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Mar 03 2014

Mountain Biking in the North East of England

After a night of sampling Newcastle’s nightlife along with approximately 3 hours sleep and perhaps too much wine, I was kind of regretting the fact that I had booked myself on a mountain bike ride for the following morning.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to be there until 11am but, staying so far from the centre, I had to leave early to get a bus to Grey’s Monument and walk the rest of the way.  As it wasn’t raining, it was a very pleasant walk along the quayside.  I hadn’t walked along that part of the quayside and wouldn’t have done if I wasn’t going on the bike ride.  It’s just as well I did though because I managed to get the photo I had been imagining all weekend; a photo of two of the bridges in alignment (the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Swing Bridge).

I was very pleased that I managed to capture that image.

I was the first to arrive at the Cycle Hub and was greeted by a friendly bunch who offered me a hot drink while I was waiting.

When the others turned up, we were told that we would be taking a different route because the original route was too wet and muddy.  So, we piled into the minibus and headed off, once the others got hot drinks to takeaway.

I hadn’t taken much notice of the amount of miles we would be cycling, but it became obvious during the drive that we were going quite a way from Newcastle.  I asked if we were going to cycle all the way back and was told, ‘Yes.’  The thing is, when we eventually arrived at the starting point on Stanhope Moor, the weather looked pretty grim.  By that, I mean it was raining and blowing a gale.  Really, it was!  I’m honestly not lying or elaborating on the truth.  We ventured out of the minibus and made a dash for Parkhead Station, which is a B&B, tearoom, and restaurant.  At one point, I had to battle against the wind when I had to go back to the van for something.  It really wasn’t looking good and I honestly didn’t think we would set off because of the weather.

Parkhead Station is a former Station Master’s House, which the owners rebuilt over a 3-year period while living in a caravan.  They did such a good job and it’s now a place for cyclists doing the C2C (sea-to-sea) route and walkers alike to rest and have refreshments.  We were there to get ready for our bike ride, so once we had our rain gear on, we were off, albeit reluctantly on my part.

Mountain biking in the North East of England

I stayed at the back and rode cautiously.  I had no idea what it would be like cycling in such conditions, never having done so before.  It was… scary.  The side winds were terrible and I could feel them pushing me and the bike.  One of the instructors, Tony, who I kept calling Tom, probably because of my stressed state, was really great.  He was so patient and really tried to help me.  He told me to lean into the wind, i.e. to my right, but I was concerned about falling off my bike.  I do have a tendency to do that and with such weather, it was a definite possibility!  In the end, I decided to stop for a minute to compose myself and work out how to ride the bike in those conditions.  With that, a gush of wind from the right took me clean off my bike and I rolled down a small mound to my left, just for the added drama.  No, seriously, I think I lost my balance and a gust of wind helped.  I was fine, but that had confirmed my concern about riding the bike in such bad weather and this was only the start of the 26-mile journey.  Yup, that’s right, 26 miles!  How on earth was I going to complete 26 miles when I was struggling with the first?  Feeling a little shaken, I decided to walk with the bike for a bit, and then got back on when we had a bit of shelter.

It was a battle, but I remained at the back of the group and really concentrated on what I was doing.  It was reassuring to have Tony behind me the whole time, making sure I was OK.  The thing is, if the side winds and rain wasn’t enough to contend with, my old and faithful over-trousers started getting caught in the bike chain.  Tony had to release my over-trousers a couple of times but, in the end, they had to come off to avoid an accident, especially as they had started to tear.  It was quite comical because there we were on the moor as Tony helped me take my over-trousers off.  What a sight that must have been!

We then continued on and met up with the others who had stopped on the Hownsgill Viaduct, near Consett to take photos and wait for us.  I liked the design of it because it seemed a little quirky.

That was until I was told they were new safety rails to stop people from jumping off it to commit suicide.  I left my bike on the ground for a few minutes to take some photos through the safety rails and, as I was getting back on, I was told that a dog peed on my bike in the meantime.  I decided to take that as a sign of good luck and set off once again.

The cycle path we used follows the old Stanhope and Tyne railway line, which was the earliest commercial railway in Britain, apparently.  At Consett, we briefly stopped at some rather interesting steel artwork, which is in memory of the former iron and steelworks that were located there.

We continued on, stopping occasionally to cross roads, check everyone was OK, and then for a late lunch in a car park.

It was a welcome break and I was glad to get some food.  We were soon back on our bikes for the final part of the ride.  We still had a good few miles to go and a few uphills.  I don’t normally do hills on bikes – on foot, yes, but not on a bicycle.  Nonetheless, as this had been a challenging ride from the start and with such a good quality bike, I decided to go for it.  I did and I managed to make it up all the inclines we came across.  Whenever we got to a flat, smooth surface, it seemed so easy compared with what we had faced in the earlier part of the ride.  Then when we started following the Tyne, we knew we were nearing the end of the ride, especially when we saw the High Level Bridge and the Swing Bridge.  We stopped to have our photo taken at the Gateshead Millennium Bridge before returning to the Cycle Hub.

As we sat there, drinking coffee and eating some rather delicious cake, I felt pleased with myself for making it back with everyone else and not wimping out and getting in the van, which I could have done.  My determination and Tony’s calm, supportive demeanour got me through.

That evening I met up with a fellow blogger who had had a nice relaxing day at Hadrian’s Wall.  We had the perfect meal after all that exercise, Pie and Mash at the Redhouse and a glass or two of red wine.  That set me up to sleep.  I bid her goodnight and got a bus back to my B&B.  This last tweet for the day sums it up…

Apart from cycling down Death Road in Bolivia, this was the most challenging bicycle ride I have ever had.  However, during the ride, I had begun to feel more confident and comfortable on the bike.  The weather had improved, so that certainly helped.  Nonetheless, I had really gotten into the rhythm of cycling.  It made me realise that I just need practice.  So, towards the end of the ride, I had decided to do a week’s cycling trip sometime in the near future.  I have no idea where or when, but I would like to do that.  I wouldn’t want a challenging route, just a gentle week’s cycling where I can enjoy the surroundings, the journey, and feel more confident on a bike.  I bet that’s not the outcome you were expecting.  It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting, especially at the start of the ride.

Location

This is the route we took while mountain biking in the North East of England:

Have your say

What are the worst weather conditions you’ve cycled in?  Where would be a good place to go cycling for a week that isn’t too challenging and is a beautiful or interesting route?  Please let me know!

Disclosure

This cycle ride was organised by NewcastleGateshead as part of the #traverse14 conference with Saddle Skedaddle and The Cycle Hub, so I didn’t have to pay for it.  However, I have recounted a true and accurate version of events, dog pee and all, and I am serious about going on a week’s cycling trip somewhere.

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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