Fantastic North Street: cycling the old route from London to Edinburgh | Biking holidays

As any bike owner will inform you, there is one thing strangely uplifting about staying on the highway early. Primarily it is a circumstance of experiencing vacant roads and morning light, but perhaps there is a smidgeon of self-righteousness, way too. Mamils have a lie in? By no means. As we wheel our bikes out of the Olde Ship in the village of Seahouses, nothing appears to be to be relocating. With a light westerly blowing in from our still left, we go the deserted insane golfing course, shout superior morning to a lone doggy walker and head north shut to a lazy expanse of sand dunes.

With the scent of the North Sea in my nostrils, I feel a prolonged way from central London, where my journey began amid the tangier aroma of supply driver diesel. My program was to go in lookup of the aged highway between London and Edinburgh: the 1 that had served the mail coaches, witnessed marching soldiers and highway theft, and experienced an ancient and evocative identify: the Great North Street.

The initial 10 days experienced, in actuality, involved pragmatism and compromise as well as historical past and experience. For a get started much of the Excellent North Street lies instantly beneath its fashionable substitute, the A1. But the motive I was making an attempt this pilgrimage was to mark theanniversary of the former becoming changed by the latter. We choose our street numbering method for granted, but the massive choice was produced by the Ministry of Transport 100 a long time back this summertime. In July 1921 the A1 was born and the Wonderful North Road was quietly shunted on to history’s tricky shoulder.

About the last 300-odd miles I’d been pretty faithful to the previous highway – or at least as faithful as you can be though steering clear of twin carriageways and rushing motorists. The essential is to find stretches in which the new has been crafted subsequent to the outdated, rather than on top rated of it: an orphaned mile or so at Tempsford in Bedfordshire, Stilton in Cambridgeshire or Cromwell in Nottinghamshire. On these overlooked substantial streets I find it remarkably simple to visualise a time when the mail coach was the king of the street – the horses’ hooves clattering and the guard blowing his horn.

For most of the excursion I’d been on my possess, but my buddy Dave had joined me just north of Newcastle. The former day we cycled 55 miles across Northumberland, crisscrossing the present day road and marvelling at an at any time wilder landscape – just one significantly also stunning to glimpse only from a motor vehicle window at 70mph. For example, where the A1 throws a concrete bridge together the Coquet gorge, we took the outdated route, down precipitously by way of the village of West Thirston, more than a medieval bridge into Felton and steeply up yet again. Vehicle motorists in a hurry make do with soulless company stations Wonderful North Street cyclists can settle in at Felton’s Running Fox cafe, which serves fantastic views across the river and generous slices of cake.

A milestone along the Great North Road in North Yorkshire.
A milestone along the Good North Street in North Yorkshire. Photograph: Steve Silk

But again to Seahouses, which isn’t on the Terrific North Highway: we were being tempted there by the vacationer lodging. Our task this early morning is to get again to the accurate route, but not before we have ongoing up the coast along with the wonderful Bamburgh Castle and then west around Budle Bay, with its mudflats punctuated by winding rivulets and hundreds of wading birds.

Right before extensive we’re at Belford, one more village the modern day traveller commonly ignores. It is way too early for a cafe, but the newsagent couldn’t be additional hospitable. Coffee will come from his Nescafé equipment. Deckchairs are dug out of the back again.

“There you go lads, attractive morning,” he claims, leaving us to get on with it.

It is a spectacularly wonderful morning. Not least since I am sitting down specifically on my beloved freeway. Belford was bypassed in 1983, so it however seems like an primary Excellent North Street settlement. Two aged locals shuffle in and out of the store, every raising a furled-up newspaper by way of salutation – and possibly 50 percent an eyebrow at the cyclists lounging all around seeking as if they personal the spot.

We head north, selecting up Countrywide Cycle Route 1 and adhering to its signals towards Holy Island, lower off at higher tide and reconnected at very low. The diversion is pretty tempting but we resist, contenting ourselves with a bridle path throughout the salt marshes. The only seems are a light swish of the waves and the odd rattle from my bicycle, complaining but coping on rougher terrain. To our ideal we can see both of those the island and a continual stream of autos on the causeway. The wind is coming from the other direction, so not a seem will come across the drinking water. We could be some length away, but past the shimmering sands Holy Island however manages to sustain an air of mystery.

A small farther north I pop into Goswick Golfing Club to fill my water bottle, and realise that we have left the Geordie accent at the rear of. Absolutely everyone is up for a chat but the banter is far more guttural and much less melodic than I have read for the past 100 miles. The accent, the coastline and the huge vacant areas in some way make an impression that we’re functioning out of England.

The Elizabethan town wall at Berwick-upon-Tweed.
The Elizabethan town wall at Berwick-on-Tweed. Photograph: Alamy

In simple fact we’re rather certain we can see Scotland in the length. In the village of Spittal I spot my initially orange-and-blue Irn-Bru sign – which has to be fantastic information. Spittal results in being Tweedmouth – and the comprehensive vista of the River Tweed. Berwick lies on its northern lender, looking as although it belongs to an additional nation – which of class it did for spells all over the middle ages.

Berwick is really substantially a city unto itself, truly worth a weekend all to by itself as well. Sections of it glance like a wise Edinburgh suburb elsewhere it has the sense of a provincial French city. It’s nonetheless enclosed by ramparts – a mile and a half of them, dating back to Elizabethan instances. Stroll along them – it is practically compulsory for readers – and you enjoy the scale of the Tudor undertaking. But, reluctantly, we leave it powering, climbing steadily and obtaining a glimpse of the Tweed glistening to our still left. We’re pressured to shadow the A1 – in bypass method – for a handful of hundred metres till a tunnel sets us absolutely free, enabling us to head due north on the narrowest of lanes.

We carry on, asking yourself how much longer we can stay in England. There are no symptoms so when we location workmen renovating a making on the left, I choose the prospect to look at.

“Excuse me, this may well audio a silly question, but are we in Scotland?”

“You are now.”

“How do you suggest.”

“That road’s the border: the minute you stepped off it, you crossed the line. Welcome to Scotland.”

“Er, cheers.”

Steve, on the right, and mate Dave cross the border into Scotland.
Steve, on the proper, and his mate Dave cross the border into Scotland. Photograph: Steve Silk

The moment we’re in Scotland the route becomes more rugged. There’s a relentless but scenic climb up to Lamberton Moor followed by a fall toward Ayton. Across the Eye Water valley is Ayton Castle, with its crimson sandstone turrets. You could contact the architectural design “Disneyland fantasy” the gurus like “Scottish baronial”.

We’ve uncovered our climbing legs now and motivate each individual other onwards. Dave does especially sterling get the job done along a ruler-straight area across Coldingham Moor. We’re operating parallel to the A1, but this A1107, a several miles to the north, appears to be to have been a recognised choice in the old times. Our reward for all that effort is mile on mile of descent to Pease Sands. Just about every downward extend together listed here is exhilarating – cracking surroundings and variety climate merged with sheer velocity.

“I’ve picked the greatest little bit of your vacation, haven’t I?” shouts Dave as he overtakes me, each of us hurtling downhill at additional than 35mph. It is tricky to disagree, tougher however to capture him up.

From now until Dunbar the contours are kinder. Torness electrical power station – painted pale blue in a vain try to blend in with the skyline – pops up on the coast prior to we escape on to a facet lane. Our highway then will become a path in the lee of the railway line, but freshly laid tarmac retains us motoring. We only realise how current it is when we see guys laying the hottest steaming stretch in entrance of our extremely eyes. Many thanks fellas.

At Dunbar I go away Dave at the lodge and head to Victoria Harbour. Perhaps the most popular story in this article is from the 14th century, when Black Agnes, the Countess of Dunbar, effectively withstood a siege from a vastly superior English power. Named for the colour of her hair, she not only rebuffed the Earl of Salisbury’s 20,000 men, but would seem to have positively revelled in performing so. Just after the English battered the castle partitions, she despatched her maids out in their Sunday greatest to ostentatiously wipe absent the marks with their handkerchiefs. Background, it seems, is in all places more vivid here – as substantially legends and heroes as bloodshed and fight.

Steve Silk Great North Road The Great North Road final cover

I grab a seat on a pile of yellow fishing crates. Looking out in direction of the harbour’s mouth, I ponder just 1 more working day in the saddle. If you’d asked me at Grantham or Northallerton, I’d have been delighted to simply limp into Edinburgh. Now all that is adjusted: I sense I could keep on going to Inverness if I had to. That is the point about everyday living in the saddle, when you have commenced it promptly becomes addictive.

The Good North Highway: London to Edinburgh – 11 Times, 2 Wheels and 1 Historical Freeway by Steve Silk (Summersdale, £9.99) is out on 8 July