Heading for the Border
Whitchurch to Charnock Richard 91 km
Today was the sort of day that cyclists love. As we rolled out of the Air B’n’B, the morning was bright, frosty, and deliciously cold. After a cautious warm up on the icy roads, we let fly and forced a good pace along flattish, fast, and windless roads.
We were surprised today, in light of our past few days, by how patient the other road users were, and we had some nice exchanges. It seemed that as we forged our way north, the air temperature becme a little colder, whereas the people we met, became a little warmer.
We must have looked cold and hungry at our coffee stop, as the lassie behind the counter brought us a couple of warm scones on the house. She claimed that they had been in the oven too long, but they tasted perfect to us. Maybe she was just being generous, who knows?
Once again back on the road we seemed to fly along, and before too long we were speeding through Warrington in heavy traffic. Through Warrington, we ticked off towns and villages until we fiddled our way through Wigan on excellent and well thought out cycle lanes. The prize for being cycle friendly in U.K. so far definitely goes to Wigan.
As the daylight started to fade, we pulled in to our billet for the night; the Hunters Lodge Motel. We were greeted warmly, and looked after by the manageress of the lodge. We loaded our kit in, did some running kit repairs, and then went to the restaurant attached to the motel. The food was excellent Italian, and after eating two pizzas and Annette’s bread, I went to bed not hungry for once.
The Hunters Lodge deserves a mention. In this age of bland, corporate, budget chain hotels, it was great to be in a family run stopover. It was reminiscent of some of the great stopovers we enjoyed in Africa; it was cheap, practical for bikers, and we both loved it. If you are passing (maybe on LeJog, or some such), give it a try.
Oh, also we found out the following morning that Jake and Elwood were staying too; the Bluesmobile was parked outside!
I had the Peter Gunn theme in my head all day.
Charnock Richard to Kendal 88 km
This was a curiously fun-packed day. The weather forecast was for heavy rain and high winds. The wind forecast was for gales of up to 90kph. Of course they like a bit of drama in the weather room, and although the winds were certainly pretty spectacular, they were not anywhere close to an unrideable 90kph, not where we were anyway. Nevertheless, it was a forecast to be respected, and we put our best foot forward, knowing we had a sporting day to come.
Off to an early start, we were heading along quite nicely and setting a quick (for us) pace, and enjoying a dirty, but manageable morning. We found somewhere to get a coffee…(shout out for Hugo’s cafe, quirky, interesting, and great coffee and snacks)… when the rain started.
It started almost hesitantly, with just a few fat drops. We dived into our waterproofs, buckled up our hoods, and set off. Before we knew it the rain was at us, like a dog at a postman’s leg. It was the sort of rain that makes kayakers hearts quicken. Big, fat, heavy drops of water falling like bombs from the sky.
Within minutes, the wind arrived, and we surfed it like we were on motorbikes. I grinned on more than one occasion as the bizarreness of the situation sunk in. Only complete idiots would be riding a bike in this weather. Luckily we saw another complete idiot going in the other direction; we waved, grimaced, and felt slightly less idiotic. Misery loves company!
After Spain, and southern France though, this was nothing but inconvenience. It was nowhere near as cold (we believe the temperature edged into double figures), and certainly not dangerous.
After a pretty entertaining ride through flooded roads and lanes, we picked up the dual carriageway to Kendal. In the gloom and the spray, with double lights blinking desperately, we arrived at our Air B’n’B in the south of Kendal. It was fortunate that the couple who are hosting us are outdoor people too, and had not only a bike storage shed, but also a drying room in the house.
I at least, was embarrassed at the state of us. As we loaded panniers into the house, we left pools of water everywhere. It was as if we were melting. They seemed to have it all covered though, and before long we were sitting in a pub called Romneys where they do an amazing carvery. I loaded up a plate with so many vegetables that my arms were straining to carry it. A great place, and they cater for vegans, and gluten free too.
I went to bed full for the third consecutive day, my stomach looking like I’d eaten a football.
A couple of days ago, my panniers ripped. After sending Annette into the ASDA Superstore for a needle and cotton, I found out that I had vastly overestimated my sewing abilities. The result of my “repairs” was slightly comedic, and it was clear that a professional was needed.
We googled it and found “Cobbler John” in Kendal. He managed to keep himself from laughing at my repairs, and did a great job of not only fixing them, but also customising them a wee bit to correct a design weakness. Besides the repairs, we needed some more dry-bags, as the wet weather is set to continue, so a day of easy living is what we decided for the day.
After a few weeks of hunger, a day of serious eating is also needed. But strange as it may seem, despite the weather, we are still very keen to be pedalling again.
Roll on tomorrow!
Kendal to Keswick 57km
This was another classic day’s cycling, despite the mucky weather. Although it was short, there was no shortage of effort required, or any shortage of entertaining biking.
We left Kendal at 9am via what seemed like an endless pull up a friendly angled hill. We saw lean and fit old ladies with shopping bags, cruising down the hill for their Saturday loaf. I was glad the shops were only just opening as imagined the embarrassment of watching them on the way back up the hill, cruising past us like Himalayan racing whippets with shopping bags full of cat food.
We found ourselves on a racetrack, on the A591 towards Windermere. There was a cycle path that ranged from pretty good, through inconvenient and ill-conceived, to downright dangerous. Eventually, we gave up and took our chances with the cars.
At Ambleside we met up with a guy called Andy, who is a pretty hard-core tourer, and proud Surly Trucker rider. We had a good chat and he gave us some great tips for making the route more interesting. After an eye-wateringly expensive coffee in Ambleside served in golden goblets by angels (at least that’s what we paid for!), we set off to Grasmere. In Grasmere we bought lunch; two pasties. We paid by credit card, as they were unwilling to give us the pasties on instalments!
Next was Dunmail Raise, a modest hill, but a bit annoying in the rain and wind. Before long it was over and we headed along the west side of Thirlmere, on a deserted and lovely road. We stopped for lunch at a car park with a public toilet. The car park had a big sign declaring Thirlmere the “home of great water.” After a bite to eat, I went to the toilets where there was another sign telling me not to drink the water. I wondered what Thirlmere’s great water was great for…maybe just gargling, or washing cars or something.
After crossing the racetrack again, we headed up a badly marked cycle route, which may have been designed as some sort of initiative test. It was quiet though and great value, some of the climbs should have had steps in them!
After only an eternity of steep tarmac and horizontal rain, into our barely open eyes, we popped out into Keswick and into the Youth Hostel. There we met an inspiring old guy who was doing fantastic adventurous stuff on foot and on bikes. He looked indestructible. I don't know how old he was, but he looked he’d personally overseen the fall of the Roman Empire. He had an appetite for life that was obviously undiminished by the ravages of time…I would have loved to spend all night talking to him, but after chatting for ages, he rushed off, looking at his watch. He was late for something.
Hope I can be late for something at his age!
Keswick to Langholm 91km
Today was simply an exercise in suffering. It was misery from the first pedal stroke to the last. It was as if the universe was restoring balance after allowing us too many enjoyable days.
The weather forecast was filthy, and for once, the forecasters weren’t exaggerating. The day alternated between gale force winds with crazy gusts, hail, and heavy rain.
Also, over yesterday evening, I had developed painful kidneys. It’s not easy to drink ice-cold water, when you are really cold, and over a period of days, I suspected I hadn’t been drinking enough. In France, we had been buying a bottle of fancy water each to drink in the room. Since we had been in England, we just hadn’t come across shops anywhere near as much. We just seemed to drink lots of tea.
Yesterday, I couldn't bend over to take my shoes off, this morning I couldn't bend over to put them on…I should have slept in them.
We set off, creeping through some guy’s passage. He is too miserable to allow access to the Youth Hostel for bicycles or disabled people; hence the pristine disabled toilet in the hostel. Luckily, we didn't see him, but in my imagination, he was Mr Burns from the Simpsons. No hauling bikes up steps for us! Showed you Mr Burns!
There's nothing like a good boundary dispute to show off the worst of our nature.
After a very short time, we realised that the first 20km or so of our route was into a headwind, and it was fierce. We were never going to make it, especially with the pain in my back, so we hastily reworked the route.
By the time we reached Penrith, Annette was a little tearful. She was finding it too stressful. At one time she was blown into the kerb, and only just got a foot unclipped in time to keep herself out of the mud at the side of the road. Even after only a short stretch, the hail stinging our faces and the constant buffeting was losing its charm.
We still had over 60km to do.
As we leaned into the side wind, it reminded me of ferry gliding in a kayak. Whenever we went past gates, or gaps in the roadside hedges, we were flung towards the middle of the road, and would bank the bikes over to get back onto the shoulder. Fortunately the motorists seemed sympathetic and gave us space.
I felt like I spent all day looking through a letterbox, as once my hood filled with wind, it pulled up until only my nose stopped it. It also meant that I could only see straight ahead; surviving junctions was all about blind luck and considerate motorists.
To cut a long and depressing story short, we managed to find a bus shelter to eat a sandwich. When we looked at the time, we realised that we simply weren’t travelling fast enough and it would be dark soon. It was in the twilight that the highlight of our dreary day occurred.
We crossed the border into Scotland. We weren’t quite home, but we were close…sort of.
As we fiddled with our lights and set off again in the gathering darkness, I reflected on what crossing the border meant to us. We had travelled through Malawi, Tanzania, Spain, France, England, and a small slice of Wales. Finally, we were in Scotland.
It was a dark and hilly, windy and wet journey into Langholm. When we found the hotel we had booked, we found it closed up. It looked as if it had been closed up for some time. Luckily the manager at the Douglas Hotel came to the rescue and found us a room. He suggested that we had had a lucky escape…I think he was right.
The Douglas was perfect.