Category Archives: Cycling

The Lighthouse Tour

I have been thinking of doing a cycle tour to all the lighthouses in the South West for a few years and when my cycling buddy Jo expressed an interest in joining me I was galvanised into action. I decided arbitrarily to only include the lighthouses that are on the mainland and those that are working. Once I got into the planning it seemed reasonable to also include iconic lighthouse hotspots as well – like Smeatons Tower on Plymouth Hoe and Lands End with a view of Long Ships for example.

Longships Lighthouse

It is always good to have a theme for a cycling adventure: it adds direction and purpose. I live on the South Coast of England in Dorset and I have walked the South West Coast Path and kayaked around the South West coast over the last twenty years or so. The sea kayaking took us out to places like Lundy Island and Long Ships off lands End which were definitely not possible on the cycling tour.

Lighthouse on Lundy Island

A lighthouse is a structure, usually a tower or other type of structure, built as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea. Back in the day people used to light fires on hills to aid navigation but the modern era of lighthouses began in the eighteenth century with advances in structural engineering and new efficient lighting equipment allowing the creation of larger and more powerful lighthouses including ones exposed to the sea. The function of lighthouses is to provide a visible and, in poor visibility, audible warning against shipping hazards such as rocks or reefs.

Today Trinity House maintains over 60 lighthouses in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. These highly visual aids to navigation range from isolated offshore towers like the Eddystone to shore based locations like the Lizard.

In 2010 I took part in the Eddystone Challenge which involved paddling from Plymouth to the Eddystone lighthouse and back again. The race is intended for gigs but kayaks are allowed to join in. I was paddling a sea kayak not a gig. Although it was fabulous to paddle out to the Eddystone, I didn’t have the urge to do it again!

Paddling to the Eddystone Lighthouse

While lighthouse buildings differ depending on the location and purpose, they tend to have common components.

A light station comprises the lighthouse tower and all outbuildings, such as the keeper’s living quarters, fuel house, boathouse, and fog-signalling building. The lighthouse itself consists of a tower structure supporting the lantern room where the light operates.

The Lantern Room is the glassed-in housing at the top of a lighthouse tower containing the lamp and lens. Its glass storm panes are supported by metal bars running vertically or diagonally. At the top of the lantern room is a storm-proof ventilator designed to remove the smoke of the lamps and the heat that builds in the glass enclosure. A lightning rod and grounding system connected to the metal cupola roof provides a safe conduit for any lightning strikes.

Immediately beneath the lantern room is usually a Watch Room or Service Room where fuel and other supplies were kept and where the keeper prepared the lanterns for the night and often stood watch. The clockworks (for rotating the lenses) were also located there. On a lighthouse tower, an open platform called the gallery is often located outside the watch room (called the Main Gallery) or Lantern Room (Lantern Gallery). This was mainly used for cleaning the outside of the windows of the Lantern Room.

Lighthouses near to each other that are similar in shape are often painted in a unique pattern so they can easily be recognized during daylight,

Today all the lighthouses are automated and the accommodation has been converted for use as holiday lettings.

The list of lighthouses on the south west peninsula for our cycling tour were, in order:

  • Anvil Point
  • Portland Bill

    Portland Bill Lighthouse

  • Teignmouth
  • Berry Head
  • Start Point

    Start Point Lighthouse

  • St Antony
  • Lizard

    Lizard Point

  • Tater Du

    Tater Du

  • Pendeen
  • Trevose Head
  • Hartland Point
  • Crow Point
  • Bull Point
  • Lynmouth Foreland

I decided to start on the south coast with the lighthouse furthest to the east which is Anvil Point in Dorset. From there the route went to Portland Bill and then down the coast through Devon and Cornwall following the coast all the way down to Lands end. From Lands End the route went to St Ives and then followed the north Cornwall and Devon coast up to Lynmouth. The last lighthouse on the tour was Lynmouth Foreland.

The total distance planned was 900 kilometres (550 miles) but with over 11,000 metres of climb (36,000 feet). We were planning to camp if the weather permitted so we had about 11kg of luggage each. I allowed 7 days for the ride but if all went well we could probably complete it in 6 days.

The first lighthouse in the tour was Anvil Point which is near Swanage. This is to the east of where we live so I decided to do this section as a day ride and stay at home the first night.

Anvil Point

The lighthouse was completed in 1881. Anvil Point Lighthouse was fully automated in 1991 and is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House Operations at Harwich.

Our route took us through the Lulworth Ranges (open on a Sunday) and along the coast to Weymouth. We rode along the sea front and the Rodwell trail to the causeway which took us out onto Portland and down to the Lighthouse at Portland Bill.

Portland Bill

The present lighthouse is the third to be built at Portland Bill. The two original lighthouses now known as Old Higher Lighthouse and Old Lower Lighthouse operated as a pair of leading lights to guide ships between Portland Race and the Shambles Sandbank. The present lighthouse was completed in 1916. It was de-manned in 1996 and control transferred to the Trinity House Operations.

From Portland Bill we rode back to Bridport. With 11,000 metres of elevation in this tour there were obviously going to be some proper hills. One of these was the climb out of Abbotsbury which is a long sustained climb.

Relieved to have survived Abbotsbury Hill

The next day we set off on our touring bikes heading down to the South West of England.

Setting off

Each of us carrying about 11kg of luggage carried mainly in Ortileb panniers.

Our route took us through Exeter and down the River Exe to Dawlish then along the coast to Teignmouth. We dropped down to visit the lighthouse there, which is a grade 2 listed building.
In the early 1840s Teignmouth Harbour Commissioners decided to erect a lighthouse as an aid to shipping, and a tower was built of blocks of local limestone during the years 1844 to 1845 with the light being shone for the first time in 1845.

The lighthouse has never had a keeper, resident or otherwise; never been open to the public, and because of its size, has mistakenly been referred to in Guides as a toy lighthouse. However it is not; it is a real navigational aid.

In Powderham Terrace and close to the Lynton House Hotel, some 200 feet behind the lighthouse is the second leading light, which is a tall pole with a red navigational lamp fixed on the top.

Today the lighthouse is kept clean and maintained by the Harbour Master. It shows a fixed red light visible for 3 miles and when lined up with the leading light behind it provides a safe passage across the sand bars at the mouth of the Teign.

Teignmouth Lighthouse

Our target destination for the day was Berry Head above Brixham where there is a vertically challenged lighthouse. Berry Head is reputedly the shortest lighthouse in Great Britain but also one of the highest. It is only 5 metres tall but 58 metres above sea level.

It was built in 1906.

Berry Head

Berry Head

We camped at Berry Head and the next morning with fresh legs zipped over to Kingswear for the ferry across the River Dart to Dartmouth.

On the ferry to Dartmouth

In my zealous effort to avoid riding on main roads we found ourselves on a hill too steep to ride which degenerated into a bridleway. So we had a longer walk than we would have liked.

Too steep to ride with loaded bikes

It would have been better to have taken the A379 out of the town.

As it was we joined the A379 and followed it along the coast to Slapton where we visited the Exercise Tiger Memorial.

Excercise Tiger memorial.

From Slapton we headed out to Start Point.

Start Point

Start Point lighthouse was built in 1836 to protect shipping off Start Point in south Devon. For us it involved an undulating ride along narrow lanes. It was worth it as Start Point is exactly what you expect from a lighthouse. A tall white tower built on a rocky promontory with a raging sea below. This being May, the wild thrift and bluebells were magnificent.

Eye candy

We were able to pick up fuel in the form of cheese and onion pasties (neither of us eat meat) and doughnuts before continuing to Kingsbridge. The road through the South Hams to Plymouth is scenic and undulating. The cyclists among you will recognise these word as euphemisms for very hilly.

We diverted to Plymouth Hoe where the centrepiece is Smeaton’s Tower. The lighthouse was originally built on the Eddystone reef in 1759. It was take down in the 1810’s when it was discovered the sea was undermining the rock it was standing on. The tower was dismantled and erected at Plymouth Hoe.

Smeaton’s Tower on Plymouth Hoe

It was a beautiful clear day and we were able to see the Eddystone Lighthouse. The Eddystone is an extensive reef about 20km SSW off Plymouth Sound and midway between Start Point and Lizard Point. The reef is submerged at HW springs and very much feared by mariners. The present lighthouse was built in 1882 and is still in use.

We cycled through Plymouth and along the Tamar to the Torpoint ferry where we crossed into Cornwall.

On the Torpoint Ferry

Cornwall

We rode, hugging the coast, to Looe. On this the third day of the tour had now ridden over 100km with over 2000m of climbing so another pasty was called for to fuel the last 20km – with a monster hill – to Fowey.

Looe

We dropped very steeply down to Polruan to catch the ferry to Fowey. There were several steps down to the small boat and fortunately there were 4 strong men – 2 to each bike – to help us.

Aboard the ferry from Polruan to Fowey.

We bought food in Fowey and climbed steeply out from the river up to our destination for the night at Penhale Farm.

Camping at Penhale Farm near Fowey.

After a great nights sleep we set off for our next lighthouse which was on the Roseland Peninsula. St Anthony’s Lighthouse is at St Anthony’s Head on the eastern side of the entrance to Falmouth Harbour which is one of the largest natural harbours in the world.

St Anthony’s Lighthouse

We then rode round to St Mawes –  and bought some pasty fuel at the pier while waiting for the ferry to Falmouth.

Looking back to St Anthony’s lighthouse from the ferry to Falmouth.

We skirted around the Helford River and crossed it at Gweek before climbing onto the Lizard.

The name Lizard is probably a corruption of the Cornish name ‘Lys Ardh’ meaning ‘high court’. It is a coincidence that much of the peninsula is composed of serpentinite bearing rock.

There are several nature sites on the Lizard Peninsula; Predannack Nature reserve, Mullion Island, Goonhilly Downs, and the Seal Sanctuary at Gweek. Much of the Lizard is a national nature reserve because of its coastal grasslands and inland heaths. The area is also home to one of England’s rarest breeding birds, the Cornish Chough.

We rode to the lighthouse – which has the brightest light of all and can be seen 100 miles away on a clear night.

Lizard Lighthouse

Lizard point beckoned to finish the job off and we were treated to some relaxation in the sun watching the antics of seals surrounded by beautiful wild coastal flowers.

Lizard Point

We cycled back up the Lizard to Helston and then continued to Mounts Bay and spent the night at Penzance Youth Hostel.

St Michael’s Mount.

We started the next day by riding along the coast through Newlyn. We paid our respects at the Penlee Lifeboat Station’s Solomon Browne Memorial.

Our first lighthouse of the day was Tater Du. Access involved some low grade trespassing but it had to be done. Tater Du Lighthouse is Cornwall’s most recently built lighthouse and was constructed after the Juan Ferrer tragedy in 1963 on nearby Boscawen Point.

Tater Du lighthouse.

The next bit of the ride through St Buryan to Lands End was fabulous and virtually flat – a welcome relief and some recovery ready for what was to come after Lands End.

We were at Lands End before 10am when it officially opens so it was mercifully quiet and free of tourists. We just rode out to the view point and took a picture as if we were ‘end to enders’!

Lands End viewpoint

We waved at the Longships lighthouse which is situated 2 kilometres off shore but couldn’t get any closer on this occasion.

Longships lighthouse 2km offshore at Land’s End

The next section of the tour from Sennen to St Ives is magnificent and was fuelled by an excellent pasty stop at St Just. The route follows the B3306 which has a couple of proper hills on it but the coastal scenery is fabulous throughout. In contrast to the sea views is the wild moor and heath inland. We diverted to Pendeen Watch Lighthouse.

Pendeen Watch Lighthouse

Pendeen Watch Lighthouse

We dropped down into St Ives for the sake of completeness and enjoyed the picturesque harbour and the historic Smeaton’s pier.

St Ives

The next lighthouse on this stretch of coast is on Godrevy Island so outside our remit.

Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance

We continued our journey along the North Cornwall coast to Newquay and camped at Porth.

We enjoyed a beautiful evening close to the beach at Porth.

Fresh legs were required for the scenic undulating B3276 to Trevose Head. This is a magnificent lighthouse – another tall tower on a rocky headland with beautiful wild flowers in the environs.

Trevose Head

Wild flowers at their best at Trevose Head

We continued to Padstow where we were able to refuel on fantastic pasties before catching the ferry across the River Camel to Rock.

The last ferry of the tour crossing the River Camel from Padstow to Rock

We were unlucky to miss the last ferry from the harbour and had to walk down to the Lower beach as the tide was rapidly ebbing. The ferry took us across the river but left us with a half mile walk along the beach to the slipway.

A long walk on the beach

Aghhhhhh – it rained! So far we had enjoyed dry weather- quite chilly and breezy but no rain. The forecast was terrible and we hastened to Hartland Point to get ahead of the weather. We were lucky and the promised hours of heavy rain only amounted to a few showers.

Hartland Point with Lundy Island in the distance

Hartland Point is in Devon and marks the western limit of the Bristol Channel with the Atlantic Ocean continuing to the West

We had already ridden 100km for the day but decided to continue towards Bideford on the Torridge. The route was lovely and  followed quiet lanes which undulated more gently as the streams became more organised towards the River Torridge. We dropped down into the Taw/Torridge estuary area riding on the Tarka Trail and started to look for somewhere to eat and somewhere to stay. We finished up riding 174km all the way to Braunton. We had supper in a pub and then camped on Velator Quay on the Braunton Canal – unofficially.

I really wanted to find Crow Point lighthouse. Crow Point is a sandy beach backed by low dunes at the southern end of Braunton Burrows Nature Reserve. The beach looks south east across the River Taw and south west to Appledore. The point is a sand spit formed near the confluence of the Taw and Torridge Rivers. In reality it is little more than a finger of sand and mud protected by groynes.

The solar powered Crow Point Lighthouse also called Braunton Sands Lighthouse lies at the southern extremity of the spit. It stands just 7.6 metres above high water.

Crow Point Lighthouse

After visiting Crow Point we returned to the B3231 and detoured around Saunton and Croyde – finding much needed coffee and breakfast.

We continued to Mortehoe and then on the access road out to Bull Point lighthouse.

Bull Point

The lighthouse provides a visual aid to the villages of Mortehoe, Woolacombe and Ilfracombe and warns of the rocky coast in this area. Back in the kayaking days it was also a useful point to aim at on the mainland when paddling back from Lundy.

Bull point lighthouse

From Mortehoe we followed National Cycle Route 27. This was the easiest 5 kilometres of the tour. The route follows the London and South Western Railway Ilfracombe branch line from Morthoe and we freewheeled all the way. Bliss!

After a visit to the bakery in Ilfracombe we dropped down to the harbour to see Verity. Verity is a stainless steel and bronze statue created by Damien Hirst which has been loaned to the town for 20 years. It depicts a pregnant woman holding aloft a sword while carrying the scales of justice and standing on a pile of law books. Half of the sculpture shows the internal anatomy of the pregnant woman with the foetus clearly visible.

Verity

We climbed out of Ilfracombe, dropped to sea level again at Hele, climbed again and dropped to sea level at Watermouth Castle, climbed again and dropped into Coombe Martin. From Coombe Martin to Lynmouth it is hilly. We could have made life a little easier for ourselves by going up to Blackmoor Gate and then on the A39 but we took the scenic route up Buzzacott Lane, (walked some of this) then down to Trentishoe and down to the Hunters Inn. The climb out of the Hunters Inn was just too steep on our loaded touring bikes and we had to walk.

Looking back to Holdstone Hill after we had climbed up from the Hunters Inn (walking quite a lot of it)

We were able enjoy the magnificent scenery of Woody Bay.

Woody Bay

We continued up (again) past Lee Abbey Christian Retreat and on to the scenic Valley of the Rocks.

Valley of the rocks.

The route climbed up out of the Valley of the Rocks to Lynton and then dropped steeply down again to sea level at Lynmouth. We had done so much climbing as we neared the end of the tour that I had phoned ahead and arranged for our panniers to be taken by car up Countisbury Hill. With a maximum grade of 27.4% over the 4km hill we needed all the help we could get! We made it up to Foreland at an elevation of 300m. The last lighthouse Lynmouth Foreland was at sea level. Jo chose to ride all the way down to it –and back again. I didn’t!

Lynmouth Foreland

Phew! It was a great tour. The way we did it in just 6 days carrying all our camping gear required a good level of fitness and an ability to ride with tired legs. We really enjoyed the ferries and the lighthouses and enjoyed the magnificent coastal scenery. May was a lovely time of year to ride as it is before the main holiday season so the roads were quiet and the wild flowers were at their best. We were lucky with the weather. It was mainly dry, cool and sunny with just a few showers near Hartland in North Devon.

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C2C MTB Eastern section Kirkby Stephen to Robin Hood’s Bay

Our route from Kirkby Stephen to Robin Hood’s Bay

Kirkby Stephen is a small market town and lies in the Upper Eden Valley. It is surrounded by wild uplands. We left the town via Winton and rode to the end of the paved lane above Heggerscales.

The paved road continues with a promising track to Wrenside Farm.

After Wrenside the bridleway became indistinct.

The bridleway is straight on?

The bridleway degenerated so there was nothing visible on the ground. It became unrideable (for us) through peat hags, heather and patches of marsh – all gently rising. We resorted to a strenuous push for the last 2 kilometres before reaching the sanctuary of tarmac.

A hard push uphill across peaty moorland.

It was a further undulating 5 kilometres on the road before we reached Tan Hill. At the high point we crossed into the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Tan Hill Inn is the highest public house in Britain at 528 metres. (1,732 feet) The Inn dates back to the 17th Century. The isolated setting is high wild moors. The interior was immediately recognisable as the setting for the 2017 Christmas Waitrose TV commercial.

Tan Hill Inn.

The Pennine Way passes through here and it was this bridleway that we rode South for about 6km  to Keld in Swaledale.

Pennine Way Bridleway to Swaledale.

Bridleway down to Keld.

The next 20 kilometres of the route from Keld to Reeth followed the Swale Trail which officially opened in April 2018. It is a valley bottom trail which is mostly traffic free.

The start of the Swale Trail in Upper Swaledale.

Following the Swale Trail near Crackpot Hall

We crossed the river on a fine bridge at Gunnerside.

The well signed trail continued to Grinton near Reeth .

From Reeth to Richmond we were able to stay off road by following bridleways some of which coincided with the C2C walking route.

Some of the bridleways coincided with the walking route.

From Richmond to Osmotherley there is 40 kilometres of flat relatively uninteresting farmland to ride through before the Yorkshire Moors. We kept our route to quiet lanes and tracks and reached Ingleby Cross in a couple of hours.

From Ingleby Cross we climbed up the escarpment to Osmotherley through Arncliffe Wood on a fire road. This is the C2C walking route and it emerges onto the moor on the Cleveland Way footpath. It avoids using busy roads to get to Osmotherley.

Ooops a footpath.

From Osmotherley the ride picks up interest again with a great bridleway across Scarth Moor. We had far reaching views ahead as far as Roseberry Topping.

Roseberry Topping in the far distance.

Through Whorlton the route was a bit tricky to find but we eventually emerged on the Scugdale Lane which we followed to Scugdale Hall.

Our route choice from there was to head North up onto Bilsdale West Moor.

A steep climb to Barkers Crags.

The climb was worth it for the wonderful ride over the wild remote moor.

Bilsdale West Moor.

We carried onto the edge of the escarpment to reach Trig Point 6927 and its adjacent boundary stone.

We followed a permissive bridleway which was mainly through forest below the escarpment to Clay Bank where we once again joined the Cleveland Way.

Clay Bank. It’s a bridleway.

A very steep climb up Carr Ridge onto Urra Moor.

It was quite an effort pushing and sometimes carrying the bikes up the steep slope to Urra Moor Top but once there we enjoyed the gently ascending ride to Bloworth Crossing.

Great riding on Urra Moor.

Bloworth Crossing is the site of a crossroads on the former Rosedale Ironstone Railway in the North York Moors. What were once rail lines are now public bridleways, so Bloworth Crossing forms a major junction for many mountain bike routes. It also sits on the Cleveland Way and C2C long distance footpaths.

From Bloworth crossing we followed the eastern trail along an easy meandering dismantled railway across the moor to the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. On Blakey Ridge we kept to the road for a few kilometres to Rosedale Head and had a look at Ralph’s Cross. A cross has stood here since Anglo Saxon times and acted as a medieval highway marker.

Ralph’s Cross at Rosedale Head.

From Trough House the onward route follows a bridleway which is mainly downhill. It is called the Cut Road. It is an easy to follow track across Glaisdale High Moor.

Cut Road across Glaisdale High Moor.

We left the Glaisdale Moor with a fast descent down Glaisdale Rigg.

Glaisdale Rigg.

From Glaisdale the route follows the Esk Valley through Egton Bridge to Grosmont. To avoid riding up the very steep (33%) road out of Grosmont we crossed Murk Esk on a very slippery ford which fortunately had very little water in it.

Crossing the Murk Esk at Grosmont.

After several kilometres of climbing out of the Esk Valley we emerged onto Whinstone Ridge and followed a great bridleway across Fylingdales Moor.

We reached Louven Howe barrow which is the highest of a chain of barrows thought to form part of a bronze age boundary. The barrow is home to a boundary stone and also the trig point at a height of 299 metres.

Louven Howe, with a distant view of the North Sea

We continued heading east towards the sea which we eventually reached at Bent Rigg Lane just South of Ravenscar.

The North Sea near Ravenscar.

All that remained was to follow the well surfaced old railway track above the coastal cliffs which gave us excellent views of our final destination Robin Hoods Bay.

Robin Hood’s Bay.

We finished at the Station Workshops car park where our Packhorse transport was waiting to return us and our bikes to Kirkby Stephen.

Our transport back to Kirkby Stephen.

Distance: 210km
Elevation: 3521m

The gpx files we created for this ride are all here. Please use them with caution as there are a few discrepancies. If you would like more info on the route just send a message.

C2C MTB Western section St Bees to Kirkby Stephen

Our route to Kirkby Stephen

With a combined age of 125 years we decided to give ourselves the luxury of baggage transfer for our trail ride on mountain bikes from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bay in North Yorkshire. We were riding unsupported and had devised our own route which was based on the Tim Woodcock route, which itself is based on the walking route developed by A.W Wainwright.

We used the the Kirkby Stephen based company Packhorse for our transfers and baggage transport.

Readying the bikes for our Packhorse transfer to St Bees

We met the Packhorse team at Kirkby Stephen which is roughly half way across the C2C route. There were several other people there too but they were walkers. We left our car in their secure car park and were transported with our bikes to St Bees to start the ride.

At St Bees ready to Start

Posing at the official start of the C2C walk

We began by riding up the road to Sandwith and then joined the cycle track along the old railway at Moor Row. National Route 71 of the National Cycle Network makes up the western third of the C2C route which follows paved roads.

On Sustrans route 71

At Kirkland the more difficult of the Tim Woodcock routes heads onto Ennerdale. We had decided to take the easier option through the Lake District and kept going North. We were soon onto some very nice bridleways and headed down to the lakeside at Loweswater.

Loweswater

We continued to a bridleway which became a footpath alongside Crummock Water . At Buttermere we took the road over Newlands Hause.

The road climbs over 200 metres with gradients up to 18%.

Newlands Hause.

We then dropped down through the Newlands Valley, through Keswick and climbed up to Castlerigg Stone Circle. It was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BC, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages.

Castlerigg Stone Circle.

We continued east by following the Old Coach Road from St John’s Vale. It’s very steep and rough to begin with so we had to walk.

Walking up the Old Coach Road out of St john’s Vale.

Once up above the quarries it was really good and we had a great ride over to High Row.

Great riding on the Old Coach Road to High Row.

We followed undulating paved roads through Matterdale and down to Pooley Bridge.

The undulating paved roads reminded us of why we had opted to take an easier route through Lakeland.

Pooley Bridge is at the Northern End of Ulswater. From there we took a delightful bridleway across Askham Fell.

Askham Fell above Ulswater.

We stayed off road as much as possible and joined the main Tim Woodcock route at Shap.

Crossing the River Lowther en route to Shap.

Tim Woodcock does not explore the wonderful limestone scenery between Shap and Kirkby Stephen and cruises through this area on paved lanes. Once again we deviated from the route to stay off road.

From Oddendale we followed the course of a Roman Road across Cosby Ravensworth Fell and just before Orton we left Cumbria and entered the Yorkshire Dales.

Leaving Cumbria behind

After Orton we headed North up onto Orton Scar.

We then entered the the Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve. This area was one of the highlights of the whole ride. We didn’t see anyone else until we dropped back down to Smardale Bridge.

Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve

Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve

Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve

From Asby we came back down across Crosby Garrett Fell following a bridleway.

Crosby Garrett Fell

We dropped down to Bents Farm, crossing the C2C walking route and rode a bridleway to Smardale Bridge. The onward route over Smardale Fell was great riding and we enjoyed the descent to Waitby and were on mainly paved lanes for the last few kilometres into Kirkby Stephen.

Distance: 144km
Elevation: 3037m

C2CMTB

The August bank holiday in Dorset is throwing some very unseasonable weather at us – torrential rain and high winds. So what do you do when it really is too filthy to be tempted outdoors? Plan the next adventure!

Stormy

We have been thinking about riding our mountain bikes on an epic trail ride, Coast to Coast across the North of England ever since we walked the route in 2016.

The start of the walk will also be the start of our MTB C2C

Tim Woodcock’s classic coast to coast route heads east from St Bees, through the Lake District, over the Pennines, through the Yorkshire Dales and across the North Yorkshire Moors where it ends at Robin Hoods Bay. The route we have planned is a distance of 340km with over 7,500m of elevation change. Most of this is on off road trails and follows the Tim Woodcock route closely, except on the first day through the Lake District.

The high bits of the Lake District will be too tricky for us to ride.

 

Smardale Bride in the Howgills

Robin Hoods Bay on the East Coast Journeys end!

We have been back up North to recce a few of the trail sections, particularly in the Lake District and reluctantly accepted that we were not going to be able to manage the Tim Woodcock MTB trail over the Black Sail Pass. There are not many couples in their sixties who ride mountain bikes let alone take on the C2C challenge. So we have planned a modified route to the North of the official route in the Lake District but from Shap onwards we are sticking closely to the Tim Woodcock route. We have done some research about what we might come across but we don’t know very much.

Half way at Kirkby Stephen

Every day we climb above the 400m contour where the weather will play a big part in how we cope with the conditions we encounter. It will be wet and filthy up there with arduous climbs and some long technical stony descents.

Steep climb out of Goathland on the North Yorks Moors

We plan to follow the official bridleway route mostly

Of course, there are nutters who have ridden it in less than 24 hours, but we are giving ourselves a week to enjoy the ride and explore some great trails along the way.

We are hoping it will be fun!

There are some paved sections but the majority of the time we will be trail riding. To add to our enjoyment we are not camping and we are having our baggage transferred every day by Packhorse. This is not actually a horse but a company who make it their business to look after people and their baggage on the Coast to Coast, whether they are walking running or cycling the route.

I will be riding my Giant Anthem and Ian his Marin Mount Vision. Both full suss.

The bikes

We will be carrying normal mountain safety stuff plus enough bits and bobs to keep the bikes rolling each day.

There are bound to be some mechs that will need fixing en route

One thing you can be assured of – there won’t be much air time. My preferred option will be both wheels on the ground.

Two wheels on the ground – not like James!

Tour de Manche: the English section

The official route

Just as in France the English Tour de Manche uses a combination of small roads and greenways. From the ferry port at Poole the route takes to a cycle path through Baiter park and then alongside Poole Harbour to Sandbanks.

Poole Harbour

The Sandbanks chain ferry crosses to Studland and then the route goes to Corfe Castle.

Cyclists on the Sandbanks chain ferry

The route is not flat and after Corfe Castle, Creech hill is climbed before a descent to join Cycle Route 2 just east of Wool.

Tour de Manche on Route 2 in Dorset

Flat riding through quiet lanes on Cycle Route 2 brings you to Dorchester and onto Martinstown. There now comes an unavoidable Cat 4 climb over Hardy’s Monument.

Hardy’s Monument

Hardy’s Monument

The lovely Bride valley follows, still following Route 2 to bypass Bridport and start a series of steep climbs to Axminster.

Route 2 near Bridport

The route continues West along the Jurassic coast of Dorset and into Devon.

We found a lovely traffic free route through the city of Exeter emerging at Haldon, well on our way to Moretonhampstead and Dartmoor

Now we were in Devon who could resist a cream tea?

Cream tea

We chose to go across the middle of Dartmoor on the B3212. There are a few steep ramps on the climb onto the moor out of Moretonhampstead but it was very scenic and memorable.

The B3212 across Dartmoor

Beautiful view from Dartmoor down to the coast at Plymouth

On arrival at Plymouth there was time for a small celebration before catching the ferry to Roscoff.

Well deserved.

Tour de Manche: St Malo to Cherbourg

The official route

We arrived at St Malo on a boat from Dinard. St Malo is a busy ferry port and we enjoyed cycling past the fortifications to the sea front. It was immediately evident that we had left the undulations of Northern Brittany behind us and we were now in flatlands. We detoured off the official route to visit the oyster capital of Cancale which was lined with busy cafes full of people swallowing down oysters.

Voie Verte in the Bay of the Mont St Michel

Ahead we could see the spectacular bay of the Mont St Michel stretching out in front of us. The character of the route changed now and we were to be on off-road gravel cycle-tracks for the majority of the route to Cherbourg.

Early morning mist at the Mont St Michel

Although the idea of cycling on traffic free Voie Vert sounds quite appealing, the reality is actually quite tedious after the first couple of hours. The cycle track follows an old railway line and for hour after hour we had only brief glimpses of any scenery beyond the tree lined route. The route was very flat but cycling on gravel requires a lot of energy,even on slick 28mm tyres, so progress was no quicker than on the hilly paved roads of Northern Brittany.

The endless Voie Vert gravel tracks around Sourdeval on the Contentin Penisular Normandy.

The route tracks up the middle of the peninsular largely following the River Vire and does not go to the coasts.

We had not expected the Voie Verts to be so rough and had only one spare inner tube each so we were delighted on the 7th day in France to came across a bike shop in Vire.

stocking up on spares at Vire

As it turned out we didn’t have any punctures in the 1200km tour. A vote for Continental 4 seasons tyres.

A point of interest to break the tedium of the Voie Vert was a dismantled Viaduct at Souleuvre. It was built in 1891 by Gustav Eiffel as a railway bridge. It has been dismantled leaving 6 pillars to leave a ‘unique work of art’. You can see that this area of Nomandy is short on tourist attractions! Anyway, apparently 10,000 people a year use it for bungee jumping. We didn’t make it 10,002. We did enjoy the steep descent into the valley and the climb out made a change from flat gravel Voie Vert.

The viaduct at Souleuvre

We followed the River Vire towards St Lo and there were some beautiful sections along the River but we also enjoyed a 10km stretch on little lanes with 3 really steep hills between Conde sur Vire and Pont Farcy.

Pont Farcy

We were making great progress up the Contentin Peninsular and the warm sunny weather helped a lot.

Cherbourg 179km

As we approached St Lo, still cycling along the River Vire, we enjoyed several sculptures.

Art along the River Vire

North of St Lo we were very aware that the area saw ferocious action in the Second World war and was close to the Normandy Beaches. We were crossing the marshes on our approach to Carentan and stopped on a bridge dedicated to the 82nd Airborne division of the United States Army. The Battle of Carentan was an engagement which took place between 10 – 15 June 1944 to consolidate the beachheads (Utah beach and Omaha Beach) which had been taken during the Normandy Landings on 6th June 1944. 74 years later there was not much evidence of the carnage from the war.

Dedication on the bridge near Carentan

We continued across the marshes enjoying some excellent single track on our approach to Carentan.

Approaching Carentan across the marshes which had seen fierce fighting in 1944.

Carentan was quiet and peaceful.

After Carentan there was more Voie Vert as we headed west to La Haye du Puits.

Voie Vert near La Haye du Puits

As we got closer to Cherbourg the Voie Vert gave way to paved roads. We enjoyed the downhill run into the city where we easily found the ferry port. We boarded Barfleur in the late afternoon and enjoyed a smooth crossing to Poole.

Barfleur

Sunset in Poole harbour

Tour de Manche: Roscoff to St Malo

The official route

The overnight ferry from Plymouth brought us to Roscoff on the North coast of Brittany.

We had planned the route we were intending to follow in advance. There is a Tour de Manche website which provided some information but generally it wasn’t very helpful. One of the main problems was that we were riding it backwards, in that we had decided to ride the French section of the TDM with the prevailing wind and the route is described on the website from Cherbourg to Roscoff, which is against the wind. The downside of this idea was we would have the wind against us in Southern England.

The route is mostly well signed. However, the signs did tend to peter out just when we needed them most.

Signage on the Tour de Manche

We were riding our normal touring bikes which have sturdy steel frames with 28mm Continental 4 season tyres. We carried the small amount of stuff we needed in panniers.

Our trusty steeds

We were not camping or applying heat to any food and that meant we were travelling light.

Travelling light (on the gravel tracks)

We expected to be riding on good surfaced roads the whole time and had only brought one spare inner-tube each. We expected to pass plenty of bike shops in France if we did need help with any mechs.

As it turned out the route alternated between tarmac and off road sections some of which we would have been more at home on our mountain bikes.

Nice bit of single track!

There were no bike shops! Luckily the Continental 4 seasons did not let us down and we did not have a single puncture despite the rough tracks we were riding on.

The route along the coast of Northern Brittany was very scenic but constantly undulating with some challenging hills. We took time to enjoy the scenery and points of local interest.

Paimpol

Near Cap Frehel

On the fifth day we decided to take the waterbus across the Rance from Dinard to St Malo rather than riding up to Dinan on the Voie Vert where the official route went. We did this because a boat trip was more interesting than a city!

Ticket office for the Water bus from Dinard

On reflection  the first five days of the TDM from Roscoff to St Malo was the best bit for us. The cycling was interesting and the coastal scenery spectacular.

After St Malo we detoured to Concale and then we started the ‘Petit Tour de Manche’ which is much flatter with long sections of Voie Verte – the green roads.

Our introduction to Voie Verte near Le Mont St Michel. Beautiful.