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THW Big Borders tour - Belford to Alnwick, 15 June 2007
"Castles made of sand, or woah, give me shelter"

That phrase, the weather is unsettled. Funny, I don't think the weather worries so much about that. It does what it wants and then does something else. Maybe it isn't for us to understand but it seems settled on what it is doing. But we are left with a decision, it isn't all that far to Alnwick tonight, so what shall we do on the way there, castles, bird watching, off road, on road, just so many choices. Bambaugh Castle describes itself as "the finest castle in England". There are cruises to the Farne Islands to see puffins and loads of other birds. There are supposed to be fantastic kippers in Craster. Dunstanburgh Castle is supposed to be the most dramatic castle in England.

I guess for me, weighing the options, I've seen lots of castles. I don't particularly need to go into them. Blah blah, more Chippendale. We will go past Bambaugh, so I can see a bit of that and I would really like to go see the islands and cruise around on the ocean. If we get to Seahouses early enough, we can check and see if the boats are running today, if not, there are other things to do. But in the rush to get out on time, Dave and Caroline and myself end up leaving first, and I have a bit of a feeling that things are not quite right as I'm leaving. Ok, I won't keep you in suspense, I left my sandals at the place and when I emptied my bag out that evening in Alnwick, I realized that I had rushed off and left them. Oh, it ends happily, Matt saw them on the way out and he brought them with him. So, I was reunited with the prodigal sandals and we were a happy family again.

Bundle Bay with Lindisfarne in the background.

Coming into Bamburgh, castle in the distance.

Bamburgh Castle, and we keep going.

The weather wasn't so awful this morning, it was still rather windy but the rain wasn't so bad. It is a quick few miles to Bamburgh. We go past Bundle Bay and it is rather attractive. Hmm, swimming, but still too windy and cold. Lindisfarne looms off in the distance too as we ride away from it. We are quickly in Bamburgh and the castle dominates the skyline. It is an impressive looking place. We stop for a minute to look and then head off to Seahouses. The ocean looks rough on the way and we can see the Farne Islands off in the distance. When we get there, our fears are confirmed and none of the cruises are running due to the sea conditions. It is rather disappointing but there isn't really anything to be done about it. So now we have a few extra hours. Caroline says that Low Newton by the Sea has a really nice pub in it and I'm pretty keen to go see Dunstanburgh Castle, which will probably require a bit of off road and pushing to get there.

Rough looking sea with Farne Islands in the distance.

The harbor in Seahouses.

No bird crusises today.

Low Newton is a little bit out of the way for us, but it was a nice stop. Dave and Caroline discuss where the National Trust cottage is, whether it is the thing up on the high hill with the radio mast. If it is, it looks like a pretty cool place to spend some time, up high right on the edge of the ocean. Down the hill then into Low Newton. I believe most of the village is owned by the National Trust, however that works. The pub there is pretty interesting, very rustic feeling. It is hard to imagine how they could have made it even a tiny bit more woody inside. But it looks like it would be a nice cozy place to spend a blustery rainy day. Hmm, kind of like today.

Epic sparrow battle in Low Newton by the Sea.

We go outside and witness the most epic sparrow fight. At first I wonder, is that a bit of hanky panky, shouldn't they get a room somewhere? But it seems much meaner than that. It goes on for a few minutes, rolling around, pecking at each other with a third bird standing by watching. After a while, it does appear that one is getting the advantage and the other one is on the bottom a lot more. Can they really do serious injury to each other like that? But we are not so sure we want to see if that is the case so Dave walks over by them to try and break it up. The weaker one darts off followed quickly by the other one right on its heels. Wonder what caused this blood feud? It probably continued on somewhere else right after this. They seemed really pissed at each other.

In the Ship Inn in Low Newton.

Windy day in Low Newton. Kite sailing on the beach, or whatever it is called.

We watch somebody get out a kite and skate around on the beach pulled by the wind. Yeah, it is windy today, did I mention that anywhere yet? But then back to the main road and to find our path to the castle. Actually, the path there isn't so bad. We had heard that we might have to push as far as a few miles. But it is relatively smooth and easy to ride on. It is only when we get within sight of the castle and go through a gate, one of the worst smallest gates to try and squeeze through, we have to walk around the hill the castle stands on.

Down the off road section towards Dunstanburgh Castle.

But they aren't kidding, the thing is rather dramatic. It is so cool how the walls had fallen apart, just narrow wobby columns of stone. The silhouette against the skyline is rather dramatic. I suppose the gloomy weather and the increasing rain helps with that too. There is also a sheer cliff wall there and lots of birds are swooping around, landing on the cliffs and then jumping back into the air. Guillemots and kittiwakes I believe. Into the castle, there isn't much of it left anymore but it is pretty cool and the views from up top are really good.

Dunstanburgh Castle

My favorite part of the day was the slope right past the castle. It was smooth and grassy and had fun rollercoast like bumps to bounce up and down on. It was good fun riding down that part. The rest of it was fairly ridable too, pasture mostly. It isn't far to Craster, which is good because I'm hungry and ready to be out of the rain. We look for somewhere to eat. The restaurant which is connected to the seafood shop seems to be closed, so nothing doing there. I guess the only other option is the pub across the street. That turns out to be a good choice though. The seating area is in back with large windows looking over the sea. It was pretty fogged up but you could still see some nice big waves coming in. Crab soup and kipper pate for lunch. A seafood taste sensation. Very nice stuff.

Arrival in Craster.

But as we sit there, I'm just totally falling asleep. Maybe it was the food, something in it acted as a drug, or something but I can just barely stay awake. Not that I'm too keen about going out into the pouring rain either. I suppose there isn't all that much further to go but I'm feeling pretty unambitious at this point. My legs can get over whatever but I'm not sure I can be bothered to push them to do it. But this time, it is the whole deal, full waterproof stuff, overshoes included, and we head off to Alnmouth. The plan being we will see about train schedules in case anybody wants to just take the train to Newcastle tomorrow. Part of that route will be fairly industrial and not the most attractive ride. But credit to everybody, in the end, everybody rides the whole thing and except for a few days where some take slightly different and shorter routes, everybody finishes everything.

Lots of this whole last bit are a bit blurry. I remember coming into Alnmouth and it seemed fine. You know, ocean there, town over there, yeah yeah, what next. We look up train times and then head off to Alnwick. Dave says later that about then it is fairly obvious that I've about had it, the fun and joy has left me. I'm tired of the rain. I just want to be somewhere dry where I don't have to ride around anymore. A lot of the last bit, I just try to go fast and get it all done. I think there were hills, I think there was rain, whatever, eventually I'm there and the B&B is in front of us. Hurray. In spite of my crabbiness, I try to be a good person and take the triple room instead of the oh so tempting single one. I guess it doesn't matter, I'm somewhat oblivious to a lot of things now. 39.17 miles in a lot of rain today.

In Alnmouth.

Dinner in town, there are a choice of Italian places, sounds fine to me. Chicken with rosemary on it, or something like that. I order salad and a bread (must have green things). A few go out to pick up wine and beer to have with it. So red wine to go with it. My bread seems to have ended up at the other end of the table. When I finally realize where my bread ended up and get it in front of me, it is good. Butter it and stuff it down. Gursh's arm darts into the bowl and grabs one. Aack. Will be nice, it is just bread and there is more of it. Then another one disappears, getting a bit distressed now. I make sure I at least get the last piece in the bowl. Yeah, I know it isn't really even expensive and they have plenty more bread, but I can't snap just because somebody took a few pieces of bread. It was that kind of day, the rain, the endless rain. Gursh realizes then and somebody orders another order of bread to replace it, which is fine. It wasn't even the bread, I'm not even sure if I was super hungry, it was just the day, you know.

Walk back to the B&B and bedtime.

THW Big Borders tour - Alnwick to Newcastle, 16 June 2007
"Foggy Mountain Breakdown"

So, hopefully a better day today. It does seem somewhat promising. It looks foggy in the morning but it doesn't look like it is raining. There are some different plans, either riding all the way to Newcastle or trains from some of the intervening stations. But I suppose unless you take the train from Alnmouth (only like a few miles away), none of the other ones save you much distance. And the day turns out to be a much sunnier one. Ahh, and swimming too helps my spirits.

Breakfast, served in the main dining room, yet another full English breakfast day. The guy scurries about bringing more tea, more toast, more tea again, etc. But enough, time to go then. Alnwick has what is supposed to be the biggest used book store in England or something. I'm sure that would be nice but not sure I want to do that when I would have to carry everything and don't really have enough time to look around properly. (Besides, it probably nowhere near as amazing as Powells in Portland, OR.)

I kind of want to set off on my own too. There is a castle to see in Warkworth and we are supposed to meet up in Newbiggin by the Sea for lunch (one of the most wonderful cafes in the world on Caroline's research list), so whatever happens, I know where that is and how to get there and all that. Many times, it is nice to just follow behind somebody who knows where they are going, just along for the ride, but it is also nice to find your own way through it all. I'm still feeling a bit anti-social and want to wander on my own and find my own way for a while.

Monument in Alnwick.

The only strange part is getting out of Alnwick. I'm slightly confused by it all, there are a few confusing choices but I figure if I follow the signs to Shilbottle, the worst that can happen is I'll be a mile or so off course. But I think I navigated just right and the turns in the road match what I expect from the map. I love the fog. It isn't raining either, which is really nice. The roads and the hills disappear off into the distance in the mist. It isn't an overly difficult ride and I make it to Warkworth. The castle is off up in the distance. The town seems quite cute. The castle isn't quite as dramatic as the other ones, but there is a whole lot more of it. Going through the gate, I see that Matt's bike is already there. Wonder how he got past me, he must have taken a slightly different road since I didn't see him go past.

Onto the foggy roads towards Shilbottle.

The keep I assume was pretty rebuilt, almost all of it is still there. It is a pretty neat design too, it is all clustered around a central light well. I assume it would still be fairly dark most of the time but that probably helped quite a bit. I click across the stone floors, climbing up to the upper stories and see the new view from the upper windows. Others arrive and I want to at least walk some of the way to the hermitage before I go. It looks kind of involved to get there, taking a boat across the river, so I don't do much more than kind of look at the river and in the general direction. I guess I'm about ready to go then.

Coming into Warkworth.. Castle through the mist.

Warkworth Castle.

Other arrivals.

Through Warkworth Harbor.

Amble isn't far down the road and has a segregated path so I can slowly ride along and look at the river and the harbor. Going through Amble itself is a little confusing. The signs seems to have stopped so I just kind of head towards the ocean and figure if I follow that around, it will take me where I need to be eventually. The plan works pretty well and into Hauxley Nature Reserve. Hmm, warm day out, the ocean is right there, I probably have about 30 minutes on most everybody else, I start plotting a swim as I head through Druridge Bay. One likely spot is filled with ramblers eating and drinking so I keep going. Slightly further down looks perfect. I can stash my bike in the grass and dunes and change there and the beach looks pretty deserted. Well, it is so foggy too, you can barely even see the water from up here. The water looks a bit rough and this is the North Sea too, that might be a bit cold. But I'm determined.

On the other side of Amble, going through the Nauxley Nature Reserve.

Down in Druridge Bay. Was going to swim here, except for the ramblers sitting around.

Changed and ready to go, I run down and jump in. Ok, I wade in just a tiny bit and then walk out a bit further, avoiding the large rocks underneath and then flop around in it all and get hit by some pretty big waves. Wow, that is breathtakingly cold. I don't really last all that long but I'm glad I did it. Funny, as I'm just starting to come out of the water, I see like a small car park just further down the coast and everybody pulls up and looks out over the water. I wonder if they can see me here. Or just think some crazy person is in the water. They hang out a bit and then move on. I still have to dry off and change back and that takes a little bit of time.

Ok, I'll swim here instead.

My swimming mission done and a bit behind everybody now and ready for lunch, I speed on to see if I can possibly catch up. The pretty parts start to petter out. Around a power station and a metal mill, you know you are approaching civilization when you pass the first burned out patch on the ground from a burned out car. And a syringe by the side of the road. Civilization, ho!

Done swimming, back to the bike.

Later on, the only flooding we saw in the region.

On to Newbiggin and everybody else is just queueing up for lunch in the cafe. The place is pretty funky, lots of 60s/70s type stuff, but I'm not exactly sure what makes it, in the words of one cafe reviewer, like the best cafe ever. A sandwich and tea. I'm rather disappointed when I miss the last of the berry/apple pie and just have to have plain apple pie.

Lunch in Newbiggin-by-the-sea.

Beach regeneration in Newbiggin.

Onward again, with the rest of the group this time. Another power station and Blyth seems a bit bleak. The wind farm and pier area is kind of nice but I'm not overly excited by Blyth. We come to Seaton Sluice, which is a pretty clever channel, an opening on one side and another one blasted through a hill, so the tide will wash out the silt keeping the channel clear. Onward, down past St Mary's lighthouse, which is barely visible with the fog.

In Blyth, alternative energy station.

Seaton Sluice.

Around St Mary's Lighthouse.

Whitley Bay has yet another one of the highly wonderfully reviewed cafes. I'm mostly amused by the staff, who all seems under 18 and seems highly bored. As we leave, they lock up the cafe and pull down the shades. We go past surfers in Tynemouth, taking advantage of the rather rough waves. The castle and priory ruins look nice on the hill, but there is no time to stop and look at them. We head inland and follow the path along the Tyne.

Tea stop in Whitley Bay.

Going through Whitley Bay.

Castle and priory in Tynemouth.

Part of the rest of this route to Newcastle is pretty decent and pretty but so much of it is that whole mixed bag of Sustrans stuff, confusing mazes of turns, back alleys covered with broken glass, and other strange things like that. We go past what I think is the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall at Segedunum. There was a bit of wall sticking out into the path. But a few more miles and into Newcastle itself.

Heading inland on the Tyne.

Part of Hadrian's Wall at Segedunum Fort.

I'm not sure there was all that much in Newcastle that seemed all that interesting to me. We hit the town in the evening of a Saturday in what was probably the peak of hen/stag party season. If it had been winter, I assume the women would have been wearing a whole lot less, it seems to be an inverse proportion to the temperature. Mostly they had on sashes proclaiming their different groups. And all the guys looked exactly the same, the same shirt with the kind of rolled up sleeves, the same trousers, same haircut and all with a phone to their ear, mate, where are you, I'm at such and such street now, etc.

Coming into Newcastle.

Gatehead Millenium Bridge.

The backpackers place is somewhat of a dive. I'm most impressed by the vomit on the doorway to the first floor bathroom. So, generally I go up to the second floor after that. Search parties are sent out to find suitable food. Chinatown seems to be a reasonable destination, if we could figure out where it is. A few false starts and we finally end up there with a variety of choices. How about a buffet then. Seems cheap and you can pick what you want and have as much as you want. A whole lot of fried stuff and a lot of it is a bit dried out under the heat lamps but I find enough to eat. Well, I do eat a bit too much and feel a little sick.

Looking for food, pass a hen party out on the town.

Back to the room, all 12 of us in it together, sort like a calm bit in the middle of a storm. As Newcastle heaves outside, drunken groups come up the stairway in the middle of the night, singing at the top of their lungs, I sort of fear to see what the outside world will look like the next morning. But sleep, it was a full day. And 54.18 miles.

THW Big Borders tour - Newcastle to Durham to London, 17 June 2007
"Take me to the station and put me on a train"

Last day, I'm a little sad to go home but I guess I'm also ready too. I would like a nice night's sleep and my own stuff again. We can go inland today or around the coast. Everybody seems happy with the inland option so we mark up the maps for that then. We don't really have breakfast stuff so we have to find somewhere out to eat. Ian seems keen on the train station so we go down there. The cafe is attached to a large lounge/ballroom. It was rather shiny inside and ornate and everything. Not sure if I like it or not but it was interesting. We order like 12 bacon sandwiches and sit and wait for the overwhelmed staff to sort that one out while we discuss maps and options. Matt wants to take his own route so that he can visit people on the way so we leave him to that.

The ornate lounge in the train station.

Singing and drinking in the morning.

Back at the hostel, we assemble, wheel the bikes out front and pack it all up. Gursh heads down to the station to take his train back home and the rest of us head down to the river to ride around on the bridges. We go past the castle, fairly small, I'm not sure if it has a name so it must just be the Newcastle castle. Or maybe it is just New Castle. Anyways, over the Gatehead Millennium Bridge and then a loop back over the Tyne Bridge and we head down the path heading west along the river.

Preparing to leave.

Past the castle.

Over the bridges.

There are lots of informational plaques about the history of the river and the industries. The river seems low, it must be low tide and there are a few wading birds, but not all that many. It is vaguely pretty but not so much. We turn south and Rob gets another puncture and Dave A stays with him to help fix it and keep him company as we head on. Packs and packs of guys on mountain bikes pass us coming back into the city. It was sort of like last weekend on the east coast, 98% guys out biking. They are pretty muddy and they are already heading home before even 11 am. They must have gotten an early start.

Through the outskirts of Newcastle.

Much of the path today is old rail lines and it is slightly dull. Mostly under cover of trees, mostly upward until Consett and slightly downhill into Durham. There are loads of gates to go through and they also have the annoying habit of having a steep short uphill and a downhill right before crossing any road.

So, blah blah, nothing real exciting until Consett. Dave and Rob catch up with us there and we go in search of food. (Need to just cut and paste that phrase everywhere in these things too.) We make the wrong choice and head down the hill where it says services 200 meters, but nothing down there was open and we had to head back up to get into the center of town. Which is actually a park and there isn't anything there either. More wandering around, up more hills and eventually we come across a cafe that is open for a Sunday like the first time in its history. I'm so tired of bacon by this point, I get an omelet instead of a bacon sandwich. Probably a much better choice.

In Consett looking for lunch.

We try to figure out where we are in town and think if we just go that way, we can bypass a bit of the trail, and where we would have to backtrack and cut off a little bit of it all. Half of us have train tickets for a train leaving a bit before 5 and the other half at after 5, so we don't have a lot of time to mess around. Our lead group completely misses the turnoff back onto the trail and end up on a rather busy A road. But it is incredibly fast and we zoom down the sleep hill and wander though Lanchester trying to find where we can meet up again with them.

So, again, not an overly exciting trail, very same-ish and I'm disappointed that we come into Durham without a fantastic vista of the castle and cathedral way up high. It seems like that from the other side on the train, but not here. Zoom to the station and both groups have enough time to catch their trains. I'm with the later group and we have just a bit over an hour to zip through town quickly and see what we can see and pick up some food. The cathedral seems like the logical place to head, up the steep narrow streets and there we are. It is a pretty good one. But since we have bikes to watch over and limited time, two groups get allocated about 15 minutes to run around and see what they can see. My camera card ran out of room so I stay behind for the first shift and root though my bag looking for my other one before it is my turn. So, a quick run through of it and then off to find something we can take on the train to eat and we make it to the station with a little bit of time to spare.

Just outside Durham.

In Durham.

Quick dash through the cathedral.

Luckily there is no hassle about the bikes this time. The conductor is pretty friendly and he says he rides to work most days, even up that super steep hill. So, loaded on and heading back to London now. Which is probably a good place to leave this then. 38.42 miles for the day and 457.91 miles for the entire tour.

View from the train just leaving town.

Thanks go to Dave A and Caroline for their fantastic organization skills and all the work they put into pulling it all off. It was a fantastic time and I'm glad I went on the trip. And I'm looking forward to whatever one there will be next year.

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