Coldingham YH, Thursday 15 June Day 47 1115 miles
I crossed the border into Scotland at 14.10 today after cycling 1105 miles from home. Hooray! I have been struggling against the north wind for three weeks and seem to be going slower and slower. But at least I've had bright sunshine today, and also yesterday when I cycled to Holy Island which gets cut off from the mainland at high tide. Every summer people have to be rescued from their cars when the tide comes in over the causeway and swamps their cars.
Before that I stayed for three days with an aunt and a cousin in Newcastle. They took me to see Hadrian's Wall which was built a long time ago to stop Scottish people from getting into England. I expect Daddy has a map which shows the wall going right across the country from Bowness-on-Solway in the west to ? in the east. See if you can find the name of the place where the wall ends.
You must get Mummy & Daddy to take you on a boat trip to the Farne Islands. It was one of the highlights of my trip so far. When you get off the boat birds called arctic terns dive-bomb you, peck your head, and try to make a mess on you! The terns are trying to protect their nests. Then you walk round the island just a few feet away from puffins, kittewakes, eider ducks. And seals. Fantastic!
Lots of love,
I had originally intended using Whitby as a base for a short tour of the North York Moors. But with the hostel being full and with my still uncertain fitness, I decided to press on further north. There would be hills enough over the next few days.
It was still drizzling as I set off and did so intermittently throughout the day. A day for full waterproofs, of walking up four steep hills, and another puncture. It was not a good day. Shame really; the road took me through some spectacular coastal scenery. It was a day which should have been savoured rather than endured.
I toiled up several 1-in-7 hills but then had to walk up the 1-in-4 hill out of Sandsend. I stopped at a hotel in Runswick for a delicious cafetiere of coffee and to recover from the rain and wind. By the time I got to Staithes it was fine and I stopped for a quiet lunch by the creek, spoilt by the sudden arrival of two dozen walkers who sat down right in front of me for their own picnic. There was another 1-in-4 push out of the village to a spot from which there were spectacular views back down the ravine formed by the modest little creek, to the south cliff of which the village clung so tenaciously. And then a 1-in-5 hill a few miles further on. Shortly after remounting there was an ominous tick-tick-tick from the front tyre. I stopped to find a half-inch brass plate attached to the front tyre. Pulling it off revealed an enormous drawing pin and the tyre deflated, sighing gently as if in great relief. I avoided the steep hills around Skinningrove but had to walk up yet another 1-in-4 at Saltburn.
By the time I had covered the twenty-five miles to Redcar I'd had enough of the rain and the hills. The information centre was closed but two lifeguards, who were having a lazy day with no lives to be guarded, directed me to Station Road for cheap bed and breakfasts. Mavis and Peter gave me a friendly welcome and at £10 offered excellent value. Redcar is tatty and run-down - goodness knows what work is left in the area ñ but it was Saturday night and the locals were determined to enjoy themselves. In the pubs the women exuded a brassy glamour, laden with jewellery and sporting the shortest mini-skirts I'd seen for thirty years. They each downed a couple of drinks before going off in search of fun.
Walking around the town looking for somewhere to eat I saw several night clubs but few of the cheap restaurants normally to be found in a seaside town. I circled the town twice before returning to a fish and chip shop on the sea front. There I had a soggy, lukewarm, fish-and-chip supper which must have been hanging around for some time waiting for a customer to turn up. It was the worst meal I had on the whole trip. Back at my lodgings I comforted myself with a Mars bar and a cup of coffee, and settled down to watch Inspector Morse on the television.
It had been my intention to head for Peterlee but Mavis and Peter said I was unlikely to find accommodation as there was little except run-down housing estates. I would have more luck in Hartlepool, or in Seaham which was fifty miles away. I headed first for Middlesborough and the transporter bridge across the River Tees. Built in 1911, it ferries cars across the river in a cradle suspended from a gantry over the river, and is one of only two in the country, the other being at Newport in Wales. It was so badly signposted I had to double backwards and forwards through the deserted back streets of Middlesborough seeking it out, only to discover that on Sundays it did not open until after lunch. To go over the next bridge I had to follow four miles of chemical works, dual carriageways and general urban aggravation, alleviated only by the quiet emptiness of Sunday morning.
I passed through the prettily named Seal Sands where there are neither seals nor sands, just acres of reclaimed land covered with pylons, oil storage tanks, miles of pipework, cooling towers and chemical works. Seaton Carew seemed an improbable seaside resort with the chemical works of Seal Sands looming in the background.
In Hartlepool I stopped briefly for a quick look at the frigate HMS Trincomalee, built in Bombay in 1817, which has been in the process of being restored here since 1990 and is one of the oldest ships afloat. Only USS Constitution in Boston is older. One of the reasons for Trincomalee's survival is that she arrived in this country too late to see action against the French. Nonetheless she is the last surviving wooden-wall frigate of the Napoleonic era. The training ship TS Royalist was also in port and I was to meet up with her again at Oban on the far side of Britain.
It was a hard grind up a series of long hills, not steep enough to warrant walking but plenty steep enough with failing legs into the strong north wind. It is disused colliery country; Hordern, Easington, and Dawdon made bleaker still by the onset of rain for the last two hours. The rain became increasingly heavy. I kept hoping to see a welcoming bed and breakfast sign outside a cottage or pub. Instead there was nothing but a closed greyness. Cycling into Seaham I'd still seen nothing and was cold, wet, miserable and exhausted. I headed in desperation for the police station and they directed me to a place I had missed, a terrace of substantial houses set at right angles to the road, overlooking the green.
After a hot shower and a lie down I went down to the pub for a succulent gammon steak and a baked potato. I ate watching England beat Samoa 44-22 in a World Cup rugby match on television. It was an exciting match, but seemed a little remote, part of another world which mine touched only tangentially. It took a couple of pints to completely restore me to life and ready me for a long, long, night's sleep.
Monday should have been an easy thirty-mile day to reach my aunt's house in Newcastle, but I still felt drained from the previous day's exertions. At least the rain had stopped but I was still cycling into a strong north wind, and even the intermittent sunshine failed to raise my spirits. I didn't enjoy the hard work.
It seemed improbable that this decaying industrial area should be where Anglo-Saxon Christianity flourished 1300 years ago. At Sunderland I saw St Peter's church founded in 674 by Benedict Biscop (the church still has a Saxon wall and tower). Pausing at South Shields, itself the site of a Roman fort, I could see across the mouth of the river the ruins of the eleventh century Tynemouth Abbey built on the site of a seventh century Saxon monastery. Continuing west along the south bank of the Tyne I reached Jarrow. Here Benedict Biscop built St Paul's church and monastery in 681 on land given by King Ecgfrith of Northumberland. The chancel is part of the original Saxon church and has a window containing Saxon glass made in the monastery workshops and also the original dedication stone of the church. Outside are the ruins of the monastery and it was here that in about 731 the Venerable Bede wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People which is the earliest chronological account of the development of Anglo-Saxon Britain.
Benedict Biscop was the son of a Northumbrian nobleman but had renounced the world at the age of 25. He spent twenty years of pilgrimage travelling throughout Europe, visiting Rome six times and living in seventeen different monasteries, before returning to found the monasteries at Monkwearmouth and Jarrow. He brought glaziers and masons, relics, vestments, pictures, and most of all books. Bede spent the whole of his life in these two monasteries, teaching and writing, and his Ecclesiastical History was the culmination of his life's work. Hemmed-in and diminished by oil storage tanks and electricity pylons, I found it impossible even to begin to imagine these soot-stained ruins as a triumphant fountain of art and learning, of spiritual and temporal power.
At a butcher's shop in Hebburn I bought a ham sandwich and a chicken and ham pie, both very succulent and very cheap, and took them down to the banks of the Tyne to have for my lunch. Across the river at Wallsend the sheds and cranes of the Tyne's last shipyard stood empty and still, silently waiting for the last drop of the hammer at an auction of the yard's equipment in two weeks time. Swan Hunter was once the world's largest shipyard. More than 2700 ships had been launched there including the Mauretania in 1907, the fastest passenger liner of the age. But the yard was to be saved. The last minute purchase of the yard by the Dutch company THC just before the auction was to ensure that a few jobs continued in the production of oil platforms. But there would be no more ships.
Car parks and landscaped grassland had been created to try to turn this barren area into the beginnings of a riverside country park. It was a gallant effort but not yet entirely convincing. I slept for a while on one of the benches and then set off again on a cycleway which called itself Keelers Row. I wasn't impressed: it wound steeply up and down like a mountain bike course, confusingly signposted, and much of it covered with broken glass. I got thoroughly irritated by this well-intentioned leisure facility and wished I had gone back up to the main road. Easier progress could have been made rowing a keelboat full of coal up the Tyne!
In this sour mood I doggedly made my way along the river to Tyne Bridge in the centre of Newcastle. It was my own fault; I could have taken the easy way out and crossed the Tyne through the pedestrian and cyclists' tunnel between Jarrow and Hebburn. But I particularly wanted to see the amazing cluster of bridges which cram in to such a short section of river in the centre of Newcastle: almost beneath the Tyne Bridge itself is a swing bridge built in 1876 on the site of the Roman river crossing and a subsequent stone bridge which was for over five hundred years the only bridge across the river; the double-decker High Level Bridge which Robert Stephenson built in 1850 to carry both road and railway; the QE2 Bridge; the New Redheugh Bridge. Out of sight up-river was yet another bridge which now diverts the A1 to the west of the city via Blaydon.
The wind howled around me as I took my photographs and then I plunged back into the smog-filled traffic to cross Tyne Bridge into Northumberland. Immediately on the other side the road turned into an urban motorway and I dived off left into an horrendous one-way system, operating purely on instinct to navigate my way around it and avoid the traffic as best as I could. Three quarters of the way round I turned east and stopped with racing pulse and gasping breath to check my maps and try to reconcile them with the road signs.
I turned north again up the slopes on the north side of the Tyne and followed a rather erratic route through Jesmond Dene, somehow finding my way to my aunt's house in Benton.