Today, nothing really is planned except where we need to end up. We have a late afternoon train to catch from Alnmouth to London, but nothing except about 16 miles between here and there. In a rush, we could make that in an hour and a half. We end up going about 38 miles today instead, which includes about 6 miles from Kings Cross in London, so we do a lot more than that.
Still, it is a leisurely and nice day. It is sad to think we will be back in London that night, back to reality, back to the last month of my job before it gets sent to India. But that's in the future (and in the past as of this writing), today we have to fill up a few hours before the train. It was another full English breakfast at the B&B and they included all the fried things even though I asked them not to. Oh well.
We head back down to the harbor to take a last look and then decide what to do from there. There still isn't a plan. Maybe how about go north a little bit, get a better view of Bamburgh and after a while turn around and head south to the train. It is out of the way, but there is time.
A little bit up the road, we get distracted by a little pond by the side of the road. So, here we are, the side of a fairly busy road, binoculars out looking at the birds. After getting our fill, well, we are almost there, we might as well head the rest of the way to Bamburgh, although we cut out a little before we get there. Right on the outskirts of town, there is a path that leads off road through just barely blooming poppies and grassy sand dunes leading to the beach.
It is a slightly challenging way, through undergrowth and a few nettles, a little hilly and having to push heavily loaded bikes through this. Far enough in, we stash the bikes, lock them together and wander off. What a great vantage point for the castle here. A different side than you normally get from the road and it is a pretty backdrop to the grassy sand dunes. It is nice to see the ocean again before we head back to the bikes and continue on our way.
Heading to Bamburgh, the castle in the distance.
In Bamburgh, we pass up and around the castle and turn off through down and double back on a quiet country lane, back onto the national cycle route. After the busy traffic on the main road, it is really nice back here. There is also a nice view of the castle from yet another vantage point, this time the backdrop for green fields. I'm still not sure what crop it was, at that point it looked like very broad leafed grass, I presume that eventually it turned into some sort of grain.
A few turns and we pass a few roadside stands to tempt us, you know, bags of potatoes or different fruits or vegetables set out there to tempt you to put even more into already heavy panniers for only a pound. There are mostly quiet roads then to the turn off to Low Newton-by-the-sea. Low Newton is also sort of out of the way, but when I was there last year, it was such a lovely little village and such a charming pub, I had to share that. There was also a steep hill down to the village and the sea, so I was hoping that wouldn't be too much to add in there.
But all is well though, it was still a charming village, pretty beach by the sea, and the pub was serving smoked kippers and a nice pate. A person at the next table over was sniffing at the kippers they got, calling them overcooked but I found them really nice. Admittedly I haven't had many kippers in my life, so I'm no expert but they tasted really good. He might have been right though, the kippers we later got in Craster and took home, those were just really excellent. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, I should still be eating kippers and pate in Low Newton.
After this, we have to backtrack, head back up the hill back to the main road again. It is a little frustrating going over the same roads again, especially if it is just an hour or so later, but it wasn't that far and wasn't that painful. The worst instance of this was the 2006 Wild Wales Challenge, where the last 1/3 of it had a whole mad 10 mile or so diversion, down a hill to a checkpoint. It was all the more painful that every second you were coasting downhill (and as the rain started coming down and settling in for the duration), you knew you had to turn around and come back up that a little bit later, grrr.
Low Newton by the sea.
Again, I'm off track again, we are still in Low Newton, or just were, we are a bit further down the road now. There is another diversion, an off road section to Dunstaburgh. But this one I know is totally worth it, this is probably my favorite castle in Britain. It is about a mile of off road, narrow gravel track and some grass, then other mile or so over pasture on the other side to get to Craster. Most of it is ridable, except for a little section right before the castle, and there is one gate which is impassible to bikes with panniers. You have to take them off and pass them over the fence and then you can squeeze the bike through the gate.
The path heads along a golf course by the sea and then by the sea itself. The approach to the castle doesn't quite hint at the whole thing. There are some amazing cliffs which the castle grounds sit on but all that is visible from this side is a few pillars and ruined towers, looking a little ghostly.
We are a bit distracted by the cliffs and the birds though before we make it to the castle. They are covered with kittiwakes, circling around, dropping down to their perches. The razorbills were especially entertaining, their strategies for getting up onto their perches. They would have to circle way out to sea and then use the distance to get their speed and elevation up, struggle to get up to the right height, and hit the cliff at just the right angle and speed and drop onto their perch. Although most of them would miss it or decide they weren't quite in the right position and they would have to abort and head back out to sea and make the approach all over again. It is amazing how long that can be entertaining to watch.
After watching this and having some snacks, we press on, around the hill and to the front door of the castle. We don't actually have loads of time and I've already seen the castle, so we have to decide whether to see it or not. It is pretty great, but getting to Craster in time to get some kippers seems more important, so we head off. The rollercoaster pasture just past the castle is lots of fun to ride down, up and down until you get to the more difficult part of the pasture. But it isn't far and we quickly make it to the gate and pass into Craster and back onto the main roads.
In Craster, the pub is no longer serving food, so we are a little out of luck there, but the fish shop is still open and has plenty of stock. After discussing the various grades of kippers with the guy, it seems that the 2nd class ones are just fine. They might have been ripped a little bit during the smoking process but they should taste exactly the same. We purchase a few and stash them in the bags to take home and enjoy later. (And they were fantastic.)
However, lunch still looms. We snacked a little bit but a little bit more would be a good idea, especially since we also have a long train journey ahead. Turning inland, we soon come across a tourist information center with a lunch cart out back. We look around the information center and then enjoy some tea and scones, and feeling a bit better, onward again.
Swim at Boulmer
We are nearly there now. I've been keen for a swim for the last few days, but it hasn't quite been the right place yet, or the right time. When we make the turn again at the coast and come to Boulmer, the spot that Caroline recommended yesterday, it does look nice and I would enjoy it. Come on, let's swim, this looks good. Yep, the water is cold but it is really nice. Nothing quite like swimming in the sea, even if it is really cold.
All missions accomplished now, all is left is rushing to the station. Alnmouth is right on the coast, the mouth of the River Aln empties there, the station then is not exactly in town but is close by. We head down to the harbor, look at the mouth of the river for a minute or two and head back into town, make a quick stop at a grocery store to pick up some food supplies for the train and then slowly ride the last mile to the station. Over the funny bridge with the weird supports and up the last hill and there, done. 20 minutes or so to spare, for a day with lots of time to fill, this has been a pretty successful job of that.
We get a text from Owen, saying he is on the train heading our way, look for him in first class. Wow, how posh. It is a small station and they want to make it a quick stop, so they rush us a bit getting the bikes loaded. Get them in fast, strapped in and then get in the very first car and walk to our coach on the train instead of doing it on the platform. They don't seem to be serving food or drinks yet, I'm totally thirsty and had been out of water for the last section of the ride, so I grab a few ice cubes out of the bucket on the counter and try to rehydrate that way the best I can.
We then see Owen and sit down and chat for a little bit. A short rest and then we have to make our way through the rest of the coaches to find our seats for the rest of the journey. The train is a little crowded and we witness a bit of ticket rage, conflict over seating and the conductor has to be called to move the unreserved person off somewhere else. I was vaguely sympathetic with him until he starts turning into a jerk, I totally need the table seat because I'm using my computer and blah blah blah. He grumpily moves to another seat, making a big show out of the sheer inconvenience then 20 minutes later or so he wanders off and finds a new seat somewhere else on the train. Bye bye, I won't miss you, not sad to see you go. That bit of amusement done, the rest of the journey passes peacefully. Owen shows up with his laptop and shows us some of the pictures he took of the tour and some of the others that have already been posted while we have been goofing around on the Farne Islands.
Well, it had to come to an end eventually. Even adding on a few days, it still had to. Coming out of Kings Cross and dealing with London traffic again is always a huge adjustment. So this one ends, when I get home, there are 330 miles on my new odometer. So I guess there would have been 456 miles on the old one if I hadn't lost it a few days into the tour. It feels like a good accomplishment and was a great week (or slightly more). I might not get to do another Scotland tour, but I do look forward to the next tour, wherever that might be in my future.
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