Apart from a day when I ran along Hadrian’s Wall without a waterproof coat on, and got back home after about 15km drenched through to the skin and feeling miserable, the weather hasn’t been too bad lately (and the rain does at least mean the pond I’ve created has filled up). Cycling also feels like the easier option if I’m feeling a bit tired, and having given blood earlier in the week I still felt a bit lethargic. As Saturday dawned the weather looked glorious, so I decided a long bike ride was in order.
I didn’t set out to go fast but just to enjoy myself, and in fact as I cycled along I thought that there are the ‘exploratory’ runs and bike rides (and even swims), when you maybe try out a new route and just want to make the most of the weather and your freedom; and then there are the ‘training’ runs, rides and swims when you’re trying to push yourself a bit harder and perhaps to get a good time. Having only done one short bike ride since October, Saturday was definitely an exploratory day.
I’d found some rides which were based around Alston, but one of them looped through Brampton, so rather I decided I’d do the Brampton-Haltwhistle loop and miss out Alston, thereby also making it a bit shorter. Even so it looked as if it would be about 30 miles, which felt like about the right distance for this point in the year. Despite the sun I wrapped up fairly warm in my down jacket – although it wasn’t long before I’d unzipped it in order to cool down a bit and had taken my gloves off.
I cycled out along the A689 through Milton and Hallbankgate and then was on to road which I’d driven many times but never cycled. I passed the old railway line which links up with Pennine Way, and remembered running from there with Kerry when we were training for Kielder Marathon – that was a difficult day with a poorly waymarked and very soggy route. I looked over towards the North Pennines, passing the sign telling me it was an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and stopped to take a photo of the hills. Another cyclist passed me at that point and although I kept him in my sights for some time, he eventually was far away ahead of me.
You know how there are some places whose names appeal to you, and how there are roads that you drive past and think ‘I wonder what’s down there’? Lambley is one of those places for me. And today I finally cycled through it. It’s an incredibly pretty village, perched on the edge of the hill, and if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s miles from anywhere and has no shops or other facilities, it would be a gorgeous place to live. The road wound down to the South Tyne, where it crossed the river near a Mine Water Treatment plant. Seeing the South Tyne reminded me of when I ran from Alston along some of Isaac’s Tea Trail, including splashing through the Tyne. It struck me that in the summer this might be a good place to swim, though the river’s quite shallow so I’m not sure how far you’d be able to go.
Not far past the river – up a bit of a hill – I came to a car park and was able to join the Pennine Trail, an old railway line which presumably once went from mines at or near Lambley to Haltwhistle (I wonder if it also joined up with the line that goes to Alston – I imagine it probably did. Railway lines for the mines would have criss-crossed this landscape once). I was glad I was cycling my slightly sturdier roadbike and not my triathlon bike with its especially narrow tyres – in places the track was quite rough and at one point I had to walk for a couple of yards as the gravel was very deep and loose. But most of it was very cyclable, even if I did have to keep stopping to open gates or slowing up to avoid pedestrians – I started shouting ‘ding ding’ as I approached them in the end, which helped. As I passed him, one man very kindly shouted ‘ding ding’ to the next people in front of me. Needless to say with the glorious weather there were quite a few pedestrians about, especially as I approached Haltwhistle. I think the sun had made us all happy though.
At Featherstone you cycle past a pub (sadly closed at the moment, of course) and the old station platform, and then pass along a beautiful avenue of elegant silver birch trees. There is a Featherstone Castle, though whether this is a real castle and still exists or not I don’t know – perhaps something to explore another day. There are also some castle ruins near to the A69 according to the map – again I didn’t spot anything but I probably wasn’t looking in the right place.
From Haltwhistle there was a fairly long climb up to join the military road (the B6318) not far from Walltown Crags. As I came out on the top of the hill before dropping down into Greenhead I only had about another 8-10 miles to go, all through familiar territory – Gilsland, Birdoswald, Lanercost and back into Brampton, past the roman turrets, milecastles and fort that I have been to many times. As I looked over towards the west I stopped to take another photo, feeling quite emotional: this is my Home, this wide expanse of gorgeous countryside where countries and counties meet.