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THW Big Borders tour - London to Penrith to Cockermouth, 08 June 2007
"Jumping somebody else's train"

Friday morning comes early. I've mostly packed last night. There have been piles of stuff on my floor for a few days now and I've gotten them all stuffed into my panniers. I think about how completely unprepared I was for last year's tour. I have waterproof bags this year, much nicer bike, better waterproofs, in better shape, I know what to expect and what I should pack. Still, it will be a long way to go and I hope I got it all right. Being more ruthless with the packing helped but there are still a few things I can do better next time. I'll have to revise that kit list and post a new improved copy. One without 3-4 different sorts of caps.

Anyways, because of the way the train tickets were purchased, I was given the crushing responsibility of holding the tickets for the three other people traveling with me. I'm a few minutes late leaving for Euston, but I figure I can just haul ass and make it up on the way. Traffic is mostly ok but it gets a bit bad near the station. Still, I make it there in about 25 minutes, so far so good. Ok, where is everybody. Eventually I spot Ian waiting. One down, two more to go. Train goes up on the board, still no Tom or Alex. We go and wait by the gate but still not there. Caroline had sent out all sorts of techy details about what the train will be, which end to board, and all that, and warned that there might be a hassle about bikes. But I completely expect that. I'm trying to think of a long train journey I've taken where there hasn't been some sort of hassle about bikes, not many come to mind.

Anyways, finally Tom and Alex show up and we head to find our places. The train manager intercepts us and four bikes, he radios somebody, sorry, only three spaces on the train, one of you can't go, even though we had reservations for all four of them. Crap crap. We argue with him for a while and eventually just blow past him and try to get our bikes on anyways. Even if one gets denied, no point in the other three missing the train which is leaving in a couple of minutes. The engineer at the front helps us load the bikes in and he doesn't see much problem with there being four. The train manager comes up then and starts lecturing us about trying to get the fourth bike on. He relents and says there are actually four spaces after all but if there had turned out to be three, he said he would have waited until we boarded and then chucked one bike off onto the platform just as the train pulls out to screw us over. Prick. (Note to self, must file complaint with Virgin about this one. Late update - reference 4-1694659, better get some satisfaction from them.)

On train, nearing Penrith.

In Penrith.

Leaving with Dave T, Caroline, and Dave A.

The rest of the train journey was fine. Nothing exciting to report there. Arrival in Penrith a few minutes late. Had texted Caroline to let them know as she and Dave were waiting for us there. It is a bit after noon when we get there. Nobody is really starving, snacking on the train, so the six of us decide to head out for a lunch stop in Keswick. So, Greystoke, there is a Tarzan link (I think) but the castle was closed, nobody really wanted to see it anyways. The village is pretty typical small village. But there was a "Cycle Cafe" just before town, although I couldn't see what was all that cycle-ish about it except that they made cars park a few hundred meters away in the village parking lot.

Cycle cafe just before Greystoke.

Alex and Tom in Greystoke.

Quick stop in Greystoke.

Dave went off to see if the castle was open.

Highland cattle.

So, Sustrans routed us through a rather odd diversion. As we head through it, it strikes us as kind of the perfect Sustrans route, or one that seems to meet almost all their criteria. Small road which heads two miles up a valley and two miles back, saving about 1/2 mile on a main road, check. Lots of gates to go through, check. Steep off road sections, check. Plenty of sheep and other animals (highland cattle, llamas) to go through and past, check. Somehow they missed a cattle grate though, not sure how they didn't have one put in just for the occasion. Still, the route was lovely and worth the diversion. We stop at a bridge across the stream at the top of the route and admire the view.

The llamas were funny. After observing them for a few minutes, we came to a number of conclusions about llama society. All of them sit in the exact same spot, every day, all day. One of them rubbed its neck on the ground, and the grass there had been worn down by endless repetition in the exact shape of his neck. They all face the same direction every day, all looking in different directions, never looking at each other. Presumably they would have to come up with small talk if they did, and who knows what llamas would talk about.

The lovely Sustrans diversion to Beckside, the stream at Beckside at the top of the valley.

Back down the valley, where it gets steep and windy.

The llama and its spot.

A lot of the rest of the way to Keswick was on an old railroad line. So, it was mostly flat, gravely, through woods and over funky bridges. We hear a cuckoo somewhere off in the woods and spot a heron in a stream as we cross a bridge. The pace here is good and we are approaching lunch. The road switches to paved and starts winding through hills. There is a big concrete bridge (Greta Bridge) that we cross under that has a plaque saying it is the concrete structure of the millennium (or something like that.) Didn't seem to be all that great to me, but whatever.

Heron in St John's Beck (I think).

In Keswick, looking for lunch. Most everything seems to be closed. And everybody seems all picky, we want to sit outside, we want good food, blah blah blah. Ian says somewhere is the "best vegetarian cafe in the world" or something like that nearby, but it seems to be closed. Near to that, is a cafe that seems to meet most of the criteria (the key one being that they are actually open) and we stop there. I think I had tea and cake there. Or maybe it was a bacon sandwich. (As of today, I'm on a bacon moratorium for at least a month. I had too much of it over the week.) As we sit afterwards looking at maps, they seem pretty anxious to bring their signs and tables inside so that they can lock up and go home. That seemed to happen a lot on the trip, cafes would lock up their doors seconds after we left.

In Keswick looking for lunch.

Last section coming up now. There are three possible paths to take, one over a pass, one flat along a lake, and another further north, maybe on a busier road. We opt for Whinlatter Pass, I can't remember the reasoning now, something like it would be a tough quick up hill and then a coast down into Cockermouth and good training for the rest of the trip, something like that. It was a steep one, two chevron sections and about two miles up.

I've decided that I absolutely adore my bike, although it is geared in a stupid Italian Campagnolo way, meaning way too high for a touring bike. I find that the second I put any luggage on the bike, that I always want to ride on the small front chain ring. Ok, after a few days, I was much stronger and it all worked better, but still, I want to change it eventually. It is nice having the really high gearing to try and break Dave T's downhill speed records, but I want my lowest gear to be a bit lower. There wasn't anything I couldn't get up in low gear, but I would like to be a bit lazier and spin a bit more up the really long hills.

The view from the first lookout, after the first chevron section, looked out over the lake we might have gone around. It was a tough climb up to there and the day is pretty hot. We rest and admire the view and wait for the rest of the group to walk up. There is a grave across the road in the grass looking at the same view. From 1847, I guess J.W.S. gets that view all the time. But another mile up on a steep section before the eventual summit, wherever it is, it isn't marked. I go ahead and climb by myself, it is nice to be able to pace myself and just look at things.

The first lookout on Whinlatter Pass.

Somebody's grave across the street from the lookout.

And their view.

It is pretty fast coming down the other side and fairly quickly make it to Cockermouth. Just one small little hill coming into town. Well, besides the very steep rocky one down the hill to the hostel. At least we get to go down it in the daylight. It is a pretty cool building, an old converted mill building next to a small river. Very stony and rustic looking. Local youths are swimming in the river. Hmm, swimming, noted for later. Gary and Aileen are already there (well at the pub already eating) and Dave T and Matt arrive a bit after that. We have no food ready so we also head off to the pub to have dinner. It does take a while to pick the place because Ray, oh what can be said about Ray, the warden of the hostel. He has lots of opinions and information. His book of information about the hostel, the local town, stores and restaurants, his top 10 favorite benches to sit on (yep), and so on. Impressive but funny too. A lot of the pictures of the stores and restaurants have his bike sitting in front propped to the building.

The old mill Cockermouth YH.

Nice place for a swim.

Dinner, I believe I had sausage, I mean when in Cumbria, don't you have to. And Jennings pretty much dominates the beer market, it was pretty good though. A few stop at the store on the way back to pick up breakfast stuff. And deadlines, the doors get locked at 11 pm and Brenda and Rob haven't arrived yet. They took a late train to Maryport and seemed to be delayed a bit and had to rush from Maryport in the dark. Then when they are in town, it was hard to find the place. We sent out a few envoys to meet them and guide them back. Dave T encounters the "most boring person in the world" and just can't get away from him. We wait and watch the clock and field calls from the field, trying to give directions, dealing with conflicting information about location, that street might be on this side of town or maybe the opposite. All ends well, on time, nobody gets locked out and there is a quick batch of pasta cooked up for them and off to bed. 42 miles for me today. Excellent first day. Lovely warm weather too.

The river through Cockermouth.

THW Big Borders tour - Cockermouth to St Bees to Cockermouth, 09 June 2007
"Take me to the water"

Up really early this morning. The room was really hot, a bit noisy with snoring, fortunately though, nobody reaches Steve levels. I get up at 6:30 and wander around outside and dip my feet in the river. It is pretty cold. I help start breakfast, make a vat of porridge, which seems comically gigantic but ends up being completely devoured in the end.

Quiet early morning in Cockermouth.

Time for a morning wade in the river.

We have a number of options for the day. Nothing is planned and we will be at the same place for the evening. The "we want to go to the beach for a swim" crowd (proud member of) wins the day and we decide to head for St Bees for the day. But more options, the long way, the short way, over big hills. Oh, Dave and Caroline, lead us, don't force us to make decisions. Anyways, hilly group and less hilly group. I join the hilly longer group and go to prepare my bike and all that for the day.

Rob and Matt preparing for the day's ride.

We assemble, Gary and Aileen are going to go off on their own (hee hee, more on that one later) since they just have folding bikes. Brenda, Dave T, Dave A, Matt, Ian and myself form the hilly group. Everybody else (anybody not involved in things I do ends up lumped hereafter with "them", "doing something else", well, unless it is funny like Gary's adventure today) goes on their route.

Riders for the longer ride.

On the road, we avoid the rocky path up from the hostel and take the flat path through the park and past the fire station. We head out of town and head south looking for our turnoff. We pass Gary and Aileen on the side of the road, looking at maps or something like that. (Yeah, wait for it, be patient, I'll get there.)

The pace is pretty fast and we make it to lonely country roads. Well, lonely except for the kamikaze tractor driver (woman, we think, looked like long curly hair as she sped off into the distance) who barrels past us, possibly under control but I doubt it. The bouncing trailer she is pulling seems to come awfully close to many of us as she gives us inches of clearance.

We miss our turns twice, once we decide to backtrack and find the correct road and the other time we just keep going. Brenda and Matt are speeding ahead as Dave A and I see the bench. I had been asking about birds, my typical question, umm, what's that bird? It might have been buzzards. But we get rather excited when we realize, that's one of Ray's benches. I believe it was either number 3 or 4 on his top 10 list. It really is a pretty setting and the view is just great. It overlooks Drummock Water. We take turns sitting on it and taking pictures of each other sitting on it. Brenda must have realized that nobody was behind her anymore and comes back to find us.

One of Ray's top 10 benches, overlooking Drummock Water.

We set off again, Brenda and Matt slightly reeled in and head for our planned meet up with the other group near Rowrah. It turns out there is a home and garden center with a cafe in it. You English people are weird. So, we sit in chairs and at tables with large price tags on them. I guess you can try out the furniture before you buy it. But is it is tea stop or a lunch stop? I decide to split the difference and declare it both, sandwich, tea and a bit of cake.

We eat lunch and sit in the sunny patio and then the reports start to come in. So apparently, mere minutes after we saw Gary and Aileen on the road, Gary had managed to lose her. Completely. For the rest of the day. On their anniversary. So yeah, we might never know exactly what happened, we only have a bit of forensic evidence as clues.

Lunch at a garden center in Rowrah.

Dave T horrifies us with his camera which is haunted by a mysterious ghostly naked man picture. He blames it on something that must have happened when his sister borrowed it, but again, we have no real evidence about this mystery.

Dave's haunted camera.

Matt checking out the map.

Anyways, we have a beach to get to. Brenda changes, again. Now we can go. The part after Rowrah is on an old rail line. I'm not quite sure of the theme of the trail. Apparently all the sculpture and benches and stuff are made out of the old pieces of the line, rails and bridges and stuff. Beyond that, I'm not sure what links them together, like there are old rail tie benches and large sculptures of phoenixes. But there isn't really time to notice because it is a smooth road and slightly downhill and we fly on it. We go so fast that we overshoot our hoped exit point and end up in the outskirts of Whitehaven instead. So we have to detour back onto the main roads and over a rather steep hill to St Bees. It is a long climb and it is a luggage free day and it isn't so bad. Coming over the other side, it is a fast nice descent into St Bees.

Brenda changing, again.

Old rail line past Rowrah.

We park on the overlook to the beach and those who are swimming change, or somehow prepare themselves. It was a rocky approach to the beach and I regret not bringing my sandals today, but I was trying to travel light. Ouch ouch, and finally to the sand. Stepping into the ocean, ohh, it is so nice and warm, this is fantastic. Keep walking and oh my, it got cold really fast. But there is nothing to be done, the pain will only last so long. Some plunge in and the rest never make it past the warm water parts. It is a funny ocean, there are warm and cold pockets. Once you find a warm pocket, it is nice but then they seem to move and you have to go search for another one.

The tide is coming in and the wading group notices that our shoes and towels are in danger of getting wet. Ahh, thanks. It is getting a bit late too and we should start heading back. Dinner needs to be made and all that. A few decide to zip off and catch a train to Maryport (I think) and the rest of us head back the same way we came, meaning up the steep hill. Down in the village, there are loads of matching tents (well, in about 3 different bright colors) lined up on the green. As we climb up the hill, a mysterious unmarked military looking helicopter takes off and patrols back and forth along the valley.

The beach at St Bees.

Time for swimming.

The wading, non swimming group.

Back on the rail line.

The rail section again, it is nice but this time it is just slightly uphill. Still, we make a pretty fast pace on it and quickly make it to Rowrah again. We stop at the bridge there and wait for the rest of the group to catch up before heading onto the main roads. We don't particularly mess around and decide to take the A road back to Cockermouth, with the option of ducking off onto the smaller roads if it gets too bad. But it is fine. We make a fast pace and Brenda, Matt and I start the beginnings of our little team to fight the wind. We haven't quite gotten the transitions of switching the front position down yet but it works fairly effectively to get back to Cockermouth quickly. 51.15 miles for me today.

Waiting at Rowrah for everybody to catch up.

Dinner, two different sorts of pasta, I believe, salad, a fair amount of wine. Quite nice. Gary and Aileen are heading off tomorrow to go home, we try to find out what happened today, but it is still a mystery.

Ray entrusts us with the task of locking up at 11 pm so that he can go to bed. We finish dinner and drinks and a grumpy old man comes down to tell us off for being noisy. (Still intrigued by this "ticking off" expression which seem to be the opposite of the Americanism, or at least somebody is ticked off at somebody (annoyed) as opposed to being ticked off by somebody (told off).) And bedtime.

THW Big Borders tour - Cockermouth to Carlisle, 10 June 2007
"Take the skinheads bowling, take them bowling."

Morning again, up before most everybody else again today. I didn't sleep so well most of the trip, so if I got a bit crabby at times, sorry all. But I had been eyeing that river for a few days now and was determined to try it out. If those local kids could manage it, then surely I could too. I wander around the garden and trees before hand, steeling myself for it. Supposedly there are red squirrels out here somewhere but I never end up seeing them. I did see them in Scotland just back in March, so I'm not overly disappointed. I try to figure out how the mill works too. There is a waterwheel, but the water must have come in from pretty far upstream, or the river has sunk quite a bit since they used it. Not really sure. But enough goofing around. Yeah, it was cold, quite bracing. It was a hot evening though and my arm wasn't feeling so well, so it was quite refreshing despite the cold.

So, my porridge seemed to go over pretty well yesterday, so I go in and start to make more for breakfast today. We need to move on today, so things have to be packed up and ready to go soon too. My glorious plan to have the perfect packing system in my two bags is already starting to fall apart. When I get a puncture a few days later, the merits (or lack of) of having my tool thingys in the very bottom of my bag are highlighted. Everybody assembles outside and packs their bikes up. I end up taking one of the left over wine boxes from last night since there is room on my rack. Rob grabbed it off my bike when we reach Carlisle later that evening and I never see it again. Wonder what happened to it.

Ian, Matt and Brenda getting ready to go.

Aileen and Gary preparing.

Carrying the rest of the wine from last night.

Our route today will take us west to the coast at Maryport and then we will work our way north and east along the Solway coast and then cut over to Carlisle from there. Matt, Brenda, and I end up in front and speed our way to Maryport. The day is nice and the route is somewhat downhill much of the way. We are quickly there and we stop first to see if we can find any food and then head down to the harbor to take a look at that. It is pretty, lighthouse, Scotland off in the distance, and all that stuff. Eventually we think we should go look for the rest of the group, surely they would be here by now.

Off through the park route away from the hostel.

We find them on a high overlook and we all decide to head on north to Silloth. But we are not sure of the cafe situation there, so maybe picking up some food, maybe even a picnic sort of situation would be nice. Unfortunately, not much is open in town and the sandwich shop we pick seems completely unprepared to handle more than maybe one or two orders a day. Every time you order something, they have to run upstairs to see if they have it, then to place the order and then keep running up and down to see if it is ready. Maybe one of those hollow tube things they yell into on ships would help them (engine room, full speed ahead). So, it ends up taking absolutely forever to get the food. It is getting so late that I'm tempted to just eat it right there. But I'll hold out. Well, for a few minutes at least.

Up above the harbor in Maryport.

All assembling to ride up the coast.

The coast just north of Maryport.

Back on the road again. We encounter a rather stubborn small child on the north side of town. We have to pass through a gate, the type of go into it, swing it around you and then go through that opening type. (I'm amazed at how many different ways there are to secure a gate. I think in the 10 days, I'm not sure I saw more than 4-5 gates that were secured the same way.) But the gate was barely big enough to take a bike, especially one loaded down with baggage. But he insists on standing there with his tiny bike watching us try to squeeze past him. But that done, off to face traffic and the wind. Our drafting skills are greatly improving now, forming a rather efficient peloton.

Small child who refused to move from the gate.

Riding into the wind.

But Matt complains about sore feet and wants to stop and shift his shoes around. I take the opportunity to devour my sandwich. So much for waiting for lunch, which is fine because 2nd lunch is at least 20 minutes away. When we arrive, we park our bikes in the park in the center of town and go and join the queue for fish and chips across the street. Still, I don't understand fish and chips. Maybe it would be better if you could slather it with ketchup or something to actually give it flavor, but then again, they always charge like 20p for each of the tiny little bags of ketchup. And so much oil too, it hits hard in the stomach. (Fish and chips moratorium, in addition to the bacon one.)

Sore feet.

Into Silloth for lunch.

In the park eating fish and chips.

We set off again after lunch. Dave A seems keen to try the drafting rotation. Although the first time he leads, he zooms off and we all have to try and chase him down. Well, his first shift was on a horribly potholed road too and that adds to the challenge. His next shift, he never takes his eyes off the speedometer and maintains a steady 12.77 mph. A little practice and we all have it down pretty well. Around the coast and inland for a bit until we pop out on the north side and see the ocean and Scotland off in the distance. We stop just inside a gate for a snack and then head off again for Port Carlisle for the meet up point for lunch. The rest of the group was supposed to take the shorter route and not take the whole route around the peninsula. Maybe they did, maybe not, I don't know, out of sight, out of mind. But they show up for lunch a bit after we get there. And Gary and Aileen had a train to catch in Carlisle so they had to rush out there ahead of us.

Heading around the Solway coast.

The town of Port Carlisle is hopping. A bowling tournament is in high gear across the street from the pub. They all look sharp in their whites. The competition looks fierce. Apparently the home team eventually wins, so all is right with the world. We try a variety of tables in the pub and eventually settle on one outside in the back. Four teas please. Umm, and a latte. Brenda makes the poor bartender struggle with the machine, taking, it must have been five minutes to make that latte. All that work and he charges like a ridiculous 80p or something for it. (Ok, compared to what prices they normally command.) We try a variety of industrial strength pre-packaged cakes. They claim to be different flavors, but mostly they seem to be a bit of spongy doughy things with a thick coating of sugar on the outside. Amazingly, some of them don't get finished.

Bowling in Port Carlisle.

Once the rest of the group arrives and has their drinks and food, we wander off to look at the old canal, see, Port Carlisle is the port for the inland Carlisle. Then back on the bikes and off for the last bit of the day. I can't remember much of the stuff before Carlisle, so I don't think it was terribly memorable then.

The beginning of the canal in Port Carlisle

Carlisle is fairly big. We have no idea where we are going, just have an address and a map that vaguely shows us where the train station is. We could have sworn that Caroline and Dave A were right behind us as we get to town but maybe not. We go way out of the way, busy roads, large circle off ramp and end up down in the pedestrianized central part of town. We find the train station but Gary and Aileen's train already left a few minutes before, so we couldn't say good bye. Hmm, now where, anybody know where we are going? We have an address but have no idea where it would be. Eventually we ask a few people and get a general direction to travel.

Castle in Carlisle

Once we find the place, we are slightly surprised that we were the first ones there since it took us a really long time to find the place. The B&B owner seems slightly stressed out by the room arrangements and spends about 10 minutes going over and over them with us. Brenda gets a single room and Matt is slightly sick so he takes the other one to not spread whatever it is he has. The remaining rooms are some sort of arrangement of twins, doubles, triples, or I'm so glazed over from his explanations (and the sun and the need for a shower) I have no idea what they are. The only thing that ends up registering is that here, you are in this room number, it is a double, and something about Dave T. Then he explains it a few more times and it makes even less sense. See, I see where I went wrong, just tell me, this room has one bed, this one has two, etc. Don't deal with technical terms like twin/double/etc. Especially when I'm tired and just want him to stop so I can go take a shower.

I get to the room, oh no, this can't be good. That bed (the one bed in the room) is tiny. Now, I have nothing against Dave T but I tell you, that bed would be much too cozy sharing it with anybody, whoever they might be. First things first, must shower then I can be distressed later. So, after Dave A and Caroline arrive, my panic returns and we go and get the explanation again from the B&B guy. Dave T is actually in another room, so everything is fine. I still don't know what that guy was going on about, but all was right in my world, so that's good then.

So dinner, it is a B&B so we must go searching for food then. Caroline had been in town before so she said X, can't remember the name of the place, was pretty cheap and the food and beer were fine. And yeah, it was, nothing amazing but the chicken sandwich was fine. What was it, black sheep ale or something, was nice too. And apparently my sandwich isn't sold without a beer, so I had to have another one when that arrived too. Great trauma, I tell you. We sit outside and enjoy the night, the last warm and nice day for a while.

Bedtime. I think like 57 miles for the day.

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