Updated: Sep 6, 2020
"Oh shit. Am I going to die?" said Rachel in no way being over dramatic on finding out this ride would involve a lot of climbing (she didn't read my blog until 10pm last night). I reckon it will be around 9,000m in 8 days, which probably sounds hideous if you live in Holland or Norfolk, but may have others shaking their heads and thinking 'ha, I did that in a weekend in the Alps'. But 9,000m is lot with luggage on a new bike with tired legs. As I've written before, these multiday trips are less about the speed or distance and more about the time in the saddle. The cumulative effect of that time in your legs can mean you approach every new hill with dread.
Today's ride duly delivered another 1100m of climbing over 90km and was "relentlessly undulating" according to Rachel. She was not wrong. The morning was a tour of historical sites related to the border wars between England and Scotland including a couple of castles and the beautiful Union Bridge, which strides both countries. We rode slowly taking in the views and stopped for elevenses because why the hell not, we are on holiday.
On my first long ride home from Milan I only had myself for company for two weeks, save for the little interactions with Airbnb hosts and the occasional curious local. Last year riding back from Hamburg I had my younger son Michael with me and we achieved that perfect male balance of knowing when to chat and when to go three hours without saying a word to each other not related to directions or food. This year I have Rachel. And the fifty randomers a day she chats to. One of Rachel's best and most endearing qualities is her ability to talk to and find anyone interesting. Two minutes into every conversation strangers decide to tell her their life stories. She will stop riding to talk to anyone about anything: infuriating when you are in a hurry, but here, just amusing. Any of her four children can relate a story of their mum meeting a stranger and 5 minutes later telling you 'that lady walked in the himalayas before she lost her leg in a water-skiing accident caused by Noel Edmunds brother". That sort of thing.
If she wasn't relating the life story of some bloke she chatted to outside a castle, she was providing a running commentary on the quality of hedges we were riding past. This odd obsession with hedges is right up there with her excitement at watching tractors ploughing straight lines in fields and her child like delight in seeing steam engines. Somehow you think that a middle aged woman would have grown out of these things but thank goodness she hasn't. There is never a dull moment with Rachel in tow.
After a glamorous lunch stop on a bench outside the co-op in Wooller at the 50km mark, we instantly regretted the decision to stop for 30 minutes as we had to climb a 10% hill on tired legs just to get out of the town. The next 10km felt all uphill with the exception of three fords we had to cross on tiny foot bridges. We also got to ride on almost every kind of road surface you can get with the exception of smooth tarmac. There is no way you could do this route on a road bike despite what the many Internet bullshitters had claimed when I was researching it. One of fords was a the end of a grassy track and the other side was a rock strewn uphill mudbath. We pushed and carried our bikes up it. Once at the top there was a long downhill on a crappy B road full of potholes. That led to another climb and so on and so on. You get the idea. It was leg sapping. Towards the end of the day the Komoot gravel route veered away from NCN 68 onto the Sandstone Cycle Way, which, if I had checked in advance, was for mountain bikes only. 3km of rock filled pathways later we arrived at the back gate of tonights hotel, the grandly named Clennell Hall.
Covid-19 may have been a boon for parts of the British tourist industry as it has forced a large number of us into staycations, but a couple of nights staying in British hotels will remind you exactly why you chose to go abroad in the first place. Over priced with crappy facilities and poor levels of service is still the norm. Tonight's hotel is straight out of the 1970's and has the added bonus of having a Triumph motorcycle owners group meeting here overnight. Yay, middle aged bikers all getting drunk together to the sound of shit 80's rock music.
Time to brave the hotel restaurant as there is nothing else for miles. I'm betting they serve orange juice as a starter or prawn cocktail (this will only mean something to the older readers of this blog).
Update : well I wasn’t far wrong. The hotel has no restaurant, we ate in the bar and selected from the six items on the menu. I had the ultimate burger (spoiler it wasn’t)
still it was brought to me by Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques. But the highlight has to be the cassette player on the bar playing hits of the 70's.