Coast & Castles Bike Ride

Introduction

The Coast and Castles Cycle Route runs from Newcastle to Edinburgh, and forms part of National Cycle Network Route 1. After the success of our C2C ride in 2004, a group of eight of us set out to ride this route in June 2005. The distance is about 200 miles, and we planned to achieve this over 3 days, with accommodation booked in advance in Seahouses and Melrose. Mileages shown for each day are as recorded by me, and include wrong turnings, deviations etc, so the "official" mileages of the route will be slightly shorter.

The Participants

Paul A (as last year, chief instigator and organiser: henceforth referred to as "Veggie"), Paul L, Brent, Greystone, Ian , Jim, Andy and myself (John) did the ride. All apart from Andy had taken part in the C2C ride in 2004. We are all railway signalling engineers based in York, and all regular cyclists.

Day 1: Newcastle to Seahouses (75 miles)

The day began with getting ourselves and our machines from York to Newcastle, with four of us each on the 8.12 and 8.23 trains. My train, the 8.12, was late and followed the 8.23, but we all met up again at Newcastle. Next, Veggie took us on a tour of wholefood shops in Newcastle (well, just two actually) where he stocked up on things suitable for his dead-animal-free diet. Ian thought that we perhaps also ought to visit a couple of butchers' shops, but we didn't take up the suggestion.

Newcastle

We had a bit of difficulty navigating our way out of Newcastle, and at one point some of the group almost ended up on the motorway. We were on the road proper by about 10 o'clock, and I didn't really take any notice of the first of the castles (Newcastle) that the route is named after. We followed the main roads to Tynemouth to save some time compared with taking the official cycle route, which we had used at the end of our C2C ride, and we had found covered in broken glass. We passed our second castle at Tynemouth, and from here the intention was to follow the designated route. This took us up the coast through Cullercoats, Whitley Bay and Seaton Sluice, before heading inland slightly to Newsham (where we briefly lost the route) and Bedlington Station (another minor error here).  We crossed the River Wansbeck on a cycle track adjacent to the A189 dual carriageway, and then came across a section of the route which was closed, with a temporary diversion. We ignored the notices, and followed the route anyway, and ended up in a building site, which we escaped from by lifting our bikes over the crash barriers onto the A189.

The weather was quite warm, but cloudy and humid, and a southerly breeze generally helped our progress. After passing the huge aluminium smelter at Lynemouth, we regained the coast and followed it alongside Druridge Bay to Amble, where we had lunch at the Quayside Chippy.

Warkworth Castle

We passed Warkworth Castle and then the route became a little hillier as we headed inland before dropping back down to the coast at Alnmouth. Another fine stretch along the coast brought us to the pretty fishing village of Craster, where Ian suffered the first puncture of the ride. This gave us an excuse to call in at the Jolly Fisherman for repairs and afternoon tea (or beer in the case of Jim and Ian). We lingered here for about an hour, enjoying the view of the small harbour and Dunstanburgh Castle beyond, and in the knowledge that there were just 12 easy miles ahead of us. This last stretch went away from the coast again, taking us through Embleton and Chathill and then back to the sea at Seahouses.

The Jolly Fisherman, Craster.  Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance.

We were all in the same hotel at Seahouses, and we decided to eat there before walking into the village and down to the harbour. The Olde Ship pub got our custom for one drink only, as it was extremely crowded and smoky. We visited a couple of other pubs before turning in for the night.

Day 2: Seahouses to Melrose (75 miles)

The middle day of the ride was to take us further up the Northumberland coast to Berwick, and then inland along the Tweed Valley to Melrose. The forecast was for hot and humid weather, with a southwesterly wind.

A good breakfast got us on our way, and we took the coastal road to Bamburgh rather than the official NCN route. We cycled past the imposing castle, and called in at the churchyard to see the Grace Darling memorial. Back on Route 1, this took us across the East Coast Main Line and the A1 and up the hill to Belford, followed by a descent into Fenwick.

At Fenwick, we got split into two groups, as Brent, Paul and Andy followed an out-of-date map of the cycle route, while the rest of us followed the new signposted route. Greystone went back to look for the others, and ended up on his own. The signed route took us to Beal, then onto a very rough track alongside the railway. We followed this until it ended in a field. We turned back for half a mile, with Veggie grumbling "This is a nightmare!", to a level crossing, which got us back on the correct route. Meanwhile, Greystone had phoned, saying that he had reached the causeway to Holy Island, having carried straight on at Beal. The four of us on the correct route pressed on, with some more off-road sections taking us along the shore into Tweedmouth. We rejoined the others in a café - they had beaten us there by using the A1.

Coastal track Scremerston to Spittal

After exchanging stories over cups of tea and coffee, we crossed the Tweed into Berwick, and turned away from the coast for the last time. We passed the castle, and entered Scotland near Paxton. A few minutes later, we crossed the Union Bridge over the Tweed, taking us back into England. We were now heading in a southwesterly direction, straight into the wind, and with the sun beginning to break through the clouds it was getting quite hot. Another castle marked our arrival at Norham, where we decided to break for lunch, which was taken sitting on a grass verge in the shade of some trees.

Union Bridge over the River Tweed (and the border)

Lunch break at Norham

On the road out of Norham, just before crossing the border again, it was noticed that Paul's rear wheel was a bit wobbly. Close examination revealed two broken spokes. The C & C route map showed a bike shop in Kelso, and Paul thought he would make it to there if he took it easy, so Brent and Greystone went with him on the main roads while the rest of us kept to the official route via Eccles and Ednam. We met up again at a café in Kelso, and drank tea while Paul's wheel was repaired at Simon Porteous Cycles. It was 5 o'clock when we collected his bike and set off on the final leg to Melrose.

Kelso: repairs completed

We passed our final castle of the day at Floors, then continued through Dryburgh and Newtown St Boswells. There was a significant hill just before Melrose, and my legs were feeling tired after struggling against the wind all afternoon. A fast descent brought us into Melrose at twenty past six, and we found our respective accommodations (Youth Hostel or B & B).

We met up at Burt's Hotel for a drink and sat in the garden at the back, while Veggie did a quick reccie of the town to see where the best vegetarian options were, and came back having booked us all a table at the King's Arms. This was perhaps just as well, as the staff at Burt's had objected to us walking through the restaurant to get from the bar to the garden. Or maybe we just weren't posh enough. Anyway, we all had excellent meals at the King's Arms, and the Deuchars IPA was good too. 

Day 3: Melrose to Edinburgh (60 miles)

The final day was the mountain section. Nothing like the middle day of the C2C, but a significant amount of climbing nevertheless.

Melrose

A short hill out of Melrose got us quickly warmed up, then we followed a good railway path to Galashiels. The route took us further up the Tweed valley, following minor roads. There were some hills, but Greystone probably wouldn't have noticed them. At Innerleithen we looked for a café, as it would be our last chance for some time, but there was nothing open at this time on a Sunday morning. We had an enforced pause here anyway, as Jim got a puncture.

From Innerleithen we had about 5 miles of continuous uphill riding. The wind was behind us now, but is was hot work on the ascent as cycling at the same speed as the wind there was no cooling breeze. The highest point of the whole route, about 380 metres above sea level, is on this section. After regrouping, it was fast riding all the way to Dalkeith. Paul got a puncture here, on a rough section of old railway (which looks set be a railway again in a few years' time). We had a late lunch in Dalkeith, and took our time as there were only 12 miles remaining to Edinburgh.

The last stretch took us to Musselburgh, round the south of Arthur's Seat and through the "Innocent Railway" tunnel, where the cold air was quite a shock to the system. Finally, we turned up the Royal Mile to finish the ride at Edinburgh Castle. Time for drinks at Sandy Bell's before catching trains back to York.

The End: Edinburgh Castle

Links to other rides:

 

2004

C2C

2006

London - York

2007

Glasgow - Inverness

2008

Holyhead - York

2009

Walney to Wear

2011

5 Countries

2012

North Sea Coast

2013 Yorkshire Wolds

 

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