What follows is taken from the newsletter which Australian Dave Minter sends back periodically to his friends back home. It contains both a description of his Cost to Coast ride on with Susan Barlow on Bromptons, and an irreverent report on the participation of some cycling enthusiasts in the Jubilee celebrations on 4th June.
As colonial types may have heard, Mrs Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha has been in charge for just over 50 years. I expect that this 'anniversary' has been fairly a low-key affair over there, but here a 4 day weekend was proclaimed with vast amounts of chest thumping events.
Susan and I managed to avoid a certain number of Jubilee events by taking Brompton folding bicycles to the North of England to ride the Sea to Sea Sustrans route for 3 of the 4 days. To maximise our comfort and minimise the effort, we booked B&B accommodations at our expected overnight stops. It was lucky we did this a couple of months ahead. There were so many cyclists riding this route over that particular weekend, either as part of small package tours or usually individually like ourselves, that it felt very similar to the 'Great Qld/Vic/Tas Bike Rides' in Australia. We were virtually always in sight of other cyclists.
I had borrowed one of the Pinkerton's Bromptons earlier in the week for a couple of reasons. It certainly made transporting the bikes a little easier over the 'Bank Holiday' weekend.
We took a very crowded train up to Carlisle (I stood in the vestibule with the bikes and luggage for over 3 hours) early Saturday morning, before transferring to the local train to Whitehaven. We rode the short distance to the start (complete with big stainless steel C2C marker) with about 8 other cyclists doing the trip. After some lunch at a café near the start, we set off on the marked route, mostly on a converted railway line. There were a fair number of quite impressive, specially commissioned sculptures along the way to keep our interest up. You can see some of them on http://www.c2c-guide.co.uk/.
We didn't waste too much time as we had nearly 50 miles to knock over that day and hadn't started till 1pm. Luckily the route was mostly flat the first day with the only really nasty (read: walking) bit at Whinlatter Pass. The views were magnificent as we rode past heaps of lakes and forests and the weather was absolutely glorious.
Susan managed to dust off some rather surprised mountain bikers, both on the bitumen and the off-road climbs. We also saw our first of many MTBers pushing rather than riding their machines up the same slopes that overpowered our 5 speed machines. The downhill run to our B&B at Greystoke (yes, Tarzan) was a welcome sight shortly after dinner at a pub on-route.
The intrepid Bromptonists left Greystoke with some 'big bike riders' who were taking 4 days for the trip. We were to greet them several times that day. It turned out to be a pretty tough day with hills most of the way, combined with head/side winds and a fair amount of rain and cold. The views were pretty good between the showers though.
At several points riders had the option of taking off-road or road routes. It was fun watching fully kitted-out MTBers (high dollar, disc braked, full-suspension jobs) shaking their heads and staying on the black stuff. All of the middle day is either on roads or bridleways, and doesn't have any of the Sustrans bikepaths that form a big part of the first and last days.
The café at the top of Hartside (the single biggest climb on-route) had the major advantages of being warm, dry and having no competition for miles. The food was certainly not the attraction for the throngs of motor and push bikers congregated there.
An hour later, we dragged ourselves back out into yet more rain for a much needed long descent before walking and riding over Black Hill to our next B&B at (actually near) Allenheads. By the time we arrived into the Allenheads pub (nearly 50 miles for the day), we'd had enough. Lightning and cold had removed all enthusiasm for riding the 3 miles South (off-route!) to our bed.
A pint in front of the pub fire and a phone call to our hosts for a lift brightened our spirits greatly. At least we had it easier than some others doing the ride. One group at the pub had 18 more miles to get their accommodation as Allenheads had been booked out for months. As we left they were trying to ring a taxi to pick them up (and drop them back at the pub the next morning. Have to do the full distance :-). I have no idea what they were planning to do with their bikes.
Our B&B was a slice of heaven-on-earth with wonderfully attentive hosts, great surroundings and (to Susan's delight) a couple of cats. We opted not to go out again after showering and changing and had a huge candle-lit dinner at the B&B.
A little secret: The candle-lit effect partially resulted from major lightning strikes knocking out power to the whole area, but we were warm, dry, fed and extremely happy.
The last day (for us, other groups we'd chatted to were taking anywhere from 2 to 5 days) started with a lift back to the pub and a quite pleasant walk uphill before a seemingly endless downhill. The rain held off virtually all day and only the walk out of Stanhope to the start of another old railway line slowed us down. We drifted past Consett, stopping in a park to consume some of the cake and scones from our B&B.
The flat run alongside the Derwent and Tyne rivers was almost an anti-climax, saved only by the reappearance of more Sustrans sculptures. We finally managed to go over Newcastle's tilting bridge, but had to walk due to the numbers at a riverside festival. The finish of the ride was a bit of a downer with bleak industrial ruins and a non-signposted diversion required around a music festival at Tynemouth.
Folding the bikes let us hit the Metro (no bikes allowed) back to Newcastle, a big advantage as rain poured down just as we finished. Most other riders faced a 15 mile ride back to Newcastle railway station. The wimpy ones had support vehicles taking the strain.
We took the train to the university town of Durham where dinner and wine beckoned. Durham has looked so pretty from the train window and it was even better walking around the Georgian and Tudor buildings. The town centre is so compact, tucked into a very tight ox-bow river loop hemmed in by a steep sided valley.
After dinner Susan got a slightly earlier night while I stayed in the back garden till midnight cleaning the worst of the mud, sand and grime from the bikes. Why this sudden out-of-character burst of cleanliness you ask? All in good time.
Early next morning, we crept out for a London train to reach Regent's Park by 10am. Doug Pinkerton and his couple of dozen were part of a parade around Buckingham Palace. Our group was '50 years of cycling history' (Bromptons are made in London and were first produced in the 80's).
The time it took us to get to the assembly point at Horseguards Parade approached infinity from the huge crush around Buckingham Palace, but our eventual arrival did coincide with a gaggle of superannuated British celebrities including Misters Irons, Faldo, Corbett and Richard. Several people did the huggy, happy snap thing. In my usual celebrity-chasing, get-involved way, I held the bikes :-)
It took nearly 5 hours to get from near Euston to the assembly point at Horseguards - in the picture we were waiting for a police motorcycle escort, which took us into the thick of the crowds, and then left us !
Waiting at Horseguards to join the parade.
At 4.30pm we finally rolled out the gates following a HGV conveying skating girls in various sporting guises (golf, rugby, soccer, horse-racing, etc) and chased by another plastered with 70's clichés. A pair of Sinclair C5s (a rather useless electric assisted recumbent trike) and the Raleigh Choppers with riders in 70's period gear were well received by most of the crowd. Tandem track stands were appreciated by the bikie types in the crowd (trust me, it's bloody hard). My shtick revolved around folding or unfolding the Brommie every 50 metres or so with the following vehicle getting menacingly close before I ride or walk away. After 2 miles of parading, I have no idea how much I've worn out those hinges but it must be several years of normal use.
Pam Pinkerton dressed for the part as a 1970's Raleigh Chopper rider.
The Royal personages were about halfway round the parade route, on a traffic island in front of the Palace. I didn't take much notice around me most of the way but I could feel the sniper's crosshairs on me when I stopped right in front of them for my party trick :-). Some of the other riders had fun counting the visible snipers next to the TV camera men on rooftops.
The crowd around the first half of the course were 10-20 rows deep but thinned out dramatically on the second half. After we finished, the group hung around for a while for the fly-overs (including Concorde, what a beautiful, noisy beast). We rode back to the cars (parked near to London Zoo) before trundling back to the Midlands. Susan and I got home just before 1am.
Overall, the day was great fun but I think one Golden Jubilee is enough for me.
Folding note: Apart from Dave and Susan on their Bromptons, our group also included four Moultons representing the '60s, of which two were Stowaways. Ed.
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Last updated: 16 June 2002