Sunday 11 November 2018
Facebook has its uses. Being something of a last-minute specialist, I decide on Friday afternoon to attempt my planned 'Coast & Castles' charity bike ride. On booking a one-way train ticket from Dunbar to Newcastle-upon-Tyne with Cross-Country trains on Friday evening. The instructions to book my all important travelling companion and bicycle, directs you to their Facebook page. Slightly scepticle, I duly send a message requesting a booking. Although this is a massively popular cycle route in summer, I reckon November maybe be a quieter service. Sure enough, 'Peter' messages to say its done. There's no going back now.
Back in June I signed-up to Winston's Wish 'Hope100' campaign to complete a 100 (somethings). I could have plumped for 100 cup-cakes or 100 push-ups. But, I decided, thanks to my coastal location on cycling the 100+ miles home from Newcastle along the coast. June came and went, so did summer. The reason, too much work to have a break away. Then a letter landed on the mat from The High Court in Edinburgh. Jury service in September. That put paid to an autumn ride.
Last July marked fifty years since my mother died aged just 29 years of age. I was very young at the time. Obviously, the grief was unspeakable and the void immense. The legacy of this difficult time is woven into everything I do. Undeniebly, families can struggle collectively to support one another, as each person is obviously dealing with their own grief. In those days there was no counselling, and no goodbye either. I was denied attending my mothers funeral. My grandparents though, were thankfully, a steadying influence during the ensuing years.
These days there is a great charity called Winston's Wish, who specialise in helping bereaved children and their families cope with times like this. The shocking statistic is that, on average, some 100 children lose a parent every day in the UK. They run a 24hr helpline, as well as one-to-one counselling. I first heard about them on a BBC Radio Two interview last November while driving through Argyll. It resonated so powerfully, so I contacted them about helping raise the charity's awareness north of the border in Scotland.
On Friday, 9 November, I checked the weather forecast and decided to just go for it – inspired by the forthcoming 100th anniversary – Armistice Day. My 100 miles would be my personal marking of this occasion too.
Packing my bike panniers in the dimly lit garage with lightweight essentials, and checking the all-important lights and tyre pressures. My neighbours give me a warm send-off, as I leave my best pal Bertie (the spaniel) in their care from my East Lothian cottage in the direction of Dunbar station, some six miles away. It's a mild morning with favourable weekend weather forecast.
I arrive at Dunbar train station in good time. The 09:29 Cross Country service to Penzance is on time. Yes, Penzance. Surely, that's taking the concept of a cross country service to the max! As I suspect, mine is the only bike on the service this morning. Passing along the pristine east coast at speed, we arrive at sunny Newcastle, pet, just an hour later.
I love the Geordies, such a warm and welcoming place. They really know how to party here, shading Glasgow, just. I don't think I have ever visited without a hen/stag-party or something going on. It's as if the city has a permanent smile on its face.
I turn out of the station and down to the Tyne embankment. As is typical, a lovely, friendly couple point me in the right (easterly) direction showing a genuine enthusiasm and interest in my plans, and off I go, pointing my handlebars into a sharp shard of sunlight, so often found near the east coast.
Past the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts and the Millennium bridge towards the seaside town of Tynemouth. It's a city promenade morning, with joggers, dog walkers – all taking in the clean air. Smashing. Passing through the industrial port area, the going, becomes much quieter.
Alarmingly, I pass no less than three other cyclists all suffering mechanical failures or punctures. I keep an eye out for broken glass.
The trail suddenly becomes very busy again at Tynemouth. It's the corner where the Tyne estuary meets the north sea and reminiscent of London Docklands with its oppulent new-builds, circling an immaculate little harbour filled with pleasure craft.
Now, reassuringly heading north, I start to travel through more familiar territory such as Whitley Bay, past St Mary's lighthouse. The terrain is very residential and slow-going once more.
Eventually, I round Cambois and the river Blyth, where I have rowed a 'double' with ex England squad rower, Mitch on a couple of ocassions. I then meet a dog walker coming in the other direction. One of the woman's three dogs takes exception to my prescence and chases me for a full 100 yards, requring the need for the 'after-burners'. Perhaps my panniered stead is reminiscent of the postman?
Passing the sprawling town of Ashington, we join the coast again at Cresswell and Druridge Bay reminding me of fond and romantic days spent courting here some years ago. At Low Hauxley I rest on a now desserted path bench before pushing on to Amble. At Warkworth the night starts to draw-in under the shadow of an enourmous brooding castle.
I check my map, I still have a full eighteen miles before reaching the Bluebell at Embleton, my base for the night. The day disappears quickly, becoming pitch-like under the canopy of leafy lanes and leaden skies. Eventually, after many blind twists and turns, like an oasis, the glow of the village away in the distance spurs me on.
Chloe, at the Bluebell is used to the sight of bedraggled, weary cyclists and immediately takes me to stow my bike and shows me my room. I jump straight into a hot shower, pure bliss after a long sixty-four miles in the saddle, prolonged somewhat by the apparent shortness of the day.
The pub specialises in all things Italian. Italian beer, pasta, pizza – making it the perfect choice for the carb-starved pelaton. Next morning a full English heralds the start of Remembrance Sunday.
Somewhat surprisingly, I feel reasonably fresh as I mount my bike and head towards Seahouses. This is one of the locations this morning for Danny Boyle's Pages of the Sea, beach centenary art commissions. I meet a horse-rider, Sheila, who enquires about my ride. When I tell her I am heading for Berwick. "Berwick!" she exclaims. "It's not that far, only thirty-six miles", I reply. "It is on a bike", she replies before wishing me well.
At eleven minutes past eleven, I pass through Waren Mill with Holy Island visible in the misty distance. At Belford, Sustrans route 1 crosses the A1 trunk road, heading inland for ten miles before crossing the A1 again at Beal. This is where the trail becomes a decidedly 'off-road' one. A narrow and bumpy 'path' traverses a field full of cattle and piles of pooh for what seems like ages. Half an hour later we thankfully meet a track at Goswick. The gate, accessing it though is a quagmire, so I lift my trusty steed over a stile to avoid covering myself in mud and muck.
Passing, literally, through Berwick Golf Club with its bobble-hat topped members, zig-zagging their way behind their electric golf carts, I sense the end is in sight.
The route into the walled town of Berwick-upon-Tweed is now spectacular and suddenly very Scottish looking. Approaching the bridge over the Tweed, it starts to gently rain as I pause to admire the pretty wooden Berwick Rowing Club perched on the banks of the Tyne. As I ride through Berwick town centre, the now damp streets are lined by thousands of red poppy petals from the morning service. Poignant.
My one hundred 'country' miles concludes with a final push up to my village and home. I've covered 113 miles over two days and I am utterly spent but elated.
I'm planning on cycling the route again next summer at a more leisurely pace to admire the many awesome sights with rowing buddies Lou and Helen, coupled with the comfort of longer summer days.
Donations still open on the link below: