Newcastle to Holy Island

Newcastle to Holy Island

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a month now, and I thought I best write it before I forget the rough happenings of the trip! (I have the memory of a goldfish).

In late October I’d started to read a lot of stories on www.crazyguyonabike.com and the subreddit /r/bicycletouring, and I was really getting inspired about going on a tour myself. I had a few things that I had to get before I could go though (and when I say a few, I mean just about everything required minus the bike!); winter sleeping bag, compact sleeping mattress, 2 man tent and most importantly, a bike rack to carry it all on!). The main feature I focused on for each bit of kit, was that it was light – I wanted to ensure that I didn’t overload my bike as I didn’t have much experience with touring bikes, but I know that my wheels aren’t designed for it (not enough spokes, thin tyres and little tread on them). I ended up getting the “Vango Tempest 200” for £99 delivered, although I’d had my eye on the “MSR Hubba Hubba” tent, but at nearly double the price I just couldn’t justify it, especially not as such a spare of the moment purchase. As well as the tent I bought: “Trek Self Inflating Mat – Compact Size”, “Gelert X-Treme Lite 1200 Sleeping Bag”, some twisted pegs, some elastic bungee cords and “ETC double pannier bag” – all of which I recommend except for the sleeping bag which I eventually returned after the trip because it just wasn’t good enough to keep me warm, even though it states it was comfortable to -5C (which it wasn’t I don’t think!). The main item I needed, the bike rack, was the trickiest item to find as I have a road bike which has no mounts at all for fitting a rack. Eventually after searching I found a rack that was fully adjustable which would allow me to fit it to my bike – the “M-Wave One for All Alloy Pannier Rack”, this used P-clips to mount to the seat stays and more solid fixings to attach to the chain stays. I ordered everything on the Monday/Tuesday and planned to set off on the Friday.

By the Friday everything had come, although I had to go pick up  the rack and fit it to the bike – an easy task I thought, so I didn’t bother starting to fit the rack until after lunch time when Siân and myself had got a coffee and something to eat. The rack was a bit of a nightmare to fit, every part of it was adjustable and to top things off there was a bold missing from the kit! We managed to find a bold that fit luckily and we managed to fit the rack after a couple of hours! By the the time we had got the rack on I was starting to wonder whether or not to leave it until tomorrow to set off, as it was about 2PM and I knew the sun would be going down around 4.30-5PM, but I decided that whatever cycling I got done in that time means that I’m more likely to reach my target of Holy Island in time, so I got everything packed up and ready to go.

I rode up and down the street a couple of times to check how the weight felt on the bike, before setting off with the aim of getting to Whitley Bay before stopping to figure out where I could head to camp for the night. I arrived at Whitley Bay and looked at the maps and as there was a campsite at Ashington I aimed to get there before it got too dark. I ended up travelling along a cycle path from the lighthouse near Whitley Bay, which was most definitely not designed for road bikes! So I had about a mile or so of bumpy/rocky/muddy walking paths until I got back to a road, all the time I was worried that my bike tyres would get a puncture or worse, a spoke would break (my paranoia was caused by 2 of the 3 journals on “crazy guy on a bike” had broken spokes on the first/second day had broken!), but luckily I didn’t have any bike problems the whole 3 days. By the time I’d got to Ashington the sun was well gone (it went at about 4PM!) and it was starting to get pretty cold, and to top things off the campsite on the map was closed for winter. I got my phone out to look at google maps and try and find areas of green where I could pitch my tend for the night.. I just couldn’t find anywhere and as much as I cycled to areas of greenery on the map, they always ended up being unsuitable (too exposed, overgrown etc.). I ended up stopping a runner to ask if he knew of anywhere to which he gave me directions to two caravan parks (one in Ashington and one at Newbiggin by the sea), I decided that because Newbiggin was more on my route I would head that way, even though he had advised me that the Ashington one would be the best bet. When I got to Newbiggin by the sea, I found a caravan site that did not look tent friendly, so I went in search of a field/some grass, which I soon found down the road next to a church – I decided this was my best bet as I was tired and it was starting to get late. This was when I faced my first real challenge – putting my tent up for the first time… in the dark. No I realise that I should have tested the tent once before setting off, but I just hadn’t gotten round to it.. I just hoped all parts would be there and everything would work as it should, and luckily enough it did, as I had enough trouble putting up the tent in the dark as it was (it takes about 10mins to set up usually, it took me about 40mins to do this first night!). Because of my location (on a cliff top next to the sea with the winds blowing!) I was exhausted by the time I got into the tent, I ate my sandwiches and a couple of cereal bars and tried to get some sleep – although due to the mix of being too cold and the odd drunk passer by from the caravan site, I didn’t sleep that well.

The next day I got up about 8AM, packed up my things and was ready to go by 8.30AM – after checking my maps roughly I set off and aimed to travel straight up the coast. I stopped at Amble to get some lunch after I’d been on a mixture of rough cycle paths (involving mud that I nearly got stuck in, lots of confused cows and more rocky paths!), before carrying on with the aim that I would get to Bamburgh Castle (it looked like there was a lot of green areas around the castle that I might be able to camp on) and then the Sunday I would cycle over to Holy Island and then on the Berwick Upon Tweed where I could get the train back (as I knew I would need Monday to get back on the bike and my right knee was starting to hurt). I cycled past a camping site and nearly stopped, but decided to press on to get to my target… Bamburgh castle – and I’m glad I did, as about 5mins down the road I could just see the castle in the distance! With the sun getting lower, I was very happy to see it, and I arrived at the castle about 15mins later. I propped the bike up and walked up the tallest hill I could find, so I could try and see somewhere suitable for pitching a tent, but after about 10mins of wandering around I decided there was nowhere really out of sight enough and I decided to cycle further in search of some land that looked out of the way, but I didn’t find anywhere and so I decided to head back the way I’d come into Bamburgh as I’d seen a church on the way to the castle. The sun was starting to go down and so I decided I would scope out the church for a camping pitch and worst case scenario I would ask someone to pitch my tent in their back yard. When I got to the church, I knocked on the door to see if anyone was in, as the porch was open, but the secondary door was not, but there was no answer so I decided to walk round back – this is where I found the idea camping ground, it was out of sight and wind sheltered by the two walls of the church. I set up my tent, got change and went to the local pub for some fish and chips and a pint, after which I returned to my tent for another unrestless freezing cold night of sleep!

In the morning I opened my tent to see a shocked grave walker in the distance (I don’t think he’d seen me!), I packed up and set off on my way to Holy Island. It was a freezing cold morning and I had to put my tent away with frost on it. As I started riding out of Bamburgh, I realised I was going to struggle cycling on the roads, as there was just ice everywhere – I just took it steady and only really had troubles when going downhill, where I’d bide my wheels skidding! When I got to a crossroads between the small roads and the A1, I decided to just head straight down the A1 as I knew the road would be gritted and I was sick of riding slow on the icy roads. The A1 wasn’t too bad for such a main road, as most of the way it had a large space between the road edge marking and the grass, which is where I stayed when I could, just dodging cats eyes in the way. I was soon at the turn off for Holy Island and thus back to icy roads, but I soon made it to the crossing road and after taking a few pictures I carried on towards the civilised area of the island. When I got there I locked my bike up and went for a lunch in a coffee shop where I had a bacon, brie and cranberry in ciabatta a mocka, which tasted amazing after all the cycling and the cold weather! I then looked round some remains of a castle/church but I didn’t want to pay the £7/8 that national trust wanted to look round properly, so I headed on to the castle where I spent about an hour looking round – it’s well worth the entry fee! I then decided that I should head on to Berwick Upon Tweed to make sure I have time to get a train before late. When I arrived at Berwick there were stunning views as I crossed the bridge and I spent a good couple of hours cycling round visiting all the various landmarks (the area was central to a border war between Scotland and England, so there’s lots to see) and finally on to the lighthouse before heading to find the train station – although I could have spent all day exploring the area quite happily! I bought my ticket and waited for the train, and when it arrived I got on and secured my bike in the door area, as I planned on just getting up before we got the Newcastle (the first stop) anyway. Apparently this is not the accepted practice when it comes to bikes on the train, which I soon found when I got called to return to my bike by the ticket collector. She seemed pretty pissed off with me for putting my bike where I had (it was in no ones way and didn’t block the carriage way!), and basically asked if I’d arranged to bring my bike onto the train (I’d skimmed the website and missed this part apparently), anyway, long story short she eventually calmed down (as there was nothing she could do anyway!), and told me not to do it again. I arrived at Newcastle around 8ish and cycled home to get a bath and relax before sorting my kit out.

The route is displayed roughly below (I didn’t track it on my phone due to battery), you might have to scroll to the right a bit to see the route better, or click the link below the map. Reflecting on the trip, I wish I’d been better prepared (especially for the winter weather!) and had perhaps gone on a few more rides before doing such a distance without preparation. I’ve made a list of kit that I want to gradually pick up ready for my next trip, and a couple of things that I’d quite like to read more about and possibly get into if I were to go on longer tours:

  • Look into Hennessy Hammock?
  • Down Sleeping Bag
  • New Saddle (Brooks?)
  • Swiss Army type knife?
  • Waterproof jacket/fleece/long cycling trousers?
  • Cycling shoes? (waterproof)
  • Sea to Summit eVENT Compression Dry Sack
  • http://robdeanhove.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/racing-on-dynamo-charging-my-gps-bright.html?showComment=1352233715387#c804817838292320622
  • Dynamo power converter/switch cable http://www.softhema.de/bicycle/index_s25a.html
  • Hub dynamo http://www.sp-dynamo.com/8seriesdynamo%20hub.html
  • Discussion on power cable: http://yacf.co.uk/forum/index.php?topic=55583.195
  • Tires with more tred?
This is just a list, including a couple of links that I will go back to for more information. One of the main things that interests me is dynamo hubs, as the ability to power my USB devices while out on the road is very appealing (it would allow me to use my phone to track my route and ensure I don’t get lost). I’ve since bought a large “Sea to Summit eVENT Compression Dry Sack”, as on the trip I had to pack the sleeping back/tent into their plastic bags that they arrived in to make them waterproof, which wasn’t ideal as they had holes in after a couple of days. The compression sack works great and I’d be able to get a couple of sleeping bags into it if I really wanted, I’m not sure about how waterproof it is, but people claim you can fully submerse them in water fine, and the compression vent is a brilliant invention (it compressed my sleeping bag to about half the size!). Now winter’s here I’ll have to try and build on my fitness ready for when the weather is good enough to get back on my bike properly and hopefully plan some longer tours, possibly up north through Northumberland, as I’ve driven through this area and it’s looks amazing.

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