Travel writing: cycle ride from Newcastle to Berwick-Upon-Tweed
Day 1: Newcastle to South Shields
Our four day trip through Northumberland followed part of the Coast and Castles Cycle Route, which runs for nearly 200 miles from Newcastle to Edinburgh. We followed the route as far as Berwick-upon-Tweed before making our way back to Alnmouth to catch the train. The route from Newcastle to Berwick is not technically challenging and suitable for any ability level. It is worth noting that the section between Holy Island and Berwick consists of rough, narrow tracks across the sand dunes and would be very difficult on a road bike. In terms of mileage, the map we used – available from the Coast and Castles website – set daily routes of between 35 and 50 miles.
We arrived in Newcastle by train in the afternoon on our first day of riding. My brother Jon and I caught the train from London King’s Cross, while Dad had come from Oxford. There is a direct service from King’s Cross, operated by Virgin East Coast, which takes just over 3.5 hours, while the service from Oxford takes 4.5 hours and is operated by Crosscountry trains. After arriving at Newcastle and a drink in the former first-class-waiting-room-turned-pub, we set off. After leaving the station, we found the start of the route with the help of a friendly passer-by and joined the River Tyne, cycling past the Tyne Bridge, Gateshead Millennium Bridge and Sage arts centre, then along the river for 8 miles to the Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel in Jarrow. Arriving at the tunnel later than planned, having stopped on the outskirts of Newcastle to fix a puncture, we found it closed for refurbishment. A tunnel security guard advised us of the free bus service for pedestrians, complete with bike trailer; which stops very close to the entrance to the tunnel.
Safely across the Tyne, we rejoined the Coast and Castles route and passed ‘Bede’s World’, a museum dedicated to the Venerable Bede – the 7th Century English monk famous for producing The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He lived at the monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, 14 miles South East of Newcastle. We cycled on and soon reached South Shields, a former Victorian seaside resort and our destination for the night.
Day 2: South Shields to Alnwick
In the morning, we left for the passenger ferry to take us to North Shields. Reaching North Shields, we cycled to Tynemouth, an attractive town with Georgian houses and the impressive Tynemouth Priory and Castle. The priory was founded early in the 7th Century while it is believed that the castle has been there in some form since 1095. After stocking up on bananas, we cycled on to Whitley Bay and Blyth. As we followed the path along the seafront at Whitley Bay, we began to experience the full force of the North wind. We were cycling into this nagging wind for most of our route and found that it made a surprising difference to our speed. This was one of the only downsides of the route we planned and it was more than made up for by the remarkably attractive scenery. We stopped at Blythe for coffee in a cafe run by volunteers raising money for the local lifeboat. The cafe sits on the site of the old timber docks and features a collection of historic photographs of the area as well as a large wooden figurehead from a ship. Leaving Blyth, the route diverts around the estuary and passes through Lynmouth and Amble. Stopping in Amble for coffee we made our way on to Walkworth Castle – which is well worth a visit. The castle was probably constructed by Henry, son of David I of Scotland, in the 12th Century after he was made Earl of Northumberland. Leaving the castle, the route crosses some pretty countryside and reaches the edge of Alnmouth, a picturesque town by the sea. As it was getting late and we were staying in Alnwick for the night, still five miles away, we decided to divert from the path and cycle along the roads in order to get there before nightfall. Our accommodation was in the recently refurbished and very comfortable YHA, in the town’s old court house.
Day 3: Alnwick to Berwick-Upon-Tweed
Leaving Alnwick the following morning, we followed the B1340 over the A1 to Denwick and past Dunstan to the coast. From here the path veers away from the coast briefly, through some fields as it passes Dustanburgh Castle, perched by the sea. At this point Dad came off his bike thanks to a loose cattle grid and we stopped at the doctors in Embleton for some bandaging before deciding to cycle along a B road towards Seahouses. After a brief rest in Seahouses, the path took us to Bamburgh Castle and then along the road through Budle and Warren Mill to the beginning of the causeway at Holy Island. As we were still around 13 miles from Berwick-Upon-Tweed, our destination for that night, we decided to visit Holy Island the next day on our way back from Berwick. Continuing towards Berwick; the path goes through sand dunes as it clings to the coastline, offering views of the North Sea and huge waves crashing against the shore. The headwind along this part of the route made progress particularly slow for the last few miles into Berwick but we managed to reach our youth hostel just before dark.
Day 4: Berwick-Upon-Tweed to Wooler
Departing from the Coast and Castles route, and heading back towards Alnmouth, we left Berwick and followed quiet roads for around 13 miles to Holy Island. The wind and rain picked up as we crossed the causeway, which added to atmosphere of the place. The causeway has spectacular views, with small refuge huts balanced on stilts emerging from the water and lines of wooden poles stretched out between the island and mainland as an aid to visitors who cross the sands on foot. We had tea in a pub and then made our way over to Lindisfarne Castle, an old fort remodelled into a home by Edward Lutyens in 1901 at the request of his friend Edward Hudson, founder of Country Life magazine. Hudson reportedly stumbled across the building while on holiday in the area and commissioned Lutyens and the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll to refurbish and restore it. The castle has thick, impenetrable stone walls and carefully laid out rooms – it is easy to imagine Hudson hosting dinners there for high profile friends. Leaving Holy Island, we cycled along backroads with dramatic views of the Cheviot Hills towards our accommodation in Wooler.
Day 5 – Wooler to Alnmouth
Leaving Wooler in the morning, we cycled along back roads to Alnwick, arriving there in good time for our lunchtime train. Dad got off at Darlington to make his connecting train to Oxford, while Jon and I stayed on the train to King’s Cross.
The Coast and Castles route is well designed, offering distinctive scenery and sites of historical interest as it travels up the coast. Holy Island, Lindisfarne Castle and the town of Alnwick are highlights of the ride and not to be missed.
More information on the route can be found at: http://www.coast-and-castles.co.uk
Article also published on Coast & Castles website here