A little background first, my wife and I are in our early fifties living in South East Northumberland. We both stopped smoking in May 2014 and subsequently put on quite a bit of weight to the point where decided in August last year to do something about it. I'd cycled a fair bit in my twenties, time trials and club runs etc, not great but capable, stopped cycling in 1990. My wife Carole hadn't cycled in her adult life. Between then and now I lost about 3 and a half stone, Carole also lost a fair bit, but we wanted to do more so decided to purchase a couple of bikes. I'd wanted to do one of the challenges for a while, the C2C and Reivers appealed a lot but due to a medical issue and missing a lot of winter riding we opted for the Coast and Castles. In a nutshell I was much better prepared than Carole as I commute most days to work, around 15 to 20 miles a day whereas Carole could only manage a weekend and a couple of nights a week, so this seemed the most practical choice. We are both riding Giant Hybrids fitted with Topeak panniers and bags.
Day 1 Bedlington to Warkworth 24.5 miles
A nice easy day on what is often our Sunday run. We started at Bedlington because it's where we live and logistically it made a lot of sense. Good weather and pretty much flat all the way we joined the route at Furnace Bank and followed the course as it's written. From just after Cresswell the road turns to rough gravelled track which is fine to ride on. Druridge Bay Country Park was a good stop off for a cuppa and bacon sandwich before moving onto Amble which was fairly busy as it was market day (Sunday). We got berated off a motorist for travelling the 'wrong' way down a one way street, that was until we made him aware of the signs that said 'except for cyclists'. Break out the smug smile. We had a look around the market and then on to Warkworth and our accommodation at The Sun Hotel. Warkworth is a lovely picture postcard place nestling on the river Coquet.
Day 2 Warkworth to Lindisfarne 47.5 miles
Bad start to the day, puncture to my rear wheel which took a good 40/45 minutes to sort and get us on our way. Nice steady day planned and nice easy run through Alnmouth and on to Boulmer. Here the rout follows a rough track, the kind you get in dunes, not too bad at all but a couple of spots where we had to dismount but not causing any problems. We carried on past Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle heading towards Seahouses for lunch. We'd been making good time and the weather was good. At Seahouses we indulged in a bag of chips before heading onto Bamburgh which has in my mind one of the finest castles in the country. Grabbed an ice cream here then set off to make the Lindisfarne causeway which was going to be safe to cross from just after 19.00 hrs. It was then that the weather began to turn, we knew it was forecast for light showers but this is Northumberland. By the time we'd climbed up to Belford we were in the midst of what can only be described as a monsoon, by the time we found somewhere to shelter we were the proverbial drowned rats. We were still in good spirits by the time we reached the causeway where the plan had been to hole up in the local pub until we could cross, but we noticed a new cafe nearby which had signs up to say they cyclist friendly, Eat & Sleep Lindisfarne, it was an inspired choice as they were brilliant letting us use all facilities to try and dry off and get changed. Anyway a few coffees etc and off over the causeway to our accommodation on Lindisfarne. Despite the puncture and weather we'd made good time, pretty much bang on schedule so we were pretty pleased with ourselves.
Day 3 Lindisfarne to Melrose 62 miles
As we set back off across the causeway the weather was gloomy and a bit forboding but got much better as the day went on ............... and it did go on! Straight off the causeway the route was along the coastal path which with care was ok in places but in others I would have thought a mountain bike was order of the day. The scenery was stunning mind, at one point we were watching dolphins breach just a few hundred yards out from the cliff tops. Unfortunately the roughness of the track knocked us of schedule by a good hour and a half, so it was after 12.00 hrs when got through Berwick with only time to grab an ice cream before heading for our (late) lunch stop at Norham. It was a steady ride there where we had a pint and a sandwich from the butchers (best butchers I've been in!). As we were running late we decided to crack on after about 40 minutes. Whether it was poor planning, underestimating I'm not sure but once we left Norham there was a awful lot of climbing, in and out of the Tweed valley which is stunningly beautiful by the way. It took us by surprise a bit, I don't mind the climbing (total climbing was 2627ft) but Carole struggled a bit and so the hills slowed us down even further and we were running about 2 hours behind schedule. Anyway Carole being Carole persevered and we arrived in Melrose just before 20.00 having left Lindisfarne just after 09.00. A couple of pints and a feed had us feeling better but pretty tired nonetheless.
Day 4 Melrose to Edinburgh 53.5 miles
I'd been looking forward to this one, Carole a little apprehensive because we knew we'd be climbing for 10 mile or so through the Moorfoot Hills (total climbing 3330 ft). We set of early with the plan to get to Innerliethen for an early lunch. It was a little harder than expected getting to Innerliethen with a few early climbs but we coped well. We reached Innerliethen right on schedule so stopped off for about 45 minutes to eat (haggis & brie panini for me!) then straight onto the climb as the weather became fairly wet and dull , it was gentler than I'd expected but still proved a challenge in places, Carole had a few breathers on the ascent but in fairness coped pretty well. The descent at 2 thirds in was still a welcome respite before the final climb to the summit which we achieved with a great sense of pride. The descent off the hills was great but the remaining miles into Edinburgh were not so enjoyable, a few stiffish climbs, getting lost and ending up jostling with some quite heavy traffic meant it was with great relief we finally found our accommodation at about 18.30, Barony House where we stayed is highly recommended.
Day 5 Edinburgh to Newcastle via train then onto Bedlington 29 miles
Dodged the traffic up to The Mound, not too bad plenty of cycle lanes in Edinburgh then on to Waverly to catch train with no dramas. Arrive Newcastle at about 13.30 where we walked to quayside with bikes to official start point and on our way again. The ride to Tynemouth was pleasant, lovely sunny day with the wind to our backs. Couple of climbs which stung the legs so it was nice to have a quick drink (fruit juice!) in Tynemouth before heading back up the coast to our official finish line, Furnace Bank in Bedlington but with one last stop off at a local ice cream parlour at Blyth beach for Carole's reward, a giant ice cream cone, thoroughly deserved. The last 6 mile were a delight, so proud when we reached our finish point.
If someone had told us a year ago we'd do this I'd have laughed in their face, they say it's the easiest of the 'challenge rides' and that may well be, but it is definitely a challenge. We loved every minute, even when the going got tough. We met some lovely people en route and would strongly recommend this route. We chose to do it in a leisurely fashion and as such should have probably allowed an extra day to take everything in, we WILL be looking to do similar next year.