Saturday 19th March no wind cloudy but high, cool 5C
After leaving my daughter's place in Newcastle yesterday, after having a goodbye High Tea, and having reached Castleside, near Consett by dusk, I leave the wonderful Castleneuk Bed and Breakfast to head for Langdon Beck. Over breakfast I sit with Chris originally from this area but now living in Coventry. Chris works at Aston Martin and he tells me that they produce over 24 cars a day, the cheapest sell at £200,000. Thirty years ago Chris was a miner and he tells me of what it was like to be a striking miner; the deep resentment is still in him for what the police did back then.
Jan the B and B owner has filled my water bottle with juice and chats for the last time about her years of hitchhiking back in the 70s. She tells stories of hitching across Europe and India evoking memories when hitching was my taxi service in Britain. A fabulous B and B and so much better than a Travelodge and the like. At £30 a night with a huge breakfast what more can one ask for; superb house, lovely bedroom ensuite and great people.
Deep in The Pennines now the road is alternatively steep up and steep down before I reach the Sea to Sea route seven cycle path.
It has already been wonderful for displaying birds with lapwing, snipe, golden plover and curlew all sky dancing, diving or drumming to a backdrop of skylark song and red grouse clutterings. A single red kite glides over. I worry that it will suffer the same fate as the Black Isle kites in Scotland from two years ago. There sixteen red kites were poisoned and there has been no action taken.
I stop at a cafe and B and B near Waskerley owned by the friendly Lorraine. This must be a perfect stopping point for cyclists using the route and a full house must be an exciting place to be in a late evening when the drink is flowing and the tales are being spun. There's a family with a young seven year old dancing in the first cafe room. They and I are joined by a group of cyclists out for the day. They want to know my tale and receive a Biking Birder sticker for their patience in listening. Lorraine then tells tales of the mad red grouse that attacks passers by and of how long she has had the establishment. Great place.
White knuckle downhill section to Stanhope, a car stops in front of me and four young people get out. One shouts “are you the Biking Birder?” They, three men and a woman, Caroline, Steven, John and Mike, are out for a day's birding and turned their car around to say hello when they passed me. Yesterday the driver of a van shouted “hello Gary,” as he drove past and a couple of cars pipped their horn at me in recognition of either me or the RSPB and WWT posters on the bike.
They are a brilliant enthusiastic group and it is inspiring to think that maybe in some small way I am inspiring others.
After a quick shop for some provisions in St John's Chapel and after photographing the war memorial there, I turn towards Langdon Beck, the signpost telling me that I have five miles to go. I can see that this is going to take some time as the road heads towards the moorland top where small patches of snow are gathered in crevices. Headphones on, I mostly push the bike whilst singing to the fields. A few cyclists pass on their macho climb and most say hello.
At the top there are three young stunt motorcyclists who have been laughing at my rendition of Money for Nothing. They show me a few one wheel, look Mum – no legs on the bike tricks and chat about Newcastles chances of staying in the Premiership, the Big Game tomorrow against Sunderland and where my team, Aston Villa, will be next year. Thanks lads!
Down the other side I can see black lumps in a distant field. Binoculars up, black grouse go onto the year list, bird number 189. There are twenty two males here eyeing each other up but mostly just feeding. Occasionally a pair will turn away from each other showing their white backsides. They are a few hundred yards away but show no sign that a bright yellow cyclist is causing them concern.
I cycle on past the Langdon Beck Hotel and after finding the youth hostel closed I go to a farmhouse bed and breakfast where Michael and Emma greet me kindly. A superb house with friendly and not so friendly dogs and a male peacock; sheep out on the hills, which a mass of rosettes around kitchen doorways shows what quality they are and a few cows in barns waiting for the Spring grass to start growing.
As usual the day is wonderful because of the people met. Birds and scenery are the icing on a rich cake.
Spring, first day of Spring tomorrow, migrants are coming!
So the year list is 189, which is twenty six ahead of this time last year.
23.96 Miles 2807 feet elevation up 2037 feet elevation down