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Friday 19 April


Day 1 had been tiring and I slept like a log, exhausted. Good news though, I woke with no aches and pains at all. Today was not as long but would still be hard as all the climbing was in the first part of the day - just how hard it was to be I had not imagined. We had a deadline to meet - the 1730 train from Sunderland to home, otherwise it would be a 2 hour wait for the next train. We therefore set off for an 0940 start having gone to Alston by car from home.

We had done some of this part of the journey before but we were both clearly tired and it took longer than expected to cover it. Some of the hills around Nenthead were harder than we remembered but we were rewarded with stunning views and a lot less wind than yesterday. The temperature was to become a feature of the day and we kept taking off and adding layers depending on the wind, its direction and the height we were at.

Other than tiredness we had nothing to report until Allenheads where we stopped at the wonderful Hemmel Cafe for home made cakes and drinks. Here is where we learned the next lesson. We clearly need to keep hydrated (and we do) but we also need to take on board as much fuel, in the form of food, as we can, when we can. We assumed we would run into plenty of places to do this but alas no. We ate some cake but should have had lunch even if it was only 1130. Last week Nick Menage gave us some great advice on this, but I discovered the need today to actually do this. I won't be making this mistake again and will be eating when I can even if it is not the 'usual' time for a meal.

The next bit was a climb out of Allenheads which I had done a number of times before in a car - and it is daunting - but we made it and were rewarded with a great downhill run across the moors - they are stunning in this part of the world in the Summer months - and passed the architecture of closed mines which are scattered all over in this part of the world, in this case lead mining. We passed the Rookhope horizontal chimney and stopped to read the details. I had passed this a number of times previously in the car and assumed it was a remnant of a railway but it had always seemed odd for that designation and I had always wanted to find out for sure. In reality it is the remnant of something very interesting - click the link and find out. What the link does not tell you but the local information sign does, is that they used to send young boys into the chimney via side doors to scrape the walls and recover lead deposits. A highly poisonous job!

Nearing Stanhope my body and bike defeated me for the first of two occassions today and I found it almost impossible to cycle up one of the steeper hills - I must change those chainrings, there is now no doubt. However, there is one more even harder hill out of Stanhope on the road to Consett and again I had to walk. Robert meanwhile persevered and managed what I could not - well done! Thankfully near the top we turned off the road on to the Waskerley Way which follows old mine railway tracks for miles on to Consett, Stanley, Chester Le Street and then old passenger railway tracks almost all the way to Sunderland.

At the top where we reached the Waskerley Way I was really quite tired and again our average speed dropped. The ride on railway bed improved spirits and strength but we had to push on fast now as we had taken longer than planned and we had that 1730 deadline.

This next bit of the route is fantastic for casual cyclists as it is not too demanding. It is littered with some absolutely fantastic architectural art installations but in the towns is a bit stop start where the route crosses roads and has quite cycle unfriendly barriers. In Stanley we lost the path once due to lack of signage but a very friendly local put us back on route without being asked - it obviously happens a lot, Sustrans please note.

Near Washington we passed a mothballed railway (I later found out it was mothballed - something I did not know existed) which is currently the focus of a potential Metro extension.

Time was running out now and we were again slowing up. We decided to forgo the last mile to the beach in order to get to the railway station on time (a good job as it is not well sign posted!) Thankfully we made it.

These two days have been hard but successful and have told us much about our bikes and kit as well as myself. Every cycle ride we do in training from now until LEJOG will be with full panniers and kit to ensure everything works and we are fitter.