Saturday, 21 May 2011


Last Saturday, East Coast Trains whisked my friend, Jaana and myself to Newcastle where we hoped to discover what it is like to cycle across the Pennines and the hills of Cumbria. We expected a challenging ride and variable weather. The cycle maps showed many off road trails, some suitable only for mountain bikes

It was not long before we found out that this is one of the World's premier cycle routes. High up in the Pennines, sheep and cyclists vied with one another on the trail. Grouse watched from the side as if interested spectators. Birds of all varieties swooped and glided around us. We had a headwind of 20mph which meant that cyclists going the other way hit phenominal speeds going downhill while we chugged uphill at a very modest pace. The scenery was open moorland, wild and remote.

We took a detour north to visit Hadrian's Wall, still remarkably intact in places. A museum near Haltwhistle gave us a story how it took just 6 years to build. It provided lots of information about the Romans and I left pondering how people could be so warlike on the one hand, yet incredibly civilised on the other. Some grit jammed itself into my front gear such that I had to partially dismantle it to release the mechanism. The ride south from the wall to Penrith was exhilerating. The wind blew from the Cumbrian hills and the rain came down, yet somehow it felt right to be out in these elements.

The Lake District beckoned once we had left Penrith. Jaana lives in London and cannot find a suitable outdoors shop there so when we arrived in Keswick, it must have felt like heaven for her to see so many outdoor shops. She wanted a particular type of trousers and it did not take her long to find a pair.

Our next stop and final one together was Cockermouth. The cycle route out of Keswick meandered initially along the foothills of some high peaks, then abruptly turned left and went straight up one. Moreover, it was a rough muddy trail. This was impossible to cycle so we puffed our way up. Behind us we looked down on Bassethwaite Water. When we reached the top, a breathetaking vista opened in front of us with wild flower meadows, forests and fells showing themselves in a glistening shimmering sunlight. It was awesome.

At Cockermouth, Jaana left to cycle on to Workington for a train home while I turned round and went back to Keswick. My destination tonight was Staverley, near Kendal. Unfortunately there are no byeways going south to Windermere so I had to wrestle with traffic on the main road. I did mean however that I cycled fast but I still time to appreciate the countryside

I cycled 180 miles on this trip. I continue to be amazed at what this country has to offer.

My next ride starts on 4 June when Jaana and I cycle what is becoming known as "The Atlantic Coast Ride". It starts at Santander in Spain and finishes at Roscoff in Brittany

Sunday, 1 May 2011


If miles can be measured with smiles, 50 cyclists of all ages and abilities generated 600 smiles when they followed a 12 mile route around Plymouth today. It was organised by volunteers from Sustrans and was attended by children, oldies, enthusiasts and casual cyclists

I wore my Wildlife Trust teeshirt to remind myself and others that an important part of the health of the nation can be measured by how well our wildlife is thriving. Plymouth is a trendy city. We cycled along the Hoe, through the historic Barbican and past the National Marine Aquarium before heading inland to see avenues of houses built in the 19th century to the north of the city centre. Central Park and Devonport were revelations. A huge sports complex is under construction and Devonport is being tastefully redeveloped where Architects have designed new buildings that sit comfortably alongside the best of local historic buildings. We finished at Royal William Yard, one of Plymouth's jewels.
Plymouth is a city transforming its life and soul and is playing its role in a vibrant West Country. This was a day for plenty of smiles.