The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet
Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.
At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up -
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,
The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house
Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,
Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons."
- Wind, Ted Hughes
There are many classic routes in England but, perhaps, it is the Coast to Coast that inspires more than almost any other (LEJOG being the other). It's original form, as devised by Alfred Wainwright, was of a 309km walking route from the west coast at St Bees, Cumbria, to the east coast at Robin Hoods Bay, North Yorkshire. It's a journey I had planned to make on the bike during my time in the UK and with the shortening days and worsening weather, I had a final opportunity before the window closed until Spring.
Even then, I had to delay my start by a day due to the tail end of an Atlantic hurricane driving solid rain and 80km/h winds across the hills - wind would turn out to be my friend and enemy for the entire journey. I had prepared my bike with the addition of some bike bags, courtesy of Apidura, loaded with essentials for my overnight stop at Tan Hill, the UK's highest pub! What should have been a simple train journey or two to the start in St Bees turned into an epic of its own, with three train changes and a van ride to my beachside hotel.
I rolled out early the next morning to a cold and drizzly start, with a decent cross/tail wind blowing off the Irish Sea. After the obligatory shoreline photo, I was soon warming the blood on the rolling lanes of west Cumbria, getting used to the extra luggage on board, before turning to parallel Buttermere and the first challenge of the day, Honister Pass.
Far from Wainwright's route stands the mysterious Great Dun Fell, a road to nowhere that happens to be the UK's highest paved road at 840m. By foot, it would be a multi-day diversion but on the bike it was only adding a couple of hours to my day. How could I pass up the opportunity to tackle one of the UK's greatest road climbs? The rain had settled in for good by now as I finally reached escape velocity and blasted out of the one way system, tackling the quiet rolling lanes on the approach to Great Dun Fell. It's an unassuming start out of a nothing collection of houses. "No through road", "Private Road" say the early signs, yet, the surface is immaculate and there is a snow clearing station at the bottom of the climb. This isn't just a road to nowhere. The road ends at a "radar station", whatever that means. On a benign day it's a tough climb - the average 8% over 7.5km (Great Dun Fell on Strava) hides the many 15% ramps - but in the wet and with the road disappearing into cloud after the first few kms it was a tester. The wind was blowing so hard on top that I had to walk around one particularly exposed corner after being blown off the road and almost into a ditch. By the time I reached the completely clouded in summit, it was hailing and I wasted no time getting out of there. Before you ask, it has already been Everested by Laurie Lambeth!
After the drama of Dun Fell, it was a pleasure to be back on the rolling terrain with a quick cake and tea stop the order of the day at Kirby Stephen before my final challenge for the day, the climb up the Pennines to my bed for the night at Tan Hill.
I woke in the morning and the wind was still blowing, although the rain seemed to have abated and it felt a little warmer out there. As I lay in bed the previous night, with the wind whistling around outside, I had thought about this isolated pub and the movie "An American Werewolf In London". As I departed, the owner of the pub said to me "Don't go off the road". I bet he says that to everyone!
It was an easy start to the day. Down off the Pennines and then across the flatlands to the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. The wind was at my back and there were pockets of blue sky. I was making good progress. With plenty of time in the bank, I decided that when I hit the moors, I would take a detour to test out the infamous 33% of Rosedale Chimney, a climb so steep that stuff tended to fall out of jersey pockets on the way down it! It looked like a fairly easy and direct route on the map but then it always looks easy on the map.
Talking of routes, it was at this point that my Garmin 800 had a meltdown. Not a teenager auto shutdown that sometimes happens or a "I'm not talking to you anymore" hissy fit but a full on catastrophic "ain't coming back" kind of failure (which was finally fixed at home a few days later). Fortunately (sic?), I had the ever reliable 500 churning away in the back pocket to record the ride - I have been carrying it as a backup to the unreliable 800 after a few too many failures on previous rides - but it meant that my navigation device was gone and I was down to Google Maps where I could get a phone signal. After a few pauses and doubts, I found myself on the final approach to the end of the C2C, Robin Hoods Bay, and before I knew it, the land had run out and I stood on a cobbled ramp that disappeared into the North Sea. I had done it - from west to east - through rain, hail, wind and technology failure.
It was a fabulous two day journey that not only served up a classic journey but almost provided me a taster to the delights of bike-packing, for which I will be back. The weather was a challenge, especially on day one but the bike and gear performed flawlessly as usual, with the one notable exception (don't get me started Garmin...). As ever, my wonderful family deserve my thanks for allowing me the time to find myself and put up with my selfishness.
Total distance: 360km
Elevation climbed: 5520m
Ride time: 15hrs 17mins (over 2 days)
Ride data: http://www.strava.com/activities/210841474