So there I was standing, bleary eyed, on Platform 19 of Waverley Station, waiting for the 08:05 to Alnmouth. Fortunately it wasn’t long to wait and, once aboard the train, I was free to get back to sleep, it was a Saturday morning after all.
An hour later, suitably refreshed, we were clambering off the train with our bikes, ready to embark on a short cycle tour. The plan was to cycle all the way back to Edinburgh over two days. We had thought of starting further south, the official start point of Sustrans “Coast and Castles” cycle route is Newcastle upon Tyne,. It goes all the way to Aberdeen, and is in effect a sub section of the North Sea Cycle Route. However, as I have only just recovered from a heavy bout of flu, we decided to cut the route short. OK, so this meant missing out Hadrian’s Wall, but I somehow suspect that we do the whole of Hadrian’s Wall someday anyway.
Exiting from Alnmouth Station, we picked up signs for the cycle route straight away and followed them to the village of Alnmouth, which, to me, is nothing much to write home about, but did enable us to pick up some supplies (I had forgotten to pack a water bottle). Then onward, northwards, well you’d think it would all be northwards, but a quick look at a map showed it was also westwards, this would prove to be significant later in the trip.
Leaving Alnmouth behind, the route took us along quite minor roads, criss-crossing the east coast main line, which was to become a bit of a habit for the day. The other thing we encountered on leaving Alnmouth was a couple on a tandem with panniers heading in the opposite direction. I usually think of tandems as a rare sight, but on this day we saw another two and I started to wonder if there some sort of tandem event going on.
On reaching the wee village of Craster, to discovered there was a lifeboat fête going on. Despite the tempting looking home baking, we decided to carry on to Dunstanburgh Castle. This is not actually on the “Coast and Castles” route, but a couple of friends of ours had recommended visiting it. They had cycled across from Sweden, via the ferry to Newcastle, to see us in Edinburgh. They said that they preferred Dunstanburgh Castle to Bamburgh Castle and I agree, it is an impressive ruin. On the way out there was a sign saying “cyclists please dismount” but, as there was a van coming the other way, this seemed totally pointless, so I ignored it.
Having seen the castle, we decided that, rather than going back the way had come, we would follow the coastal footpath. At first this path was easy to cycle along, then we passed through a gate and path was routed between sand dunes and a golf course, it was far from ideal for road bikes, but it was fun practising some mountain bike skills. If I were doing it again, I would go part way back towards Craster, then turn on the path to Dunstan Square to rejoin the cycle route. Instead, we regained the NCN 1 at Dunstan Steads, where were once again routed along minor roads, winding our way northwards.
After crossing the railway a couple more times, we came to the large village of Seahouses, which was incredibly busy and choked with motor traffic. It is also home to the slowest cash machine in the country, or so I was told by one of the locals. Cash obtained, the next thing was lunch, so across the road to the bakers where, among other things, I bought two “Danish pastries”. Now, a Danish pastry is something normally made of puff, but these where so heavy they seem to have been made of some sort of oil dough. No matter, to hungry cyclists in need of carbs, they set us up for the day. We took them down to the sea front to eat, while sitting on a bench looking out to the Farne Islands, some bits white with guano, and the tourist boats going out to watch the birds.
Lunch over, we set off to look for the next castle on the list, Bamburgh. Having seen it, I tend to agree with our friends from Sweden that Dunstanburgh Castle is better. While looking for a view point to take some photos, we found ourselves atop some sand dunes north of the village. Just off shore there were some surfers trying to ride the slight swell, none of them were very good, but they provided some entertainment for a short while.
By now it was getting on for mid afternoon, and the thought of stopping in a tea shop had crossed my mind. We decided that Bamburgh was too touristy and too crowed for this and we would look for somewhere further along. Cycling out from Bamburgh we found ourselves heading into the wind, up ahead I saw a couple of touring cyclists and decided to overtake to take my mind of the headwind. When I caught up with them, I saw that they were both riding mountain bikes with wide knobbly tyres, which is an odd choice for touring, slick tyres are a better option for road use. Having said hello and passed them, I reached a turn off and realising that I have left Ulli behind, I stopped to wait. The other two tourers then passed me, turning right to follow the NCN1, no matter, there was a gentle up hill gradient and we soon passed them again.
A wee bit further on we came across an odd looking stone tower, about 20 m (65 ft) high. I suggested that it might have been Rapunzel’s tower and we stopped to take photos. It turned out to be The Ducket, a holiday cottage for two. It looks like a fun place to stay, if you can get a booking. While we were taking photos, the two tourers overtook us again, but not long after we passed them again for the last time.
Having run out of water, we decided to make a detour into Belford, but before we could get there, there was a wee bit of a surprise in store. The road had been fairly flat with the odd bit of undulation, but nothing to really raise the heart rate. We crossed yet another level crossing on the east coast mainline railway, then the A1, arterial transport routes tend to take the course of least resistance. We were just passing a quarry, I was reading the notice about blasting and would have missed a more pertinent road sign had Ulli not pointed it out to me, 17% uphill! Just in time I changed to the granny ring, before crawling up the hill. Having reached the top, we turned off the NCN 1 and swooped down into Belford to look for a tea shop.
Said tea shop found, we put away a litre of ice water each, followed by a large pot of tea, but following the heavy buns from lunch time we was nae hungry! Then it was back up the hill to rejoin the NCN 1, following minor roads, parallel and inland of the A1. At one point the road became an alley of cherry trees, which prompted a short stop for foraging. Shortly after there was a paddock with a couple of lamas in it, so we stopped to say hello. A wee bit beyond there was a hollow tree in which there was a wild bees ‘ nest. Then, as we passed Fenwick wood, we spotted a group of Monkey puzzle trees, some had large female cones (I didn’t see any male cones). You don’t get that sort of thing driving up the A1!
Not long after, we reached the wee village of Fenwick and the Manor House B&B, where we were to stay the night. We checked in so we could drop off a couple of panniers and have a bit of a rest before setting out for Lindisfarne. We knew there was no rush, as we had checked the tide times and found that the causeway wouldn’t be passable until 17:45.
We crossed the causeway amid a rush of cars on and off the island, however once on to the island proper, we came across a large car park where all visitors were required to leave their cars (only residents are allowed to drive further). This gave the rest of the island, in particular the village, a very tranquil feeling. There are many tourist places on the mainland that could learn from this model (which is not so uncommon in the rest of Europe), but then the village of Lindisfarne has been doing tourism for over a 1,000 years. St Mary’s church remains a place of pilgrimage (pilgrims being an early form of tourist), it is a quiet place, with swallows nesting in porch. Step outside and there is a strange howling noise that seemed to come from a small island, is it caused by the wind or birds, or the prayers of saints? Probably just the wind. [update] Having watched a wildlife programme on TV, I now realise it was grey seals (Halichoerus grypus)!
On the far side of the village, there is a fairytale castle sitting on a rocky outcrop, and upturned boats used as storage are among the other things to see.
Having done some of the sights, we were ready for dinner and, having looked at a few menus, we settled on the Anchor & Crown, only to find that it was full. But we were fortunate, in that a Dutch couple (also on bikes) made room for us at their table in the bar. Chatting with the barman, I found that it was always busy, the island has 140 inhabitants, and ¾ of a million visitors a year. The food, when it came, was excellent. So my advice would be, as soon as you get to the village, book a table, then see the sights.
Dinner over, we cycled back to the mainland before it got too dark, the traffic was much quieter this time.
There is a map of our route here.
Part 2: Fenwick to Dunbar is here
Part 3: Dunbar to Edinburgh is here.
My stats were:
- Distance cycled – 92.2 Km
- Time spent riding – 04:35:20
- Max Speed – 62.3 Km/h
- Ave Speed – 19.7 Km/h
- Vertical climb – 360m