It was a crazy plan in mid summer but in the winteriest day of winter it was ambitious to say the least.
Cycling coast to coast from Edinburgh to Cumbria seemed such a great plan and I had always wondered how and if it was feasible for me on any single day and why not a winters day. So I happily set a date for the challenge and I would try to find out, however when the day arrived the weather had conspired against me. A brutal headwind of 20mph had set in from the west. This meant that the entire way I would face a wind physically blowing me back at the same speed I normally try to cycle at! Leaving Edinburgh it was apparent the forecast was sadly accurate as the tall sandstone tenements funnelled the guests into my face.
I planned to leave early but being unemployed for a few months means early is relative: I rolled out of bed at 9.30 leaving 7 hours of daylight riding on a chilly short February day.
I left Edinburgh behind and the climb out of Gorebridge on the south was slow going, the steady long slope to the Granites was way slower than normal, even the descent was a pedalling challenge.
I swung by the Innerleithen bakery at 11.30, almost an hour slower than I expected. A filled roll and bun costing just £1.80 later and it was onto the scenic St Mary’s loch. There was a bit more shelter it seemed and I stopped to eat, I crossed the main road and headed die south along a wild isolated road.
There were no towns nor shops for 40+ miles before I would reach Langholm. Here it was a rugged landscape of vast plantation forest alongside apocalyptic hillsides recently clear felled. There are so many logging trucks out here they even have their own paved super highway. I followed a river watching Buzzards swoop in and put of trees before out of the mist a Tibetan temple and stupa arose.
It was all a bit surreal:
My eyes didn’t deceive me as there is a Buddhist retreat out here in the wilds of the borders.
I enjoyed shelter from the wind whizzing along the flat Ettrick marshes, with its abundance of bird life.
Finally the empty landscape ended and I saw the first glimpses of civilisation when I hit Langholm for another food stop. A few calories later and it was clear I should have brought a decent set of bike lights. It would be dark before I was done there was not enough hours in the day!
To make progress I stuck on the A7 and didn’t enjoy the traffic towards Carlisle. It was fast and flat and that’s what I needed. I navigated Carlisle mapless and was amazed after I survived the ring road and city centre to hit Dalston on only slightly the wrong road. The gloom was setting in and only now did I realise my rear light wasn’t working.
It must have run flat without me noticing and there was no way I could ride “stealth” on these roads. I called into a Shell garage and picked up some spare batteries. Frustratingly it turned out the batteries had rusted in place! There wasn’t any decent sealing so the light must have filled up with water. I cleaned the contacts up and got the light flashing, the trip was back on. with an uber bright laser rear light, I was fine without a front light on a wide quiet road.
I was now heading towards Caldbeck but the maze of little back roads confused me greatly and I took an indirect route through fading gloom. It finally got to the stage where I was navigating by dull moonlight. It was so dark on those wild moor roads that I had to use my phone to illuminate the road signs a foot away!
I meandered my way west and finally passed Uldale at 7pm it was getting a bit silly as I totally missed a sharp corner and went off the road, I was reliant on just the contrast in dark and light and where this wasn’t clear I struggled.
I finally reached the familiarity of Bassenthwaite and decided reaching the true coastline was now a bit foolish, so at the waters of the vast Bassenthwaite lake I called it a day.
At 120 miles it was a decent day powering into the headwind, which made it feel like another 50%!
On reflection it was an interesting route through some isolated landscapes on mostly quiet back roads I never knew existed. It is a part of the country always overlooked but has a certain bleakness in winter worthy of exploring. Actually maybe just start by visiting in summer.