I’d been longing to do the Coast to Coast since Tim Woodcock put his book of the route out in the mid nineties. I’ve never quite managed it and something has always ‘come up’, so when Simon suggested we do it this year dates went in the diary, a rabble of four was assembled and after many logistical headaches we set off on our way to Richmond where we would be using the Sherpa van service to get us to the beginning and pick us up from the end.
We got up and ate the largest amount our stomachs would allow before packing ourselves and our bikes onto the Sherpa Van and heading off St Bees head in Cumbria. The journey seemed to take forever and we were all pretty quiet, thinking that a journey that long in a van meant a significantly longer one on a bike! We would be passing back through Richmond hopefully in another forty eight hours.
We Finally got to St Bees head at 10:30 and unloaded and set up the bikes as quickly as we could, before going and dipping our back wheels into the Irish sea and hitting the road. My first proper use of my Garmin Touring Plus as a navigation aid, rather than just for recording my progress, meant that to start off there were a few navigational hiccups, but we soon found our way onto the disused railway line that would lead us all the way to the edge of the Lake District. The weather was absolutely incredible and we rode along the edge of Ennerdale Water, our first lake. Up past the lake and up to the YHA Black Sail Hut, we stopped for tea and flapjack, whilst looking across the valley and contemplating the ‘cliff’ that greeted us on the other side, the Black Sail Pass, the part of the route that we all feared the most!
It didn’t disappoint, straight from the gun we were off and pushing, followed by climbing with the bikes on our backs, then back to pushing them up then using the brakes to drag ourselves up the hill. It was *very* hard, but 45 minutes later after only one minor sense of humour failure, once Daryl’s cries of anguish had finished reverberating though the valley we were all stood at the top admiring the view.
For any mountain biker the descent is the payback and this descent into Wasdale was no exception, dry and dusty, steep, rocky and techy. We were all grinning like fools by the time we made it to the bottom. We stopped at the pub at Wasdale for much needed food, baked potato, millionaires shortbread and a pint of orange juice and lemonade hit the spot, then it was back to the grindstone up and over Eskdale Fell. The sun was dipping in the sky and Burnmoor Tarn looked spectacular, followed by another descent to Boot. By this time the sun was really going down and we decided that finishing the Walna Scar road in the dark was not a good idea, unfortunately for us the tarmac alternative was longer and included the Hardknott Pass and the Wrynose Pass. Two very high, 30 per cent gradient hair-pinned passes that are used in the Fred Whitton Road Sportive, what can I say, it was brutal. Eventually, we rolled into Coniston at 8.30pm, only to find that the youth hostel was a mile and a half up the hill.
Four shattered humans stood with wibbling bottom lips after learning that food was done for the night, Andy the YHA man took pity on our tear filled eyes and kindly decided that he would cook for us all.
The Lakes saw fit to remind us why there are lakes are there, the curtains were opened and it was stair rodding it down, massive breakfast despatched we fiddled around until there were no more excuses and we had to leave. I donned my new waterproof jacket and shorts, bikes were kitted up and we headed out into the rain.
The rain was so heavy that we skipped the first off road section and headed straight to Ambleside. Andy in bike treks turned out to be no less enthusiastic than when I last went in the shop 17 years ago, and after a brief discussion informed us that we were in-fact doing the easy route! But despite that, he very kindly let us stash our bikes in his workshop while we went for a second breakfast.
Try as we might to hide it was no good and we had to leave the warm coffee shop and get back out into the pouring rain as our next stop for the night was still not getting any closer. Climbing commenced up the steep tarmac to Jenkins Crag, once off road it became another push, but the single track descent the other side to Town End was stunning. Back up again and a long climb up to the Garburn Pass took a while but was rideable and was worth it for the descent to Kentmere, This was exactly how Andy at Bike Treks had described it, super technical, steep and rocky and like descending in skip fulls of rubble, we were laughing all the way down.
Then it was left turn at Sadgill and up the valley to the 1640ft Mosedale pass. This was an absolute pig, into the wind too and when we eventually topped out a very extended section of Bog trotting followed on next. Possibly the remotest part of the whole route, even the path was difficult to locate and we followed the red line on the GPS until it eventually became a bit more defined. We stopped to check out the MBA Mosedale Cottage bothy, wishing we had kit to stay there the night. It was an awesome spot and I think we’ll be going back there for a few nights in the future. Moving on from the bothy though it was still mega boggy and we didn’t get to ride again until we finally dropped into Swindale.
Again we were against the clock for the hostel and a chance of dinner so we opted to skip the last remaining off road section. Dougal had been on the malt loaf again and he disappeared off up the road with a renewed vigour.
We rode into Kirkby Stephen at 20:30 in the dark, and went straight to the Co-op and stripped the shelves like locusts! Into the hostel and pizza, loads of pasta and other goodies. Then it was a well earned hot shower before listening to Dougal fall asleep hyperventilating in about two seconds.
Another big day, bikes and bodies feeling strain now…
Rolling out of Kirkby Stephen a litte late we knew we had a tough job on our hands, approximately sixty miles of riding to do, but with lots of road sections. The GPS had the wet weather option programmed in which meant more road. The climb to the Pennine Watershed took over an hour and was punishing to four sets of knackered legs!
Unfortunately the decent the other side was into a strong headwind so even that was painful too. We joined the trail again on Ivelet Moor and had fun with watersplashes. Down into Swaledale and time was really ticking on, so we took the road to Fremlington and the Dales MTB Centre for a slap up feed, what an excellent place. I first visited in 2010 when I did my CTC technical trail leaders course and remembered the place for it’s amazing cake, fortunately the cake was still as awesome as when I was last there. I also managed to fall asleep sat at the table while the others were finishing their food too, a timely recharge to my batteries!
Daryl’s knee had been threatening all day and it finally gave out on him. He’d smacked it when he had an off on day 2 and coupled with the hike over Black Sail Pass on day 1 his ride was unfortunately done 🙁 He managed to hitch back to Richmond and rescue our car thanks to two wonderful passers by in a Land Rover who also very kindly took our bags off our bikes. Turned out the driver was a cyclist too and a passer by had rescued him in the past when he had a mechanical, he decided to repay the favour forward for Daryl, good karma points. Daryl then drove to Osmotherly YHA to meet us.
For us it was another 25 miles of road which went by in a tired blur, but bikes which were a lot lighter were marginally easier to pedal. Simon was suffering with stomach ache so we stopped at a pub in Danby Wiske, staffed by the North’s grumpiest publican, so that he could grab a Coke and Dougal and I had a beer. Fittingly for the way we felt the pub also had a defibrillator on the wall!
Eventually after a few extra food stops we rolled up to Osmotherly YHA at 1900 hours, another long day. What a fantastic YHA though, a slap up feed for £8.50 and a beer, job done!
We set an early alarm as we had so much to do today and it was a real effort forcing down as much food as possible but I knew it would be needed. For me this was one of the hardest things of the trip, the constant refuelling was really hard work, I’m just not used to eating that much!
The climb up out of Osmotherly was a shock, but we soon got going and the legs amazingly didn’t feel too bad. The first few bits of singletrack eased us in gently. The first big climb came at Urra Moor and it felt like we went round in a big circle. Totally confused as we didn’t really know what direction we were travelling, we stuck to the red line on the Gramin and soon we were heading for another food stop. Incredible views and the long bridleway descent into Glaisdale was amazing fun.
Seeing the sign for Glaisdale tea rooms we needed no excuse to stop and ordered one of everything on the menu, including my first cup of proper tea for days, I was a happy man. We got the woman in the tea rooms to take a photo of us sat round the table, I suspect she possibly hadn’t taken a photo with a phone before as the whole process was rather complicated! We knew we “only” had thirty miles left to go and we and set off again re-fuelled, excited to get it finished off.
The climb out of Glaisdale was a relentless tarmac slog, Simon was seemingly supercharged by the last feed leaving Dougal and I in his wake. Eventually we were back up on top of the hill and we got our first glimpse of the North Sea, hurrah, the end was in sight! The next section across Widow Howe Moor and High Moor was absolutely horrific, miles of mud and boggy trail. Simon and Dougal were having a sense of humour failure and after half an hour even my joy at being near the end was slipping as boggy puddle after boggy puddle swallowed our bikes up. We were running out of time and light and we took a shortcut off the moor, which ended up with a mega climb down and up two flights of stone steps.
Back onto the road the light was fading fast, we decided to skip the last offroad section and head straight down the road. Daryl had followed us on the spot tracker and was sat in the car in the layby. We decided to head straight for the finish line, so he took our bags in the car and we flew off down the road, zipping into the steep lanes dropping down to the North Sea.
Due to a slight Garmin error we went down the road and stuck our front wheels in the sea at Boggle hole, not Robin Hood’s Bay. But as Robin Hood’s Bay meant a climb over the cliffs we called it a day where we were. Jubilant to be finishing we then realised we’d have to figure out where we were staying.
Amazingly though we turned around there was a YHA right on the beach, food was still on and there was a spare room, JOB DONE!
Here’s a GPS trace from my Garmin. As we had no idea what the weather would be like and wanted to use the GPS to navigate I programmed it with the ‘wet weather’ options that were in the guide book, we also took a few of our own reroutes on trip, so it is not an exact match of the original route.
So what did I learn this time? Well quite a lot!
Although we weren’t bikepacking as such and so didn’t have full kit it quickly became obvious that on a demanding multi day trip every gram counts.
We’re going to have to think and pack carefully for the Tour Divide.
Keeping the body fuelled was hard too. The terrain was so much harder than Paris, despite being less miles. Shovelling the calories in is a difficult task. You have to take the opportunity to eat wherever it presents itself, however hard that may be!
Bike and body worked okay although it’s clear some sort of ‘on trail’ maintenance regime is needed to keep everything running sweetly. If only four days is this hard on a bike what will thirty be like?
Day 1, Distance 41 miles, 6114ft of climbing
Day 2, Distance 45.4 miles, 5980ft of climbing
Day 3, Distance 60.4 miles. 3641ft of climbing
Day 4, Distance 50.1 miles, 5266ft of climbing