I decided to have a go at the Carlisle to Glasgow cycle route during the late May Bank Holiday in 1998. Living in Washington, Tyne and Wear, I had the option of cycling to Newcastle and taking the train over to Carlisle to start the trip there, but decided to cycle over instead. My journey, then, was from Washington to Glasgow, it involved cycling around 270 miles in four days.
You can buy a route map, and a map showing the City of Glasgow cycle
way, from Sustrans.
I was 48 years old at the time of the ride. I cycle to work most days, and I get out a bit on weekends too. I have never raced, time trialled, or done anything else remotely sportive on a bike. I ride for pleasure. My wife is also a keen cyclist, but she does not have the opportunity to ride to work. We use a tandem, but rarely ride further than 40 miles at one sitting. The furthest I have ever ridden in a day is just over 100 miles, a feat accomplished during my fortieth year to prove to myself that all was not lost! I find that I average about 10 mph with a loaded touring bike, taking into account cups of tea, photography, and navigation.
I don't like sleeping in a tent, so overnight stops are comfortably undertaken at B&B establishments.
The bike used in this saga is a 1991 vintage Nigel Dean World Tour,
tourer built of Reynolds 531. After
riding a MTB to work during the week, the tourer feels like it floats
I am one of those people who tend to carry an excess of stuff around
me, a full set of tools, spare tube, heavy clothes etc. All of this
crammed into a set of Freedom Bikepacking panniers and a bar bag. The
are not waterproof, and I always line them with bin bags.
Looking at the map, I decided not to go into Carlisle, but to join the route at Gretna. The way from Washington to Gretna, was quite pleasant, on mainly minor roads or off road. Local knowledge got me to Newcastle via quiet roads, and then there is a cycle route West out of the City following the River Tyne, and then a disused railway. Hexham was reached in time for an economical lunch in the Wentworth Café .
Moving west again, through Fourstones and Newborough, I managed to squeeze past the side of the Roman Fort at Vindolanda on a very minor road before having to make the choice between the suicidal A69 and the slightly less suicidal B6318, the military road. I am sure that Sustrans are working at finding a way through the valley that avoids the main roads. Once past Greenhead and into Gilsland the route follows the Cumbria Cycle Way, a much nicer experience.
There is a tourist information office at Newtown, and they helpfully found me an excellent and inexpensive B&B just outside Gretna. I normally try to find accommodation at around about 3 pm, and have found that it is well worth while using the tourist office in a town prior to my destination to do this, even if it does involve a small charge. I stayed at the Craigarran B&B, situated in Springfield, comprising the house above a newsagent's shop. Accommodation in Gretna is expensive, it is on the tourist trail, I was lucky to find this place.
One point, I always ask for sheets of newspaper on which to leave the panniers. Experience has taught me that it takes a long time to remove oil stains from carpets!
My hosts suggested that I would be able to get a good meal at a nearby motel, just past the railway station. It turned out that it was used by building contractors who appreciated value for money. I had the largest and tastiest home-made steak and kidney pie that I have ever seen, while there was a friendly atmosphere in there. Later they were screening world cup football, so I happily sank a couple of pints and took in the game.
Next morning I found that there was another cycling guest, an
lad doing the End to End ride. We talked bikes over breakfast.
At this point I discovered that the official Sustrans map is designed such that you cannot read it if it is placed in the map pocket of a bar bag. While it may seem the natural thing to do to orientate a map in the vertical plane, cycling maps need to go across the page!
Never mind, I was on the official route and on with the adventure. After some time I became aware that there was a series of small signs, all bearing the number 7, on various lamp-posts and other roadside furniture. It took me a while to realise that they were indeed the official way markers for Sustrans route No. 7. I have to admit that I have no sense of direction, and need to constantly refer to the map at all junctions. The route markings were a little too discreet for my liking, and I often found myself taking the wrong turning in built up areas.
The problem lies with the fact the route designers have very reasonably taken the quietest roads, through small villages whose names do not appear on the normal road signs. The Sustrans map only marks a narrow corridor, and the larger towns that are sign posted often do not appear upon it. I was very glad that I had brought along a set of OS maps that allowed me to stay on track.
The run along the side of the Solway Forth to Dumfries was very
there was hardly any wind, very little traffic, and a little bit of
One of the nicest features of the ride was that I found people
to try to help with directions and in other ways. I decided to stop for
lunch in Dumfries, but was concerned about leaving the bike outside.
first person I asked about this immediately took charge of the
She lead me to the place she recommended, and then arranged with the
for the bike to be put behind closed doors. Maybe I was just lucky, but
there does seem to be an increase in the friendliness factor as you go
Leaving Dumfries, I headed further north on a very pleasant route
Castle Douglas and on towards Gatehouse of Fleet. A wrong turn sent me
into Kirkcubright, a place that I would have liked to have explored,
I was conscious of the time and needed to press on.
Gatehouse of Fleet is a lovely little town, and I managed to find accommodation in a converted smithy, the Bay Horse B&B. I was the only guest that night, but it was a really interesting house, beautifully furnished and full of character, with a nice garden too. It must be my advancing years, but having a hot bath after a long day in the saddle is one of life's greatest pleasures.
One disappointment was the meal in the nearby pub. It was full of
families and the food was standard microwave fare. I quickly finished
and got out.
Setting out to do some serious, by my standards, climbing on the third day, I was concerned to note that the weather had deteriorated. It was cold, it became wet, with a wind blowing in the wrong direction. It turned out to be a long arduous day, not one that I would care to repeat.
There is not much opportunity to buy refreshments along this section of the route, you must be prepared to look after yourself. I had bought some emergency rations in Gatehouse in case I could not find any supplies en-route, and this turned out to be the case. While most of this day's journey was on minor roads, it did involve a very unpleasant, if short, trip along the A75. I understand that an alternative route is being investigated to eliminate this section.
I started in shorts, and without a windproof top, but was quickly driven to wearing a waterproof. As I climbed higher the temperature dropped, and then I became aware that my jacket was not waterproof. About midday I stopped and ate the cold food that I had. It was now raining quite heavily and I was perished. I put on all of my available clothes and set out again. My fingers and toes were painfully cold, despite wearing thinsulate gloves and waterproof overshoes, while the rain/sleet was finding its way into my jacket. The road seemed to go forever upwards, and the visibility was not good. I hardly saw another vehicle and became genuinely concerned that I might have bitten off more than I could manage. In these circumstances you have just got to get on with it. Fortunately I was not overly tired, and, secure in the knowledge that what goes up must come down, was able to continue to grind slowly along.
One secret of successful touring is to know your limitations and to restrict your power output to a value that you know you can sustain.
Somewhere during this nightmare I came across a junction in a particularly barren stretch, and for the first time since joining the route, there were large and clear signposts indicating the way route 7 was going. I have rarely been so pleased to see a signpost!
Eventually I escaped from the mountains and dropped down into Maybole. Throughout the past several hours I had been imagining the pleasure of a hot drink, and in Maybole there was a café. It might have been the circumstances, but I did not find the town very attractive, however the generous mug of hot milky coffee that was served was extremely welcome. By this time I was quite tired, so I elected to take the main road to Ayr, rather than the hilly alternative suggested by route 7.
Ayr does not look very appealing in the rain. The tourist office was helpful, but I had arrived on the day of the races, so there was no suitable accommodation available in the town. This was something of a blow, but they did manage to find a place for me in Prestwick. I had heard the name in connection with the airport, but did not realise that Prestwick and Ayr were joined, and I could not detect the point at which one ended and the other began.
By far the best thing that day was the B&B accommodation, No.
on the main street through Prestwick. Another clinically clean and
furnished house, decorated in a variety of styles - the bathroom had a
Rennie Mackintosh design on the wall to complement the gold plated
It transpired that the daughter was studying art and was a fan of
My window faced towards the sea. I was made very welcome, special
were made to dry my sodden clothes, and I was recommended a local pub
a meal. The food was excellent, my hosts joined me at the pub, the beer
was good, and there was football on the box - heaven.
The rain had stopped, but it was still grey. I headed north again. Troon was a disappointment in the dull conditions. I will have to try again on a sunny day. Irvine was surprisingly interesting, with a maritime museum.
The route follows the coast here and it is very good cycling. Somewhere along this stretch I joined an ex-railway line. I normally enjoy riding along railway paths, but this one seemed to spend much of its time in a cutting, with limited opportunities for sight seeing. I suspect that I was wishing the journey to end, concerned that I had to make Glasgow in time to catch a train, and was not in the mood to enjoy the scenery. At one point a large tree had blown down across the path, and it took me quite a time to climb over it. There were very few cyclists on the path.
During the ride I came across a Sustrans sign that pointed to Glasgow in a direction diametrically opposite to my direction of travel. Knowing my susceptibility to error, I checked with the locals, who told me I was going the right way.
Eventually I reached the outskirts of Glasgow. The Sustrans route map can fairly be described as being entirely useless at this point. There is a cycleway through the City, and it is sign posted after a fashion, but I would recommend anyone attempting this journey to get a hold of the detailed map that shows the way through. I asked several people directions, and all were willing to stop and help, but none knew the cycleway. Somehow I found my way through, and was pleased to see the famous football ground (dare not show allegiance) on the way.
The route ends at Bell's Bridge over the Clyde, a remarkable structure, and beyond it some fine modern buildings, one in the fashion of the Sydney Opera House (although the locals have a less flattering description of it). From there to the railway station is something of a problem - there is no cycle route, you have to cross major roads and fight your way through the city traffic. I had previously passed through Glasgow, but never spent any time there. Other than the lack of facilities for cyclists, I was very impressed. Great buildings, interesting shops, and a definite atmosphere. The railway station that I left from is worth a visit in itself.
You can pay £3 to book a place for your bike on the GNER express south via Edinburgh, but the Scotrail humble-mobile to Newcastle via everywhere including Carlisle does not charge for bikes. I elected to go by the leisurely branch line, rather than the high speed alternative. The train journey was a pleasure, but getting back on the bike to do the final 12 miles along and up out of the Tyne valley was a tad unwelcome.
Would I do it again? Possibly, but I like to try somewhere different each time. I would prefer to travel with a companion, and I would be better prepared for the cold and wet in the hills.
Did I enjoy it? Parts yes, but there were bad times as well, it was wonderfully satisfying to roll into Glasgow under my own steam.
One outcome, I found that my "waterproof" jacket had become de-laminated, the waterproof layer peeling away from the material. I bit the bullet and bought an expensive Goretex replacement.
Would I recommend it to others? Yes of course, but be prepared!!
If you decide to have a go, and there is no reason why any reasonably fit person should not, I would suggest the following: -
If you want to ask about the journey, or comment on this article, feel free to send me an e-mail.
I recommend that you read an alternative account, one in which the sun shone, by visiting the site of Stephen Psallidis
If you are not already a member, why not join the Cyclists' Touring Club? It's worth it for the free 3rd party insurance alone, not to mention Chris Juden's excellent technical tips and super magazine.
Further, if you enjoy using Sustrans paths, then you should really join them too.
For details of more cycle tours that I have documented, please look here