Forecast for rain and wind along the northeastern coast. Bright sunshine inland... so the choice was made: Hills. This bright sunny September day was a chance for me to play in the Pennines. It took a long time to feel comfortable 'playing' in the North Yorkshire Moors, and it has only just reached the point where I feel able to toy with the Pennines. I'm aware that the Pennines may choose to bite - and that I'll regret treating them lightly... but not today. Today I feel unbeatable.
Heading west from Durham I blasted down the A691 to Lanchester, which is the easiest way to get started on a ride like this. 30 minutes warm-up before the hills start... which they do immediately. From Lanchester the road goes up pretty much all the way to Waskerley Common, and drops sharply off the edge down Crawleyside. I passed some tourists riding the C2C and climbing Crawleyside heading to Sunderland or Tynemouth.
Taking the Alston road west, the tarmac continues to climb to St John's Chapel. I stopped for a coffee at the 'Chatterbox Cafe', where I had a lovely conversation with the owner. He organised the 'Top of the World' Sportive and is keen to promote cycling in the Northern Pennines in the same way that Yorkshire have succeeded in promoting the Dales.
Left after the 'Chatterbox Cafe' and Chapel Fell is plastered along the hillside ahead of me. It climbs to over 600m and has warning signs at the bottom: beware - bad weather at all times. Wow!
I'm not a racing snake, but I enjoyed riding to the top and gawping at the views around me. Over the cattle grid and I hurtle down the other side. Screeeeech. Front wheel slides under braking... a sheep jumps out from behind a bluff and runs across the road in front of me and I become a lot more cautious after that!
There is another climb and drop to reach Teesdale and then the treat of a long downhill past High Force to reach Middleton-in-Teesdale for lunch. A toastie at the "Middleton in Bloom" champion's cafe.
More climbing ahead straight after lunch, up and over Bollihope and taking the straighter route over Catterick Moss and dropping down Unthank Bank with its hairpin 20% drop.
At the bottom was a Ford with stepping stones that I found irresistible, so bounded my way to the mid-section to take a photo before hip-hopping to the far side.
Crawleyside Bank next and up, up, up. Not the fastest rider ever - but with a grin on my face from the joy of climbing. I stopped at the Parkhead Cafe for a coffee and got chatting to a C2C rider. He was doing Penrith to Tynemouth in one go and would be coming back in two days. We looked out the window to see thick black rain clouds out east over the coast. More hills and rain awaited him - I was examining radar forecasts and trying to work out if I could cloud dodge back to Durham.
The drop to Lanchester was taken at speed and I rolled into The Kings Head pub just as it started spitting with rain. A well earned dinner - baked potato and chilli - refilled my insides while outside the rain lashed down. With a break shown on the radar pictures of the northeast weather - I took a comfortable ride back up the A691 past Witton Gilbert to Durham in the dry. Result!
What a totally fantastic September ride... sunny, warm, short sleeved shirt and shorts... Hills and more hills with big grins. Thanks be to God for the wonderful countryside that is the North Pennines.