My son, like many students now, has to stay one year abroad during his studies. So he’s spending the scholar year 2017-2018 in Newcastle University. We then decided to visit him a few days and we flew to Newcastle with my wife and my daughter at the end of October.
The first thing I did when the journey was decided was to have a look at the map of the BIG in England. I saw that Rosedale Head in North York Moors National Park on one part, and three others BIG in North Pennineson the other part, were reachable, with a little bit of train. This implied two days out with the bike, which looked compatible with a six-day family stay in the area. I was lucky to find a place in Newcastle that hired bikes, where the only road bike they had was a bit big for me but did perfectly the job.
So the Monday morning I was ready to pick my bike at 8:30, hoping to be at the station at 9 to catch a train to Castleton Moor, at the foot of Rosedale Head, my intention being to go down to Kildale after the BIG to take a train back to Newcastle. But it took me more time than expected to get the bike, and I could only get a train at 9:30 that stopped in Nunthorpe. This was not a problem at all, it added just some kilometers to my ride that was anyway a short one, and it made me climb instead by the Kildale-Westerdale NW side, which happened to be a very nice approach.
After a rather flat stretch between Nunthorpe and Great Ayton, the climbs began a little before Kildale. I then turned right towards Westerdale and the BIG. It was a very nice landscape of moorlands, just like I thought it would be. The surrounding hills look gentle, but the British road builders don’t seem to bother very much with hairpins, so should a river cross the way, you have a 15% slope to go down to it, and the same to climb on the other side. This didn’t prevent me from reaching the BIG, marked by a stone cross. I was then down in no time to Castleton Moor, as the road to it is smooth, large, busy (relatively) and downhill, to catch my train to Newcastle that I reached with a change in Middlesbrough and another one in Darlington.
My second ride was a longer one, as it included the three BIG located in the North Pennines Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty. I went by train to Hexham, where a misadventure made me lose a few minutes. Arrived in Hexham, I got out of the train and started to prepare for the ride. At the time I wanted to put my helmet, I realized I had it no more. I then remembered that the bike had fallen down at some moment during the train journey and that the helmet had certainly followed it on the floor. The train I took didn’t continue after Hexham, this left me a little chance to have my helmet back, but it was parked on a siding a few hundred meters away. I went out of the station in the direction of the train but of course was stopped by a gate before reaching the tracks. I came back to the station, where the lady at the desk told me this train would be soon taken back to the station for its next journey. And in fact, the time she spoke the train was again at the station platform, and I could find my helmet under a seat. Ready to go now!
The ride to climb the three BIG was rather long (about 180 km) so it occupied me the whole day. I was not unhappy with the weather, it was colder than in Nice of course, but not too much, and if it was cloudy all day long, sometimes even misty, the rain didn’t fall (too much).
From Hexham I went south towards the first BIG, Westernhope Moor, passing by the beautiful village of Blanchland, then Rookhope, in a landscape alternating grasses and moorlands, but with always lot of sheep around. In Eastgate I reached a slightly more frequented road, then turned left in Westgate, fording the Wear River, to start the climb to Westernhope Moor. I loved this climb as it was very remote and lonely (even if I saw one car), again in a moorland landscape so typical to this place.
After this BIG, I had a good ride against the wind between Middleton-in-Teesdale and Brough before reaching Knock at the foot of Great Dun Fell. Well, this climb is a serious one. It’s supposed to be England’s highest road, but it’s also I guess one of the hardest (of this length). The slope is always very steep, except for a flat part in the middle, and very demanding all the time. At a moment, there was a sign aside to forbid the road to cyclists, and another one upper, but without consequences. I even met a car going down from the radar at the top that ignored me completely.
After Great Dun Fell, Hartside Cross appeared as an easy job, even though the posts at the side of the road present it as a dangerous climb because of its 1900 ft. (580m) height. Down in Alston, I had another climb to go back to the train. Haydon Bridge would have been the closest station, but as all trains don’t stop there, I had a train earlier in Hexham. So I rodea few kilometers more to go back to my station of departure, after a very much enjoyable ride in the English countryside.