

The climb to the summit of Hartside took most of one hour, the road zig-zagged across the hillside endlessly, never giving a downhill respite you came to be grateful for the bits that weren’t sloping uphill quite so viciously, even though those bits were still sloping upwards.

Rod the medic and I tagged on together, theres something a bit disconcerting about being followed closely by a doctor who’s backpack is full of medical encoutrements, its a bit like walking across a desert with cartoon buzzards circling overhead. Onwards and upwards we slowly made our way, at one point I passed a bloke older than me who was pushing his bike up – at the next hairpin bend I was riding so slow in bottom gear that he actually walked his bike past me.

But there is a camaraderie in the suffering, one of the young twenty year olds had been left behind by his peers and so he tagged onto me and Rod all the way up and if you stopped there were always words of encouragement from other cyclists as they crawled, sweating past you, words like “Don’t give up” and “Not far now” and “Get back on you fat bastard” although that last one was Rodney to me actually.

Finally we made it to a round of applause to find the cafe at the summit heaving with people who had driven their cars up there – pffft ! can you believe that ?

I wanted coffee and cake, but it was cold up there, cold and there was a queue, we stopped for one photograph and then set off down the other side of Hartside.

Now I will say this about my bike, its got a beautiful freewheel on it, its much higher geared than a mountain bike which is a pain in the arse when you’re climbing hills, but on the flat and on downhills with its narrow tyres it pisses all over mountain bikes.

The first mile downhill on Hartside had just been resurfaced with fresh smooth tarmac, I slotted it into top gear and just clung on and hoped that the bends on the way down weren’t as severe as the ones on the way up – the last time I had a speedometer on a bike on a downhill I got it to 38mph and overtook a bus – I reckon I got a bit faster than that going down Hartside, whatever the actual speed it felt like 70mph, you enjoy it for a while and then the voice at the back of your brain starts asking silly questions like “you’re going to die aren’t you”. The last two miles of the descent were spent pulling as hard as I could on the brakes and we nearly made the C2C  route turn-off at the bottom, missed it though and so had to ride back uphill.

We were within three miles of our stopover on Saturday when I decided to jump in the van again, and it was probably the best decision of the whole weekend.

By now the rest of us were the support team for Rod and Steve who were still going strong having ridden the whole route so far and with some encouragement and words of wisdom we sent them, and Andy, on their way with tales of how it was only three more miles and “just a gentle hill” to get up.

I drove the van those last three miles and “the gentle hill” turned out to be as vicious as Hartside, so steep that the van nearly didn’t get up one section, and to make matters worse the Hurricane conditions that we’d travelled up through on the Friday had wreaked havoc in the hills, washing down acres of shale and mud off the hills, turning the roads into rivers and leaving behind tons of loose debris on the road surface, not pleasant to ride on, not when you’ve spent all day long climbing up hills only to be told by your navigator that the last three miles only had “one little gentle hill”, they were not happy bunnies when they made it to our final resting place that night – Nenthead.

We all agreed that if the C2C route had not been routed through Nenthead then it would not exist anymore – once a wealthy lead mining centre it now bears all the scars of the careless industrial excavation of centuries past, which is a nice way of saying that it is a shitheap, if you’re thinking of driving through then driving round would be better.

Its community though scrapes a living on the C2C route travellers and that night their one pub, The Miners Arms was full of cyclists eating what was in fact very good food, a nice rib eye steak, a few pints and then off to bed at the Cherry Tree Cottage owned by the completely barmy Hellen Sherlock – its like staying at your Grandma’s house, if your grandma is one sandwich short of a picnic, she is crazy and her web site warns you of the fact, its shabby chic and its cheap and its warm and the beds are soft and we needed nothing more, I slept like a log until a huge fart from Steve at 7am the next morning had Rod and I startled awake, “Is that the alarm clock Steve ?” we asked, and so began the last and longest day…

to be continued


The view back down Hartside

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