Monday, August 19, 2013

Relatively Flat, Lonely Planet? Kirkby Stephen to Longtown

Sunday 16 June, 2013

Langdon Beck Youth Hostel – rolling through the Valley of Eden – dry stone walls – a rally of Minis – I meet lovely people – to Gretna Green

Langdon Beck Youth Hostel

Another impeccable choice of accommodation, thanks, David. The hostel (cheap at 30 pounds for two) was 15 miles from Kirkby Stephen over rugged stony moorlands. Buttercups, stone walls and only the occasional, huddled white- painted cottage: I wondered how life might have been round here in the depths of a harsh winter in the early 1800s and for centuries before that.

The Youth Hostel at Langdon Beck, the highest in England
and a great base for walking and cycling excursions.

Langdon Beck was warm, welcoming, with a resident cook, though we cooked our own dinner last night for a change. Gave us a chance to talk in the kitchen to other residents, like Sally and her son, both on their way to run a half marathon in the morning, Sally very interested in the ride, having ridden JOGLE in her 20s.

The second half of our LEJOG. Today we are riding
 to Longtown, a few miles north of Carlisle.

Rolling through the Valley of Eden

Lonely Planet suggests Carlisle as a destination for today's ride but I thought 45.2 miles was a bit tame especially as the next stop at Innerleithen was 68 miles from Carlisle. So we agreed to ride 12 miles past Carlisle to Longtown and, so, even up the distances over today and tomorrow.

Today's route, according to the guide was “ relatively flat, though the barren tops of the lofty Pennines loom close for most of the day.

By the end of the day I was wondering whether anyone from LP had ever ridden a laden bike along this route.

The major route to Carlisle runs along the valley. Our scenic route on B roads took the rippling track into the hills. So it was up and down, grass, scrub, a few sheep, while down on the flat the cars zoomed north.

One hour on the road and I stopped at Appleby beside the Eden River, fed the ducks and self on portions of chocolate croissant, big chunks for me, crumbs for the ducks. Please don't feel sorry for the ducks -they weren't riding to the borders of Scotland that day!

Well-fed ducks at Appleby. We crossed the river
 and took the scenic route to Carlisle.

Dry stone walls

They were beginning to obsess me. I had already seen hundreds of kilometres of them in the last few days and had already read that there are and between 90 – 110 thousand kms of dry stone walls in England. No-one knows for sure how many

On the scenic route to Carlisle, with a glimpse of
 a dry stone wall separating the field from the road.

and I can understand why! Would you like the job of trudging round the UK with a measuring tape?

Who built them? Where did the stones come from? Why didn't farmers just plant hedges? Surely much less workl

And just take a careful look at the construction – they are mostly beautifully crafted, the rows of stones evenly laid. Some walls had two outer walls with rubble in between and evenly cut stones laid on edge on the top of the walls to hold the lower layers firm, some had steps built in, others had sheep and cattle passes.
The only notice I had ever taken of dry stone walls before was to memorise Pam Ayres' poem.

I am a dry stone waller
All day I dry stone wall,
Of all appalling callings,
Dry stone walling's worst of all.

Today, for the first time, I wondered if Pam was being a bit harsh on these creators of genuine works of beauty. I resolved to look into this matter.

A rally of Minis

Question: What's the last thing you would expect to find on a winding, hilly, isolated road on a Sunday?
My answer: A procession of buzzing Minis on a weekend rally from Carlisle.

I heard them before I saw them. The rock walls were low but the minis were even closer to the ground and on my bike I felt like a giant as they whistled past.

I also saw other riders, three massive tractors towing even bulkier trailers loaded, dripping with the most pungent sileage, several horses and riders, big, black crows, more Minis – going far too fast on these winding tracks, probably trying to catch up with their mates .

I meet lovely people

Stopped for lunch ( coffee, a huge chunk of Apple and Cinnamon Cake, cheap) in Melmerby when a convoy of riders rolled into the little town square. Adults and children and all in perfect riding apparel. I asked for a photo and got talking. Alison recognised the NZ flag.

Of course I know that flag. It brings back lovely memories for me. We lived in Invercargill for a couple of years and still have friends in Auckland.”
She is a doctor, currently practising in Inverness, 'six hours driving north' ( which reminded me how far I still had to ride) and had come down for a family reunion.

The family of riders at Melmerby where I stopped for lunch
 to escape from the buzzing Minis.Add caption

In Armathwaite, having hurtled down a long slope outside the town, I stopped on the bridge to talk to Mary and Alan. Mary was wistful, looked at her watch.

Our son will be touching down in Australia, right about now. I hope he's ok. He's only 22 and never been away from home before.”

Alan asked me why I had chosen to ride this route.

A bit hilly isn't it? How did you like that climb on this side of Kirkoswald?”

I told him that when I rode out of Kirkoswald I hallucinated that I was back in Cornwall and that Lonely Planet had recommended today's ride as being “relatively flat'.

They got that wrong! But you're over the worst of it from here on.”

Alan and Mary on the bridge over the River Eden at Armathwaite

To Gretna Green

I rode into Carlisle, then through town on the A6. I'm sorry, Carlisle, but I didn't have time to linger, so I missed your fine castle and had only the most cursory look at your traffic- free shopping centre. Out of town, fast, less gorgeous, no problems , then to Longtown by 4.20, suddenly keen to drink a coffee and chomp another slice of cake.

I met the coffee shop owner in the doorway, asked if I could please get a coffee.

Sorry, we're closed.”

But it says you're open till 4.30 and it's not quite that.”

He was unmoved.

Then David arrived and we drove to Gretna Green for our coffee and cake. We were in Scotland!

Temporarily over the border for the night in Gretna Green.
 One sixth of all Scottish weddings each year are held in this little town.

Weather – a fine Sunday for a bike ride. Little wind.

Distance Today
Max Speed
Riding Time
Trip Odometer
5h 18m ( to the minute the same as yesterday.)

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