Thursday: The last stretch to Edinburgh

We have a deliberately leisurely start this morning and Caroline phones the bike shop in Haddington to check he can replace her tyre. The good shower and electric heater in the bathroom are very welcome – we are clean at least when we start today, even if our clothes are not! It takes a while to repack all the damp clothing and mop the floor, which still bears the evidence of our state when we arrived last night, then we lock up the bothy and set off.

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Inside Bell’s Bothy

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Ready to leave

I discover it’s not only Caroline’s bike which needs fixing by the time we get to Haddington. The cable to my rear gears has broken so I only have the choice of the three cogs at the front. Fortunately it isn’t far to Haddington and is mostly down hill. ‘Mike’s bikes’ is easy to find and Mike is very helpful so we leave the bikes there and go off in search of coffee. Amazed to see the sign in the shop window which announces it reopened today after Mike has been on holiday for a week or so – we are being looked after!

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Mike’s Bikes with the giveaway sign

We have a wander round Haddington before heading for coffee and pass the library and John Grace museum, which has an amazing modern glass facade made by Caroline’s old tutor at Sunderland – it’s very effective.

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When we return to collect the bikes, Mike points out the tears in my back tyre, but has no suitable one to replace it. I’m sure they’ve appeared since we’ve been riding as Dave Heron definitely thought there was still life in the tyres when changed the gears recently. I decide to buy a new tube and keep my fingers crossed but the tyre will need replacing as soon as I get home.

It’s midday by the time we are drinking coffee so we have a scone too as a kind of part one lunch and head off to Longniddry. Some very nice bespoke cycle paths link the towns here. We get our first views of Edinburgh in the distance from Port Seton then the cycleway snakes round Musselborough, eventually rejoining Route 1 which we left north of Berwick to take the coastal route.

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The route into Edinburgh is mostly well signposted, though we do take a few unplanned diversions. It comes into town under the foot of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags and then through the Meadows – beautiful and full of people enjoying the sunshine. We stop at Peter’s yard – an upmarket Scandinavian-style cafe – for good sandwiches and soup, enjoyed sitting outside in the sun. It doesn’t feel very Scottish! Intrigued by the electronic display board which shows how many people have cycled past it today – nearly 1000, more than 50 of whom have passed while we eat lunch.

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By the time we leave here it is after 4pm, so we head more or less straight to Waverley station for our train back to Durham. The 192 miles we covered on bikes seems to pass very quickly on the train though, of course, I still have another four miles or so, uphill, to get home!

Our next cycling adventure may be the northern half of the Coastal Castles route from Edinburgh to Aberdeen….

Wednesday: Berwick to Bell’s Bothy, Haddington

Bit difficult to get motivated this morning as it is raining hard by the time we wake up. The hostel breakfast is good though, and we are away by 9am, as planned. There are two sets of proper hills today – the first between Berwick and Eyemouth – and it rains hard as we climb these. It is warm enough while we are going up but we all get cold on the way down as we are soaked, quite literally, to the skin. The upshot of this is a bit of a problem getting separated in Eyemouth while changing clothes and buying new socks. We end up in two separate coffee shops to warm up then wandering round in the rain to try and meet up as none of the mobiles would work. Eyemouth is a very enclosed little fishing port at the bottom of a valley and I’m sure is very pretty in other circumstances! Gwyn was particularly interested as the Eyemouth fishing disaster plays a key role in the. ‘Follow the Herring’ project Bryony is involved in.

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There are more hills again between Eyemouth and the next time the path hits the coast at Pease bay, but these prove to be rather more gradual and easier to climb.

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The biggest problem this time is that we are riding in the cloud at the top, on a busier road than usual, which makes Caroline and I, at least, us feel rather vulnerable despite the high vis clothing and bike lights. We descend to the caravan park at Pease bay about 2pm to the funniest sight of the day. We are just struggling to get our laden bikes across the bridge beside the ford at the bottom of the hill when a tractor tows a full-sized residential caravan through the ford beside us.

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We are very pleased to hear two of the cyclists we’d met yesterday describing the delicious Stilton and broccoli soup they’d had for lunch. Less pleased, however, to find that the kitchen has just closed. The staff are very friendly and take pity on us, rustling us up baked potatoes and coffee. Equally important, it is warm and dry! I take the opportunity to change from top to toe and feel much better. After lunch the rain is less determined so the dry clothes last a little longer. The route is also much easier and flatter once we get up out of Pease bay.

Quite long stretches are beside the A1 and A189 but at least the miles go quickly that way. We stop in Dunbar, birthplace of John Muir, and have a look at the amazing harbour there. We enjoy afternoon tea and delicious cakes and stock up on pesto, pasta and red wine as tonight’s bothy won’t be near any shops.

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We are doing really well till we get past East Linton and four or five miles from the bothy when there is a loud pop and Caroline’s tyre is completely flat. A piece of glass has gone right through her strengthened tyre and shredded both that and the inner tube. Fortunately she has a spare tube, if not a functioning pump, and between us we manage to change the tube and stick a bit of flip-flop sole inside the tyre as a temporary fix. Fortunately it is quite dry at this point, though it starts to rain again as we head off to the bothy, holding our breath a little for the tyre at first.

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Bell’s bothy is about three miles south of Haddington and we find it without problems. Getting in is a little trickier as the red door we’d been instructed to use is well hidden. Great little place once we get inside and Gwyn soon gets the wood burning stove working and we are very snug, if rather damp. It would be a bit too cosy with all six beds filled though, I think. We enjoy our pasta supper and red wine and it’s late by the time we head for bed. The place looks like a laundry with all our wet clothes hung up to dry. The wifi is the best we’ve had but still not good enough to reliably upload the blog but it is good enough to enable us to find a bike shop in Haddington for tomorrow.
Bell’s bothy is about three miles south of Haddington and we find it without problems. Getting in is a little trickier as the red door we’d been instructed to use is well hidden. Great little place once we get inside and Gwyn soon gets the wood burning stove working and we are very snug, if rather damp. It would be a bit too cosy with all six beds filled though, I think. We enjoy our pasta supper and red wine and it’s late by the time we head for bed. The place looks like a laundry with all our wet clothes hung up to dry. The wifi is the best we’ve had but still not good enough to reliably upload the blog but it is good enough to enable us to find a bike shop in Haddington for tomorrow.

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Tuesday: Alnwick to Berwick-upon-Tweed

A slightly shorter ride today – around 54 miles. We are a bit slow getting started but do have good porridge for breakfast. Caroline discovered that her camera wasn’t working yesterday because the shutter was jammed so we stop in town to buy her a couple of disposabdisposable are tempted by a deli with an excellent looking range of local cheese for sandwiches but the bread hasn’t been delivered yet so we decide to push on as it is nearly 10 am – nearly an hour later than we’d intended to leave.

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Looking back at Alnwick Castle

We call in at Howick Bay to have a look – Gwyn and Caroline are both impressed by the folded rocks and it looks like all is well for our students in a month or so.

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Howick Bay

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Dunstanburgh Castle

Gwyn then decides that we need to crack on a bit so puts her head down and leads us into Seahouses at an average something over 11 mph – it feels like we are going some, though I realise John wouldn’t be impressed! Our fish and chip lunch is excellent and a decent break means we are inside for the only really heavy shower of the day – excellent planning.

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After lunch we loop round to Bamburgh then inland round the pretty village of Belford on the other side of the A1. Lots of quiet lanes with verges full of cow parsley, which smell lovely after the rain, and beautiful views of Holy Island in the late afternoon sunlight. Judging by the roads, the Romans definitely made it here. This is also the first time we meet lots of other cyclists, crossing paths with one group repeatedly as we stop for photos at different times. We get back to the A1 at Beal for a welcome afternoon cup of tea at the Lindisfarne Inn, then take a little diversion from our route to ride across the causeway to Holy Island. It is nearly 5pm by this time and the end of the safe crossing time today is 5.40, so we more or less just ride across the causeway and back. The expanses of flowering sea pinks on the far side are enough, alone, to make this worthwhile.

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When we rejoin route 1, we find ourselves crossing Beal sluice then following narrow, bumpy paths across the dunes, sometimes along stretches of sea wall. Slow going, especially for Caroline on her touring bike, with relatively thin tyres. The last stretch into Berwick is along the cliff edge with some gorgeous views in the early evening sun, but would not have been fun in the rain – the narrow, rough path goes very close the edge where material has slumped into the sea. The cliffs here are beautiful red sandstone – the same we noticed appearing as building material during the day.

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We find the hostel without difficulty but have a sticky moment on discovering that Caroline had booked herself into the hostel for last night instead of tonight – fortunately they have a spare bed! We end up at the Coop in Berwick and buy soup and bread for supper – enough after lunchtime’s fish and chips.

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Monday: Newcastle to Alnwick

60 odd miles down and we are still standing! We squeezed ourselves and three bikes onto the 8.43 from Durham to Newcastle this morning, alongside the commuters, feeling very pleased not to be heading for work. The friendly train guard took our ‘setting off’ picture for us.

The most tricky navigation of the day seemed to be getting from Newcastle station to the river but, once there, it’s a pleasant 12 or 13 mile ride along the Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway to Tynemouth. The path has been improved in the last couple of years and it was much easier to negotiate the area around the Tyne Tunnel and ferry port at North Shields than last time I used it, which is an unexpected bonus. We have our first coffee break of the day on the fish quay

before heading up hill to the priory and our first sight of the sea proper. This also marks the start of National Cycle Route 1, signs for which soon start to have the same effect as last year’s yellow arrows!

We are soon cycling along next to the sea, enjoying the views over the long white strands of Tynemouth and Whitley Bay. There’s a bit of sea haar now, but it’s still warm and dry. The dunes to the north of the beaches are studded with flowers – bloody cranesbill, buttercups, orchids, speedwell and bird’s foot trefoil, amongst others. The cowslips are just finishing, but must have been spectacular.

As we approach Blyth, we are greeted by the incongruous site of the pink-washed First World War gun battery and brightly coloured bathing huts with sedum roofs. Blyth itself is less fun but the sky has started to darken by this time, so we stop to eat our sandwiches at a dodgy-looking picnic table before the rain really sets in. It rains hard when it does come, but not for too long, and we have more or less dried out in the breeze before we reach the famous Spurreli’s at Amble for a late coffee and ice -cream break.

The sun is out again as we cycle past our first proper castle at Warkworth and the late afternoon light is lovely. We ride along a good track parallel to the road to Alnmouth before turning off to take the rural route to Alnwick itself. This turns out to be the biggest hill of the day – real contours on our cycle map – and is hard work at this stage. We are very pleased to arrive in Alnwick, especially as the next downpour has caught us up. It’s still raining when we head out again for dinner at my regular, The Black Swan – very welcome by this stage. Nice to feel we’ve done enough exercise to justify their sticky toffee pudding this time.

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A mini adventure

I wasn’t sure whether or not to take the iPad with me this time but my (only?) devoted blog-follower (thanks Susannah!) was insistent that I should, so here goes….

This time I am cycling the Coastal Castles route from Newcastle to Edinburgh with Gwyn and Caroline.  On hearing this, my friends fall into two distinct camps; those who say, “Isn’t there a perfectly good train line?” and those who say, “You are taking how many days to do that?”  50 miles a day seems quite far enough, to us, for our first cycling trip together.  It will hopefully leave us time to visit plenty of tea shops en route!

Planning for our trip was mostly done on Friday afternoon and my packing, at least, yesterday.  The low point for me was shaking out my travel towel, last used by Ed at Beacons Festival last summer, to discover that it certainly hadn’t been washed afterwards.  What was less clear was whether he’d used it to clean oil from a bike chain or to wipe up pots used on a campfire….   Fortunately these things are designed to dry quickly!

After a very humid day yesterday, it’s a bit damp this morning but warm, thankfully.  We have beds booked at Alnwick YH tonight so I’ll set off from here about 8am and meet the others at the station to get the train to Nwcastle.  From there we set off in earnest, along the river to Tynemouth before heading North along the coast.  More later!