Winter Training Day 5 – Aldbrough St John to Skyreholme

Aldbrough St John-Richmond-Masham-Kirby Malzeard-Pateley Bridge-Skyreholme. 44 miles.

Click here for a map of the route

Possibly our most miserable day’s cycling ever… It was raining hard as we left Aldbrough, and we had a gentle warm-up through Melsonby and up to the A66 before gliding down Gilling Bank and slogging through the first floods of the day up to Richmond. Snow started as we reached the outskirts of Richmond, and our already sodden feet started to get cold too. We cycled through Catterick (past the Gaza Barracks – can that really be right?) and on through the rain. As we slogged up one hill, a passenger in a white van was moved to wind down his window and shout “You’re mad, you are”, which seemed pretty accurate, even to us.

The roads became progressively wetter, as all the accumulated rain of the last few days ran off the fields. At Masham we stopped for a coffee in a pub (too wet to notice which one), and adjusted all the brakes, which had once again worn down considerably in the wet conditions. We decided to try to push on for Pateley Bridge before lunch, and cycled on towards Kirkby Malzeard and up onto the moor. At one flood cars were turning back, but we decided we had no choice but to cycle through, and of course we were very wet already. Cycling through water doesn’t half slow you down, though, and watching the ‘bow wave’ from the stoker’s position was a little scary. With Jonathan shouting “Whatever you do, don’t stop pedalling!” we made it through without incident, but were thoroughly saturated from the knees down.

The road up over the moor is probably lovely on a clear day, but it seemed interminable in the rain, and by now a head-wind was also contributing to our misery. After what seemed like weeks we reached the top of the descent into Pateley Bridge. At 20% in places and very wet, it was far too steep to enjoy and we took it very slowly. We arrived at the Crown in Pateley Bridge to find a roaring fire (in front of which we arranged our gently steaming socks) and the incredulous locals marvelled at our foolhardiness. After an hour in the warm, and a good lunch, we were ready to tackle our final climb, the hill out of Pateley Bridge to Greenhow. We’ve driven up this hill so many times and knew it would be hard, with several sections at 16%, but we tackled it slowly and ground our way to the top, to be greeted by a freezing headwind. We passed Stump Cross Caverns (always very spectacular when it’s been raining, but the vision of a hot bath at home was drawing us on), and finally took the turn down and into Skyreholme and home.

So. The shiny new Landescape tandem was looking somewhat less than shiny now, but we’d made it, everything had held up well and our Ortlieb panniers had proved to be utterly waterproof in the most testing of conditions. We’re now planning for Land’s End to John O’Groats – surely it couldn’t be as wet as that in June. Could it?

Winter Training Day 4 – Hexham to Aldbrough St John

Hexham-Blanchland-Stanhope-Barnard Castle-Aldbrough St John. 52 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

A long hard climb out of Hexham started the day, through Slaley and up through a forest section where we heard our first cry of “She’s not pedalling on the back”. It had taken over three days before someone shouted this, surely a record?! We climbed on to Blanchard, where the short 20% descent was too steep to coast freely. We picked up the pace in an enjoyable section alongside the Derwent reservoir, gaining a lot of height on a very gentle gradient with no great effort, and then turned south towards Edmundbyers. Six miles of slow climbing later we’d made it to the top at 1500ft. The descent into Stanhope was only slightly marred by the view of the long hill up the other side.
Our slow climbing meant it was already lunchtime, so we stopped in Stanhope for toasties, and a good tip from the landlord for avoiding the impassable Stanhope Ford without going miles out of our way. We set off up the climb, 17% at the bottom, but soon giving way to zig-zags at a more sustainable gradient. We suppressed smiles (alright, grimaces) as we passed an RAC van helping a lady whose car had given up on the hill. It was very bleak, we climbed past a well-hidden open-cast coal mine and as we reached the first summit the wind started to get up. There was a mile of descent after the first summit, but we could see the road going up again and disappearing over the ridge. After two more miles of climbing we made it over the top at 1700ft, and really enjoyed the long descent into Teesdale. It seemed to be downhill almost all the way to Barnard Castle, then easy cycling to Winston and finally to Aldbrough St John, where Jonathan’s sister put us up for the night.

Winter Training Day 3 – Armathwaite to Hexham

Armathwaite-Castle Carrock-Brampton-Greenhead-Once Brewed-Wall-Hexham. 46 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

The forecast had been for a clear day, and it was fantastic to be cycling in dry weather after the previous two days. We headed out of Armathwaite towards Castle Carrock and Brampton, enjoying the gently rolling roads and happy to be able see the scenery for a change. The buildings were different again from the Lakes, often a lovely rose-coloured limestone, and all the more attractive for being bathed in sunlight. Well, a bit of sunlight – after two days of rain we were ridiculously happy to be casting any kind of shadow. At Brampton we had a little trouble finding the road out towards Lanercost Priory, but a very helpful local man out with his dog walked with us though an alleyway which led directly to the road. The road to the Priory was quiet and pretty undemanding, and we made good time up to the first sighting of the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. The road runs right alongside the Wall until Birdoswald, then you see the Wall continue ahead, dead straight of course, whilst you peel off left on the road.

After a long descent into Greenhead, greeting the cyclists coming up the other way, it was our turn to climb, a 14% section out of Greenhead and then a steady climb up on the Roman road. We headed for the pub at Once Brewed, with the Wall up on the ridge to our left, and a surprising number of walkers visible on the skyline. As you would expect, the Roman road is completely straight, so of course you can see exactly what pleasure or pain is coming your way. After lunch at the pub (the Twice Brewed, where lots of walkers stop on the Pennine Way), we were back on the road, and after only two bends in about fifteen miles we coasted down into Walwick and over the Tyne into Chollerford. We had planned to head up Brunton Bank to avoid the A-road, but when we got there it seemed silly to climb again when the A-road through Wall was quiet and flat. The (presumably SusTrans) cycle path alongside the A69 took us into Hexham, and the tourist information centre sorted out a room for us at Queensgate House. The owner told us she had been a tandem rider for forty years with her late husband, wearing out three tandems over the years! Pizza at the Quattro Mori restaurant rounded off a good day – no rain, and no need for the cycle lights today.

Winter Training Day 2 – Windermere to Armathwaite

Windermere-Ambleside-Keswick-Bassenthwaite-Caldwell-Hesket Newmarket-Armathwaite. 56 miles.

Click here for a map of the route.

We started with four miles to Ambleside alongside the lake, then a visit to ‘Ghyllside’ bike shop to sort out the brakes. After such a wet first day we needed new blocks all round, but a bigger problem was the disc brake, which was not effective at all. The pads were now almost down to the metal – we really should have checked them before we left home, but we suspected that the wet conditions were at least partly to blame. The shop specialised in tandems, so we swapped stories with the owner whilst he sorted everything out, and we were soon on our way past Rydal Water and Grasmere. It was a long but steady climb up Dunmail Raise towards Thirlmere, and in better weather it would have been lovely to take the more scenic road around the west side of the lake. Feeling damp and a little behind schedule though, we pushed on on the A591 to Keswick.

After Keswick we seemed to pick up the pace somehow, and soon found we were only two miles from Bassenthwaite, where we stopped for lunch at the Sun Inn. The landlady put us on the right road out of the village (with a warning that it was a bit hilly), and we really enjoyed an hour of dry weather, cycling through the forest on a tiny quiet track. There were some short steep sections in the climb to Caldbeck, but nothing seemed so bad after a good lunch and a warm in the pub. After a few miles largely free-wheeling along we descended into Hesket Newmarket, then up the other side through Sowerby Row and Ivegill on quiet back lanes, and we were soon passing under the M6 again. The wind had got up steadily, and the high-tension wires between the pylons were really howling as we passed underneath. A gentle climb with the wind at our backs took us to the A6, then we glided down into Armathwaite in the gloom. Henry gave us a great reception at the Duke’s Head, stored the tandem and helped us hang all our wet clothing in the boiler room. The dinner at the Duke’s Head was also great, and we would heartily recommend this place for touring cyclists, a lovely room and excellent value for money.

Winter Training Day 1 – Skyreholme to Windermere

Skyreholme-Airton-Settle-Eldroth-Ingleton-Kirkby Lonsdale-Kendal-Windermere. 62 miles.

Click here for a map of the route

We’re lucky enough to live in Skyreholme in the Yorkshire Dales, so we have some lovely rides right from the door, and we set off along a familiar route towards Grassington, Hetton and Airton. It was a good warm-up on roads we know well, although we could feel the additional weight of the panniers and our Christmas over-indulgences. At Airton we headed off towards Settle, and the drizzle turned to sleet as we battled over the moor, so we abandoned a proposed visit to Scaleber Force on the way. After a steep descent into Settle, we warmed up in the Naked Man Café, then crossed the A65 and took the back roads through Eldroth to Clapham. From Clapham it was a steady climb to the top, then a lovely glide down into Ingleton, where we had lunch at the Wheatsheaf, and they didn’t mind us drying our socks on the radiators while we ate.

After Ingleton there seemed to be no choice other than the busy A65 to get us to Kirkby Lonsdale, but it was horrible – raining hard now, and heavy lorries thundering past. The sheep in the fields beside the road were completely unfazed by the lorries, but took off in fright as we went past. After what seemed like an age we were off the main road and heading for Kendal. It was a long six-mile haul to Old Hutton, mainly climbing, and with very little downhill as a reward. Eventually we crossed under the M6 and found ourselves suddenly in Lakeland landscapes, the slate walls of the church at Old Hutton very different to all the Dales dry-stone walls we’d cycled past. We made an unintended detour in Kendal that had us slogging up the A591 dual carriageway for a couple of miles to the Crook turn-off, then it was very up and down to Bowness, and a last mile and a half up to Windermere. We’d been slow, and arrived in the dark, but a warm welcome at the Westbury B&B on Broad Street and a long hot bath were both much appreciated.