Cycling the C2C in northern England – Day 2

Day 2 of our Coast-to-Coast, or C2C, ride across northern England started from our overnight stop in Alston. The C2C is said to be the most popular of the long distance cycle trails in England with between 12 and 15,000 cyclists taking on the approximately 225 km (140 mile) route each year. The route was opened in 1994 and most cyclists take two or three days for the route, although those up for a real challenge can do it in one.

Alston lies in the North Pennines and, lying abour 300 metres above sea level, it is one of the “highest” towns in the country. The area was rich in minerals and in years gone by there was a great deal of mining, particularly for silver, which has affected the landscape of the area. Now days the area relies more on tourism than on mining, lying as it does in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Alston is noted for its cobbled streets and sure enough, soon after we started cycling at about 8:45 am (after an excellent breakfast as Alston House!) we turned onto a picturesque cobbled street with an uphill that got our heart rate up very quickly.

Leaving Alston and heading east, the countryside is open farmland, but it wasn’t long before we reached the little village of Nenthead. At one time Nenthead was a centre of the lead and silver mining area. In the 1860’s it was a bustling village of about 2,000 people and is noted for being one of the first villages in England to have electric lights. Like many of the old mining villages in this area it is now heavily dependent on tourism for its continued existence.

Leaving Nenthead, we encountered another fairly stiff climb peaking at what is apparently the highest point on the C2C at 609 metres above sea level. Having crested the hill, though, one is rewarded with a long downhill through sweeping and open countryside, along a good road with very little traffic. We entered Northumberland, “England’s Border Country” along this stretch and paused to record the event with a few photographs. I found this one of the most pleasant sections of the ride, with spectacular scenery as we wound through the farmlands inhabited by sheep and cattle. Of course the downhill and the lack of traffic contributed significantly to our enjoyment.

The villages in England are very close together and we were soon in Allenheads, yet another little village established as a result of the lead mining that was prevalent in the area. One wonders if this area would be largely unpopulated today if it were not for the mineral deposits, now long gone.

From Allenheads we continued to Rookhope, passing the “Lintzgarth Arch”, which was once part of a 3 km long horizontal chimney that carried poisonous fumes away from the Rookhope lead smelting works. This is a splendid section of the route, marred only slightly by the fact that I got a puncture, but this was soon fixed and the delay was of no significance.

Although Rookhope was also a mining village at one time, it apparently started its existence as a centre for cattle farming way back in the 13th century, pre-dating the mining boom.

Through Rookhope, we headed for Stanhope in County Durham and the start of the last really challenging climb on the route, the climb up Crawleyside. The steepest section of this climb is through the outskirts of Stanhope and it continues for about 5 km. The steepest section of the climb has a gradient of 20%, which is really testing, but it is not too long and we were soon at the top.

About 56 km into the day’s ride we reached Consett, one of the bigger towns on the route, with a population of around 28,000. Consett (birthplace of Rowan Atkinson of  “Black Adder” and “Mr Bean” fame) is 270 metres above sea level, so we hadn’t dropped much overall since leaving Alston. This was soon to change, though, and from Consett to the River Tyne, a distance of about 18 km, we dropped around 250 metres!

When we reached Gateshead we got a little lost and relied on the GPS facility on Andy’s phone to direct us onto the correct route (isn’t this mapping technology marvellous?!).  Gateshead lies on the southern bank of the River Tyne, opposite Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and the two towns are connected by seven bridges over the river, including the Millennium Bridge. Once we were back on the correct route we entered a fairly flat section of the ride that took us over the magnificent Millennium Bridge and past the rather dramatic architecture of the Sage Gateshead.

The last few kilometres of the ride, as we wound our way along the River Tyne was extremely pleasant. With the end almost in sight we slowed down and rode together, chatting as we went. We were sheltered from the wind along most of this stretch and largely on cycle paths so there was no problem with the traffic. With just 8 km to go we reached an old sign for the National Cycle Route, indicating that we were 5 miles from Tynemouth.

We reached the sign marking the end of the C2C at 3:30 pm and it was something of a disappointment compared with the sign in Cumbria that marked the start. After taking a few photographs we made our way to a spot where we could get our bikes down to the North Sea for the traditional front wheel dipping, which for us marked the real end of the ride.

On the headland overlooking the spot where we dipped our wheels into the sea is the Tynemouth Castle and Priory. What is always amazing to me, as a South African, is the age and history of these old buildings in the UK and Europe. The first monastery at this spot is believed to have been built in the seventh century, or perhaps earlier, and although it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, there has been a monastery at the site ever since. Bt comparison, the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa is the Castle of Good Hope, which was completed in 1679 – almost new!

The distance that we covered on Day 2 of the ride was 108 km, making a total distance of 225 km from Whitehaven to Tynemouth.

Having completed the ride, however, we didn’t linger too long as we still had about twenty kilometres to cycle back to Andy’s home in Bedlington.

Riding the C2C is a wonderful experience and a good opportunity to see the countryside from a completely different perspective. The riding was somewhat tougher that I expected, largely because of the route that we chose, sticking to the quieter roads that generally have steeper gradients than the motorways. It was  great fun and my thanks go to Andy for the effort that he put into making all the arrangements.

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