Wooler to Bellingham
Excited to start the first full day of my tour, I was up early (for me) and checking that my bike was still where I left it in the “secure” (put public!) biking area. All was fine so I set off forgoing the £15 breakfast at the Black Bull and thinking that I could get something to eat at cafes along the route. There are cafe opportunities in Wooler but I was keen to get going.
After a climb out of Wooler and some very quiet, well surfaced but narrow and undulating roads I reached the first of the day’s fords (about 2 miles). Luckily there was a bridge alternative. It was interesting how each county seemed to have different styles of roads. In Northumberland there was very little flat road -it was always gently going up or down which leads to quite an exhausting day.
After 3 miles I followed the NCN68 signs to a dead end road which turned into a farm track (and another ford). A reasonable surface and loads of sheep. Whilst well hidden there is a bridge to avoid cycling through the ford.
At about 5.5 miles the generally good quality NCN route is suddenly replaced by a steep drop down a cow track to another ford and then a muddy, steep climb up the other side. When descending look to the path to the right which leads to a bridge (in my case I didn’t see it and had to retrace my steps up the hill). This is maybe the worst surface of the whole trip. The section is short and can be walked. Eventually come out onto more of the remote, empty but nice tarmacked roads.
I decided to stop for breakfast / coffee at a remote cafe just off the route in Ingram. Recommended that people make the diversion. Friendly place, well situated (although hard to find – just keep going on the only way forward and you’ll get there), and a nice bacon roll and coffee.
The Ingram valley is a lovely section with wide open fields and a river that looks like it might run a lot higher after heavy rainfall. Definitely suggest you spend some time here resting (either at the cafe or just on the grass).
A mixture of more quiet roads and the occasional unsurfaced section took me to another diversion to visit the village of Alkwinton where there are picnic tables on the village green by a bubbling stream. Here I ate the remains of last night’s excessively sized black pudding pizza – an unusual combination of rural Italian and working class northern cuisine.
At Alwinton there is also the Rose and Thistle Inn which looks really small from the roadside but is surprisingly large when inside. I treated myself to a local pint to wash down the pizza. The landlord was very helpful regarding a possible diversion further along my route and gave me alternatives that went through the local military firing range (and up and down a lot of hills!). Luckily the diversion had been removed and I could keep to the original route.
A disappointment in the afternoon when I planned to stop at the Elsdon tea shop but, after searching for it, found it was closed (not sure if permanently). Elsdon is a nice village to explore but I wanted my cake!
At 38 miles the route joins the A696 main road which didn’t look attractive but there is a pavement available for cyclists (and there are no pedestrians) so was fine. The route is only on the A road for less than a mile. This is followed by miles of a beautiful gated road where you really feel out in the wilds. Prior to the ride people asked me how I’d get on riding solo if anything happened to me – I said it would be fine as there will lots of other cyclists and other people around – I was wrong as I think, if I had collapsed on this section, my body could still be there!
More lovely scenery and undulating roads brought me to the evening accommodation just outside Bellingham. My visit to the Alwinton pub meant that I now knew to pronounce it “Bellin-jam” and not “Belling-am” as I had been. It seems most places in the north aren’t pronounced as any normal person would read their name!
I had booked Brown Rigg Guest lodges next to a campside about a mile outside Bellingham. The lodges are highly recommended. They are part of what was an old outdoor school and have been refurbished to a high standard. The owners have a barn which is locked for bikes (and bike cleaning facilities if needed). There is a kitchen to cook your own food which can be bought in Bellingham before arriving at the lodges. £40 for a double for the night – no breakfast although there is an option of having a packed breakfast.
For my evening meal I had a walk into Bellingham along the side of the North Tyne River (about 1 mile – take a torch) and had a reasonable meal at the Cheviot Hotel. Tip for the pub is to try and get a seat in the bar rather than in the restaurant which is a bit soulless. The Rose & Crown pub close by had been recommended but I found it was a disappointment with no real ale (although recommended for beer) and a TV on all the time which no-one was watching (a particular bugbear of mine regarding pubs). A nice walk back and a good night’s sleep. Again this is a good area to spend time outside exploring the dark skies – particularly as the Brown Rigg Lodges are away from the bright lights of Bellingham.