Stanhope to Corbridge
My last day was tough. From Stanhope the road was immediately uphill for a long hard climb up on to the moors at Hise Hope followed by a long high level stretch. I was not very surprised when I reached the top to find that snow was falling and I pedalled along for a couple of miles at least in driving snow. My mood was triumphant rather than defeated, I knew that it wouldn’t last too long, the wind was not in my face, and it felt like a fitting climax to the trip. Added to that I could imagine the comments of the occasional car drivers who passed me.
As the road plunged down again to Edmundbyers the snow turned to rain. I stopped in the village for a few minutes but there was no shelter, no cafe or pub open and the rain was strong enough to make it virtually impossible to change over my map, inside its waterproof sleeve, to the next sheet. The combination of heavy rain and wet, frozen hands was likely to leave me with a torn soggy map so I let it be, thinking that I could remember the route ahead.
At this point I was wearing supposedly weatherproof jacket and gloves, both of which were as wet inside as out, and my lycra tights, which were soaked of course. I was very chilled and standing still in the rain was out of the question so the only strategy was to keep pedalling, since that at least generated some heat. My wet clothes did break the worst of the wind while I was on the move.
I immediately went wrong since I had forgotten that my route turned on to a side road in Edmundbyers. For a while I was totally confused as I was expecting to loop to my right around the Dewent Reservoir but in fact it was out of sight on my left and the right turns I explored led to nowhere I could identify. Finally I found myself approaching the A68 trunk road which ran north to Corbridge, my destination for the day and I realised where I had gone wrong. I was several miles out of my way and there was no point in trying to return to my route.
I would usually avoid main roads since no cyclist enjoys holding their own with high speed traffic but this one was a life-saver. My original plan would have taken me by a longer route which included some steep climbs but, from this point, the A68 was generally downhill all the way and the traffic was not very heavy. I soon raised myself to a steady tempo making the most of the downhills and the good tarmac while keeping my eye in the mirror for danger.
I am always surprised by how few cyclists use mirrors. Whether in urban traffic or in the country, the ability to keep an eye on what is happening behind is a huge advantage and if you are riding in a group it is essential since the art of group riding is to always look out for the person behind and trust the person in front not to lose you. I have tried various mirrors, most of them indifferent, but I can recommend the Mirrycle. For a long time Mirrycle have made the ideal mirrors for drop-handlebars and they now produce a version for flat bars too. The neat design is very rigid, so vibration is slight, and has a real glass mirror whereas some products use easily scratched plastic.
Unfortunately Mirrycles are not widely available in the UK these days but you can find them if you look, and of course the excellent Albert Butterworth stocks them at his shop in Abbeydale Road, Sheffield (no website, no mail order, just a proper bike shop).
I was heading for Corbridge, in the Tyne Valley, as it was the first town on my route that had a railway station. The A68 approached Corbridge by a slightly roundabout route, passing close to the next station on the line at Riding Mill so I made for that one instead. When I arrived there was no train due for nearly an hour and the only shelter was an unheated plastic hut that did provide a little protection from the wind. The rain had died down.
My priority was to get dry and put on dry clothes, luckily I had a towel and a change of clothes except for my shoes. Despite, or perhaps because of, my load of camping gear, I had saved weight by only taking my fabric cycle-touring shoes which were saturated. Once dry I dived into my supply of snacks and filled up on frusli bars, nuts and dried fruit. I was still very chilled and had to keep moving until the train came.
It’s always an anxious moment when a local train arrives since you are never sure whether they have enough space for your bike and some require back-wrenching maneouvres to get the bike into a safe location. This time there was a spacious luggage area with no other bikes or anything else to cause a problem and I subsided into my seat with relief. The short trip into Newcastle was sheer pleasure as I quickly became warm and had nothing to do but sit still. At Newcastle station I had time for a cup of coffee and a sandwich before the express to Sheffield whisked me home in a stupor.
I was very stiff for several days and my thighs developed a red rash from the last day’s exposure. I had not had the chance to enjoy the spectacular scenery and the pressure to keep moving or freeze had forced me to exert myself more than I should. If I ever take on a similar trip at that time of year I’ll pay a lot more attention to my clothes but my main feeling was that I had achieved something. Compared to pulling a sledge single handed to the South Pole it wasn’t much but it was enough for me to feel real satisfaction.