I was heading to Alnmouth for a Spiritual Retreat with a group of friends from church, and in the interest of keeping life simple, I decided to ride up the day before. This was no night ride, this was a lovely sedate day touring along the coast of the north-east of the UK.
It was 7:40am when I headed out into the icy morning on my loaded tourer, I was 10 minutes late already and the sheet ice on the road surface slowed me down a little more resulting in my arrival at Number Four in Sedgefield 15 minutes later than I'd told Dean I would be there. Dean was tucking into a sausage breakfast roll and a cup of coffee. I ordered a cup too, and was offered regular or large. I know they offer free refills I ordered regular. The cake and pastry selection was calling my name but I resisted. We plotted a route for our northward journey, I had a very loose plan, perhaps too loose for navigation purposes so we first had to figure out what roads to take from Sedgefield to Seaham. I was planning to follow my nose - which is something Dean does too - but he said that generally you needed at least to know which town to head for first.
Heading north and east we weaved our slow and conversational way through Fishburn and the Trimdons... Trimdon Village and Trimdon Grange, past Trimdon Colliery on our way to Shotton Colliery and downhill under the A19 to Peterlee. Apparently Peterlee was a town named after a miner's leader, called Peter Lee. Dean is a local lad and full of interesting information about County Durham. Peterlee was quite busy so we looked for a quieter road to reach Seaham and took some back lanes through the residential area before rejoining busy main roads to Easington and along within reach of the A19. Cutting east at Dalton-le-dale we dropped down a steep road over some speed bumps which slowed the motorists but not us. This was where Dean and I started to consider we were going to have to overtake some cars today. The conversation turned to the merits of segregated cycle facilities, and as neither of us experience London cycling we both felt that road-apartheid is a bad thing - because there is an existing road infrastructure in place.
At Seaham we finally met the coast and from there all the way north we were within reach of the edge of the land until we made it to Amble. First we had Sunderland to negotiate and I took out my camera for the bridge.
There were three lanes of busy traffic that Dean and I had to negotiate. Dean was clearly enjoying himself, as was I. I snapped away, cycling one handed, gazing around me and looking for good photography opportunities. This got me a semi-sarcastic thumbs up from a taxi driver.
Tucking the camera into my back pocket I joined Dean in the urban duelling as we hurtled through the slow moving traffic, switching lanes and passing queues on the excellent three lane route around towards Roker past the National Glass Centre. It was a hoot and I didn't feel in danger. At Roker we dropped down onto the sea front to take some holiday photographs.
We shared some banter with the councilmen building some new features for the promenade as we tried to take pictures of each other by this monolith towards the lighthouse. It was 11:30am and time for a food stop... so we rode back up to the cliff top and stopped in at R Bar connected to the Roker Hotel. The R Bar serves a microbrewery beer from the Sonnet 43 brew house.
Keeping the calorie count down by eating pea soup for lunch meant I could order a second beer, and the "Better After Death" Porter was totes amazeballs. Dean had the organic IPA.
After an hour relaxing in the bar and trying to work out which cup final Sunderland were playing Hull in, we girded our loins for the second half of our bicycle ride. It was 12:30pm when we hit the road again. This section took us past the Souter Lighthouse in Marsden on Lizard Point (not Souter point which is down the road).
This beautiful sunny day, with no breeze, was a wonderful day to be cycling up the coast, we followed the closing stages of the Great North Run up to South Shields and the ferry crossing to North Shields. We had to walk through the pedestrian shopping area and just missed the ferry, but with a journey happening every 30 minutes it wasn't a big problem.
Once we boarded, we paid £1.50p each to take the short crossing with our bicycles to the north shore of the Tyne. It was a brilliant crossing with great views up and down the Tyne.
And on the north edge of the Tyne we joined the C2C route to Tynemouth, so we felt that loudly discussing how tough the three day C2C had been was obligatory, I even took a picture of Dean 'celebrating' finishing the C2C - Well Done Dean!
As we continued to ride north, we passed from Tynemouth along the coast through Whitley Bay and Seaton Sluice to Blythe. We were really blessed with excellent weather because the wind was still very light and the sun had shone on us all day long. At Blythe we met more school traffic and the typical dumb overtaking from drivers keen to reach the back of the queue ahead of us, so for the second time today we buzz-cut our way over, under, and around the cars which were clogging the road and pumping out their WHO Class I Carcinogenic "diesel" fumes.
After crossing the river Wansbeck at Stakeford, we turned back to the coast through Ashington to Newbiggin-by-the-sea. The wind was starting to pick up and the sun starting to fall as we joined NCN1 trying to keep right by the water's edge as far north as possible. I was slightly nervous because Dean had described a muddy path across a field, so I was relieved to discover that the cold dry weather rewarded us with a hard-packed path to cycle along. This bit of the route was totally traffic free and the short sections of muddy path were interspersed with old metalled road.
I had enjoyed the entire ride, from the cut and thrust of traffic duelling in Sunderland, to the isolated off-road of NCN1, but as the sun dropped low I was hoping we could get to Alnmouth quickly. I didn't bring lights because I had no night-riding plans, but now I had to put some effort in to get to Alnmouth quickly. I invited Dean to join us for a pub dinner and we hurried along the Warkworth to Alnmouth road at a fair lick. Then the next thing we knew, Alnmouth was in front of us and we'd completed our ride. 146km in 6hrs 30mins - warp factor "pootle".
I dropped my luggage off at the Friary of the Society of Saint Francis, changed into comfortable and warm clothing, and walked down to the Hope & Anchor for a few pints and a slap up pub meal. The others had arrived and conversation flowed back and forth about our expectations for the weekend. Dean was still planning to head for Berwick-upon-Tweed this night-time, so after a good meal he headed out into the dark. I was quite tired and went to bed.... and when I woke in the morning, for the beginning of the "Still small voice" retreat, this was my view:
Thank you God for this beautiful England, thank you for the strength to go cycling, and thank you for the wonderful friends I have to spend time with.