July 27 – Durham to Stockton-on-Tees
“The other side of the road! The other side of the road!” I called to Steve.
We pedalled out into the streets of Durham and Steve straight away started riding on the right hand side of the road. I suppose we have only had one ride to adapt to riding on the left again. He made a quick swerve onto the other side of the street and with no oncoming traffic, a dingle was averted.
We set off later than usual because it was raining and raining and raining. We thought we’d sit it out for a while and with this weather, we knew we wouldn’t be camping, so we booked a hotel and decided to time our wet ride so we could leave one dry place and arrive right on time for check in at another dry place, rather than leave early, arrive early and have to wait around cold and soggy. When we set off, the rain was lightish but still most definitely raining and we pedalled off and…up. The downhill we’d ridden into the city became the uphill climb out of it and I reckon streets are harder than roads, because streets can be really, really steep! We had some steep climbs up the Durham streets and then out onto the main road, with a path beside it, then onto a not too busy road.
We were still going up and the legs were reminded very quickly about what to do to get up hills after all those weeks of flat riding. As we went up…the rain came down. At one point it absolutely pelted down. We climbed another hill on a road and while Steve stayed on the road, I decided if there was a chance to be out of traffic I’d take it, so I opted to ride on the path. Not a good move. There were puddles on the road. There were very big puddles, halfway across the road. A big four wheel drive came towards me. The four wheel drive drove through a very big puddle. The very big puddle became a very big wave that went up and over. The very big wave went up and over me, all the way up and over my head. I was completely and totally and utterly drenched! Should have stayed on the road!
Some more ups and downs, past countryside, as the rain continued to come down. We were on narrow country roads, with fields beside us, cows and sheeps and wind turbines on the horizon.
We were wet, but at least it wasn’t cold and there was some scenery to look at. Then we had a very steep hill and as I started to climb, a runner came down the hill in front of me. I said hello as he went past, then I heard his voice behind me, “I’m coming up behind you, but don’t worry I’ll go around you.”
“No, I’ll pull over and let you past,” I said and as I stopped on the side of the path, he sprinted up the hill past me. Then he did a slow jog down again. He was doing hill repeats, sprinting up the hill and then doing a slow recovery run back down and then repeating that. So as he came down, I tried to pedal up as fast as I could and then I’d stop on the side of the path to let him sprint up. Apart from my chain falling off, I eventually made it to the top and that very fit runner continued his sprints up that hill.
Then we went off road. Our route took us onto an old rail trail and that was great. We were through trees, passing under old railway arches and along a flat path. There were lots of muddy puddles that beckoned with an invitation to a wobbly cyclist to take a quick dip in the brown sludge, but thankfully I didn’t take any up on the offer. I still got incredibly muddy from riding through all the mud and puddles and getting splashed, but managed to stay upright through them all.
Then, even though this path was part of the National Cycle Network, we were confronted with a barrier that was almost impassable. There were boulder sized rocks across the path, spaced so there was no chance of fitting through. I tried to squeeze between the fence and a rock, which looked to be a wider space, but nope, no chance. An ordinary bike would have gone through, but a wide load…no siree.
At that point we were joined by another two touring cyclists, from Germany. “This is part of the National Cycle Route,” one of the men said, quite stunned that such a barrier would be placed on the path. They had ridden from Germany, through The Netherlands and were on their way to Harwich to catch the ferry back and I guess when you’ve been riding on the perfect National Cycle Routes in those countries, with wide, sealed paths and now in this country you are suddenly confronted with a muddy track and boulders in your path, you may indeed be scratching your head! They couldn’t fit through either with their panniers. We eventually found a track a little further along, past the fence that we could push the bikes up and get around, but it was another moment where you do shake your head at what is expected of bikes with panniers. I know they put the barriers there to keep scooters and motorbikes off the path, but they do make it hard for cyclists too!
We kept riding the old rail line and passed some dog walkers and people out for a stroll. We exchanged smiles and greetings with all and then a man came towards us walking his dog and he stepped to the side of the path to let us through. We thanked him, pedalled on and then the path forked and the map didn’t make it completely clear which way to go. We stopped.
“The sign’s pointing that way,” said Steve.
“Do you know which way to go?” came a voice behind us. The man with the dog had walked back to see if we needed help.
“No, not really,” we said.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
Straight away he pointed up the right path to take. “Straight up there, then over a road and you’ll come to houses, then past the houses and onto a road then back on the path and that will take you all the way to Stockton.”
We thanked him and he gave us a smile. “Y’oright,” he said and gave a wave as he and his four legged companion continued on their way.
We followed his direction and found our way and began scouting for an elevenses spot. There were no benches along the path that we’d been used to seeing in other countries and even the bus shelters didn’t have seats in them. It was way past 11:00 and we were beginning to despair of finding anywhere and we were both feeling peckish, when finally a bus shelter presented itself with a metal rail inside that we could perch on and have a break and a bit of shelter from the wet.
On we went, up some more hills and then we were once again back on a rail trail. We had an ever so slight downhill and we pedalled along that fantastic track, through the trees and through the puddles and the rain eventually stopped.
We decided to stop for lunch when we passed an old railway station at Thorpe Thewles. It had been converted into a cafe and visitor centre, which were closed, but we sat on a bench on the old platform, beside the trees and watched the dog walkers go past. It was a lovely spot, a beautifully preserved old station, in amongst the trees, peaceful with the rain dripping from the branches and the birds beginning to put in an appearance.
We pedalled on, up some country roads, with accompanying hills, then back on a cycle path and we arrived at our pitstop perfectly timed for check in and perfectly located too. The cycle route and path ran literally into the hotel car park. There was even an NCN 1 and NCN 14 cycle route sign on the path into the car park. Steve went inside to check in and the nice lady at reception said we could keep the bikes in our room. Steve told her they were a bit dirty, so she said we could keep them in the linen room. We started unloading the panniers and I squirted the bikes with the water in our drink bottles, trying to wash some of the mud off them and we wheeled them inside. Then the lady said, “No, save you pushing them all the way along the hall and up the stairs, we’ll put them in Room 1. I’ll just check.” She turned to a young man at reception. “Is anyone booked in Room 1?” When he said there wasn’t, she opened the door and took us to one of the guest rooms. “I’ll let management know,” she said, “so no one will be put in here and that will save you carrying the bikes up stairs.” We thanked her over and over telling her it was very good of her. “That’s quite all right, no problem at all,” she assured us. So the bikes are now in a double room with ensuite bathroom, a kettle and complimentary toiletries. Thank you Premier Inn Stockton Teeside, you are champion!
After a post-ride cuppa, we set out to gather the night’s supplies and that was the day. It was a very wet ride, but a great ride along the rail trail. We’ve had to ride the rails on occasion this trip, catching trains to leap frog to places, but today was the best way to ride the rails…along an old railway line converted into a cycle route, through trees and under arches. Fabulous! Finding the lovely old station was a bonus too and it was all infinitely better than actually having to travel by train with the bikes. So…another great day in the bag. Hills, rain, mud, but wonderful people again, some scenery and some peaceful paths. Riding the rails was just ripper!
Distance ridden: 41.6 k
Time in the saddle: 3 hours 3 minutes
Weather: rain, then more rain, then less rain, not cold though, 15C