I have memories from 2009 of struggling when it came to climbing Hartside Top from the east as I cycled south along the Pennine Cycleway. Today I attempted the climb from the other direction. The woman who ran last night’s campsite had informed me that the western side was steeper, so it was with some trepidation that I approached the hill.
Well, either the hill has got smaller or I am fitter than I was 11 years ago. That’s possible. I certainly have much more experience of cycling hills. Perhaps it’s a combination of the two. By no means was it an easy climb but I wasn’t desperately out of breath upon arrival at 1,903 feet or, as we non-‘kippers prefer to say, 580 metres.
The views back towards The Lakes, or rather, the mountains of The Lakes were actually more impressive at lower altitudes. Upon arrival at the summit, the weather had taken a brief turn for the worse and Blencathra and her mighty friends to the west were somewhat shrouded in cloud. No café at the top nowadays since it burnt to the ground. The site has been cleared however and there are stories of it being rebuilt on futuristic form. Well, that’s what Jeff told me last night. It would have been nice to have somewhere to sit inside and ponder the landscape but as things are, a rapid descent to the more hospitable climate of Alston were in order. It provided me with hot chocolate and toyed with my geographical intuition.
Alston is built on a steep hill. Here it is:
My brain – without justification – tends to assume that the top of a hill is north. This makes no sense whatsoever but it’s the logic I followed upon leaving Alston only to discover that by doing so I was actually cycling east. A return trip through the centre of the town soon had me heading north but this time a deviation on route 68 meant a second enforced about turn to find the alternative road. Eventually, I escaped!
There once was a train that ran from Haltwhistle to Alston. There is now only a train that runs from a day tripper coach tour drop off point a few miles from Alston to Alston itself. This leaves much of the rest of the old railway to modern day walkers and cyclists and today I was one of the latter. Wanda’s engineering was put through its paces on the varied track and my patience was put through its paces as I had to stop repeatedly to open and close (“by order of the Parish Council” no less) the frequent gates. Not easy when travelling on a fully laden touring bike. They say necessity is the mother of invention. I’m still waiting on that one when it comes to cycle-friendly farm gates.
Back in 2009 I cycled over the Lambley Viaduct. This year I took a picture of it:
One of the great downsides of cycling along disused railway lines is that you don’t usually get to appreciate the architecture of viaducts. In the case of the Lambley Viaduct however, you are encouraged to do so by the kind actions of the person who owns the former station on land just to the south of the viaduct. He / she won’t allow you to cross his / her land so if you do want access to the viaduct, you have to navigate some steep stairs with your bike. I didn’t bother today and cycled along the road instead until I arrived in the centre of Britain no less:
They don’t half sing and dance about this claim to fame in Haltwhistle. That sign has been mucked about with and needs sorting as currently both Portland Bill and North Orkney are more or less 280 miles in the same direction. I wonder what will happen to Haltwhistle’s claim to fame when, as it surely will post-Brexit and Coronavirus shambles, Scotland becomes an independent country. The centre of Britain will suddenly become… well, somewhere near Wolverhampton I reckon. I hope the burgers of the Black Country are preparing their tourist strategy already. It could happen any day!
I went a bit off road to find the campsite. It’s situated on the old military road with dramatic views of Hadrian’s Wall. I followed my nose north up the hill from the centre of Haltwhistle (this time it worked!) until I hit its pencil-straight tarmac. This involved a muddy farmyard and boggy bridleway but, as many tanks have surely done before us, we made it to the military road in one shape albeit somewhat muddied.
Malcolm, the friendly chap who runs Winshields Farm Campsite could not have been more welcoming. I’m surrounded by this view of the Roman wall (see below), bleating sheep and a few other campers, mostly walkers but at least one other cyclist. Such is the wonder of the position of the tent, a second night is in order and so I have delayed my onward journey. Tomorrow I will be investigating Roman Britain!