Friday, 2 December 2011

Amble (Alnmouth) to Newbiggin - 15 October 2011

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It was very cold, dark and misty on Tamworth Station as I awaited the 0612 train that would take me directly to Alnmouth, a journey of almost 4 hours.  Mercifully, the train was on time and I, with a few other cold mortals embarked and we set off towards the North.  It was destined to be a fine day and, within half an hour, the skies began to lighten and the mist slowly lifted over the meadows as the cattle began their daily task of keeping the grass short.  Very soon after, the Sun rose and the remainder of the journey was uneventful before I arrive on time at Alnmouth at 1000.

The original plan was to take the bus to Amble since I had walked this first part of the journey in 2008, but there was a long wait for the bus and it was a shame to miss travelling outdoors on such a pleasant day.  I therefore assembled the bike and set out along the cycle path which followed the A1068.  The cycle / footpath was well separated from the vehicles by a hedge and the route afforded excellent views over the picturesque town of Alnmouth and, the sand dunes which stretched between Alnmouth and Warkworth (1040 - 3 Miles) with its castle and ancient stone bridge.

A short climb up the unspoilt Bridge Street and Castle Street soon brought me alongside the River Coquet which splashed over a weir on its way to Amble and the Sea (1055 - 6 Miles).  The harbour at Amble provided the most attractive setting for a car boot sale I have ever seen.  The locals appeared to be buying avidly but, to my eyes, the goods on sale were little better than trash!

On my way out of Amble, I passed an oddity in the form of an isolated spire in the grounds of Amble Cemetary East.  In 1878, the spire linked two chapels which were described as "amongst the best specimens of architecture in the town".  As if to forestall any centenary celebrations, the chapels were demolished in 1971, leaving the lonely spire.

Onward along a minor road and past dunes with a view towards Coquet Island and its lighthouse to Lower Hauxley which was once a fishing village.  The cottages are grouped together in square formation and once would have presented a pleasing, integrated aspect.  Unfortunately, the fishermen have left and they have become holiday properties which have been "improved" with no consideration for their position or history.

The track continued with the sea on my left and lakes, the results of opencast workings, on my right.  The countryside on this part of the ride has been beautifully restored to such a degree that it is virtually impossible to imagine the industrial activity that must have scarred the landscape in times past.  Quite a large number of people were in this area, taking advantage of a sunny autumn weekend.

Hadston Carrs (1125 - 9 Miles) was little more than a shelf of rocks in the sea.  The route continued close to the sea, alternating between dirt track and metalled road.  The way was punctuated by the occasional farm building, ruin and, of course man made lakes until Drurudge (1210 - 12.5 Miles) again, a farm and a few buildings.

Cresswell (1230 - 14.5 Miles) was an unpretentious place, a real community with its own school and shop.  I enjoyed a sandwich while overlooking Druridge Bay from the low cliffs.  A number of families were our enjoying themselves.

By now, the shape of the aluminium smelter at Lynemouth was looming into view and, over a mere two miles, the route became more industrialised as I approached the town itself (1300 - 17 Miles).  Lynemouth is about 100 years old and sturdily built from dark red brick - Typical industrial town of the period - Built to last.

Newbiggin beckoned and I skirted the smelter, hidden by trees and reached the seafront ay Newbiggin-by-the-Sea (1330 - 19.5 Miles).  I finished off my sandwiches and took a little ride around the once attractive, now delapidated town.  Newbiggin occupies a small bay and features a church with spire that guards the town from seaborne invasion.  A more recent feature is the statue of a boy and girl who stand on a platform in the bay.  They are watched by identical, but smaller figured from the promenade.  In my opinion, this represents one of the best attempts at modern sculpture.

The Arriva  bus eventually emerged up the road and whisked me off to Morpeth, an old town clumsily modernised.  A meal and a pint at Wetherspoons put me into the right humour for the ride to the station and the train journey back to Tamworth.

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Billingham to Seaham - 1 October 2011

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An early start and a drive to Tamworth Station was necessary to catch the 0646 train to York. As the journey progressed, the dawn came and mists rose from the meadows. The cows began to stir and started their own process of converting grass into milk and beef.

The train was on time and I had time to buy a paper before boarding the 0926 to Thornaby. Whilst I was waiting for my connection, I took the time to survey the scene of an unsuccessful job interview I had there in the 1960's. The place had changed almost completely from a brick built, turn of the (20th) Century industrial site to corrugated modern industrial building which resembled a very large retail park. The depressing scene suggested to me that I was fortunate not to be offered that job!

Along came my connection at 1037, a Northern Rail “Pacer” multiple unit which provided uncomfortable transport for the 13 miles to Billingham. I had thought of cycling the short distance – it might have been a good idea!

Billingham (1100) had nothing to commend it on my visit in 2008 and, on emerging from the other side of town on my bike, I didn't change my opinion. Fortunately, the transition from drab housing estate to countryside was rapid and I soon found myself speeding along Cycleway 14.

Greatham Church tower eventually came into view, rising above the trees in the distance. The village of Greatham was an attractive, unspoiled village, quiet now, following the building of a bypass.

Seaton Carew (1200 – 6 Miles) with its estates average post-war houses seemed to go on for ever. It could have been almost anywhere in the UK. Things changed when I reached the seafront and found an elegant but fading resort with miles of golden sands. The only blot on the horizon was the threatening outline of the steelworks towards Redcar.

Hartlepool (1220 – 10 Miles) was reached following a ride along the seafront promenade, dodging jaywalkers along the combined walkway and cycle track. As I rode, the sand became noticeably blacker and blacker. As I entered Hartlepool, I came across two men scraping the black stuff from the beach and loading it into a Land Rover they were unforthcoming about what they were doing, so I didn't question them closely, made my excuses and left.

Hartlepool is a town that makes efforts with its appearance. There are a number of fine buildings in the centre (Relics of past prosperity) and much is being done to transform the old coal docks into a visitor attraction. The main exhibit at the Maritime Museum was the paddle steamer “Wingfield Castle” which I remember used to carry passengers and cars between New Holland and Hull before the Humber Bridge was built. It appears in far better condition than one of its sister ships, “Tattershall Castle”, now a gutted hulk converted into an embankment-side cafe in London.

The journey out of Hartlepool seemed endless, but soon I reached the start of the Haswell Walkway which also served as a cycle path which looped round to Seaham. Instead of following this route, I took the coast road which passed through some of Durham's mining villages.

Blackhall (1320 – 14 Miles) was reached after negotiating an unduating road with occasional glimpses of a coastline still recovery from its recent mining history. The village comprises two or three street of mining terraces, a pub and a few shops lining the coast road. Some tidying up, particularly with the shops and the place would look quite attractive.

Horden Colliery (1325 – 15 Miles) is approached through a depressing housing estate. All that remains of the colliery are the wheels from the winding gear which form a roadside memorial. Past the untidy industrial area, I found myself overlooking a rambling complex of allotments and pigeon lofts. It was hardly a hive of activity, but I observed an elderly couple caring for their feathered friends.

Easington Colliery (1350 – 18 Miles) has the potential to become a thriving coastal resort as it is set in some lovely, rolling countryside. The buildings are solid and many have been modernised in a sympathetic manner. The jewel in the crown of Easington is the old Victorian village school, now sadly lying empty. With a little imagination, the building could be transformed into an affordable tourist hotel, rather than the social housing currently planned.

Then onwards, up and down hills and finally along a disused railway down into............

Seaham (1440 – 25 Miles) with its impressive harbour which once was busy with the coal export trade. The town appears to be lifting itself out of depression and developing into a bustling seaside resort, assisted by the presence of a sandy beach with visitors enjoying the Autumn sunshine. Further up the coast, the outline of Sunderland was beckoning, but it will have to wait for my next and final journey to the North East.

All that remained was for me to make for the railway station, board the Newcastle train, enjoy a meal and a pint at the Union Rooms and board my train which arrived punctually at Tamworth at 2047.

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Felixstowe to Walton on the Naze - 3 September 2011

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The 0624 train from Hampton-in-Arden took me to Birmingham International in ample time to catch the 0700 Virgin Pendolino.  An uneventful journey brought me into Euston at 0814 where I assembled the bike and cycled through a quiet London to Liverpool Street Station, via Smithfield Market and the Barbican.  I have given up trying to take the folded bike on the underground as it has to be carried quite a distance and it can be very difficult to fit on crowded carriages.

After a short wait, I boarded the 0900 train for Norwich, via Ipswich (my stop).  These trains, coaches pulled by separate locomotives, are so much quieter and relaxing than those with underfloor engines.  We pulled in to Ipswich Station at 1007, leaving a frustrating 3/4 hour to kill before catching the 1058 to Felixstowe.  Fortunately, this train was on schedule, albeit noisy, arriving at my destination at 1124.

Felixstowe, particularly around the station (or more accurately, where the line ended), was not at first promising.  The first impression is one of car parks and light industry but, as I progressed, it dawned on me that Felixstowe is a town of quality.  The original Victorian station terminus still exists, but the line stops some way short of it.  Felixsowe's well kept wide avenues are lined with substantial house from the 1920's.  The seafront was even more impressive, with gardens covering the low cliffs and large Victorian villas dotted here and there.

As I progressed along the promenade, the town became more ordinary, but always remaining clean and tidy.  Very soon, I reached the port area dominated by dockside cranes to the right and the 16th Century bulk of Landguard Fort to the left.  Ahead lay the outline of Harwich where I was next destined.  The curious square tub of a ferry arrived punctually at 1230 and beached itself on the shingle.  Together with my bike and several other passengers, I embarked and we proceeded across the estuary harbour which was surprisingly empty of large ships except for a large liner moored at the distant Parkeston Quay.

Harwich has resisted the passage of time very well, as testified by the old pier and attractive buildings dating from medieval to Victorian times.  A real gem of architecture is the Electric Palace, one of Britain's earliest purpose built cinemas which opened in 1911.  The route now took me along the waterfront with views across to Felixstowe and then inland through a mediocre housing estate before I parted company with Harwich and cycled along the B1414.

Little Oakley (1325 - 5 Miles) was was a real village with shop, clapperboard houses and an old pub, the Cherry Tree.  I then pushed on along unclassified (also undistinguished) lanes until I reached Great Oakley (1350 - 7 Miles).  Great Oakley, by contrast, was a larger village strung out along the main road with older brick and rendered buildings interspersed with modern houses.

Great Oakley (1350 - 7 Miles) Was a pleasant enough village of dark red brick and whitewashed buildings strung out along the main road.  I did not feel inspired to take photographs here, so I pressed on through the undulating countryside.

Kirkby le Soken (1430 - 14 miles) Had much more character and the old pub gave it the feeling of a "real" village.

Walton on the Naze (1445 - 15 Miles) had a distinctly "end of season" feel to it, unlike my visit the previous year when the sun was shining and there were lots of holidaymakers around.

I took a few pictures from the cliff top before boarding the 1500 train to London Liverpool Street, change at  Thorpe le Soken.  In London I had plenty of time for a leisurely ride to Euston and the train home to Hampton in Arden via Birmingham International.

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St Austell to Falmouth via Boswinger - 2 & 3 August 2011

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The 1012 from Birmingham to Plymouth was running 20 minutes late and my onward connection to St Austell was due to depart before we arrived.  There were sighs of relief all round when it was announced that the train departure would be delayed until we had arrived.  When the train stopped at Plymouth lots of people rushed across the platform to board the 2 carriage local train.  Had it departed on time, it would have departed virtually empty.  The train was packed as we made our way over the Brunel Bridge into Cornwall.  At the second stop, a group of boys with bikes were denied access to the full train.  Fortunately, my folded bike was already stowed away.

The train arrived late (1500) at St Austell.  I put the bike together and began pedalling out of the grim town and along the unclassified coast road towards Pentewan.  The sun was shining and there was a cooling breeze blowing from the sea.  The countryside was lovely and green with extensive views over the sea.  The road was undulating, but soon I was hurtling downhill into Pentwan (1545 - 4 miles).

Pentewan is in a lovely setting with stone and whitewashed cottages surrounding the harbour.  The harbour dates back to the middle ages, was rebuilt in the early 19th Century and for a time was busy with the trade in china clay.  During the 20th Century the harbour has gradually silted up to the point where it is no longer connected to the sea.

Onwards and upwards with lovely views over the sea at Tregiskey, then steeply downwards into Mevagissey (1610 - 7 miles).  During my teaching days is was often said the school would be "marvellous if it wasn't for the pupils".  The same sort of thing is true of Mevagissey and tourists, but I suppose I was one as well!  The situation couldn't have been nicer; a large harbour heaving with boats of every kind surrounded by stone and whitewashed buildings clinging onto the steep surrounding cliffs.  The people didn't seem right, though and I suppose I also looked a little odd to them.

I had some unmemorable fish and chips in Mevagissey, wandered around for a while and moved onwards on the bike.  The road climbed steeply upwards then dropped into unremarkable Portmellon, so I did not dwell and was soon descending down the narrow lanes of Gorran Haven (1715 - 9 miles).

Gorran Haven really is my idea of a Cornish coastal village.  The narrow lane led past the tiny Church of St Just to the small cove and beach where holiday makers were doing whatever holiday makers do on the beach.  Interesting to watch, but not my idea of fun.

The lane out of Gorran Haven was very steep and I found myself pushing  rather than riding the bike.  Soon, however, I was riding along a level minor coast road with superb views over Dodoman Point, until I passed through the unspoilt Hamlet of Penare and the beach at Hemmick, before I climbed up to Boswinger (1810 - 12 miles) and my abode for the night.

Yes, Boswinger does have a Youth Hostel, but I like my creature comforts and stayed the night at the nearby Old Carthouse, a solid stone building but nicely modernised.  There, I settled down for a restful night in a comfortable room, provided I did not sit too heavily on the wicker chair.  Before turning in, I had time to explore Boswinger which appeared to be a working village rather than a tourist trap.  It managed to hide a caravan site very well near the upper part of the village.

I rose well rested and ate an excellent "Full English" before bidding farewell to Boswinger and pedalling along a high lane.  The road then dipped into a beautiful green valley and I passed the early 19th Century Caerhays Castle which was exquisitely situated in the landscape.

I climbed out of the valley and departed from the road along a rough track.  This route kept me close to the sea and avoided a road detour of about 3 miles.  The track descended and deposited me in East Portholland (0900 - 15 miles) , a few stone houses pleasantly situated around a small harbour.  The harbour had recently been refurbished using concrete - why couldn't they have used stone that would fit into the surroundings?

Upwards again, through West Portholland which straggled up the valley along the road and nearby stream.  On higher ground, the countryside became "ordinary" for the first time - business like agriculture, but not pretty.  Very soon I was hurtling down again, this time into Portloe (0930 - 17 Miles), very Cornish, but too much traffic for such narrow lanes.  The 4x4 drivers were really inconsiderate, beeping their horns when I tried to take photographs.  Portloe was redeemed in the person of a friendly barmaid at the Ship Inn who refilled my water bottle without making any pecuniary demands.

I followed the upward road, walking since it was very steep chatting to a walking couple who were making for Portscatho.  This town was viewed from a distance, but I didn't visit it since I needed to make directly for St Mawes to be sure of catching the Ferry to Falmouth and the train home from there.

Gwendra (1005 - 19 miles) appeared to be a really nice place to spend time on the sand if you could afford to stay at the expensive looking hotel on the hill.  Pendower again was situated on a lovely beach, but the buildings were abandoned and becoming derelict.  They were virtually on the beach and perhaps were in danger of inundation.

I then joined the A3078 which was mercifully quiet and made my way to St Just in Roseland (1100 - 24 miles) - again stone and whitewashed  cottages arranged around an open area by the crossroads.  The road was thankfully level for most of the remainder of the journey then, suddenly, it was downhill all the way onto the seafront at St Mawes (1120 - 26 miles).

I had a little time before the Duchess of Cornwall (Ferry) carried me leisurely across the harbour and into the centre of Falmouth.  The town itself is in something of a time warp, having largely escaped the attention of the post-war planners.  It is quite attractive but could do with a little smartening up in places.

There was time for a meal and drink at the Packet Station pub before beginning my long journey home, leaving Falmouth Docks Station at 1520.  A wait at Truro saw me onto the 1641, changing to the 1825 for Birmingham at Plymouth.  After a seemingly endless journey I arrived home a little before midnight.

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County Gate to Combe Martin via Lynton - 5 & 6 July 2011

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Since this was to be a two day journey with an overnight stay, the start more leisurely than normal.  I caught the 1012 Cross Country train from Birmingham New Street, arriving at Taunton on time at 1215.  I dashed from the train, clutching my folded bike and just managed to catch the 1217 bus to Minehead.  There ensued a white knuckle mystery bus ride through the Somerset Lanes that eventually deposited me in Minehead at 1332.  I spent a few pleasant minutes observing the Higher Town, the activity on the beach and the happenings at the Minehead terminus of  the West Somerset Railway.  The Lynton bus arrived at 1404 and soon I was on my way over Porlock Hill to the Somerset / Devon border at County Gate (1404).  It was here two years earlier, on a wet and gloomy afternoon, that I abandoned my walk from Minehead, having judged it unwise to continue to Lynton under the prevailing conditions.

By contrast, this time the weather was warm and sunny with little in the way of wind.  I could have taken the route through Countisbury, then down the hill into Lynton in all of half and hour.  Instead, I opted for the scenic route and turned away from the A39 at the first opportunity, dropping past gushing streams in wooded valleys to the picturesque village of Brendon (1530 - 3 Miles) with its whitewashed stone houses and lovely village pub.  There followed a steep climb of about a mile via Rockford to Brendon Church which literally towers over the road.  A little later, I rejoined the A39 for the downhill descent through the lovely wooded valley of the East Lyn River into Lynmouth, passing the Idyllic setting of Watersmeet House (1630 - 6 Miles).

Lynmouth (1700 - 8 Miles) was busy and I made my way past the ice cream parlours and souvenir shops  to the seafront where I consumed my customary fish and chips.  By the time I had finished eating it was becoming overcast, so I took the cliff railway up to Lynton after negotiating a special fare for my folded bike.  Since the weather was now even more threatening, I headed straight for Longmead House B&B where I was to spend the night.  After a welcome cup of tea, I had time for a wander round the town before turning in for the night.

A restful night and a splendid full english breakfast fortified me for the day ahead.  The weather forecast was bad, so I deemed it advisable to be well nourished before setting out.  I also made an early start and the sun was unexpectedly shining when I left at 0830 and rode along the Valley of the Rocks Road.  The rock formations were as impressive as I remember them since we holidayed in the area as a family quite a few years ago.  On those holidays, we did walk the coast path as far as Hunters Inn and Trentishoe.  Somehow the Lady of the Rocks proved elusive, or I didn't find the right place for a photograph.

The weather couldn't last and, by Lee Abbey, I was on the receiving end of a few drops of rain.  Barely had I time to stop and put my waterproofs on and the heavens opened, raining for most of the remainder of the ride except for one or two bright spots.  I pushed on and reached a wet Lee Bay at 0850 (2 Miles).

The journey to Hunters Inn (0930 - 6 miles) was hard work and I had little opportunity to enjoy the lovely countryside.  Outside the Inn, a group of walkers were debating whether or not to set off or not.  I stayed out of the conversation!  Onward then and upward on the steep climb (walk) to Trentishoe.  At that point, the rain stopped and the sun came out briefly and people came out of their houses.  They soon went back inside again as the rain continued for a time with even greater severity.

A little more effort and I was soon hurtling down the hill into Combe Martin (1050 - 12 miles).  A gentle ride through the village and a few moments observing life on the beach and I was boarding the bus to Ilfracombe.  As we were approaching the bus station, the driver called out for any passengers to Barnstaple to get off the bus onto the road and catch another one that was pulling out of the bus station.  I therefore had to hastily grab the bike and rush across the road to board the Barnstaple bus.  The reason for this manoeuvre became clear as we journeyed towards Barnstaple.  It was to prevent passengers travelling with a competitive operator as we played cat and mouse with another bus all the way to Barnstaple.

It was raining in Barnstaple when I arrived and the bus dropped me conveniently outside the Wetherspoon pub where I had something to eat.  It was raining  when I left the pub so, instead of waiting for the train, I opted to take a bus to Exeter.  This proved to be yet another white knuckle ride as the driver enjoyed the thrill of throwing his bus (and the passengers inside) around the Devon lanes.  I arrived at St David's Station in one piece and waited for the 1825 Cross Country service.  The rail journey was smooth in comparison and I arrived home at 2130.

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Monday, 25 July 2011

Scottish Border to Holy Island - 7 May 2011 - 15 miles by bike

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A tedious journey of over 4 hours by Cross Country Trains took me from Birmingham to Berwick upon Tweed for 1117 and I had a short wait in Castlegate before the 235 bus whisked me across the border and deposited me by the side of the A1 at Lamberton. There appears to be nothing at Lamberton apart from a bridge over the busy dual carriageway - However, I explored no further.  The day was breezy, but with a light covering of cloud.  Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so I was hoping to make good progress without having to resort to my waterproofs.

Setting off at 1145, I arrived at the border within five minutes. There are parking areas on both carriageways for those who wish to stop and buy refreshments from the mobile cafes parked there. There are plenty of flags and signs informing the traveller that he / she is leaving / entering Scotland. There is little mention of England - I don't know what the significance of this is, if any!

I was glad to arrive at Berwick (1215 at 4 miles), not least to be rid of the noise of the traffic on the A1. Fortunately, the ride into Berwick from the border was a speedy downhill one.

My previous visit to Berwick was in 2006 when I had found the town to be dead and uncared for.  My impression on this visit was very much more positive.  The town appeared much brighter and livelier, perhaps it was the Saturday shoppers who made the place seem happier and busier.  There is very little evidence here of modern shopping developments which have blighted so many English towns and would have caused major visual damage amongst the ancient stone buildings of Berwick.  Onwards then across the narrow, 15th Century arched bridge to the docks area.

I soon reached a grassy area at Tweedmouth overlooking the River Tweed with Berwick nestling on the far bank.  A sign here informed me that L S Lowry had spent some time in Berwick and one of his paintings was from that very spot.  (The modern view is show above).   The way now closely followed the main East Coast railway line, at first along a house lined road and then an undulating rough track by the railway until Cocklawburn Beach (1255 at 8 miles) where the metalled road was rejoined.  This part of the route was popular with walkers and even a few brave souls had made it to the beach.  Although the cliffs were low, the coast had an attractive, rugged appearance.

By now the skies were becoming increasingly leaden, so I hurried on and inland to Cheswick where I found lovely large red stone barn and a row of cottages built in similar stone.  These and the nearby Ladythorne House must have formed part of an impressive estate at one time.

I pushed on along through Goswick to Beachcomber House, a caravan site and the only blot on the landscape to date.  I did not linger, but cycled to the Holy Island Causeway (1405 at 14 miles).  I would have loved to explore the island, but I was beaten by the tide, the weather and the time available.  I turned my back on the sea and cycled to Beal (1420 at 15 miles).  I barely had time to fold the bike when my bus back to Berwick arrived.  On the journey back to Berwick, the heavens opened and it was with some relief to find myself deposited outside the Wetherspoon pub where I enjoyed my customary fish and chips washed down with a pint of the local ale.

I then wandered around the town for a while in the rain before making my way back to Berwick Station.  The station was packed with travellers waiting for their charter train hauled by a vintage diesel locomotive.  After they had gone, I had the station almost to myself until the train arrived for another tedious journy back to Birmingham.

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