After a few hours of broken sleep it was time for a quick croissant and banana before hitting the road. After Hawes my route went up and over Buttertubs and into Swaledale to CP3, Keld. I’d love to go back and ride this bit on a sunny day! After Buttertubs there’s another big hill which takes you down in to Kirkby Stephen. I’d ridden some of these roads with my husband Andy and our friends Sam and Amanda a few weeks beforehand, so that gave me a bit of familiarity and something nice to think about. I wasn’t in a great place physically or mentally at this point as I still felt depleted after the previous night’s gippy tummy, fed up with the rain and disheartened by how slowly I was moving. Looking back, the day started with a phenomenal amount of climbing, so no wonder I was moving slowly. But of course I couldn’t see that at the time. I tried to lure myself along with the promise of a coffee in Sedbergh. Alas (the worst timing!) just 4 miles from my promised coffee stop I had my first, and thankfully sole, puncture of the trip. If you know me personally you are likely to know that any kind of emotion, be it happy or sad, tends to escape via my eyes and a few tears of hangry frustration leaked out as my cold wet hands struggled first to open the valve on the new tube and then to get the last bit of the tyre back on the rim. My puncture-fixing efficiency won’t be winning me any prizes but I got there eventually! I finally got my coffee in Sedbergh and afterwards when I went to unlock my bike this was on the wall next to my bike:
A sign! Spurred on by the rock, I continued along some tiny back roads to Kendal. I’d probably have been more efficient on the main road as although there was very little car traffic, it was quite up and down and I kept having to squeeze into hedges for passing tractors! I did get to ride over this lovely bridge though:
Kendal itself was unremarkable. I stopped for lunch at Morrisons and spent a long time sitting on the tarmac by the bike racks willing my body to digest it properly. Just as I was about to leave I had a message from my friends Patrick and Alex saying they might try and meet me at Kirkstone Pass Inn (CP4) as they were on their way to a family holiday in Ambleside. I shared my location with them as I set off into yet another torrential downpour but tried not to get my hopes up and dwell on it too much in case the timings didn’t work out. I had a quick diversion to Wheelbase in Staveley to pick up another inner tube after the earlier puncture – possibly overkill as I still had one good one, but I wanted to set my mind at ease as I knew the later stretch from Silloth to Berwick was very empty. Just outside Windermere the sun finally came out and I stopped in a layby for a bit of pre-climb layer faff and who should roll up but Pat and Alex! I can’t describe how good it was to see some human faces that I recognised. Amazingly I didn’t cry! They offered me all kinds of food (I politely declined the cold soup…) but the best bit was when Pat got his bike out of the car to ride up the climb with me. This was totally unexpected and I thought I might actually explode with happiness.
I was really nervous about Kirkstone Pass, both the climb and the descent. When I was about 12 or 13, Dad did Helvellyn Triathlon and we drove round the bike course the day before the race (it goes up to KP Inn via the Struggle – not the route I was taking – and then drops down into Glenridding – the way I’d be going down). I vividly remember the descent being really steep and twisty and utterly terrifying. Obviously the mind of my non-cycling teenage self, from the flat Vale of York, had built it up into something way scarier than it was. Nonetheless I was so glad to have Pat with me on the climb. I rode in front to avoid any drafting gains and we stopped a couple of times to take in the views and for me to say “I don’t think I can do this Pat” and for him to say “You’re smashing it Caroline” which was perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but definitely appreciated – top marks for encouragement Pat! Finally the pub came into sight and we were joined at the top by Alex, Pat’s younger brother Will and Mary and Nathan (also from Sheffield). It was so surreal seeing so many people I knew after 2 days of solitude. We chatted for a bit but I knew it would be easy to waste loads of time chilling in the sun with my pals so I rolled off down the scary descent (which really wasn’t that bad!). It had actually been Helvellyn Triathlon that morning and it was a shame I hadn’t got to KP a bit earlier as they had a pro race this year which would have made quite good spectating. As luck would have it, there were still lots of haggard-looking non-pros hobbling around Glenridding so I stopped for an ice cream (English Lakes thunder and lightning – the best ice cream in the north west) and enjoyed a bit of people-watching whilst planning my next move.
Looking back, I can pinpoint that moment as the point when I started to feel more positive and believe that completing the whole ride might be achievable. I decided to try and get Silloth (CP5) ticked off by the end of the day. I knew there was one more big climb after Glenridding (Park Brow?) but after that it was fairly rolling and ultimately downhill to the sea. For the next few hours I just tried to keep moving and keep snacking and gradually the miles ticked by. Riding in the sun was a real boost and once I crossed the A66 at Troutbeck it was a relief to be on some slightly flatter terrain. I paused briefly in Caldbeck to text Andy with a progress update (signal was terrible in the Lakes) but apart from that, just kept moving. I could see the sun dropping lower in the sky and set myself the arbitrary goal of reaching Silloth by sunset. A big bank of cloud robbed me of a proper sunset but it was still lovely looking over the Solway Firth to Dumfries and Galloway with a bit of pink in the sky.
Silloth - but where's the lighthouse?
There it is!
I wouldn’t rush back to Silloth. I’m sure it’s got a certain charm on a busy sunny day but this was a Sunday night and it was a bit grim. It was also seriously lacking in tarmac, a fact I became more and more aware of as I rode up and down the front several times looking for the lighthouse, then the Co-Op, then the public toilets… flipping cobbles!
I had hoped to find a drinking water tap at the public toilets but unfortunately they were locked, so I looked out for a pub en route instead. Pubs make great bikepacking stopping places: for the price of a drink you can fill up your water bottles and use the loo, service is quick and efficient, there’s one in nearly every village, and they’re open late into the evening when shops are closed. Outside The Wheatsheaf in Abbeytown I spotted James, who was instantly recognisable as another NotAPN participant. I stopped for a chat and a Coke and discovered he was actually taking part in a challenge called “All PINTS North” – a pint at every checkpoint and several in between as well – a braver man than I!
Water acquired, I rode on for a couple more hours, heading north-east through Drumburgh and then on a very straight, flat road over the tidal Burgh Marsh. The moonrise was stunning but the tidal flood warning signs were a little disconcerting in the dark and I felt like my eyes were starting to play tricks on me, so thoughts turned to finding somewhere to grab a few hours’ sleep. After a quick scout on Google Maps I planned to try the next church, in Burgh by Sands, and see if it was unlocked and available for a weary traveller to take shelter. Unfortunately (probably due to Covid) it was locked, but by that point I was very ready to stop so unpacked my bivvy kit and bedded down against the southern face of the church, tucked nicely out of the wind. Interesting fact: I’ve since discovered that King Edward I of England (Longshanks) died on Burgh Marsh in 1307 whilst planning a battle against the Scots, and his body lay in the very church in whose graveyard I slept until it was moved to Westminster Abbey for burial! Thankfully no royal ghosts came to haunt me and I slept, on and off, for around 4 hours.
Part 3 coming soon...