A friend of mine quit his job and decided to use the month between finishing his job and starting the next stage to cycle around Britain. But skint, so on £5 per day – calling it the Poor de Britain. He offered up the route to our group of friends, and I decided to join for two stages, York to Saltburn and then Saltburn to Gateshead. This was mainly decided on the basis that I wanted to try a parmo, a specialty of Teesside.
In between deciding to do this and actually doing this I managed to completely fuck myself up by crashing my bike and damaging the nerves and ligaments in my hand. In fact, the morning I set off I was in hospital having electrodes attached to my hand to test for further damage. I decided to not let this deter me and do the trip anyway. And so began my worst ever preparation for a trip – fingers taped up, hand splint packed in my saddlebag, wheel tentatively trued, no real food consumed the day before thanks to being at the hospital.
I got to York on Wednesday evening and headed straight for the pub, where the bar staff let me bring my bike in (I had forgotten to bring a lock), before going to a veggie restaurant, where the staff put my bike in their garden, with a large fluffy cat to mind it. I ate lots of dhal and drank lots of beer, then took a precarious route to my aunt’s house, where I forgot her house number and had to get someone to break into my friend’s facebook to locate the address.
We (me, my friend doing the tour and one of his friends) set out from York with no food, sure that we’d see somewhere. No. No shops, no cafes, nothing. After 10 miles I made the executive decision that it was stupid to be riding on empty stomachs (and mine really was empty, the dhal and beer of the night before having made its way out of my stomach in, shall we say, record time). We stopped at a bench on the outskirts of a village and made what we called porridge, but should more accurately be called gruel, which we ate with tyre levers as we didn’t have any spoons. Still, whatever, the sun was out and we were having a blast. The boys had ridden to York from Sheffield the day before at snail’s pace so they said it was nice to be riding at a more sensible speed, and the road had been completely flat up to this point.
Full, we rode on, and hit some short, sharp hills. One 17% hill, too narrow for cars to pass safely (which is not to say that it didn’t happen), proved too much and as we regrouped at the top we started to wonder if what we were doing was really very sensible. The road seemed to realise this and flattened out again until Kirkbymoorside, where we filled up our water bottles in a pub (“You’re going all that way?? That’s too far to even drive!!”) and bought 4 yumyums for a quid in a bakery. From here we went through a ford and up a silly gravel track, before rejoining the road about a mile up from where we’d left it (isn’t that always the way?) and on to Hutton-le-hole.
The sun was really out by now, and powered by a handful of fig rolls, we started up our first big ascent, to Rosedale Chimney Bank. Tom went off strong (Gareth and I stopped to take pictures) but I got in a groove and went past him, spinning up to the top where I took more pictures and got a filthy look from a man coming the other way WITH A SUPPORT CAR who didn’t appreciate me cheering him. I was pleased that we were essentially going the wrong way through Rosedale, so would be descending, rather than ascending, the 1 in 3 bit of road. But actually, that’s no fun either. It’s very narrow, twisty, sheer drops off the side and a little bit of gravel on the road too. I was glad that I’d agreed to stop halfway down to film Tom’s descent, though my rims and brakes were still red hot by the time I got to the bottom.
By this point it was 3pm and we still hadn’t had any lunch. We were meant to be going to Whitby but we were making relatively slow progress so decided to sack it off and head straight to Saltburn. Much garmin-fiddling later, and we went north into the unknown, past Bell End Farm (snarf) and up another fucking hill. Near the top of this my legs suddenly emptied. I was hallucinating and felt absolutely awful. Well, what do you know, gruel and fig rolls are not quite enough to cycle across the moors. I eventually managed to get back on my bike but it really wasn’t pleasant and at the very top I collapsed on the ground and the boys had to feed me yumyums and jelly babies. Here I am, post-bonk:
I felt like Charlie Bucket’s grandpa when he jumps out of bed and goes to the chocolate factory. Legs again! Hooray! From here we had some rolls across the moors, passing a village called Fryup and lots of sheep. It was desolate in a really good way and we went back to singing while we rode. There was another big hill, where I had a bit of a confidence fail, but at the top I could see the sea and happily zoomed across the remainder of the moors before dropping down into Saltburn and having a quick dip in the sea.
Parmo consumed, the next day we continued, this time only me and Tom. I was being much more sensible and had a massive breakfast, and felt about 100 times more human. Saltburn is very pretty and seems at odds with the massive shitholes around it, most of which we seemed to go through – Redcar, Middlesbrough, Stockton, mmm great. For some reason (ie. I was navigating) we were only riding on dual carriageways and this didn’t do much for Teesside’s beauty credentials, although we were impressed by the considerate driving of most of the drivers (even when we inadvertently caused a 10 car tailback) and met a father and son on rickety mountain bikes who hailed us with a “help, we need to go to Middlesbrough!” – probably the first time this has ever been said. We’d been advised to go to Yarm, as it is absurdly picturesque, which it seemed to be from the 2 minutes we spent there. Instead we decided to have our lunch in a Tesco carpark on the outskirts of Stockton.
From here we stopped riding on dual carriageways and went on B roads to Sedgefield (apparently the most obese town in County Durham) and then a long route to Durham. We’d been riding together for most of the way but I was feeling pretty good and Tom was starting to feel a bit tired, so I went on ahead and tried to conquer my fear of descending, waiting for him at junctions. Spotting Durham nestling in a valley was a real high and we rolled into Durham in glorious sunshine and good spirits. We’d planned to stop briefly but we ended up staying for an hour and a half as we had a picnic outside the cathedral, went in to the cathedral and got thrown out of the castle.
We’d hyped up Durham so much that we’d forgotten that we still had to go to Gateshead. I wanted to go through the village of Pity Me, but we took a wrong turning and ended up going a slightly hillier route (meaning I had to abandon my bigring-only policy for the day), which was the final straw for Tom, who bonked hard and had to sit at the side of the road while I pushed bananas and percy pigs into his mouth. He was revived a little as we took a detour to Chester-le-Street to see the very end of the test match – we could tell when we were getting close as there was suddenly loads of sunburnt, drunk men wearing floppy hats – but the final 10 miles were really tough for him.
We got to the outskirts of Gateshead and I suddenly screamed “holy crap, there it is!” – the Angel of the North. I’ve wanted to see it for years and it didn’t disappoint. We coasted in to Gateshead, ate a pizza and went to the pub.
The next day we took a little tour around the Cols de Gateshead, had breakfast at my best friend’s parents’ house, then finally discovered the only thing that stops people in the north east being friendly: cycling on the Felling by-pass. I was quite sad to get to Newcastle station, the end of the road for me and only a third in for Tom, who carried on to Scotland and plans to come back to London along the west coast, via Wales.