Coasts and Castles - A Daddy / Daughter Adventure.

The last two days of my summer holiday - and my daughter agrees to a cycling tour! We decided to follow part of the Sustrans "Coasts and Castles" route which runs 200 miles from Newcastle to Edinburgh. We only had a couple of days so chose to focus on the first section, 100 miles; from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Katherine's preparation involved two ~30 mile rides between Durham and Bishop Auckland, and between Durham and Lanchester. On both occasions she'd proven herself to be fit enough to tackle something longer, but back to back 50 mile days could be a lot more challenging! There would also be more hills than before, so I opted to carry both our sets of luggage on my tourer; I knew this would make the journey less of a grind for Katherine. I just asked that her Ortlieb pannier - when packed - would weigh no more than mine. In reality mine weighed a lot more than hers! We also swapped the 'comfort gel' (a misnomer) saddle on her Giant CRS for a classically sprung 'Brooks Flyer'. The final addition was a toptube bag for jellybabies, putting little hits of rocket-fuel in easy reach.
It was a gloriously sunny day as we arrived in Newcastle by train. We thought that starting our tour with a couple of different bridges over the River Tyne would be fun so crossed the High Level Bridge. Both of us commented how "Chicago-of-the-movies" it felt with all the ironwork surrounding us. We looked down on the other bridges and both the Sage and Baltic buildings; needing to get down to river level the road dropped away like the edge of the world. This was quite a scary surprise for Katherine who squeezed the brakes all the way down. It was good not to be climbing that hill.

We crossed back over the River Tyne on the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and joined the C2C / Hadrian's Way cycle routes along the bank of the river Tyne and took about an hour to reach Tynemouth. We passed the disused Swan Hunter shipbuilding yard and negotiated the various diversions along the cycle path. It was an easy enough ride but we were ready for some 'fish n chips' when we finally climbed up to Tynemouth. Even though we bought a child's portion, it was enough for the two of us to share. How do people manage 'large' portions alone?

There were so many other cyclists around! The Chris Lucas Trust, Great North Bike Ride was taking place - a 50 mile ride south from Seahouses to Tynemouth - so for the next 20 miles we'd be riding against the flow of hundreds of cyclists. All of them raising money to treat childhood cancer.

Riding north along the coast from Tynemouth, through Whitley Bay and Seaton Sluice was brilliant. Not only was there a festival feel from the number of cyclists around, but the deep blue of the north sea, the blue sky and the sense of adventure were feeding our enjoyment. Given it was gloriously sunny and warm; it wasn't long before we needed to stop for refreshments. We felt the party atmosphere at the Kings Arms draw us in, so we sat and watched other riders. I spoke to one gentleman with a cast on his foot and ankle, he was interested in where we were riding. I was interested to discover he was still riding his bike - with a broken ankle!
We left Seaton Sluice and continued north to Blythe, where our cycle map (which is quite old) and the route 'on-the-ground' varied a bit. We found a lovely path beside the River Blythe which took us underneath the A189 and the railway line to Bebside Furnace Road, which crossed the river and with a hairpin bend brought us up to the B1331.
Then again we lost the route slightly and ended up doing an extra loop via Cambois, but it just brought us back round to the cycle path along the side of the A189. We had more traffic free cycling next to the A189, but a bit dull. We knew there was an isolated section ahead of us, so when we reached Lynemouth we grabbed some chocolate bars and topped up our drinks. Ahead was a coast hugging ride on a mixture of surfaces and very little refreshment between here and Amble.
It was wonderful to be right next to the sea for so many miles - Katherine had bags of energy and we took several opportunities to snap photographs of each other having fun cycling.
I have longed for a gentle cycle touring holiday for weeks - and I was in heaven. Katherine was great fun to cycle with, really chatty and full of smiles. We were sharing a brilliant ride together and I doubted things could get much better. 

To our right was the North Sea, to our left was first Druridge Pools and later Druridge Bay Country Park. We hugged the coast on traffic free roads, with some mixed surfaces but nothing to cause my 28x700c tyres any problems. I also have very small clearances between tyre and mudguard - but there was no problem with this on the route we followed.
Through Amble and along the river Coquet, the tide was high and in the distance we could make out the 'barely' ruined ruins of Warkworth Castle. In Warkworth we needed one last stop for a drink and chocolate bar, just enough to get us over the hill and down to Alnmouth. We sat in the late afternoon sunshine beside the river, where canoeists were having fun.
One last surge of effort and we climbed the steep hill out of Warkworth and followed the super-busy A1068, in preference to the cycle path at first - but as we came within sight of Alnmouth we switched back to the cycle path for a last bit of traffic free riding down to the coast and our stopping point for the night.
We were booked in to the Schooner Hotel, a 17th Century coaching inn and a cheap place to stay while in the highly desireable Alnmouth. This was the height of the holiday season and there was no other accommodation available - at least no other accommodation for less than £100 a night!
Our twin room was okay - the beds could probably have done with new mattresses and the shower could have been better if the bath had been sealed so it didn't leak water into the bar below us... but no matter - we were comfortable enough. Dinner was at the Red Lion. As we were riding on a Sunday/Monday Bank Holiday combo, this Sunday night we were treated to a £10 Sunday roast - and my goodness it was huge, filling, and deeee-licious!

We slept well.

So Monday morning was bright, and Katherine was awake for a slap up full English breakfast, tea/coffee/OJ and fruit followed by sausage, bacon, beans, black pudding, hash browns, mushrooms, eggs and tomatoes. We 'filled our boots' knowing that today's 50 miles was going to be a lot hillier than yesterday's 50 miles.
Leaving Alnmouth heading north, the road goes up, and up! There is a lovely view out to sea and inland over the Northumbria countryside. There is no denying that today was going to be tough, and that Katherine already had 50 miles in her legs.

By the end of this day, Katherine's legs, arms, hands, neck and derrière were going to be hurting enough to have her close to tears, but for now we took an easy pace and experienced a more scenic ride than yesterday.
Much more of today's riding was traffic free - or when it was on-road the road was deserted. We passed through Boulmer and saw the training jet-fighter at the airforce base.

Our ride nearly came to an abrupt end with some gravel on a sharp downhill bend. One moment's lapse of concentration found Katherine skidding, then bumping up a curb before suddenly stopping. I was unable to do anything but watch, grateful when she finally had her feet down either side of the bike.

We cycled past Craster (home of smoked kippers) and left roads behind altogether for a while. As we passed through one farmyard, and through the gate into the fields, we found a smooth concrete cycle path stretching away in front of us. From here we had a good view of Dunstanburgh Castle, and started to feel that the "Coasts" and "Castles" route was named well.

Being blessed with sunny warm weather, we overheated and needed to stop for drink and bananas; finding a field with a nice view just outside Embleton - but from here on the ride was much more 'countryside' that 'coastal'.
So after miles of quiet country lanes we were looking forward to finding some lunch and our target for that was Seahouses. I told Katherine about a 'Fish n Chip' shop which could get our food to the table before we could sit down. Pinnacles did me proud! We ordered two sets of children's fish and chips, which were huge and far too much for us both, and they did indeed manage to serve the food to our table before we could finish our order! The food was very filling and perfect - I'd go back there anytime.
With full bellies, we rode out of Seahouses and out into the Northumbria countryside yet again - despite the challenge that was laid before Katherine, she was rising to the event and giving 100% effort. The rewards were wide ranging views of Northumbria, and as Katherine said to me, "This is the sort of place I wanted to ride!" From the hilltop we could see out to the Farne Islands, and from the next few hills we could see Bamburgh Castle.


In Bamburgh we needed a drink and rest. The hills were taking their toll and we still had another 20 miles to reach Berwick-upon-Tweed.
It was becoming a slog for Katherine. The two day's cycling had drained her and it was only determined enthusiasm which kept her going. She smiled, she laughed and she enjoyed the views - even though with every pedal stroke her legs were burning, her arms ached, her neck ached and the interface between saddle and body was now quite sore. We were blessed with good weather... rain and wind would have been too much to bear. We stopped again at the Blue Bell in Belford - although the bar was too quiet.

We bumped into the busy A1 road at Fenwick, and got talking to a couple of young chaps from Germany, cycling south to meet friends in Newcastle. They were riding an odd choice of bicycles; one was on a MTB without front brakes, the other was on a BMX. Neither of them had a map. We gave them our map, thinking the ride to Berwick would be easy.
I was wrong about two things - firstly I should have followed the coastal signposted cycle route. Our map was old and this wasn't shown as an option, so I was worried that it would be unsuitable for bikes (I was wrong). I was wrong to give away our map, as a result we got lost in the hills to the west of the coastline, and this caused Katherine a lot of suffering. Hill after hill after hill...
Eventually we just had to stop by the side of the road and try to recover for 30 minutes. I knew we were only 3 miles from Berwick... but I was worried that those 3 miles would be the hilliest of the day.
With one final push we crested the millionth hill and there before us was Berwick-upon-Tweed - Katherine was too exhausted to be delighted, it was all she could manage to freewheel to the bottom of the hill, over the bridge and stop at the first pub we could find.

We'd done it! Well done Katherine - you gave it all you had, you gave it 100% and were totally empty when we arrived in Berwick. 100 miles in 2 days - with only a couple of training rides. Big congratulations for the buckets of resilience you showed.
This was exactly the sort of ride I'd been waiting for all summer - warm, and beautiful. Two manageable distances with an overnight stay in a pub. Above all, I wanted to do this ride with my family and being with Katherine was such a wonderful way to spend the last couple of days of my summer holiday.


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