Penrith to Eskdalemuir (66 miles)
Again it is a good weather forecast even though there is a slightly grey sky to start the day with.
We decide not to clamber up and down the Pennine hillside on a minor road. Instead we take the main road, which is quiet at this time of day, for a couple of miles to the roundabout where we turn west, cross the railway and then turn north again between the railway and the M6. In two miles we cross the motorway and then using small roads work our way westwards into the broad sweep of the Eden Vale. Eventually we turn north on a quiet but straight road with all of the qualities of a Roman road. There is no wind and the terrain is flat or slightly falling towards the sea. We engage the big ring; plant hands on the drops and wind the tandem up to 25mph. Without dropping below this speed we stomp along ticking off the miles at a very satisfactory pace until we arrive at the outskirts of Carlisle beside the racecourse. Peter, who has overtaken us and is waiting here to follow us into town to the CAB office, is surprised as we fly past.
We drop down into Currock, have a pause and briefly dither at a Y junction while deciding which road is the Currock Road, and then cross over various railway bridges towards the River Caldew. I have not really grasped the size of Carlisle properly and prematurely turn left at traffic lights into Victoria Rd thinking that we are further into the town centre than in fact we are. After turning round and walking across the traffic to head in the right direction we weave into an already busy early Saturday morning centre.
Our intended route turns out to be within a part of the pedestrianised city centre, so we skirt around the outside trying to read the road names as we go. This is difficult because they are much rebuilt pedestrian or arcaded streets, but we come to the far end, swing round the block and there is Tower Street and the CAB. Well, actually no. There are the words “Tower Street” on a street name sign, but they are on a remaining piece of building fabric at the end of the main pedestrian zone in front of which, where once must have been the CAB, there is a giant hole in the ground complete with tower cranes and a board proclaiming that it is the xyz redevelopment scheme. Sheila declares that I have put the “red dot” on the map in the wrong place. This is the CAB’s former location. I think that I have figured this out for myself and say that I was only using the address she gave me. This is deemed to be a pathetically inadequate excuse. Apart from the mysteriously disappearing Truro CAB, which we had been forewarned about, and the “We wont tell you where we are” Knutsford CAB, this is our first “no show”. There is no insoluble problem however because there is a handily situated post office beside us and Sheila dives in to enquire of their new address. It turns out that the new CAB office is less than five minutes walk away in a brand new building.
We soon arrive on the doorstep and meet Paul the manager, Andy, who is a specialist employment advisor, and Ian who is a friend of Paul, but not part of the CAB (Help, I’ll have to remember some “normal” topics of conversation to chat to him). They were not expecting us until much later and thought that at this time we would still be finishing our toast and marmalade in Penrith. The CAB office is on the first floor and the tandem is longer than the floor to ceiling height of the lift, so it is propelled upstairs by several willing hands and is stowed on a smart internal balcony to the new building. The plan is (listen carefully this is complicated) that by various vehicular means Paul, Andy and Ian have shipped bicycles into Carlisle this morning. We are also due to be met by Brenda, who is a CAB advisor at the Annan Bureau and is cycling her way into Carlisle. We are all then going to ride together as a group into Scotland ending up at the Langholm CAB office, which is an outpost of Annan CAB. From there the Carlisle crew are being collected by wives with cars, Brenda is cycling home, and we have to press on to our evening destination in Eskdalemuir. But Brenda is not here yet so it is time for a cup of tea, a tour of the office and some in depth discussions about things like legal aid franchises. I admire the new building and furniture but stay clear of the technical stuff that progresses rapidly into case management computer programmes. After we have drunk our fill Brenda arrives, so after exchanging greetings it is time to put the kettle on again. These people have a good sense of priority, but finally we all agree that we should literally get the show on the road. The tandem is carried downstairs again, the other bikes are rounded up and we take photos of the CAB+tandem+banner+advisors/cyclists and bikes.
We have compared notes on the route and with local pilots operating on their home territory, we relax and are led out of town by Ian on a vehicle-free route that goes through the park and crosses the Eden Bridge on a shared pedestrian/cycle path before leaving town on the Brampton Road, through Houghton and over the M6. From here we take over the navigation, because as is so often the case although the locals know the main roads they do not use the small lanes. Brenda, who had imagined that we would be heading straight up the A9, approves of our much more rural and meandering approach to traversing the Kingdom. It turns out that, apart from Ian, for the rest of them our intended joint 40-mile trip to Langholm is further than they have cycled and so is “the big trip”. Ian has done things like the Coast to Coast in pretty quick time but has not been cycling for quite a while so this is a chance for him to get back on the bike. The weather is fine and there are no great time pressures on us so we can relax and take things at an easy pace (We have had our “blast” for the day between Penrith and Carlisle). It is fun to be riding in a group for a change. We alternate around the group chatting in turn to the others and making sure that everyone is feeling comfortable at the group speed. Sheila is a bit prone to being over serious and dropping back into talking about arcane issues of legal aid eligibility, but unlike at a party, on the front of the tandem I am in charge of deciding how we shall circulate! At one point we become a bit strung out and Brenda, who had been at the back, is well out in front when we realise that she has gone bowling on past our intended left turn while we have been chatting at the back instead of paying attention to the route (We obviously haven’t quite got back into this led ride thing yet). After a hasty chase and re-grouping we set off again and from here on make sure we are either at the front or call out clear instructions for forthcoming turns.
The others have advised us of a dearth of known Borders pubs, so at Hethersgill we play safe and pull up for lunch at the pub there. We realise that this piece of road and pub is on the Reivers cycle route, which is a northern version of the Coast to Coast. The pub has a decidedly gloomy looking interior and there is not much choice of food but the landlord is friendly. We order drinks and a toasted sandwich. I am slightly concerned at the rather sketchy approach the others are taking towards lunch. They obviously have not grasped that one of the key attributes of the serious long distance cyclist is that whenever he/she stops pedalling their next natural activity (unless it is absolutely essential sleep) is to start eating. Perhaps we should explain that the entire economy of the Windward Islands is dependent on number of banana eating cyclists who are on the road at any given time. While we are there a group of mountain bikers also arrive; perhaps lured by our pile of cycles outside?
The afternoon weather gets better and better as we continue. There are more contours on the map by now, but they are not too densely packed until we reach the River Lidderwater at Penton where the road swoops down to the river with an arrowed descent and likewise climbs again with an arrow to mark the gradient. The tandem easily wins the downhill plunge, but we stop at the bottom rather than banking around the bridge on the other side to attack the climb. This is because this is Scotland. We are at the border and there is a large sign proclaiming this fact. In addition to the “Scotland Welcomes You” board there is a “Welcome to Dumfries and Galloway first in Scotland” sign. I do not recall that for those doing the trip the other way there was anything to hint at the existence of a country called England. Needless to say we organise ourselves under the signs for a group photo. The cycle computer records that we have travelled 606.45 miles from Lands End to reach Scotland (About 60% of our total journey).
A blind eye is turned to entering Scotland on foot rather than by pedal power straight up the short and steep climb from the bridge. From here the Borders remain significantly lumpier, but we take it easy at each climb waiting for everyone to join us at the top and feel back in breath before continuing. Tempting fate slightly I decide to take my trousers off, declaring the sunshine definitely to be shorts weather. After an enjoyable ride, the group gives Brenda the honour of leading us for the last two miles into her home patch, down through woodland and along the River Esk to arrive in Langholm and the CAB office.
Linda, who is the local manager and Ellen who is an advisor at the Langholm branch meet us at the CAB. We organise the expanded group, banner and tandem for the Langholm CAB photos and I fill out the Lands End to Langholm mileage certificate for Linda. Then, of course, we all adjourn indoors for tea together with a very generous supply of cake. At this point the photographer from the local press arrives to take pictures. We get all of the kit back out and assemble the banner. I have screwed up (but luckily not torn up) and thrown away the Langholm sign, which is hastily rescued from the bin, de-crumbed and smoothed out. We all troop down to the riverside with the tandem and pose for her to conduct a repeat group photo session, then adjourn again to the hall and another brew of tea. One thing that we are pleased about is that we seem to have been the instigators of a cross border liaison as a result of the ride. Carlisle and Annan CABx had not had much previous contact but are resolved further to share some experiences.
It is late afternoon by now and time to move on. Bikes are stowed, I put my trousers back on, and we say good bye. Paul and his team are very impressed with themselves for achieving the ride. They are also impressed that as they get into their cars we are setting off to spend the early evening cycling up the River Esk to our destination for the day at Eskdalemuir.
By now the weather is closing in and is grey. Immediately on leaving Langholm our road leaves the river to its own meanders and heads away up a much bigger climb than any we have done so far. We select a low gear and I too am impressed that after so leisurely a day thus far we our now intending to make it to Eskdalemuir in time for dinner tonight. From Langholm there is a significant change in scenery as we climb our way up the valley of the River Esk, maintaining quite close contact with the river as we go. After 14 miles we arrive at Eskdalemuir village in drizzly weather that is wet enough to make us damp but not heavy enough to bother switching from pertex to goretex tops.
Peter is waiting in the car at the bridge in the village and tells us that he has located the B&B. It is a grand house up a drive, but it is not actually in Eskdalemuir. It is four miles further on along the river. C’est la vie, it is a good thing that we have ordered a meal at the B&B and will not have to go exploring for food. Passing an observatory and a Tibetan monastery on the way enlivens our final four miles. Interesting activities they have in rural Scotland. We locate the B&B and walk up the unmade drive to a warm welcome. After stowing the bike in the wood shed with the cat, taking hot showers and enjoying a home cooked dinner we relax in the lounge. This involves utilising most of the floor on which to lay out a mosaic of photocopy street map pages while I try to organise our required navigational kit for taking on a complete traverse of Edinburgh tomorrow.
Eskdalemuir to South Queensferry
To Lands End
Prologue - Lands End to Ludgvan
Day 2 Ludgvan to Trelill
Day 3 Trelill to Great Torrington
Day 4 Great Torrington to Bridgwater
Day 5 Bridgwater to Chepstow
Day 6 Chepstow to Ludlow
Day 7 Ludlow to Church Minshull
Day 8 Church Minshull to Slaidburn
Day 9 Slaidburn to Penrith
Day 10 Penrith to Eskdalemuir
Day 11 Eskdalemuir to South Queensferry
Day 12 South Queensferry to Blairgowrie
Day 13 Blairgowrie to Tomintoul
Day 14 Tomitoul to Alness
Day 15 Alness to Bettyhill
Day 16A Bettyhill to John O'Groats
Day 16B John O'Groats to Kirkwall
Orkney and Home