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Tuesday 4th July
This bicycle ride crossed Britain from my starting point at Bowness-on-Solway from where I followed NCR 72 into Carlisle. At this point I have to say a big thank you to Sustrans whose signage ensured busy roads were avoided. The route followed quiet safe lanes and countless interesting sights.
A year ago I had cycled through Carlisle en-route to John O'Groats and regretted being unable to spare the time to stop. So I spent the remainder of today sight-seeing. Carlisle is a busy place with its landmark castle. I managed to find the auction room owned by Bargain Hunt expert Paul Laidlaw.
Wednesday 5th July
I left my B&B without buying the 50 pence breakfast being sold for £5 then hunger took over. The aroma of a bacon butty led me by the nose into a nearby by cafe
Suitably fuelled I followed NCR 72 and reached the Memorial footbridge. It was closed for safety reasons and a the diversion took me into parkland. The diversionary path was an easier, shorter and safer route. I have now emailed Sustrans to request the present NCR 72 signage is updated for cyclists to follow this diversion.
The parkland route opened onto a quiet country lane that took me out of Carlisle and over the M6 motorway.
I regularly drove along this motorway leaving home at 5am in the morning to work in either Gateshead or Glasgow. Happy days? - no. Having escaped Carlisle and the unhappy reminder of motorway life the following 2 days of cycling were to be the very best I have ever experienced; NCR 72 weaves through gorgeous villages and places of historic interest including the ancient Roman Fort of Birdoswald where visited Hadrian's Wall
I wrongly assumed Hadrian's Wall was built as a boarder to Scotland. Todays visit informed me that Walls were the Roman empires' practice of 'defence before expansion'. Some years later they advanced into central Scotland where the little known Antonines Wall was built. They eventually retreated back to Hadrians Wall, the Roman empires' boundary in Britain.
Several places displayed road signs that used the county name of Cumberland. That evening my cousin Kenneth explained that some years ago the county merged with Westmoreland and gave rise to the county now referred to as Cumbria.
My route from Birdoswald took me to Haltwistle, the geographical centre of Britain where I stopped to visit the Mr George Museum of Time.
Diana the owner is the daughter of George, who passed away some years ago. She tells me he was a keen cyclist and cycling club member of a local group. He was also a watch and clock repairer. Diana served her apprenticeship under his guidance and continues to repair time pieces in the premises.
Many museums are boring. This one is worth stopping at. Display cabinets contained wrist watches, mantel, travel and alarm clocks. Some were like the ones I previously owned. The relaxing sound of wall and cuckoo clocks happily ticked away. One of the rooms is for children to learn about and draw pictures of clocks and Diana is an accomplished authoress whose illustrated childrens books form a series of 'Mr George' stories. The books can be read and purchased here.
This was a wonderful visit and whilst entry is free of charge I was pleased to make a charitable donation to support her great work.
NCR 72 took me over the Northumberland moor on a traffic free road with fabulous views. I stayed overnight in Hexham and met with my cousin Kenneth who told me about the 7 bridges that cross the Tyne in Newcastle. I was keen to see the Millennium bridge being raised and he used his smart phone to find out when it would do so.
Thursday 6th July
Leaving Hexham my route followed a former railway track where I saw the house where George Stevenson was born. I used to confuse George with his son Robert. Robert designed the Rocket steam train; George was famous for inventing the ‘Geordie’ coal miners safety lamp.
Then onwards to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Newcastle has its fair share of bridges. Within the space of 3 miles I counted 7 of them; some were for trains, some for vehicles, some for pedestrians.The most iconic is the Tyne Bridge. Its builders went on to construct the Forth Road and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The next to be seen is the Swing Bridge.This was constructed to expand trade by opening the upper reaches of the Tyne to larger sea vessels; under the photo of the Swing bridge is the 'High Bridge'. Vehicles drive through its core and trains on the top.
The others are the QE II Bridge that carries the Metro light railway, then the King Edward Bridge for trains only. I travelled over it on the way home. Next is the concrete Redheugh bridge that is used by motorists to and from Newcastle and Gateshead.
The Newcastle Millennium Bridge is the newest. It was officially opened in 2001 by HM the Queen to mark her diamond jubilee celebrations. Having been told by cousin Kenneth that the bridge would open at noon, I arrived in time to capture that moment.
As the bridge was opening the person next to me said that anything dropped on the deck automatically rolls into special traps at each end of the bridge - wow, how clever.
NCR 72 then follows the quayside past a cafe and bicycle workshop called the 'Hub', then inland to pass the Swan Hunter shipbuilders, then the ferry terminal linking Newcastle with Amsterdam. The end of NCR 72 was reached a mile or so later at the mouth of the Tyne.
Many cyclists wheeled their bikes onto the beach and undertook the ceremonial 'end of journey' dipping of tyres into the sea. Not for me. I decided to go the extra mile and cycled to the Rendezvous cafe in Whitley Bay for my just desert - the worlds biggest banana split, yummy.