Hadrian’s Wall C2C 2022
In August of 2022 Joe and I rode the Hadrian’s Wall cycle route coast to coast from west to east. We followed Sustrans route 72 for 100 miles from Bowness-on-Solway to Tynemouth over the course of three fairly equal days after opting not to ride the full length from Ravenglass.
We began by taking the X95 bus from our home in Hawick down to Carlisle. We are very fortunate that our town is served by this Edinburgh-Carlisle bus route as it is one you can take your bikes on.
After a quick meal of fish and chips in Carlisle we headed 13 miles west to the coast at Bowness-on-Solway. This meant we had to ride this section back again the next day, but we couldn’t consider it a coast-to-coast trip otherwise.
The Solway estuary was stunning in the low light of a late summer’s evening.
This part of the coast is very low lying and prone to flooding. It’s hard to find somewhere to wild-camp that would be dry and safe at high tide, so we put up the tent on the elevated spur of an old railway embankment which formally connected to a bridge across the Solway from Bowness to Annan. It’s an ideal spot to camp – but very exposed. The gorse bushes meant that the only space big enough to pitch our tent was completely open to the westerly prevailing winds, which didn’t make for a massively restful night.
The coast at dusk, viewed from the tent.
As it grew dark we could see the lights of Annan twinkling from across the water, reminding me of a story I had heard from before the bridge was demolished. During WW1 the sale of alcohol was banned in the Annan area in an attempt to keep the workers at a local munitions factory sober. To get around this it became a common practice to walk across the semi-derelict railway bridge to visit the hostelries in Cumbria of an evening. This then of course required a return journey when considerably worse for drink, across a structure that swayed alarmingly in the wind and featured large gaps through which it would be easy to fall into the sea below. That there are no recorded casualties from this practice is a bit of a miracle. The bridge was finally demolished in 1934. If you visit the Annan area please take the time to visit the excellent ‘Devil’s Porridge‘ museum, which details the production of cordite at the large factory in the area during WW1.
Next morning I got my coffee brewing amongst the rubble of the old embankment in the sunshine.
A handful of foraged blackberries made a fine breakfast.
It’s a cracking spot to wake up – almost completely surrounded by the sea with nothing but the seabirds and waves to be heard.
I filled my lungs with fresh, salty air and my bloodstream with caffeine and felt raring to go – except now began a frustrating wait for the teenager to get out of bed so that we could begin the ride. Three hours and much cajoling later we rolled away, only to have to stop shortly after for him to partake in a ‘breakfast of champions’ in a cafe just down the road, his earlier meal of cereal bars having been apparently insufficient. Teenage boys need a lot of fuel.
We reached Carlisle again in the early afternoon and after a quick refuel of supermarket food we headed east, following the signs for Route 72. Away from the coast it was hot and humid and we reached Brampton feeling tired, hungry and thirsty. We sat in the square and ate food from the Chinese takeaway and drank as much water as we could. We were both feeling quite tired having not really done much cycling at all during the summer. We pushed on through Lannercost, fruitlessly searching for wild camping spots as we went. The route became pretty hilly at this point and we had to get off and push on quite a few of the hills. Late in the evening we chanced upon Banks campsite – which was fairly primitive but cheap at only a fiver a night. There was a water tap and a composting toilet – a step up from wild camping without the stress of being discovered which made it feel well worth the money. It’s a lovely quiet spot and we felt lucky to have found it.
The second day saw us rolling down to Birdoswald fort for coffee and cake and our first proper look at Hadrian’s Wall, including the all-important bike lean.
We continued on to Haltwhistle for an excellent lunch at Jethro’s cafe.
This town claims to be the ‘centre of Britain’ – Joe wondered what they would call themselves after Scotland achieves its independence when they won’t be the geographical centre of anything anymore.
This central section of the route is by far the most challenging in terms of the endless hills which were made a lot harder by the hot weather. The heat may have been why I didn’t cope well when faced by an act of road rage and appalling driving on a single track road just west of Hexham. The guy took exception to us riding two-abreast and tried to run us off the road whilst blaring his horn at us. He then overtook and stopped so sharply in front of Joe that he only just managed to avoid going over the back of the car. The guy got out of the car and charged aggressively towards me. I lost it, threw down the bike and headed straight for him, swearing and yelling my head off. Before I could reach him a shocked look came across his face and he literally turned around and ran back to the car and zoomed away. Don’t mess with a perimenopausal woman who has had a tough day! Joe and I had a good laugh about it afterwards, but it was so unnecessary and could have ended very badly. It was a single track road – we would have pulled in at the next passing place.
Feeling a little shaky we opted to splash out on a bit of comfort for the night and booked into the Travelodge in Hexham.
We showered, hand-washed our undies and slept in crisp white sheets – little luxuries that are massively appreciated when you have been a bit feral, even just for a couple of days. Feeling fully human again we headed off next day for the final section through Newcastle to Tynemouth. A lot of this section followed the South Tyne river and was therefore pretty flat, which was massively appreciated after all the ups and downs of the previous day.
We stopped at a fantastic river-side cafe at Prudhoe for lunch which Joe topped off with this fabulous cake. What a great place the Tyne Riverside Cafe is.
The next section became increasingly urban as we neared Newcastle. In places we rode on a separate cycle path alongside a busy dual carriageway, but thankfully not for too long before we joined the Tyne river path.
Watching the famous Tyne bridges creep closer felt fantastic.
Reaching them, we stopped at a riverside bar for a celebratory beer opposite the Baltic flour mill in the sunshine.
I got out my phone and belatedly started to figure out how we would get back to Hawick. The original plan had been to cycle back via Route 10, but neither of us had the energy to take that on. The other option was to take the train back to Carlisle then the X95 bus back home, but we found we had missed the last train and even if we had caught it we would have been too late for the last bus north. If we took the train north to Edinburgh we would have missed the last bus south. Frustrated at every turn I messaged my friend Gordon who I know makes frequent trips between Newcastle and the Borders on the off chance that he might be going our way in his campervan, then got back on the bike and forgot all about it. We would figure something out.
The final part of the route was one we have ridden before when returning from Amsterdam on the ferry. It looked different ridden from the opposite direction though – not nearly as grimy as I remember.
At Tynemouth we rode past the infamous Black Middens rocks where I recently learned a seafaring ancestral family member drowned in a shipwreck in 1895, just a few heart-breaking metres from shore. Although he hailed from Kent the people of Tynemouth took up a collection and paid for a massive funeral for him, complete with marching bands playing the death march, horses with black plumes and all the works. Thousands turned out and lined the streets to the cemetery. What good people the Geordies are.
We reached the end at Tynemouth harbour – although we had only managed to fit in a short trip this summer, it still felt like an achievement. Shortly afterwards Joe moved out of home and into college dorms so it felt a bit like the end of an era. I may be able to get him to go riding with me again someday, but I am not going to hold my breath.
It turned out that Gordon wasn’t planning on going north that day but he and his wife Janet surprised us at the end of the route at Tynemouth and drove us home anyway. More good Geordie people.
It took us three fairly equal days of 33 miles each to journey from the sea at Bowness-on-Solway to the opposite coast at Tynemouth. An afternoon and an evening was required to get from home to the start at Bowness. To get back from Tynemouth is very quick and easy if you have a friend like Gordon. Everyone should have one. Thanks Gordon!