For those of you planning your first cycling tour, here is a first-hand account of what it felt like to one adventurous cyclist. Friend of the site, Pete Martin, recalls the first time he embarked on a long distance, solo cycling trip. Now having completed many longer bike rides, including some of the great river routes in Europe, he recounts with trepidation cycling the Way of the Roses coast to coast route across England.
The Way of the Roses
The coast to coast journey across England was originally written about by Alfred Wainwright, in 1973, in his book A Coast to Coast Walk. Wainwright’s route has walkers dipping their feet in the Irish Sea at St. Bees and doing likewise in the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay. The west to east direction is the most common for walkers (and for cyclists), as it keeps the prevailing wind at your back and the evening sun out of your eyes. Following the popularity of the walk, the first cycling route was opened in 1994, running 140 miles between Whitehaven and Sunderland. The route was christened the Coast to Coast or Sea to Sea cycle route (C2C).
Yet I am doing an alternative coast to coast: the Way of the Roses. As suggested by its name, the route crosses the country further south, through Lancashire and Yorkshire, beginning in Morecambe, passing through the county capitals of Lancaster and York, and finishing in Bridlington, a total of 170 miles. The route was created in 2010 by Sustrans, a charity promoting sustainable transport, and it is part of the National Cycle Network.
Early tomorrow morning, I’ll be introduced to my rented bicycle and off I’ll go. I have never been to Morecambe before and I’m staying in a rickety old bed-and-breakfast on the promenade. I take a look out the window of my tiny single room on the top floor and look down on the dirty alleyways of the town. I lay out my cycling clothes for tomorrow. The forecast is for good weather but, this being England, I’ve brought gear for wind and rain too.
I try to shake off my trepidation for my first official cycling journey by taking a walk along the promenade. I wait apprehensively outside the B&B for the rep from the cycling company. A group of four men depart the hotel in full cycling gear, laughing and joking together. I wish I felt that way.
When my bike arrives, the rep and I realize that my pannier for carrying water, sandwiches and any additional gear does not fit the bike, despite emails between us regarding requirements and measurements. It seems that he has dropped off a bike earlier to another hotel and he has mixed them up. I have to go back to my car to empty my pannier and repack my stuff into a back pack. The rep then gives me an inner tube and a heavy pump and tells me to carry them with me as there is no support vehicle. I will not see anyone from the company until the end in Bridlington, a hundred and seventy miles and three days away. The back pack feels extremely heavy.
Ghost Rider – Departing from Morecambe at the Start of the Way of the Roses
I set off alone along the promenade to the official seafront start. I don’t see anyone wetting their tires in the sea, but I do take my first ghost rider picture of my empty bike beneath the post. I am too scared at this stage to ask anyone to take a photograph with me in it. On my bicycle, I push down on the pedals and I force the first revolutions of the wheels along the official route.
At the first roundabout, the route goes to the right. Despite there being no traffic, I am completely thrown as to how to navigate the roundabout. I realize that all my cycling has been done in Germany on the right-hand side of the road. I have no problem switching sides to drive but I have no clue how to cycle on the left around a roundabout. I have to stop and work it out before proceeding, very slowly. This amuses me for the five miles into Lancaster. My inability to navigate the first junction takes my mind off the long journey ahead. I was worried about hills, a lack of signage and even aggressive cows, but I’m undone already by an English roundabout.
The bike is good and sturdy, but it’s not mine and it takes me a while to get used to it. The signposting in Lancaster is excellent as I cross the River Lune. I’m surprised to see many cyclists going the opposite way, back towards Morecambe. Maybe they know about the lack of decent hotels in Morecambe and stay in historic Lancaster before completing their coast to coast trips.
The Rhythm of Cycling
I start to get into my rhythm of cycling as the sun begins to shine. It takes away the morning chill. The route snakes along minor roads next to the River Lune before turning north at Crook O’Lune through Aughton, Hornby and Wray in the Lancashire countryside. The Yorkshire border comes sooner than I expected, and the cycle route follows the border for a short while. There’s a strange section outside Clapham where I have to dismount and walk my bicycle along some rocky terrain and then under a tunnel to cross the busy A65. At the other side, some cyclists with road bikes are trying to work out how to navigate this crossing with their sleek machines that are totally unsuitable for the rough terrain of this small section. I have a short stop in Clapham for one of my sandwiches. So far, so good, thirty-five miles done and done quickly. I’m enjoying it.
From Clapham to Settle, the route enters the Yorkshire Dales National Park and it starts to climb and dip. It’s a Bank Holiday weekend and Settle is very busy. It’s a shock to the system after spending the last few hours alone in the rolling countryside. I decide to keep going rather than stop. However, I’m not ready for the steep hill straight out of Settle. To make it worse, the first section is on cobbles and my bike slips continually as I am changing down the gears to grind up the hill. At the top, I can hardly breathe, but I feel good that I have made it up the first hill. The view back in to town and beyond would be breath-taking, if I had any breath left!
I push on and as I turn the next corner, to my dismay, I can see that the hill continues upwards. So much for thinking that I had made it to the top of the first hill! There are a few other cyclists up ahead pushing their machines up the hill rather than riding. The heat of the day has increased too and I’m sweating profusely from my short climb. Can I make this next hill?
After some water, I decide to try the hill, but I get nowhere. My legs ache and my back pack feels so heavy. I stop again for some water. A lone cyclist, with the most laden down bicycle I have ever seen, rides past me weaving across the road at such a slow pace that we are able to have a conversation. With a strong Australian accent, he tells me that this is the toughest hill on the route. He has my admiration for getting up the hill and for staying upright on his bicycle while going so slow. Defeated by the heat, I walk my bicycle up the hill. It seems to take forever. It’s tough enough pushing my bike up the hill, never mind cycling it. I have to take a few water stops. I’m out of breath and leaden footed. I stop and sit down on the grass at the side of the road and look out across the rolling green hills despondently. A support van for another group slowly goes past me and the driver shouts to ask if I’m alright. I’m too shattered to respond. I just wave and force a smile. All the enjoyment from this morning has gone. For the next three miles, I alternate between cycling and walking.
Soon I’m at the summit and it’s a free-wheel down to Airton, but there’s no joy in this. It feels like cheating, pushing my bicycle uphill and then getting a free ride down. At least from Airton I can cycle again. There is a slight incline, but it feels much better to be on the bike and actually cranking the pedals. At Winterburn, I leave the Way of the Roses and cycle south for four miles to Cargrave where my accommodation is. There is a small local shop where I buy a choc-ice and sit outside on a bench and contemplate my day. It was such a good start and so enjoyable until I hit the hills. My injured knee is sore and swollen from the force of grinding up the gradients. Hmm, I’m not sure what to make of the day. Cycling along the German rivers over the last few weeks has been so much fun. The last couple of hours have not.
With a second wind, I cycle slowly into the small village of Cargrave. My bed and breakfast backs onto the River Aire, and it’s a lovely family run business. Thankfully, my bag has been delivered already and the first thing I do is find my Ibuprofen gel for my aching knee. I then force myself tiredly into the shower.
I’ve been left a message that I must drop my bag off in the morning at the pub around the corner, so I wander out to find out where it is. The beer garden, which doubles as a car park, is busy. Two cyclists are still in gear, looking extremely sweaty and complaining about the hills of the route. I feel better that it’s not just me.
This morning I retrace my route back to Winterburn and on to Burnstall but then, not only do the hills begin, this time the route is on a main road, the B6265, through Nidderdale. It’s classified as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,” however the landscape is lost on me as I grind up the hills. The few cars that use the road hurtle past me frighteningly close. It’s tough again and it’s even warmer than yesterday.
There is then a steep descent into Pateley Bridge, a charming market town, but it can’t be enjoyed due to the amount of traffic sharing the main road with me. I stop for a sandwich in the town and read the description of today’s ride in my guidebook: “undulating”. This is a word I decide to begin to hate. Is this a metaphor for life? I am sick of going up hills. I just do not have the energy or the desire for them. This is not the challenge that I wanted, and downhills do not feel earned, or as much fun, when I have failed to get uphill. It seems, however, that all the big climbs are now behind me, which is a massive relief.
The Way of the Roses now leaves the main road and circles Brimham Rocks and, for the first time today, I begin to enjoy the ride. I was here before, many years ago when my father was alive and my daughters were young. We had a great family day out and so it brings back good memories as I cycle. I can hear kids shouting to their parents from the strangely-shaped rocky outcrops. There’s a short slog uphill from the rocks for a couple of miles. I can feel the pain in my left knee as I force the bike along until the route begins, thankfully, to ease and then descend as I leave the Yorkshire Dales.
Fountains Abbey is next, and I have to navigate around the Bank Holiday tourists visiting the site, who have parked their cars in all manner of ways that annoy cyclists. The gates of Studley Royal Park are held open for me by the same man who drove the support vehicle yesterday on the tough hill after Settle and he recognizes me and smiles. The park is busy but it’s a lovely ride through the landscaped gardens. I’m tempted to stop and see the water gardens but I’m perhaps fifteen miles away from passing the half-way point of the route and I have a strong desire to achieve this milestone before I take another stop.
I cycle straight through Ripon, but I have to detour around the center of town because I miss a signpost, and then through Bishop Monkton, until I stop on the other side of Boroughbridge. I can’t find anywhere nice to stop, so I end up on a roadside bench for my second sandwich of the day. Nevertheless, I am pleased at now having completed more than half the distance of the route. The final twenty miles of the day into York are beautiful and it matches the mood of the start of the journey out of Lancaster yesterday. The route is quiet, on traffic-free minor roads winding through a number of quaint Yorkshire villages. This is good cycling.
On the outskirts of York, the route joins the River Ouse and I follow alongside the river into the heart of the historic walled city. For an English city, York caters very well to cyclists, and my cycle lane passes the station and the National Railway Museum and then past York Minster and out beyond Monkgate to my bed and breakfast. I’m in a much better mood than yesterday as the hills were done this morning and I feel like I actually cycled today, rather than walking and pushing.
One Little Victory
It is an early start today as I’ve been told to arrive in Bridlington between three o’clock and four o’clock, so I can return my bicycle and also get transported back to my car in Morecambe. It’s a great ride today. It’s much cooler with the East Coast wind. It’s hardly ever too strong to affect my riding and so it serves to cool me down rather than having to cycle against it. The majority of the route is on flat, minor roads and I hardly see anyone all day. After a break in Pocklington, there is the only hill of the day towards Huggate. At Kirkburn, I stop for some water outside a beautiful old church and spot a couple of signs that tell me it’s five miles to Driffield. There’s a real sense of pride that I’m getting close to my final destination. The miles have been done easily today and there isn’t much left to go. After Driffield, it’s only a twenty-mile ride to Bridlington. I’m keen to get going again.
The five miles to Driffield are the longest five miles I have ever done. It seems to go on forever and, when I think I’ve made it, I see a road sign that says there are ten miles to Driffield. I am totally confused and annoyed. In Skerne, when the next sign says five miles, I have to stop and look at the map as all my senses are in doubt. Checking the route, the Way of the Roses takes a bizarre detour away from the A164, which is the quickest route from Kirkburn to Driffield, and instead heads south and then east to Hutton Cranswich, then back north to Skerne and then onwards to Driffield. I’ve cycled almost a twenty-mile detour, in a superfluous dog leg, for no reason. I’m exhausted when I reach Driffield and I stop on the edge of the River Hull, frustrated.
The final section zig-zags through fields to Burton Agnes and, for the first time on the ride, a couple of signposts are hard to see. There are also four level crossings to tackle, which involve getting off and back on my bicycle to open and close gates on either side of the railway tracks. At one gate, a plump girl on a heavy bicycle with a front basket asks me for directions. I’m amazed when she tells me she is cycling the C2C too. She has no cycling gear on and no equipment with her. She says she keeps getting lost. I explain that it’s not far to go now but she looks at me with confusion. Maybe she is going in the other direction. The route signs have been much more difficult to spot in this area, yet it seems I have managed to navigate well. I wonder (hopefully) if things are becoming clearer to me or whether I’m just seeing things that others are not.
There’s a long straight section for ten miles, called the Woldgate, on the way into Bridlington and it feels good to know the journey is nearly done. I speed up knowing I do not need to keep anything in reserve. There’s no wind here and the sun beats down on the sheep grazing in the field around me. It’s quiet, just the sound of my tires on the tarmac bike path. There is a nasty and busy crossing of the A164 trunk road, which seems such a strange way for the Way of the Roses to be welcomed into its final town. I have to dismount and wait a good few minutes for the lights to change at the junction to allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross. The route then picks up the back roads of the town and loops north around the city center. I stop to finish my water outside Bridlington Priory and then I continue my route to the sea front. It’s a good feeling, both relief and joy, to see the choppy, grey waters of the North Sea. At the coast, I stop on North Marina Drive to check my map to find out where the official finishing post is. As I stop, two of the cyclists from the first morning arrive too and together we cycle towards the finishing point. We each take photographs of one another and celebrate a job well done. Their two colleagues soon join us too.
I leave my bicycle in their care whilst I buy a celebratory ice cream. Seeing this, the others do the same while I mind their bikes. It’s half past two and so I have at least thirty minutes to wait for my ride back. I look out to the busy beach, with the white cliffs beyond, and feel proud to have made it and done it alone. Many people have done it before me and many people will do it after me, but, for me, it is one little victory.
Thanks to Our Guest Poster, Pete Martin. Author. Journalist. Coach.
Pete writes about transformational journeys. These are physical journeys where he has experienced a transformational or spiritual outcome. A short time ago, he was stuck and never dreamt of doing such journeys. Yet it is the spiritual nature of these trips that has revolutionised him. By telling his tales, he hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams and to find the spiritual and life experiences that will help them transform too. Pete has had two books published – REVOLUTIONS and FANTAFRICA. You can find more information on his website www.petemartin.org.
Pete is a keen cyclist. REVOLUTIONS includes chapters describing his cycling across England (the Way of the Roses), the length of the Rhine (from Lake Constance to Rotterdam) and also around Sri Lanka. FANTAFRICA includes stories of his adventures cycling the Cape Coast in South Africa, and cycling the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy these articles by Pete Martin
“When the wind blows,” featured in Cycle magazine, the official publication of Cycling UK, and “Drinking beer from a teapot: Day 1 of cycling in Sri Lanka,” which was published in Travellanka magazine. Also, his guest post called On the Trail of the Feather Barons: Cycling from Oudtshoorn to Montagu in South Africa, published on this blog! And see also, Cycling in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco: Imlil to Imi ‘Oughelad.
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