County Durham

Posted by on 8, May 2021 in 2021 - Ipswich to Scotland, Tilly the Tandem, UK

County Durham

The hills had been performing a pincer movement ever since we left York trying to hem us in and force us to cycle over them but we had managed to avoid the worst of them until they snuck in a 17% hill just outside Stockton. We can just about peddle up a hill that steep, it’s just that we can’t stay upright as Tilly becomes a bit unstable when going less than about 3kph and we tend to wobble so much we look drunk, so we got nearly to the top and hopped off to push the last 25m before falling off.

Since being ‘Up North’ our accommodation seems to have done a bit of a time Warp going back 20 years. Since arriving in York each of the nights stops had not done any covid cleaning, had no gels or hand sanitiser and whilst not unclean were grubby. Like a teenage boy had been told to wash the surfaces – there was a lot of smeared shiny tops.

When we arrived at our Sunderland accommodation the tough northern image was taken to extremes with us rolling up frozen after cycling up the sea front in a hooley and him appearing in shorts and a t shirt and informing us the heating wasn’t working. He didn’t seam too bothered, after all it was a very balmy 7C…

We weren’t best pleased though and he nipped out to buy some blow heaters after we gave him our best Paddington Stares.

They really are a tough lot up here though. Cycling on the sea front it was very windy, rain in the air and around 7C. .Naturally we passed a young lady on a scooter, dressed for July, in Malaga in a mini skirt, stilettos and a blouse and thin jacket. Whilst we had thermals, two coats, fleeces, gloves hats scarves etc and were still cold! Southern softies.

The cycling infrastructure has been excellent in the big cities but the old railway path from Stockton to Sunderland – around 40km of it off road was a disaster.

Actually getting on to it was the first issue. Imagine rolling up at the M1 only to find you have to get a crane to lift you on to it – well that’s the setup for tandems, wheelchairs, trikes, mobility scooters and your every day morbidly obese Brit.

The entrance to the cycleway is guarded by a shoulder height metal barrier that narrows at the top making it impossible to get Tillys handlebars through. What’s worse is that there are numerous occurrences of these barriers and they do not have a fixed gap. Some we could cycle through and others people had to turn sideways to squeeze through.

So we looked helpless, removed the panniers and some passing Geordie in a t shirt flip flops and shorts casually lifted Tilly over the barrier for us. A real gentleman and very kind. We would need this chap about 12 times that day but as he’d popped to the beach to sunbathe we had to lift Tilly ourselves.

Fortunately the northern chapter of the Cycle Liberation Army was obviously sick of these too, so about half the times we encountered them the adjacent wooden fences had been sawn off, or the bushes next to them had been trampled down to allow cyclists to access the cycle path. Outrageous I know but where do I join the CLA?

The track had started out in beautiful smooth tarmac but gradually deteriorated until you felt you were cycling on the remains of Hadrians wall and we made slow progress.

The verges of the track weren’t much better and in some cuttings the adjoining houses had just tipped their rubbish over the fence and down the embankment leaving piles of plastic and metal at the side of the track. It was very sad and obviously no one can clear it up as you can’t get a dustbin onto the track due to the bloomin barriers.

And, just as we thought we may be leaving the route we crossed an old power station slag heap where JCB’s had left ruts we could lose a wheel in.

This had really been our only bad days cycling so far though and with a bit of TLC on the surface and a cordless grinder this could be a fantastic cycle.

But we pressed on to the Newcastle upon Tyne foot Ferry. We almost felt like we were in Holland. All very well organised with great signs and paths on both sides of the ferry directing us to it.

North shields upwards saw the sun come out and out of the wind it was beautiful and we managed to find an outdoor cafe on the cliff tops for a Scone and soup, it almost felt like summer.

The cycle from here upward is just gorgeous. The route is mainly off road and often hugs the cliffs edge and it’s an extraordinarily beautiful ride which we loved. But here’s a pro tip for you. Don’t try to hold a fully loaded tandem up with one hand whilst taking a photo of Linda with the other in a gale force wind! End result. Tandem 1, Jonny 0 and a painful bruised knee as Tilly keeled over in the wind taking me with her.

At Ashington our accommodation returned to the high standards set by the southerners ???? for our next night in a Shepherds Hut. This was so cosy and wonderfully done we could have stayed a week. A beautiful view out of the window and a small little garden made this one of our favourite stops of the tour so far.

From here we started our long trek up the Northumberland coast. The cycle route often follows the footpath and at times is miles from any road with just the sea on one side and sheep on the other. It’s an amazing ride and someone had had a quick word upstairs and arranged for all the days rain for each morning to be dumped on us between 10am and 11am and for bright sunshine to follow for the rest of the day.

So each day we set off, cycled through a monsoon for an hour (and in one case just hid behind a rock with our brolly up as it was just too wet to cycle) and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the sunshine and scenery. We even timed it so the rain came when we were not on the nice bits of the coast! Perfect.

This ride is well worth doing but was, for us, quite hard. The route has tarmac, gravel, grass sand and mud to ride on and involves loads of gates, cattle grids and bridges that have steps up to them and a few walking sections as a fully loaded tandem just sinks in too much. But well worth it.

Bamborough Castle, the countless deserted coves and the rolling countryside made this one of our all time favourite routes and our accommodation at Beadnell with a sea view was breathtaking.

From York was the longest section of non stop cycling for us and ended in Berwick. 7 days, 342km and 2000m of climbs and by the 7th day we were seriously flagging and dreaming of an electric motor. The distances weren’t particularly long but the constant on and off the bike, varying surfaces and strong non stop headwind made us find the last day almost enough to make us give up.

But the pub we had booked for 2 nights had reserved us a table and Tilly a spot in the courtyard and after a shower and drink we felt a hundred times better.

Our day off consisted if a quick walk around the town and then feet up and eating for the rest of the day getting some energy back for Scotland.


  1. Hard going obviously… but Scotland in Summer beckons!!!

  2. You two are bloody amazing ????cannot believe you achieve what you do.

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