My last bicycle holiday involved 2 weeks of long distance cycling that allowed little time for sight-seeing. I was determined this holiday would be less challenging with later starts every morning, lower daily mileage and ample time to stop along the route and visit places of interest to me.
About a year ago my cycling adventures took me to Morecambe Bay where I promised to make a return visit and stay overnight at the art-deco styled Midland Hotel:
Today I fulfilled that promise and checked in for the night. A beautiful circular staircase leads from the lobby in the centre of the hotel to the upper floor where the landing wall has a monochrome picture of the hotel; my amazing bedroom included a teddy:
On the ceiling a spectacular painting features the gods of earths water, Neptune and his son Triton. An inscription surrounding the painting reads:
‘and hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn’
Umm, how grim. I asked the hotel receptionist the reason for the inscription but he didn’t know (or was so fed up at having to give an explanation that a denial was a quicker answer) so I looked it up on the internet.
The words are taken from a sonnet written in 1802 by William Wordsworth called: The World is too much for us. He compares mankind living a life of getting and spending with an apparent lack of interest in looking after earths natural resources. Umm…human nature has not changed.
After a hearty breakfast I started off from Morecambe at 11am. Morecambe is the starting point of the ‘Way of the Roses’ cycling route which opened in 2010 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Sustrans. The route covers a distance of 170 miles and ends on the east coast in Bridlington, Yorkshire.
During my working life I had the misfortune to have attended a conference in Bridlington. The speakers were awful so I took myself off for a walk around the town and quickly realised the speakers I had deserted were more interesting.
For that reason this bicycle ride follows the ‘Way of the Roses’ as far as the City of York and then diverts away from Bridlington to a much better place: an ice cream palace in Whitley Bay, Tyneside – lovely !
The Sustrans route follows traffic free cycle paths or quiet roads that were a delight to cycle on. The first cycle path took me through avenues of trees from Morecambe and over the Lancaster millennium bridge to reach a further tree-lined path that led into a country park at the far side of the city.
During the afternoon the sun shone and as I reached the village of Hornby the temperature reached 21c. My last visit to Hornby was 6 weeks ago when cycling to John O’Groats. At that time my guided route took me over the steepest of moorland roads to High Bentham. Todays ‘Way of the Roses’ route took me over an easy to cycle hill…….if only I knew about it 6 weeks ago !
I rested in High Bentham and enjoyed a coffee from my Stanley Thermos flask and decided to visit the famous Ribblehead viaduct.
Cycling a further 18 miles I missed an easy-to-find turning to the viaduct and ended up at the entrance to Settle railway station.
It wasn’t all bad news though. The station café held a treasure chest of ice creams and choc-ices. I hadn’t eaten a choc-ice for ages and as todays cycling had covered 38 miles, the calorie trade-off seemed a harmless treat.
A steep climb from the centre of Settle marked my ascent of the Pennines and I then enjoyed 10 miles of relaxing cycling along Yorkshire’s undulating country lanes that were virtually traffic free. I only stopped once, and that was for sheep!
My route took me through the villages of Airton and Malham to Cracoe. The village of Cracoe is the home of the real life ‘calendar girls’ who were members of the Womens Institute Knapely branch.
They once raised money for leukaemia research by posing nude for a calendar. In later years the actress Helen Mirren did the same in a film of their story. Stopping for lunch in Cracoe I tried not to look at the local ladies with an ‘ I’ve seen you before’ expression and failed.
A further tough climb from the village of Appletreewich took me to Greenhow Hill before a risky pot-holed steep descent into Pateley Bridge. Numerous cyclists have fallen and suffered serious injury along this road and I was so pleased that my pre-ride reading warned me to cycle slowly.
Downhills are usually followed by up-hills and from Pateley Bridge I made a final climb to the now derelict Fountain Abbey set within in a medieval deer park which provided a grand approach to my next overnight stay in Ripon.
From Ripon town centre I began to look for my guest house. The owners who were unknown to me were walking on the same side of the road. They correctly guessed I was their customer,introduced themselves, pointed to where I had to go and then helped to take my baggage and bicycle inside – lucky me !
That night I walked to the town centre where every evening at 9pm a man blows a horn at 4 corners of an obelisk in the market square.
The tradition dates back to a time when Ripon householders paid a sum of money to the horn blower as the city gates were closing for the night. He and his team of watchmen would then patrol the streets and if their property was burgled before the gates opened the next morning he would compensate them from the money that had been collected. This tradition of payment and compensation then became the principle of home insurance.
Following a leisurely breakfast and an 11am departure todays journey would take me to York and then northwards by train to Yarm in Teeside.
The 30 mile trip to York was the easiest cycling so far. The weather was warm, the terrain flat and a tail wind resulted in effortless cycling along smooth tarmac roads through the pretty villages of Great Ouseburn and Linton.
The models were manikin’s dressed in 20s’ clothing !
A few miles later I cycled past a junior school where the aroma of school dinners being cooked wafted into the road and left me feeling so hungry that the search for a double coned ice-cream began in earnest.
Close to the village of Linton I joined a path alongside the River Ure that changes its name to the River Ouse at the point where a small stream known as Ouse Beck trickles into it.
My route then entered the grounds of Beningbrough Hall and then rejoined a cycling path that took me to the York Minster where I brought a picture card to send to friends and the ice cream of my dreams. I sat by the river bank and enjoyed it.
The River Ouse flows from York and eventually discharges into the North Sea at the Humber Estuary by the City of Kingston upon Hull.I spent the next few hours strolling around York and visited the National Railway Museum followed by the ‘Shambles’ a street of antiquity .
From York I headed north to Yarm by train where I stayed the night and visited family.
This morning I took the train from Yarm to Heworth, South Tyneside and cycled from Heworth railway station to the Angel of the North:
During my working life I made several visits to Gateshead and always admired the landmark ‘Angel’ , visible from the A1 when driving from Newcastle. To get a sense of the Angels enormity I rested Bessie against her toes.
The Angel was sculpted by Antony Gormley whose previous work ( 100 naked men standing on Crosby beach) I visited a year ago. The Angel is equally impressive.
From here I cycled towards Newcastle upon Tyne and joined national cycle route 14 towards South Shields where I reached the Friars Wharf apartments
Just over a century ago this area was occupied by the Friars Goose Alkali Chemical Works who manufactured bleach. The process involved condensing hydrochloric acid gas into hydrochloric acid that was then combined with manganese to produce bleaching powder. In those days bleaching was an important process in the wool, cotton, linen and printing industries:
- For textiles bleaching made the product whiter.
- In paper mills the addition of bleach to pulp produced the whiteness required for paper.
At 6:30pm on the evening of Sunday July 26th 1891 the night shift commenced work. The foreman noticed the wall of a condenser was glowing red. It was on fire. Despite attempts to extinguish the fire it spread to other condensers that collapsed, spreading the fire and chemicals throughout the factory.
A worker named James McCuskin, my fathers’ mothers grand-father was entombed by the fallen debris. Rescue attempts to remove fallen masonry by hand was slow, difficult and dangerous. Hydrochloric acid dripped on James and this, plus heat and fumes, resulted in 5 of 6 rescuers being killed and 2 others were seriously injured. Eventually a rope was used to try and pull James free but his foot was trapped and attending doctors were not authorised to amputate it. He sent those trying to rescue him away saying:
“No, no; if I am to die let me die in peace. Don’t torture me anymore”
Father Fitzpatrick gave him the last rights of the Catholic church and James passed away at 8am the next day.
A subsequent coroners inquest recorded that James died from:
‘Exhaustion, injuries to his spine and legs and asphyxia from the inhalation of hydrochloric gas from the accidental fall of a condenser at Friars Goose Chemical Works’
Three weeks later his wife died from a brain haemorrhage and their six children were now orphaned, including Catherine my fathers grand-mother.
The incident and account of this story was thoroughly researched by my cousin Gerald, who even paid for a copy of the minutes taken from a board meeting of the companies owners. These minutes revealed that the Board of Directors cared little about the lost employees and bereaved families. Their focus was to get the works back to full production and protect the companies interests during legal proceedings. Has corporate behaviour changed over the years?
After pausing to reflect on those horrific events and corporate behaviour I continued through Jarrow to the South Shields ferry.
The ferry crossing from South to North Shields took 15 minutes and cost the princely sum of £1:50p.In the background are the cranes of Swan Hunter the shipbuilders. A large passenger ferry in the foreground is one of several that ply their way to and from Newcastle and Amsterdam. An economy return can cost as little as £150 so I will remember this for future continental cycling adventures.
Getting off the South Shields ferry in Tynemouth I wheeled my bicycle up a steep hill to the main road and cycled along to my destination, the ‘Rendezvous (ice cream) Palace’ at Whitley Bay.
I ordered a ‘Strawberry Gelato’ which was less creamy than most ice-creams and consequently not as full bodied. There are plenty of other ice creams on their menu so I will have to return next year and try something else.
Having starting from the art-deco Midland Hotel in Morecambe Bay it seemed apt to end it at another art-deco building, the Rendezvous café here in Whitley Bay.
I have really enjoyed this bicycle ride with its late starts and wonderful sights. My return to Wales took me along the national cycle route 72 into Newcastle city centre and the train home.