21st of May 2019 - 25th of May 2019
C2C Whitehaven to Sunderland
The 26th of May 2019 is the day that Nick turns 50 years old. And that is a moment when something happens in your mind. There has to be a challenge to celebrate this milestone. The plan is to do a cycle tour in the UK. One of the most famous cycling routes is the C2C (Sea to Sea) route. This route goes from Whitehaven (on the west coast and on the Irish Sea) to Sunderland (on the east coast and on the North Sea). And say for yourself. What would be a better place to finish your ride than in Sunderland?
The idea was thrown in a Sunderland what's app group message. Frido and Tim decides to cycle along and Nilis and Peur wanted to join the party, but thought it was a good idea to do this by car so they could help us out when we had technical or physical problems. Thanks for this great idea Lads and also that all of you wanted to celebrate this milestone with me. The preparation and pre-trip-fun could start.
Eventually it became Tuesday the 21st of May 2019. The meeting point was Waardenburg, Hillegom (Nick's home). Because the bikes also had to come along Nilis did a pre-tour along the homes of Frido and Tim to collect their bags and other stuff. So Frido and Tim could go easily by bike to Nick's home. From that point the three cyclists started the trip to the ferry by bike and the two soigneurs took off by car.
So we could also say that this was stage 0, or the shifting stage. The weather forecast was very good. Also for the next few days. There was no rain predicted and there was not a lot of wind. It was a bit chilly, but from cycling you will get yourself warm. From Hillegom to IJmuiden it is still a cycletrip of about 25 km (16 miles). We made a short stop in Velsen at the football ground of Telstar to make a selfie and we posted this directly in the app group. This created a sort of panic in the car of Nilis and Peur. "Where is the ground of Telstar located?" They never have thought that the three on the bike would be that quick. So it ended that the three cyclists arrived approx. 20 minutes earlier at the ferry than the two blokes in the car.
The ferry was already waiting and even though we were a bit early we were allowed to get on the boat immediately. The bikes were tightened on the car deck and we went upstairs to the bar for a well earned pint. After that Frido, Tim and Nick (in that order) could go one by one to the cabin for a shower and to freshen up. Because from then it was time for the Giant Dalmuti card game. This game would decide who takes which bed. The winner could get the first pick, the next one the second pick and so on. Because it was going to be really tight in the cabin. Nilis was the winner and got first choice. Tim was second, Nick third, Peur fourth and Frido had no choice. In the background a guy with a cowboy hat and a guitar was playing some songs in the bar. The greatest song he played was the Witchita Lineman that was made most famous by Glen Campbell. And this fantastic song was immediately chosen as the soundtrack of this C2C trip.
After that we had dinner and ended the night with a few more Giant Dalmuti game rounds in the bar. But then it was time to find our beds. And we quickly found out that this whole Dalmuti game to decide the bed positions was of no use. All of the beds were horrible. The cabin was way too small for five big men. And the oxygen would be gone from the cabin by two in the morning. So it promised to be a long and very tough night.
Stage 1: Whitehaven - Thirlwell
But anyway, the morning came. The day of stage one. But first we had to get from North Shields (arrival of the ferry from IJmuiden) to the other side of the UK to start on the west coast. As soon as we got off the ferry the three cyclists saw their pre-booked taxi waiting. This was pre-booked via the organisation (https://www.trailbrakes.co.uk/) that helped us out with a few necessary things like this bike transport, the two nights of accommodation and the route by map but also as GPS for in Tim's Garmin bike computer. But Nick also had made (of course) an own description of the route with a few marked spots where we could meet up with Nilis and Peur so they did not have to follow us for the whole route. The three bikes were tightened on the back of the taxi and then off to Whithaven because we also had some cycling to do today. Nilis and Peur would find their own way into Whitehaven and we would meet up in the harbour for the start.
When we arrived in Whitehaven we went to the C2C start sign. The bikes were off loaded from the taxi and Nilis and Peur sent us a message that they would arrive in 15 minutes. The three cyclists could do the necessary stuff when you prepare a ride. Check if the wheels are tightened, if the brakes are OK and a last toilet visit. When the two mechanics arrived we made photos of the official start. The rear wheel of the bike needs to be put into the Irish Sea to make the start official. So we did. Then (it was almost 1 PM already) it was time to start the tour. We had to get out of Whitehaven first and then follow the GPS route and the C2C signs on the road. We're on our way!
As soon as we got out of Whitehaven it went quiet on the roads. The weather was fantastic. Clear blue skies and a nice sunshine helped us enjoy this even more. We started all off with long sleeves, but these were rolled up after a few minutes. We passed lakes and beautiful bendy country roads and we found our way easily. It looked like it was going really fast but at the early start there was not that much climbing. But we could see some big ones in the near distance. We had told Nilis and Peur that the first stop would be at the Kirkstile inn in the Lake District. This was after about 30 km (18 miles). It was a breathtaking scenery and we noticed that the first climbs were around. Nick could not resist and decided to add some sugars by taking a pint of local ale. The others were more sensible and they had a Coke. After this first stop, the second stop was planned at Castlerigg Stone Circle. This was also very close to the Lodge in the Vale which was the first accommodation for the night. But as Nick has a soft spot for Stone Circles we had to stop for some photos. Then a few more kilometres to the end of stage 1, St. John's in the Vale, close to Keswick.
The first 62 km (39 miles) in the UK were completed with also more than 1000 height meters. That is something you cannot find in the Netherlands. Time for a well earned shower and some food. It was a pretty new and also very nice accommodation. Everything perfect...but no food. But a short stroll up the road there was a pub that did excellent food, so this also would be good in the end. But first a strange Spanish beer in the beer garden of the Lodge in the Vale before we get showered.
After the short stroll along a very busy road we found the pub. We first sat down in the beer garden for a drink because the sun was still out and it was still nice outside. Nick took the orders and ordered the drinks at the bar. The barman asked if one of the guys wanted ice in their Coke, so Nick asked the same in Dutch to the table outside. "Hee, Nederlanders?" (Hey, Dutchmen?) the guy asked? He told us that he had been working in the Netherlands for a few years and he enjoyed talking Dutch again (with a very classy Amsterdam accent). The food was really awesome. And not just after a cycletour, but really awesome. And of course the pints of local ale from the draught were also delicious. But we took it easy, because the next day was the day of the Queensride. We decided to get into bed on time. The next day was also going to be a very long day. So we had to get up early.
Stage 2: Thirlwell - Edmundbyers
We were indeed up early. And it is promising to be a great day again. One by one we mention that we have had a good night of sleep. And this was much needed after the horrible night on the ferry. A good breakfast was also needed because there were 120 km (75 miles) waiting for us and also a few big climbs (total 2300 heigth meters) including the much promising Hartside Pass. We drop our bags again in the car with Nilis and Peur and Tim, Frido and Nick jump on their bikes. From the start it is again very quiet roads over nice country roads and special created cycle paths. The road goes up and down and we feel our calves like we don't feel in the Netherlands. The first stop is planned after about 15 miles at the Booth & Shoe inn near Penrith. This is before the first climbs of the day so we can add some sugars. Nilis and Peur are already waiting for us, but the pub is still closed. So we get some bananas and Coke from the car and off to the next stop. This is another 15 miles away and this is another stone circle (Long Meg and her daughters). This circle is also very impressive but even more is the surrounding landscape. But the sun has decided not to show itself that much and a cold wind makes it not too nice for a long stop. So we decide to go on, hop on the bike and head into the North Pennines for the Hartside Pass.
We had absolutely no idea what to expect. But we decided to do the climbing in our own specific speed and wait on top of the climb for each other. Because climbing is much nicer when you can do it at your own speed. The road curled lovely upwards. We got on it from Renwick and this means the climb is 7 km long (4,6 miles) and has an average gradient of 5,2% and a maximum gradient of 9%. Not huge when you compare this to the 22% gradient that we have also seen. But the length makes it special. The other climbs were about 1 or 1,5 mile length and this 4,6 miles meant climbing for a longer time. It was really a great experience. The feeling of climbing on the bike and the feeling in the legs and now for real instead of on a Tacx Hometrainer. It was special to arrive at the top, but it also felt a bit regrettable. Now we had the descent again and this was not as nice as the climbing itself. At the top there used to be a café. But this was burned down a while ago. And there was no hurry in rebuilding it. There was a strong cold wind at the top so we decided to make quickly some photos when everybody arrived on the top and start the downhill. And we also promised to each other to get to the first pub in the next village to get some food and drinks.
According to the map this was supposed to be the George and Dragon inn only 7 miles away. Nilis and Peur would be waiting for us over there. After the descent we drove into the village and the two mechanics were already waiting on the side of the road. And mentioned that the inn was closed and was even for sale. Well, how about taking it over right now. There was no other option then to take more bananas, cookies and Coke from the car and move on. Along the way we passed more short 20% climbs and these were not so welcome anymore. Finally we ended up in a village that had a pub that was open! Nilis and Peur had already informed if they also served food. "Usually we do, but today we have the funeral of a regular customer so we don't do food today". Well, that was it for today. We decided to get some cookies chocolate and granola bars from the nearest supermarket and then head for today's finish. We had the chance to get to the toilet in the village pub and of course there was a Sunderland newspaper framed in on the wall. This just had to be.
While Tim, Frido and Nick were cycling through beautiful and deserted landscapes and crossed the border of Northumberland and later County Durham, Nilis and Peur visited a museum with old bikes, cars, motorcycles but also audio equipment. So they also had a great time. After 5 hours and 45 minutes, 2300 heigth meters and 120 km cycling, Tim, Frido and Nick arrived at the accommodation for that night in Edmundbyers. Nilis and Peur had arrived about half an hour earlier and they had met the landlady. She did not understand at all. "I thought you were doing this trip by bike". Nilis and Peur got the keys of the two bungalows we stayed in and got a short description on how the washing machine worked ("one of you asked to do a cloths washing") and she took off to the pub because there was a quiz night on and she was involved. "You will find everything out by yourselves".
After a nice shower and the cycle clothes washing we also went to the pub. Because we had booked for some food. Well, we had booked, but it still came as a surprise to the landlord on a quiz night. We managed to get a table and had some great food. And also the nice variety of local real ales have to be mentioned. But this also did not end up in a long night. After the long cycling day the tiredness arrived sooner than we expected and we went back to the bungalows for some sleep.
Stage 3: Edmundbyers - Sunderland
After a not so good night of sleep for all of us (don't know why), we were in time for breakfast. The landlady had some extra time for us now and spoiled us with all kinds of local products. She also noticed now that there were really three cyclists among the group. We did not eat everything, because cycling with a full loaded stomach is not a good idea. And we also could not leave that late because we still had a ferry to catch. And you don't know what happens on the way to the ferry. So right on time we jumped on the bikes again.
After a short detour and searching to find the correct route because of a GPS hick-up and some short steep 22% climbs along the way we found the correct route again. We also found it was a bit more busier on the roads and passed some more crowded places. Nilis and Peur got some time off. They decided to get into Durham for some sightseeing. If the three cyclist happened to get some mechanical problems, there would be a cycle shop close to help us out anyway. But luckily this did not happened and we have managed to do the full route for all of us without one single problem.
It has to be mentioned that this was not the most beautiful part of the tour. We got passed some industrial areas of Washington and then we drove into Sunderland. But when we got on the cycle path next to the river Wear and we saw the Stadium of Light in the distance this created a goose bump moment. Who could have dreamt this. On the bike to the Stadium of Light. Around the Stadium a lot of photos were shot. This was something that had to be captured forever. A group photo at the stairs in front of the main entrance and the bike was also parked near Nick's own brick in the wall of the stadium. But we could not stay that long, the tour was not finished yet. We had the get through the marine area and to the seafront to complete the ride. We had to search shortly for the finish place. When we found the C2C monument we took our cycleshoes off and walked over the beach to the seafront to dip our front wheels in the North Sea. The route was completed!
Now we still had the ferry to catch. Nilis and Peur could take the Tyne tunnel by car and had plenty of time left. So they decided to have some fish and chips at the seafront. Tim, Frido and Nick did not have time for this and had to cycle along the seafront into South Shields where they had to take a cycle ferry to North Shields over the river Tyne (Shields ferry). To be on the right side of the DFDS ferry check-in. This was another extra 17 km (11 miles) of cycling to look forward to. And they made this without any problems. The Shield ferry had just left, so they had to wait for the next crossing and after that a very short ride to the DFDS check in and get in line to get on deck. In IJmuiden this was perfectly organised. Cyclist got speedy boarding not to get too cold. Well, this was something they have not heard of in the UK. We had to wait for all cars to get on board, all the buses and even the trailers could go on first. At the very end there was some time for the cyclist and motorcyclist. Nilis and Peur were already waiting for almost an hour before we finally could get on board. Time for the shower and freshen up moment for the cyclists.
Again the Great Dalmuti card game came out of the pocket to decide the bed positions. Even though we knew it was not an advantage to get the first pick. But still you are playing to win. Autistic as most of us are almost everyone took the same bed. Apart from Nilis and Tim who decided to swap. Then it was time to go for the food buffet. At the start of the night it was very busy so we took the late shift. And sure we did. We kept filling our plates and we even managed to reach the "last round" calling. We wandered around the deck and had a short stop in the night club, but this was not our idea of a great night. So we ended up in the bar where the singer luckily played the Witchita Lineman again. We had a few pints and then called it bedtime even though we knew it was a big challenge to get a few hours of sleep.
And even after a long night of no sleep the morning comes again. We were back in the Netherlands. We had to search for our bikes on the deck and when we found them we had to wait again to be the last persons to get off the ferry. San was waiting on the parking to pick up Frido and his bike. Frido does not live in Hillegom anymore, so it would be hard for him to cycle these extra miles. The bike got in the car and so got Frido and it was time to say goodbye. Tim and Nick got on the bike and drove from IJmuiden via Bloemendaal (where they did not do the famous Kopje climb) for a bonus 27 km (16 miles) to Hillegom. The finish was in the Clusiushof at Nick's parents (Tim's Grandparents in law). It was still morning when they arrived and they had a cup of coffee and told the stories of the trip. Then it was off to home for a really nice shower and a good night of sleep in your own bed and dream of the great memories of this trip.
I personally (Nick) would like to thank everybody that made this cycling adventure possible. I will never forget this and it is in my top 5 of great memories of all time. Also a huge thank you to Nilis and Peur. The additional car was a fantastic bonus. I would not have enjoyed it this much when I had to cycle with bags and spare parts and a fully loaded bike. This made it really perfect. Lads, thank you very much for everything. It was absolutely unforgettable.
(The day after the homecoming, 26th of May and on Nick's real 50th birthday, Sunderland played the League One Play-Off Final at Wembley against Charlton Athletic. After they got quickly 1-0 in front due to a strange own goal Sunderland lost 2-1 with the winning Charlton goal in the 94th minute. Sunderland had to play for another full season in League One.)