Sunday, 10 November 2019


Alnwick has been the only town in Northumberland without a connection to the National Cycle Network, so the opening of an off-road cycle path along the Aln Valley Railway is an important step forward. 

A short ride, and today was cold, but a lovely afternoon to try it out.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019


Earlier this week I rode from a few miles outside Bellingham, to the Kielder dam, and Falstone. My route touched on parts of NCN10 (Reivers Cycle Route). It was a good choice: beautiful scenery and demanding enough (for me) to feel I had stretched myself, without overdoing things.

Today the plan was to complete a circuit of Kielder Water using the Waterside Path. That's a recreational route for walkers and cyclists. We've had heavy rain, and there were a few muddy patches, but on the whole it's well-paved with fine gravel. I was expecting a ride of about 26 miles: something that would stretch me again, without being unrealistic.

It was a good plan, but things didn't turn out that way. I started from the dam, working anti-clockwise along the north shore towards Kielder village. So far so good - it's a lovely ride, and although there was a blustery wind, most of the trail is sheltered by trees. Showers threatened, but didn't arrive.

Then, two-thirds of the way along the north shore I had a puncture. It shouldn't have been a problem - I carry a spare inner tube, and a repair kit. However, I haven't had to repair a puncture in the last ten years, and I made a mess of it. Somehow I managed to wreck the valve on the spare tube, and although I found and fixed a couple of holes in the old tube it still wouldn't hold air. I couldn't work out why.

I had no choice other than pushing the remaining distance to Kielder, where the wonderful people at the Bike Stop helped me out. By then I was running late, and getting tired. I was expected back by now, and there was no mobile signal, so it was difficult to share what was going on. So I chose the main road along the south of the reservoir to finish the loop and return to the dam.

The end result: I completed a circuit of the reservoir and covered 22 miles. However, my idea of a circling the reservoir along the waterside will have to wait for another day. It's a lovely route, so maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Today's ride

Twenty-one miles today, following NCN1 south to Druridge bay. Very pleasant, but nothing remarkable. The water in the Aln Estuary was unusally high, but not high enough to reach the cycle path.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Useful advice

"If you are trying to save weight in your luggage, don't forget that you can always cut the covers off the maps."

From the CTC route guide to cycling in Britan and Ireland, by Christa Gausden and Nicholas Crane (1980)

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Private stations

The Newcastle to Berwick Railway opened in 1847, but plans were being prepared from 1839. The proposed route crossed land owned by Earl Grey, who had been Prime Minister but was now retired. He and his son fought to protect their estates from the arrival of the railway.

Parliament was sympathetic to projects that could demonstrate public benefit, so the landowners' efforts did not succeed, and the planned route from Newcastle to Berwick now forms part of today's East Coast Main Line. However, the Howicks ended up with private stations: one at Little Mill to serve Howick Hall, and one to serve Fallodon Hall at Fallodon. Little Mill went on to become a public station by 1861, and was finally closed in 1965. Fallodon remained a private station until it was closed in1934.

There is more detail than most visitors will want on Fallodon <here> and on Little Mill <here>.

Today there is virtually no evidence that there was once a station at either of these locations. Nevertheless, I persuaded myself that "Private Stations between Alnmouth and Berwick" was a decent theme for a ride. I ended up covering 21 miles (which bumps my average ride up a bit). The route was quiet, pretty and within my capabilities. The weather was almost ideal. And as an added bonus some of the villages I passed through had put out coloured bicycles to encourage me along. I suspect they will be leaving them in place for tomorrow's Tour of Britain

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Tyne crossings

Newcastle is famous for the bridges, but there are other ways to cross the Tyne. Here's a list, displayed outside the Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel at Wallsend.

Today I cycled three of these crossings. My main objective was to ride through the Cyclist's Tunnel. That crossing has just been re-opened to connect Jarrow and Wallsend. The other two that I rode were the Millenium Bridge between Gateshead and Newcastle and the ferry between North Shields and South Shields.

Connecting these crossings are NCN72 (Hadrian's Cycleway) along the North Bank of the Tyne, and NCN14 along the South Bank (South Tyne Cycleway and part of C2C) . I haven't ridden on NCN14 before, and the last time I rode along this part of NCN72 was over ten years ago (May 2009). At that time the demolition of the Swann Hunter shipyard was under way, and I was struck by the contrast between that significant symbol of industrial decline and other, more positive, signs of investment in new housing, new factories, and new offices.

Because it follows the banks of a major river the route is fairly flat. The engineers seem to have capitalised well on past industrial infrastructure, and subsequent development. So much of the route is traffic free, and all of it seems to be well-used. The signage for the tunnel hasn't quite caught up with developments yet, I had a bit of trouble finding the the ferry pier in South Shields, and I missed a coupe of signs hidden behind greenery. But in general the route is very easy to follow. I passed at least two three cycle workshops, and there are a few nice refreshment stops (though these are concentrated in relatively few places). There was more graffiti, litter, flytipping and over-grown greenery than I expected.

If pretty scenery appeals then you had better look elsewhere. This is a route with a complex history, and some striking contrasts. Today, in a ride of 32 miles, I've seen a wide variety of commercial, industrial and residential areas. Not to mention Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum (at the end of Hadrian's Wall); and the remains of a monastery that was once one of Europe’s most influential centres of learning and home to the Venerable Bede. And several different ways of crossing the Tyne. So not pretty, but plenty to reflect on.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Whittingham to Netherton

I covered sixteen miles this afternoon, crawling westwards up the Aln Valley from Whittingham to Netherton, then flying back via Alnham (where the River Aln begins).

It was a gentle climb out, with a steady headwind pushing against me. As I set off a local warned "There's rain coming down the valley". There was indeed, but until I reached Netherton it just threatened. Drizzle started as I turned back.

On the way back I was confident about my route. Over-confident, because I didn't check the map at a key junction. That muddled things a bit. Nevertheless the gentle descent, aided by a tail wind, meant that things went a lot more quickly.

Unco-operative weather: but that didn't detract from the scenery at the head of the Aln Valley. The County Council has been out surfacing minor roads. Some of these were still pock-marked and covered in loose gravel, but others are now lovely and smooth. All were wonderfully quiet: I passed a post van, a couple of tractors, a lorry and about half-a-dozen cars.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Rock on

After over-reaching myself on Thursday I covered an unambitious eighteen miles today. It was a minor variation on my standard loop. There were a couple of light showers, a blustery wind, and heavier traffic than usual for back roads on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing remarkable though: all went well, and various numbers have shifted slightly in the right direction.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Yesterday I rode to Scotland

Yesterday I rode to Scotland. That's not as impressive as it sounds, because I started from Etal. However, on a round trip of more than 30 miles, I reached the marvellous Union Chain Bridge, and rode across to pay a ceremonial visit.

From Etal I first headed east, beyond Bowsden to Lowick Mill. A strong following wind helped me up the climb. Then I turned north towards Ancroft. There followed a long stretch into a strong headwind, which wasn't a lot of fun. Then the drop down into Horncliffe and the River Tweed went more easily.

By now I was running late and getting tired. I skipped a planned stop at the Honey Farm, and when I reached Norham I called home to say that my return would be later than intended. The scenery was lovely on the final leg south to Etal - but it was hard work.

In summary, I've discovered (nicked) a great route for a fitter cyclist. It's almost entirely on quiet rural back-roads. There's very little traffic. The rolling landscape makes for variety, and offers some terrific distant views. There are memorable highlights at the Union Bridge across the River Tweed, at Norham Castle, the path along the banks of the River Till near Etal, and at Etal itself. Yesterday a strong wind didn't help, but I've learned an important lesson about my own limitations: I hit them at less than 30 miles. For now.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

...and this is where I turned back

Weather and various commitments have kept me away from the bike for a couple of weeks. I had some ideas for an adventurous return, but it seemed more important to get back into a routine. So I ended up picking a familiar route. What made the outing special was the mix of people I met.

I suspect the break in the rain contributed to a good number of cheerful cyclists, joggers, and walkers. In addition a group of young lads wanted me to stop so that they could show off their cycling tricks; a couple of police teased me for chickening out of riding through the flood; and a mother leaped to rescue her child's buggy, as it trundled towards the harbour edge (she had forgotten to put the brake on).

Bottling the flood meant that I turned back slightly earlier than I had intended, so at the other end I overshot a bit, to make up the planned 14 miles.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Nothing remarkable

Today I covered a smidgeon short of 18 miles (imperial), or about 28 kilometres (metric). I tried a couple of minor tweaks to my standard circuit. One avoids a hilly bit of road  and the other just offers a change of scenery. With a drop in temperature and no wind to speak of, my average speed was slightly better than last time. Nothing remarkable, but quite satisfying.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Small beginnings

Today's ride was 21 miles out beyond Embleton (with a following wind), and back (with a head wind). That's the end of two months back on the bike. I've had sixteen outings. My average ride has risen to almost 14 miles for a total distance of 222 miles. My Eddington number is currently 11. It's a start.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

River Till

The plan today was to stick the bike on the back of the car, and try part of NCN68 a bit further north than the section that I rode a few weeks ago. However, as I drove north the sky went dark and there was a heavy shower of rain. Instead of stopping near Ford, and getting soaked as I worked north, I thought it better to carry on driving until the rain stopped, then work south.

The rain had pretty much stopped by the time I reached Norham. From there I followed NCN68 south, to Etal then back. It was a nice ride, with a particularly lovely section following the bank of the River Till.

In a few days time I'll complete my first two months back on the bike. Fourteen miles today takes the total distance past 200 miles. That doesn't sound much, but the air was humid and the landscape crinkly enough to make it feel like more. And the extended journey meant that I got home later than I planned, but as content as I hoped (and I didn't get soaked).

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Littlemill limekilns

A pleasant ride today, passing this massive structure on the way to Embleton. This is one of the largest 19th century limekilns in the country. They built it next to the railway, so that lime could be loaded directly from the kiln onto wagons, and it remained in service for about a century - until shortly after World War II.

As I settle into this loop as a fairly regular ride it seems to be getting easier. Is that because it's becoming more familiar, or because I'm getting stronger? I have no idea, but it was a pleasant afternoon, and another seventeen miles bumped my Eddington number for 2019 up by one.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Breamish Valley

Breamish ValleyThis beatiful valley in the Northumberland National Park is crossed by NCN68.
I'm out of practice, so the gentle climb up the valley against a steady headwind was hard work.
But the return felt like flying.

Thursday, 27 June 2019