The last main day of my challenge was today with 72km remaining, so I decided to smash it with a 143km ride. Never one to do things by half, me. The main reason for this was that I planned to ride around Kielder Reservoir and the only route that I could find was 143km. Another route is possible covering a similar sort of distance, 110km, takes you into Scotland and near Hawick (pronounced 'hoik') and then back across Carter Bar, although this slightly re-traced my route up to Jedburgh the other day so I decided to loop around through Scotland, into Cumbria and then back into Northumberland. Today's route not only took me past Kielder Water but also the return leg runs alongside Hadrian's Wall and a few Roman Army camps along the way. In fact it was while slogging along a dark, windy and cold road that I smiled wondering what these Roman citizens would have thought about leaving a warm country and ending up in Northumberland. Although many of the Roman army and citizens were natives anyway and became citizens of Rome.
I parked the car in Wark (pronounced 'waahk'; rhyming more with 'spark' than 'cork'), a small village in Northumberland so-named due to the Viking (I pronounce the word 'vih-king' rather than 'vye-king') word for earthworks referring to a mound at the south of the village where a meeting hall once stood. The meeting hall was used as a main meeting place for the Clan Chieftans and even though it is a small place, Wark was once the capital town of Tynedale and has a Town Hall rather than a Village Hall. It's always very special for me to be in a place with this kind of heritage because being Northumbrian, this is my heritage.
Riding up to Kielder Water from Wark there are a good few hills and the wind was so intense even going downhill I had to work hard in a very low gear. It did make me smile that the gear I used to climb Mont Ventoux a couple of months ago was the same I used to go down a hill in Northumberland! But I pretty much had the roads to myself and in fact I probably saw only a handful people all day.
Riding up past Kielder Water the road is wide and lined with huge trees towering over you. It's a little like riding a bicycle through downtown Manhattan! Heading out past Bakethin reservoir (at the north of Kielder Water) you're taken along a little winding road up into the borders of Scotland again and then into Scotland. There are a few sheep around in this part of the world and seem to be pretty confused by a bicycle coming past so just as I was heading to the Scottish border a couple of sheep in the road started sprinting off through the border! So I'd accidentally chased two sheep into a different country! When I passed them I told them to go back though.
This part of the route was directly into a headwind. I'd decided I would loop around anti-clockwise so I'd benefit from the tailwind on the return leg (and the outward leg is a little more sheltered anyway) but the headwind all the way down and past the Scottish town of Newcastleton was phenomenal. Spending hours cranking into a headwind really isn't a huge amount of fun and sometimes a bit dispiriting when you reach a downhill section only to still have to pick a low gear and pedal hard to get down it. But soon I turned off back to Gilsland and Greenhead and entered Cumbria. At this stage I had completed the Festive 500 distance so a small 'fist clench' was my celebration. My 'reward' for completing the distance was an approximately 1km, 1:10 hillclimb out of a valley. Seemed appropriate.
The remainder of the ride was gritting my teeth and grinding up and down the hills back across Northumberland and towards Wark. It was at this stage, around 110km, that I had a few tears but soon felt a lot better and got on with the task of riding my bicycle. I had to push the recurring thought out of my head that I kept having: "What if I get a puncture now?" went around my head. Although I had enough spares to fix a puncture, it would have been pretty crushing to have to stop by the side of the road in the dark and rain to fix a blow-out. But thankfully this didn't happen and I made good progress back to the car. In fact the hill outside Greenhead was a proper killer but soon I was back in Northumberland National Park and counting off the miles. I didn't check my computer for my milage for about 30km as it became just all about turning the pedals and making progress. It didn't really help too much that I couldn't really see too well either as it was getting a bit dark, but I could see enough to ride safely and was pretty happy.
Riding back through the National Park I passed Housesteads Roman Fort which was an auxiliary fort on Hadrian's Wall. In fact this was the closest I'd been to Hadrian's Wall during my rides this week, spending the rest of my time in the more northern 'wild lands'. Although there was a more northerly Roman Wall; the Antonine Wall through what is now the centre of Scotland although this wall was abandoned after only 20 years when they moved down to the more southerly Hadrian's Wall.
Seeing the sign; 'Wark 5' was fantastic and rolling down the last few hills to the finish was a real relief. Arriving back at the car I was absolutely soaking wet but thanks to my decent cycling clothes I wasn't too cold; although I took the front wheel off and threw my bike in the back of the car and leapt inside to get out of the wind, turning on the heater to get some warmth through me. In fact I drove a few miles back, still wearing my bike gear, before I was warm enough to stop and change into some dry clothes.
Strava Ride Data
Glad I had: Rapha Neoprene Overshoes
Next: Festive 500: Epilogue