Cycling Coast to Coast for RoSPA

Earlier this month, I set off on a Coast to Coast cycling challenge to raise money for RoSPA’s first “safe community”, a place where no-one need suffer an accidental injury.

Errol Taylor RoSPA Coast to Coast

Errol all ready to go – equipped with his hi-viz jacket and a big smile!

Today’s A&E departments are bursting at the seams partly due to the numbers of accidents we suffer in our homes and during our leisure time. We can’t afford for the NHS to keep investing in more doctors and nurses. Instead, people need to be made aware of everyday hazards so that they can take better care of themselves and their loved ones. This is where injury prevention comes in; it is low cost and highly effective, especially when it is tailored to the needs of people as they travel life’s journey.

The 140-mile challenge from Whitehaven on the west coast of beautiful Cumbria to Gateshead on the east coast was also an opportunity for me to aid my recovery from an operation to repair my right knee, which was damaged after years of playing squash, tennis and badminton.

Here are a few diary entries to give you some idea of how I got on during the six-day adventure:

Thursday evening

Late home from work. Must load the bike on the car and pack some clothes. Cumbria’s weather is so unpredictable, I’d better take the kitchen sink…winter waterproofs, heavyweight fleece, lightweight hi-viz waterproof and fleece, T-shirts, padded cycle shorts, undies, trainers, comfy shoes, sandals, umbrella and wellies.

Friday

Off early to collect my pals Andy and Ian, their bikes and luggage. Their bags are much smaller than mine, suggesting a far more efficient approach to packing. Worryingly, their bikes look shiny and much more impressive than mine – a venerable Dawes Sarratoga mountain bike with slick tyres for asphalt.

We set off on our four-hour drive to Gateshead in glorious sunshine. The drive up the A1 (M) is uneventful and easy because we share the driving…saving energy for the days to come.

In Gateshead, we rendezvous with our tour guides and the nine other cyclists. Everyone is keen, happy and looks extremely fit. We transfer bikes and luggage and drive west to Threlkeld in Cumbria. This gorgeous little village, with delightful lambs and calves enjoying the lush grass, nestles in the foothills of the massive Blancathra. We enjoy a tasty meal – ale and cider – before a restful night in an ancient coaching inn.

Saturday  

After a lavish cooked breakfast, we’re driven to the start of the C2C in Whitehaven. We all have cameras, so every photo has to be taken 12 times. Rear wheels are dipped in the Irish Sea and I almost go for a swim after slipping on treacherous seaweed. At last we’re set free to start climbing all the way back to Threlkeld. The C2C starts off gently and we speed off towards the open countryside. The tranquillity of the first tea stop is marred by an outraged homeowner who bemoans the way in which we line up to overlook her garden and admire the views of the countryside. Is this a one-off or the first taste of hostility towards cyclists?

We set off again and enter the Lake District National Park. Hills are getting a bit steeper but nothing to worry about. A healthy lunch awaits us in a layby next to Loweswater where we spot a handful of hardy swimmers splashing through the icy water. On to Keswick by way of Whinlatter Pass – flanked by Broom Fell (509m) and Grisedale Pike (790m) – and enticing Derwent Water. The guides do a great job of steering us through Keswick and on to the disused railway track between Keswick and Threlkeld. However, we suffer a big disappointment by having to cycle past an ice cream van. Warm water has to suffice until we reach the coaching inn where the first refreshing pints are downed rather quickly.

Sunday

This is the Big Day with the biggest hill and where we cover the biggest distance. Again, we set off in glorious sunshine and surprisingly, we’re not too saddle-sore. Those padded shorts were a superb investment! My back tyre suddenly goes soft and after a quick repair I show a tiny flint arrowhead to the group. I’m lucky with the single puncture because another member of our party suffers four on the same day! The enforced breather means that we make light work of the ride through “Tuftyland” (the Lake District is one of the last refuges of our charismatic red squirrel) and reach Greystoke for our second healthy lunch of salad, quiche, sausages and fruit. Our guides get another mouthful of abuse from a local, for parking the support vehicle in front of his house “and blotting out the sun”. Cumbrians clearly are very keen to make the most of every little bit of sunshine…

RoSPA Errol Taylor Coast to Coast

Errol makes time for a quick photo while on the way through “Tuftyland” (the Lake District is one of the last refuges of our charismatic red squirrel).

Next we raid the “naughty box” – full of assorted chocolates and old-fashioned sweets – before setting off again, through the metropolis of Penrith and on to Hartside Cafe. At 624m above sea level, this cafe is England’s highest and very popular with motorcyclists. Feeling elated at having reached such a dizzy altitude, we head off in search of a cream tea. Alas, there is no more cream and a member of staff grumbles when we take their last cheese scone, muttering “that it has been a busy day”. Parisian waiters seem polite in comparison!

Fortified by the tea, we whizz down the hill to Alston, looking forward to a shower, a good meal and plenty of alcoholic lubrication. The shower is surprisingly invigorating, intermittently scalding and freezing but the food and drink ensure that we get off to another good night’s sleep.

Monday

The shortest day in terms of miles but with a set of “cheeky” (i.e. really challenging) climbs. Not quite as sunny as before, so we all wrap up for a pleasant cycle to the attractive village of Garrygill on the Pennine Way. That saddle is becoming more uncomfortable but it is still OK. One has to “wiggle” to get completely comfortable. The hill out of Garrygill is a shocker! It is so steep that despite using really low gear ratios we have to zig-zag (or walk) our way up the first 100m. After that, it teases by rising steeply, levelling off, curving and rising steeply again. Though much shorter than Hartside, this hill seems to go on and on until we eventually reach the summit at Flinty Fell (591m) and admire the view of open moorland. The descent is equally steep and I bless the fact that I take it gently and have always taken care over the maintenance of my brakes. There’s a smell of burnt rubber in the air by the time we drop down to the old mining village of Nenthead.

We raid the “naughty box” for sustenance before climbing to the Cumbria/Northumberland border and the highest point on the National Cycle Network (609m). The views of the open moorland are breathtaking (or maybe we’re breathless from all that climbing?) but the bleakness spurs us on across Allendale Common to the attractive village of Allenheads for lunch, where we admire the hydraulic engine and try out the stocks.

This was mining country where people toiled to extract silver and lead. The Lintzgarth Arch is all that remains of a horizontal flue used to take poisonous fumes away and allow precious metals to condense. Apparently small children were sent into the flue to scrape off the toxic metal deposits. Thank goodness for modern health and safety legislation!

After some off-road fun, where carbon-fibre bikes with full suspension and nobbly tyres come into their own and for the first time make my trusty steed seem a bit inadequate, we reach a guest house. We are warmly welcomed and make the most of the snug lounge and plentiful supply of ales and ciders before eventually retiring for the night.

Tuesday

Errol Taylor RoSPA Coast to Coast

The team (and Errol, front, bottom right) reach Hadrian’s Cycleway in north England.

Final day. All downhill! The weather is starting to close in, so we wrap up in cycling fleeces and hi-viz waterproofs. Sitting on the saddle is becoming more uncomfortable and wiggles are becoming more pronounced. The ride down the Waskerley Way – a converted railway track – is almost too easy for seasoned cyclists who have just conquered the Pennines!

We cross Hownsgill Viaduct – now “adorned” with ugly fencing to discourage suicide attempts – before admiring the Terra Novalis sculptures on the outskirts of Consett. The Waskerley Way morphs into a succession of traffic-free routes: Derwent Walk, Keelman’s Walk and then Hadrian’s Way. Lots of photos are taken in front of Newcastle’s Tyne bridges before a final lunch in front of the Cycle Hub and a short ride to the pebbly beach at Tynemouth where we proudly dip our front wheels in the North Sea.

I’m really pleased that my knees and venerable old bike have performed magnificently throughout the 140 miles, helping me to disprove Bob Hope’s assertion that “middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle”.

Finally, I’m so grateful to everyone who has contributed to the amazing total of over £3,100 that we have managed to raise for RoSPA.

Errol Taylor, RoSPA’s deputy chief executive

www.justgiving.com/Errol-Taylor

Did you know that RoSPA has been at the heart of accident prevention in the UK and around the world for almost 100 years?

Do you fancy taking action on accidents by helping to further RoSPA’s mission “to save lives and reduce injuries”?

Whether it’s scaling mountains, staging coffee mornings or swimming in a bath of cold beans, we want to hear from you and get you on board. Visit www.rospa.com/fundraising/ for some ideas and tips to get you started. For further details, email fundraising@rospa.com.

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