Day 40, 26th June 2011, Morpeth to Darlington

We thought we would be on our way to mainland Europe by now, but it wasn’t to be.  We thought it might be precipitate to book a ferry berth ahead of time, and then last night found that there were no ferry berths to be had out of north east England to anywhere. 

We have had a lot of ferry legs on our bike trips, and our usual practice is to roll up and buy a ticket at the terminal.  “Oh, goodness me” we say, “You mean the ferry is leaving now, and there is a berth for us?”  We have had glitches that I have written about elsewhere, but never have these giant ferries been full.

So we decided to bite the bullet last night and make an on-line booking.  I logged onto the P&O website, and said there were two of us and we were travelling by bicycle.  The rather snide response from the website was that only one person could travel on a bicycle, and I should start over.  Apart from being technically incorrect, there is even a song about this, the response was idiotic.  What sort of fuckwitted programmer could design a website that could not anticipate that two people travelling together might have two bikes?

There was no way round the problem, so Roz rang up this morning to make a booking for tomorrow night.

This left us with a bit of a lay day.  We do not do rest days, which was one alternative.  We have tried this and it doesn’t work for us.  So we decided to ride towards York with the intention of catching trains when the time ran out tomorrow.  However it was difficult for me to get enthused, and the difficult riding confirmed my mood.  There was a strong head wind, and very choppy hill riding, not big hills, but short and steep.

Then we came across the British National Cycle Championships, and watched the end of the women’s competition, and I perked up.

We had turned onto a road called the B3609, in an effort to keep clear of Newcastle.  The hills got steeper and bigger.  We can only assume that this road has history, that is, it was made up of old village-to-village walking tracks that evolved into a road, because there is no effort to limit the grade.  I think this is the hardest riding we have done in our trips, culminating in a 200m vertical climb at a slope of around 12%.  This is shown in the elevation profile that you can access from the Google Earth link on the map.  There was no point on this road where we were not riding steeply uphill or down.

As soon as we turned onto the A road, it all changed.  We were on an engineered road with controlled grades, and the riding improved immensely, but the traffic increased commensurately.

And here is the dilemma for bicycle touring in England.  Sustrans have made a heroic effort to define the National Cycle Network (NCN), but too often their routes are compromised.  They are often very rough, contain frequent changes of route, have sections where there are numerous gates, and the signage goes missing.  The major problem is that the routes are imposed on existing infrastructure, and not custom infrastructure as in central Europe.  The B roads are hard work, and the A roads are busy.  I suspect that with a great deal of work you could put together a route in England using rail trails, canals and a judicious selection of roads, but it will take a lot of work.  This is not to say that it is not worthwhile, just that there is a cost.

So we rode through Churchill’s “green and pleasant land” for 103Km, ending up in Darlington, where we immediately found a great cheap pub, and unusually good and cheap pub meal.

This was a hard day, and character forming, not of course that I need that.

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