Tuesday, May 22

Pickering to York

Last leg of my northern cycle tour today; quite sad that it's come to an end but my arse will be glad to be off the saddle and the bike badly needs cleaning and oiling, the chain and pedals have got a right wheezy squeak going on.

Today was warmer than it has been for a few days, and I headed off out of Pickering with the intention of navigating my way using the Cyclestreets app on my phone. It soon became clear that that was not going to be possible as the location service didn't seem to be working on the app, even though everything was switched on in the settings as well. I tried it a few times over the day without success, although ironically now I've just tried again it's working!

So I had the Cyclestreets app with my route all plotted in purple (quietest route option selected) but no way of locating myself and not very detailed map information, and the Sustrans app which showed my location but didn't have a route plotted! In the end I switched between the two, got lost at least once, but managed to find my way in the end. I can see I'm going to have to explore these two apps a bit more thoroughly for my next trip.

My anticipation of a nice flat day's cycling was foolish and there were plenty of hills to be found, but some lovely views as well, which makes the hills worth the effort.

Lunch in the cafe at Castle Howard was a nice break, but they really do need to consider getting some proper bike racks (see pic). Never seen such a ridiculous design; clearly designed (and purchased!) by people who don't ride bikes.

The last few miles into York were quite grim; narrow, busy roads with impatient drivers everywhere. Was glad to reach my B&B and get out of the traffic. The room was tiny and the ensuite little more than a cupboard. You have to sit on the loo sideways, and step over it to reach the shower!
Happily the room's very clean and the place is run by very friendly people so I wasn't too bothered! Plus they gave me a voucher for 20% off dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant which proved to be a very good one. And the sun came out, just in time for my last night :-(

Monday, May 21

Pickering and Malton

Yesterday was all about food. Firstly the most incredible B&B breakfast served up to me by my friend Emma at Eden House where I'm staying in Pickering. She insisted I sample it as she had paying guests staying and had to do all the prep for them anyhow.

She's gone to great lengths to find excellent local suppliers and the sausage and black pudding from a butcher across the road were meaty and tasty. The bread is made in a village a few miles away by an artisan baker using stoneground, unbleached flour. Great to have toast made of hand cut, flavoursome bread rather than the usual sliced, bland stuff.

Later we visited the Malton Food Lovers Festival a few miles away where we browsed (and grazed) many amazing local food makers, growers and producers. Far too many cake stalls for my liking (most of them of the heavily-frosted variety) but loads of good chutneys, oils, vinegars, sloe gins and other alcoholic delights, cheeses, chocs, and even a beer festival in the town hall. Definitely worth a look if you are in the area, an excellent showcase for Yorkshire produce!

Far too many cakes imo
..but lots of good chutneys!
The asparagus man
Cheese of many flavours
More cheese!
Pork pies with toppings
Alcohol and monks seem to go together
Beer festival
One of my purchases

Sunday, May 20

Thirsk to Pickering

The sound of heavy rain met me this morning as I woke in my suburban B&B in Thirsk; not very welcoming to a cyclist with 40 miles to travel! I did consider Plan B (train to York then change for train to Malton then ride 8 miles) but the heavy rain started to turn to light rain and the forecast was for the weather to improve later, so I pushed myself to get out there and do it!

Breakfast was marvellous; lots of fresh berries and fruit with Greek yoghurt, and I chose scrambled eggs with smoked salmon rather than the full English, a nice change to offered the choice. Which made it all the more strange that I was given instant coffee rather than real, and my toast came ready buttered with some kind of nasty low-fat spread rather than butter.

I headed south out of Thirsk, having used the excellent Sustrans national cycle route app on my phone to plan a route that avoided the notorious Sutton Bank (switchback with double arrows marked on it) and took me a slightly longer route. The only thing worse than pushing a fully laden bike up a big steep hill is pushing a fully laden bike up a big steep busy hill!

Although the first part of the route was not too busy, there was a lot of standing water on the roads which made it a bit of a slalom. There seemed to be an increase in the number of dickish drivers too, all in a desperate hurry to get past me and on to whatever very important urgent business they needed to attend to.

I'd taken the time to write out my route in meticulous detail and it was time well spent as I didn't go wrong once. The Sustrans app was invaluable in enabling me to double-check my location on many occasions just to make sure I was heading the right way. This app was free and includes access to very detailed maps of the whole country. They really should be selling this to get some income for the charity!

Byland Abbey
There were some hills but they were mostly short and sharp, and I passed some interesting places and picturesque little villages; noted down for a future return visit perhaps! Places like Byland Abbey, Ampleforth Abbey, and the villages of Wass, Ampleforth, Coxwold and so on.

Nunnington Hall with willow sculpture
One of the minature rooms
I stopped off at Nunnington Hall for an hour, taking advantage of my National Trust card to have a quick visit. As well as the usual recreated rooms in the main house, there is an amazing collection of miniature rooms in the attic, which were made by Kitty Carlisle. Exquisite detail in them, and most of the carpets, upholstery and other needle crafted items were made by Kitty herself.

From Nunnington onwards the roads were flat and easy, perhaps even a little boring I would say. The wind was stronger which made certain stretches a battle, and made me long for a change in direction. It's traditional on every cycle trip to find a stretch of road at least 2 miles long where the road surface is a patchwork of potholes,it's narrow and it's frequented by morons who neither slow down nor move over when passing a cyclist. The final stretch into Pickering was this very road, and I would avoid it in future!

Great to roll up at Eden House B&B and be met by my good friend Em. I'll be resting up here for a couple of days now before heading down to York on Monday.

Friday, May 18

Fremmington to Thirsk

Today I covered more than 45 miles; the fact that it didn't feel like it is probably down to the terrain I travelled. Soon after leaving the Dales Bike Centre I found myself descending into the Yorkshire lowlands and freewheeling for miles through gently undulating countryside.

This was pretty much the story of the day and although it was nice and easy going on my legs, it did get a wee bit tedious in the end. No matter, for a day it was nice!

My highlights included coming across the Wensleydale Longwool Sheepshop right by the side of a narrow lane in the middle of nowhere. Nearly fell off my bike in shock - and naturally had to go in for a purchase!
Wool shopping opportunity in the back of beyond!
Apparently they were awaiting a coach load of American tourists later today who were coming to have tea and cakes in a 'typical English farmhouse' and hopefully spend a bit of money in the shop! Saw a few of the beautiful Wensleydale ewes and lambs in the fields as I left.

Today's sweet treat
As for typical English tea, I treated myself to a cream tea at Betty's tea room in Northallerton before the last leg of my trip to Thirsk. It did not disappoint!

Tomorrow I'm heading for Pickering to visit my friends Em and Andy who have just opened a B&B in the town. It's going to be a bit different as there's no Sustrans route to follow so I'll have to make it up myself. Bit of a shame as I've become quite reliant on the excellent signposting of the routes. Could be a slower trip.

Thirsk cinema

Thursday, May 17

Kirkby Stephen to Fremmington

A rainy day and a big hill to climb; was not looking forward to it but in the end it turned out to be the most enjoyable day so far!

At breakfast some of the coast to coast walkers were debating whether to take the 'red route' (risk of waist-deep mud) or to go for the 'green route' (no risk of aforementioned) for the next stage to Keld. Surely a no-brainer on a day like this?

As for me I set off in the light rain for the Tan Hill Inn; after a few miles of gentle undulations the climbing began. I was totally put to shame by the 60-something Norwegian couple I met who whizzed ahead up the hill while I struggled and sweated and comforted myself with the thought that Norway is hellishly hilly while London is very flat.

A welcome fire at the Tan Hill Inn
They were travelling with a couple of friends who were less fit and who brought up the rear as we made our way painfully upwards. The pub is just over the border in Yorkshire and a very hospitable place to find in such a barren location. I stayed for a couple of hours while I dried out, as the place got increasingly busier, then eventually headed off once more towards Reeth.

Crossing into God's own country
The road wound its way over the moors for quite some time, and was practically deserted except for me, the sheep and the wildlife. Lapwings flitted up out of the grass to dip and swerve overhead, giving out their mournful cries, and several times I spotted one or two tiny dappled chicks hunkering down in the grass where the bird had emerged from. Curlews soared overhead, plaintively calling, while the whole scene was played out with skylarks chattering as a backdrop. At one point I passed a pair of grouse in the grass verge, just gazing up at me. I don't know which of us was more surprised! And another place I spotted a bird with a long straight bill sitting stock still on top of a wall; a snipe I think!

Such delights made the climb worthwhile, and there was a number of long, exhilarating downhill stretches to add to this.

To cap the day off, Swaledale and its villages - Reeth, Fremmington and Grinton - turned out to be friendly and delightful, with fine food and ales, great potential river swimming (next time! ) and people playing quoits by the side of the road. What's more the sun did come out eventually!

Traditional quoits (with iron rings not horseshoes)
The Dales Bike Centre, very comfy room for the night

Wednesday, May 16

Wythmoor Farm to Kirkby Stephen

Much shorter distance today but it felt longer at times, even with the glorious weather this morning. I passed some wonderful bridges and swimming spots that might have been tempting in warmer weather.

Swimming spot in the River Lune
Many hills were climbed and descended as the route wound its way between the mountains cheek by jowl with the M6 and the west coast main line railway, before eventually swooping off west to Orton for lunch (see the pud pic!) and eventually to Kirkby Stephen.
Jam roly poly with cream. Didn't touch the sides

The hostel here is most comfortable; a former YHA place now run privately but on similar lines. Very clean and tidy, and lovely common room/communal areas in the former chapel. Upper balcony still in place with comfy chairs and bookshelves; nice!

Through the Lune valley
So tomorrow it's the big hill, which thankfully has a pub at its summit as I'm going to need some motivation. Shortly after the pub I'll be leaving the W2W to take another route towards Richmond. Hopefully downhill :-)

Tuesday, May 15

Barrow to Wythmoor Farm camping barn

So I made it. About 50 miles all told; not my record for one day (that was 60 miles but I was 23 years younger!) but good going for a semi-decrepit 40-something. All except the last few miles were fun, even the hills; after all what goes up must come down and there were some thrilling downhills to pay back for the uphill struggles!

Furness Abbey
Views to the mountains of the Lake District one way and the waters of Morecambe Bay the other (even Blackpool tower in the distance) were stunning and made the climbs doubly worthwhile.

Over the River Leven
There were moorlands and farmlands, woods and estuaries, towns and villages and dozens of places selling free range eggs off the doorstep.

A cafe in Grange-over-sands provided lunch including the sticky toffee pudding in the photo, and the pic of the cowslips reminds me that all the verges were awash with stitchwort, garlic, bluebells, cowslips, milkmaid, field mustard, yellow poppies and violets and pink campion and so many other spring flowers.
Cowslips aplenty
Cartmel sticky toffee pudding

I'm off to bed shortly as the barn is freezing and has no blinds on the windows so I'll most likely be awake at 6am or whenever the sun comes up.
Calm before the storm
Rainbow seen from the camping barn

Monday, May 14

London to Barrow-in-Furness

Not all of it on the bike, obviously! It began raining as I set off at about 11am and so I immediately decided to take advantage of the new lifts at Deptford Station to get my laden bike up to the platform and go part of the route to Euston by train.

The journey to Lancaster was quick and quite painless on the train- first stop Warrington! I came across another two solo cyclists heading in the same general direction, one doing the Hadrian's wall west to east route, the other heading to Whitehaven for the C2C.

Grim weather seen from the train
Most of the journey north the weather had been fine but it closed in as we left on the two-coach train bound for Carlisle, along the north side of Morecombe Bay. As we left Ulverston an almighty cloudburst hit but luckily it had passed over by the time we got to Barrow.

After checking into my B&B (the hotel inspector would have something to say about the rather dusty edges of this place) I decided to do the west end of the W2W route that I'm following. Tomorrow I'll be heading east from the B&B and won't go down the hill again, and I wanted to see the town centre and Walney island.

Sadly it doesn't have much to offer, apart from a few fine municipal buildings and the brooding presence of the BAE Systems sheds where nuclear submarines are still built, seemingly one of the main sources of employment here.

BAE sheds dominate the waterfront, right next to a massive retail park
The town centre is pretty much strangled by an enormous Tesco Extra, a Morrisons and a Kwik Save, part of a huge retail park belt around the town. Luckily I found a small chipper after some searching, where I had a tasty fish supper; I did not have to submit to MacDonalds, KFC or Pizza Hut on the retail park.
Fish was not up to much, but the chips and peas were bloody lovely.

Sunday, May 13

Holiday preparation

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours cleaning and prepping my bike for a week's holiday starting tomorrow. It's now got new tyres (although the old ones still had plenty of wear, they also had a myriad of small cuts from the daily London commute, not great for touring!) and new brake blocks and is rather cleaner.

I've also set up my phone so that I can blog on the move! I hope to keep you up to date with the highs and the lows of my trip!