Leg 53 – to St Bees via Gretna

Back into England!

23 June 2013

For the second morning in a row I lay in my tent listening to the sound of rain, and not really wanting to get up. The persistent drumming turned into a more gentle pitter-patter, so I made a dash to the toilet block for a shower and a shave; I’d make it back into England today so thought I’d better smarten up. The rain stopped and the sun appeared whilst I was washing, drying off my tent a bit, so I had a bite to eat and packed up whilst further evaporation took place.

Morning in Annan

Morning in Annan

A slightly eccentric American couple in their late sixties were camped up next to me, having also retreated to their tent early yesterday evening due to the weather. They were in the process of a UK tour on their tandem touring bike, and I had a chat over breakfast. They were veteran tourers having travelled all over the globe on their bike, including to Australia and New Zealand, as well as all over Europe and down to Greece. It was interesting to hear about their experiences and relate some of mine. I think I learn something useful every time I meet people like this on the road. They’d had trouble with wheels in the past, which is common on tandems due to the weight, but had had no issues since they got hand built wheels – no spoke breaks in about 5 years. This was their first tour including a mobile phone, having foregone all technology in the past, and were finding it quite handy but a pain to charge – I recommended my solar charger, but only if you had plenty of sunshine.

Lobster and I ready to hit the road

Lobster and I ready to hit the road, England beckoned


I hadn’t been able to pay for the campsite last night, and tried to phone the warden several times to ask where I could leave them some cash, but got no response. In the end I ended up stashing a fiver in a video case in the gents, and leaving them a message to let them know where it was, hoping it was sufficient. I couldn’t afford to delay any longer, as it looked like the weather might worsen and I had quite a lot of miles to get done; the American couple had already sped off on their tandem.

All packed up, and with the weather still dry, I set off east on the B721, avoiding the main road. Thanks to a tailwind and flat  road I made good time to Gretna Green, my final stop in Scotland before crossing the border.

Gretna Green

Gretna Green


I had a quick look around the Blacksmith’s Centre, where people get married after eloping across the border from England to get married under Scottish law, although I’m not sure if much of that goes on anymore.

Blacksmith's Centre - Gretna Green

Blacksmith’s Centre – Gretna Green


I didn’t pay to look at the Anvil upon which people get married, it was all a bit overly touristy, which whilst I’d expected was still a bit disappointing. There was of course a bag-piper present, who started up every time another coach disgorged its visitors, although I don’t think most of them realised he was a busker. I had a quick chat with the Blacksmith’s Centre attendant, mostly about my tour. I think he was quite relieved not to have to deal with more photo crazy Japanese tourists, of which there were a multitude. Whilst chatting I realised I’d been on the road 54 days, and in Scotland for 45 of those.

Horseshoes - Gretna Green

Horseshoes – Gretna Green


I grabbed a sandwich in the food hall, and visited the souvenir shop wincing slightly at the tackiness and stereotypical gifts on sale. They did have lots of swords and bits of armour on the wall, but I’m not sure what Lord of the Rings props have to do with Gretna Green. The Witch King’s sword as well as Aragorn’s blade were on offer alongside more traditional claymores and dirks, and the Black Prince’s sword, all a bit confusing. The shop did smell nice, with whisky fumes pervading the atmosphere and obviously having the desired effect with lots of tourists walking away with bottles of dubious looking liquor.

Next up I rode rode down through Gretna village, and approached the border, anticipation building. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting, a fanfare perhaps, but I was grinning when I finally crossed back into England. I’d loved Scotland, but had been there a long time, so it was a bit of a landmark to close off that part of the tour. I was also looking forward to seeing what Cumbria had to offer.

Welcome to England

Welcome to England

I had to ride alongside the M6 for a bit, which wasn’t entirely pleasant, crossing over the River Esk before turning West towards the Solway Firth. I passed a few other tourers going the other way who waved cheerily.

Barrier between me and the M6

Barrier between me and the M6

My good mood took a bit of a hit shortly after entering England, when I trundled over a level crossing. Bump… rattle… ping… squeak. Arse, two spokes had broken causing my wheel to immediately buckle and my rear brakes to rub. I pulled over, unloaded, and did a temporary fix by tightening the spokes either side of the broken ones. This straightened out the wheel sufficiently enough to allow my journey to continue, which was handy considering I didn’t have any spare spokes, and it would have been at least 10 mile walk into Carlisle to find spares. Once everything was loaded back on to the Ridgeback I pedalled on, doing my best to avoid any further bumps. I’d need to find a bike shop in the next couple of days to enable a permanent fix, lest more spokes break.

After wriggling around country roads for a bit, skirting around Carlisle, I joined the minor road through Burgh by Sands, out towards Bowness-on-Solway, the road following the last bit of Hadrian’s Wall. I passed several other cyclists and walkers going the other way, starting their coast to coast trips, including one man dressed in the full armour and garb of a Roman soldier, with all the kit. He was already looking pretty tired, but had a gaggle of supporters with him, most of them of the young, female and attractive variety, so I reckoned he’d be alright. The other end of the wall is around 84 miles away, in Wallsend just outside Newcastle, where I’d been several weeks before; I hadn’t really taken the most direct of routes to get here.

The next bit of the ride, alongside the Solway Firth, was pretty tough, into a harsh headwind that rivalled that which I’d encountered on Orkney. The coastline up the Firth is very exposed, with very few hills or trees, so I got blasted.

Riding up the Solway Firth

Riding up the Solway Firth


I passed lots of signs telling me that if the water reached this point, it would be a maximum of ‘x’ feet deep, where x was between 1 and 3 feet, so the road must flood sometimes. I could well believe this with the waters of the Solway Firth just off to my right.

Fishermen on the Firth

Fishermen on the Firth


I stopped in Bowness-on-Solway, a little bit frayed around the edges, and found a pub serving Sunday lunch. Roast Beef considerably improved matters, my first roast in weeks, followed by gooseberry pie and custard, all washed down with a pint of ale. It all cost a tenner which I thought was a bargain. The Kings Arms proved a welcome stop, and would be a good place to start or finish the Hadrian’s Wall Trail. I think it does B&B too.

Re-energised I cycled on, sticking to the minor road following the coast, which unfortunately meant more cows and sheep on the road. It seemed this issue was not contained to just Scotland, and I had to negotiate my way through a couple of flocks and past a few frisky looking cows. There are also a couple of heavy gates you have to get through, instead of cattle grids, but at least they didn’t increase the risk of more spokes breaking.

Looking toward Solway Firth and Scotland beyond

Looking toward Solway Firth and Scotland beyond


I swung around Moricambe Bay, a particularly wild part of the Cumbrian coast with large sand/mud flats and lots of bird life, before pedalling to Skinburness. It was a somewhat convoluted route due to having to dip inland to cross rivers, but the sun was out and the wind wasn’t constantly in my face so it was enjoyable. I did have to laugh slightly when I passed a group of charity riders going the other way, in their Asda tops, all slightly overweight and struggling slightly, with the fairy wings they were wearing being whipped about by the wind. Good effort though.

Skinburness

Skinburness


From Skinburness it was a short stretch down to Silloth, where I encountered a strange road surface which got me worrying about my spokes again.

Silloth - strange road surface

Silloth – strange road surface


Thankfully no further spoke breaks resulted, and I continued on to Allonby. There were a few kite surfers out in Allonby Bay, having a good time in the wind; wind good for them but bad for cyclists.

Allonby Bay - Kite Surfers

Allonby Bay – Kite Surfers


 

Back in England - no wild camping!

Back in England – no wild camping!


The next bit of the ride was fairly uneventful, it not being a particularly interesting bit of coastline, with quite a bit of industry in places. I passed through Maryport and Workington, piling on the miles, before arriving in Whitehaven. By this time the hills  had started up again making things more entertaining.

Whitehaven

Whitehaven


I stopped a break in Whitehaven and had a look around. There were a lot of people out and about, and the town had a bit of a party atmosphere, it being the end of a 3 day Maritime Festival. There were an awful lot of slightly merry people on the streets, and at least one rock band playing in one of the packed pubs I passed. A foot long Sub replenished my energy reserves for the final stretch over to St Bees, where I planned on camping for the night.

Ride out of Whitehaven

Ride out of Whitehaven – Cumbrian countryside 

It was a short ride over to St Bees, albeit with a couple of big hills. It’s a nice little village right on the coast, with a caravan park that has a camping field, and a hotel next to it. The bay is lovely, with a nice beach that had waves crashing in against it, driven by the still fierce westerly wind.

Road down to St Bees

Road down to St Bees


St Bees

St Bees

After booking in I quickly pitched my tent, and had a chat with a group of lads just camped down from me who were about to start their coast to coast cycle ride – think they’d just finished their A-levels. They were a bit bemused by the amount of kit on my bike, but I explained it was actually more stable with panniers on the front as well as the back. 

Feeling thirsty I headed to the hotel to get out of the wind for a bit, and recuperate after a hard day. I’d covered just over 85 miles, but it felt like further due to the weather. I enjoyed a couple of pints listening to other customers complain about the speed of the service, and the hotel staff complaining about being understaffed. It had a bit of a Fawlty Towers feel to the place, but the beer was perfectly acceptable. Thankfully I’d already eaten so I didn’t need to risk anything from the kitchen, and I spent a couple of hours writing up my journal and trying to catch up a bit on my blog.

With the wind continuing to grow in strength I retreated back to my tent, which was thankfully sheltered by a hedge. I did stop to re-peg someone else’s tent on the the way, which was in danger of blowing away – the owners weren’t present. I fell asleep with the wind howling about, whilst trying to write up more of my blog. Unfortunately I left my head torch on and the batteries ran out as a result. Whoops. First day back in England done.

Clouds and moon in St Bees

Clouds and moon in St Bees

One thought on “Leg 53 – to St Bees via Gretna

  1. Pingback: Self Propelled | Bike Around Britain

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