Friday, July 09, 2010

#336 Going South

This is my report of a 7 day bike ride from Edinburgh to London. Starting in southern Scotland, then into The Lake District, across the Pennines, round the Peak District, into Shropshire and Gloucestershire. A day's rest in Wiltshire and then down the Thames Valley to London.

Stage 1 Edinburgh to Langholm 120 headwind kilometres in 6:48

It's a busy road out of Edinburgh but after a right turn on to the very minor B709 there is very little traffic for the rest of the day. This narrow road goes down through The Boarders and into Dumfrieshire, the scenery is spectacular in a wild uncultivated sort of way. Three big long climbs to get over and a tedious head wind, which lasted all day, made this first stage harder than expected. Bizarre sight of the day, right out in the wilds near Eskdalemuir, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery - I managed to chant a long Ooooommmm as I freewheeled by.

Just as I pitched up at The Crown pub for a meal and bed & breakfast it started to rain. That evening I chanced on another cyclist riding the other way. He told me he was an ex-pro and spent the evening name dropping, recounting his best time trial times and even his (v low) resting heart rate. Didn't get much sleep as the pubs noisy cold store fridge motor kept stopping and starting and a constant trickle of what I thought was rain (It turned out to be a "water feature" which had not been turned off, grrr).

Stage 2 Langholm to Kendal 122km in 6:16

After a "Full English Breakfast", although I'm still in Scotland I was out on to the A7 to Carlisle. Then minor roads to the Lake District. Rounding a corner on a fast descent I came on a spectacular view of Ullswater Lake, couldn’t brake in time to take a snap and I wasn’t about to turn round and go back up, so will look for a google image later on. A nice ride beside the lake and then – Kirkestone Pass. It’s a long and steep climb, goes up to 454 metres pretty quickly, even the cars struggle. At the bottom it’s marked as 20%, then 16%, then back to 20%. I made it up most of the way in my bottom gear of 29 x 29 but gave in and walked the last bit, which wasn’t easy either, leaning forward and straining to keep the bike upright and going in a forward direction. However, a nice whoosh down the other side, a shortcut to avoid Windermere and into Kendal to find a nice b&b (bed and breakfast) for the night.

Dined very well in a little restaurant called the Half Moon, highly recommended if you are in Kendal. The Lake District was nice, plenty of lakes and trees arranged in such a pleasing way that any famous poet worth his ink would be driven to rhyme and stanza to his heart’s content.

Stage 3 Kendal to Hebden Bridge 112km in 7:20

Another big breakfast then I took a back road out of Kendal and was rewarded with no traffic but a few thousand very steep hills all the way to Kirkby Lonsdale – I wonder if the main road might have been flatter . . . ? Then suitably softened-up across the Forest of Bowland, which despite its name doesn’t seem to have any trees but is a huge expanse of wild moorland full of sheep going about their business. The little road that I had chosen was walled in by ancient looking dry stone walls but this didn’t stop the sheep wandering onto the asphalt, perhaps it’s tastier than the grass in this part of the world. Legs were now running on empty and I lost count of the times I had to walk, it was like riding a Big Dipper but without the screaming.

I’ve been trying to follow muddy lanes, tracks and trails on this seven day ride. The cycling organisation Sustrans has a set of routes that can take you all over the British Isles and lately I have been following Route 68 – until I got lost. I should have gone through Colne but ended up in Burnley and the last few miles to Hebden Bridge were rather crowded with traffic but not at all hilly (this is a good thing).

Hebden Bridge is a bit of a hippy enclave and is marketed as the Fourth Funkiest Town in England, Your answers on a post card, please, as to the first three. Found a remarkably cheap Turkish restaurant that offered two courses for a tenner so made up the rest of my budget with glass(es) of red wine. Another nice b&b, I was given the last room available, a “family” room made up of two connecting rooms. In the middle of the night the connecting door decided to open on its own (I hope). Anyway, it woke me up and gave me a bit of a fright.

Hills don't look so steep in a photo!

Stage 4 Hebden Bridge to Ashbourne 128km in 8:51

Curse the Sustrans Route 68, it took my out of Hebden and up (when I don’t think I needed to). Some interesting bits though, at one point I went through a little tunnel underneath the M6 and along a grassy path by a reservoir and through some woods, good job I’m riding a cyclo cross bike with big balloon tyres, a road bike wouldn’t have liked it. I didn't realise it until the summit, but I rode and walked over Holme Moss which is quite a famous hill in the cycling world. More navigation round minor roads and passing through the little town of Gosnall I espied a coffee shop and found myself ordering an Americano. I don’t usually stop for refreshment, only once a day to top up water bottles and maybe leisurely eat a banana. Going round Buxton it rained for two minutes, I can now say I took the waters at Buxton (a famous spa town). More map reading got me to the piece de resistance for the day, The Tissington Trail. This trail is 20k along an old railway line very much like the Vias Verdes in Spain. I was whooshing once again as I sped on the gradual decline to Ashbourne. Very, very long day in the saddle – but worth it.

Stopped up at the Rose & Crown pub for b&b and the very best evening meal of the trip in splendid traditional English pub (link).

Stage 5 Ashbourne to Bewdley 110km in 6:22
Slow but sure, muddy lanes and one puncture.

Stage 6 Bewdley to Wootton Bassett 128km in 6:40
Nice ride beside the river Severn. Climb du Jour was Birdlip Hill just outside Gloucester. Arrived in time for tea at Kevin & Lorraine's. Ahhh :-)

Stage 7 Wootton Bassett to London 152km in 6:28
Yesterday I fitted in a rest day but managed to get to the pool and swim a bit with Cirencester Tri Club, more water massage than serious swimming. Today I whoosh down the A4 with a big tail wind pushing me along. In fact this was the longest day in kilometres but the shortest in hours! Nothing else much happened except I went through Hungerford, Newbury, Reading, Maidenhead, Slough, Heathrow, Chiswick, Shepherds Bush, Notting Hill Gate, Swiss Cottage, Hampstead Heath and finally arrived in Muswell Hill.

Job Done.