I finally serviced my mountain bike, which has been nursing a wounded front mech and disintegrated rear wheel bearings. As a reward I took it out for a little explore along off-road routes around Durham. I started with a cobbled descent from Framwellgate to the River Wear, behind the Radisson Hotel.
This popped me out onto a well surfaced cycle route from the City centre out to Newton Hall. I've not ridden along here before and I was pleasantly surprised at how well maintained it is.
At the top of this track were a couple of unsignposted choices and by chance I found myself riding out of the visitor's car park of Frankland Prison! This is just opposite the road down to Finkle Priory, so I continued straight on and back down the the River Wear again, with the wooden bridge crossing to Cocken Wood.
There are numerous riverside paths throughout Cocken Wood, but they don't join up with any other paths along the River Wear, so ultimately I had to climb up to Cocken Road.
There are no signs at the bottom of the hill, near Finkle Priory, to suggest that cycling is not permitted but when I reached the road I found a Durham County Council sign making it clear that cycling in the woods is not allowed.
Off-road cycling seems to be unpopular in the Durham area; on my way through Leamside I found some off-road paths but the signs repeatedly made it clear that cycling is not welcome around Woodside Farm or Moor House; forcing me up to the A690.
By the time I'd made it through Carrville and Belmont I had a totally different perspective on cycling. Surround by cars, parked on both sides of the road with one set of wheels on the pavement, with two lanes of traffic pushing past in opposite directions, with large car parks full for shopping trips and car dealerships selling more cars to add to the already full roads. It was hard cycling and depressing. Thankfully I was able to drop away from the road on the cycle path downhill towards Durham.
Old Durham Gardens
are open "Thursdays and Sundays, March 29th to October 29th, 2pm to 4pm"... quite a narrow window of opportunity but they look beautiful are are worth the walk from the city centre.
Due to a landslide, part of the cycle path is closed, but on the opposite bank are alternatives which run behind the Durham University sports fields. and the River Wear with its boating and riverside pubs.
I sneaked up the back streets of Durham, under Elvet Bridge and past the Cathedral to drop down the far side over Prebends Bridge. This put me on my home side of Durham and I cycled up to the Railway Station, through the woods and popped out on the A690 by County Hall and nearly home.
The on-road riding with a Mountain Bike / Knobbly-tyre combination was depressingly hard work and I felt bullied by Friday afternoon traffic - but the off-road sections were amazing... so now I just need to find a decent way to join them up before repeating this exercise.