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Uphill All The Way – D Day +1 (Thirsk to Darlington)

Published on: 8 Jun, 2014
Updated on: 19 Jun, 2014

UATW 002 470This is the twelfth report on the author’s progress in his bid to cycle from Guildford to Edinburgh. The reports follow: Uphill All The Way – The Idea and Uphill All The Way – The Plan (Part One) and Uphill All The Way – The Plan (Part Two)

All Uphill All The Way articles can be found under the Leisure section heading on the front page, in their own sub-section called Uphill All The Way.

By Martin Giles

There are two similarities between General Dwight Eisenhower and me. Firstly, neither of us has, or had, much hair and secondly, on an early June day, albeit 70 years and one day apart, the weather forecast was crucial to our decision on when to go. Both of us decided to get on with it.

The scene of the big go or no-go decision - my breakfast table at my comfortable and nicely old fashioned bed and breakfast in Thirsk.

The scene of the big ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ decision – my breakfast table at my comfortable, and delightfully old fashioned, bed and breakfast in Thirsk.

In hindsight I would have been better to have used his H Hour of 7am but I was tied to Barry’s (my friendly host at Thirsk), breakfast times.

I was constantly checking the BBC weather forecasts. They were full of threatened thunderstorms but, as in Normandy in 1944, there appeared to be a window of opportunity. The rain might not arrive until midday. With luck and the predicted following wind I could be in Darlington before the wet stuff descended.

My planned route to Darlington although I took the main road to North Allerton in my bid to beat the rain.

My planned route to Darlington although I took the main road to North Allerton in my bid to beat the rain.

I had an additional incentive. Today I would meet up with my younger son, Tom, who, on a break from his university studies, had taken the train to Oxenholme, just south of Kendal in Cumbria, and cycled strenuously (if his “I am dead” text message was anything to go by) to Ravenstonedale, where he had a friend, and then, after a lift in a car for him and his bike, from the summit of Tan Hill, the site of the highest pub in England, about 30 miles down to Darlington to join me.

I pushed off at 0915hrs. It was already overcast. I had decided to avoid the first dog-leg of the planned quiet route plotted by CycleStreet and take the A road for the first 9 miles to North Allerton. That should save some time.

Progress was good and the road traffic not too heavy but I could see weather approaching from the south west. The race was on.

I could see the rain approaching from the south west.

I could see the rain approaching from the south west.

It did not take long to lose. Just before North Allerton came into sight the first drops fell. As I arrived in the town I was already a bit wet and thought I would seek shelter in a coffee shop to see if it was a passing shower. But even while I was looking the rain eased off. I decided to press on.

North Allerton - I was going to stop for a coffee but as the rain eased off decided to press on.

North Allerton – I was going to stop for a coffee but as the rain eased off decided to press on.

Turning west off the main road I found and followed National Cycle route 71. I picked it up at Yafforth and turned, with relief, onto a minor road heading north. Light rain was falling again and was looking worryingly steady. The countryside again looked good. More sheep here, some of which were finding shelter under trees. Lucky sheep.

I reached an attractive area laid out like park land. lucky sheep were sheltering under the trees.

I reached an attractive area laid out like park land. lucky sheep were sheltering under the trees.

I reached an area that was laid out very attractively, like park land. The lane was lined with trees under one of which I took shelter. A jogger approached, he said something cheery but indecipherable, in what I think was a Scottish accent. I replied, “Aye, aye”, something I have learnt normally works in Scotland itself, and off he jogged, apparently happy, or perhaps thinking: “There is another mad Englishman. Better get away quick.”

It was time to don my jacket, not an easy decision. My shirt was already wet and although I was not at all cold my jacket would better protect those bits that were still dry. It would also provide dry pockets for my iPhone which, after the experience en route to York, had taken a much higher priority.

I carried on. The rain had got heavier and was steady. My trousers were soon soaked. It was obviously going to be another wet one so I resolved to simply get the miles covered as soon as I could.

It was a shame. In better weather this would have undoubtedly been another pleasant ride. The farmland here, south of Darlington, was still very attractive and more undulating than the flat Vale of York.

This poor black sheep seemed to have no friends.

This poor black sheep seemed to have no friends.

Eventually I reached a main road. A sign said: “Darlington 10 miles”. I decided to simply follow the main road; it would avoid the problematic necessity of donning wet, steamy reading glasses and peering at my iPhone.

Onwards I pedalled. In a very short time there was another sign, “Darlington 8”. I knew I had not travelled two miles but if the second sign was right so much the better.

On I went. There were some more signs ahead. This time one said, “Darlington 9” but pointed back towards the way I had come. What was going on! Get me the Minister of Transport on the phone.

There was only the main road and I had definitely not missed any turnings. I about turned worried that I was now cycling away from my destination. “Those wanton boys are at work again.” I thought.

Returning to the first sign I found a rare telephone kiosk and took up occupation so that I could peruse my iPhone map without more rain falling on it and my glasses. It seemed lovely and dry. If it had had a seat I might still be there.

The examination of my digital map showed that the main road I had been on had a dog leg. A shorter route to Darlington would be by following a minor road to Dalton on Tees. The junction was right outside so I was off.

Eventually I emerged at Croft. A pretty little village. There were cyclists who had stopped by an old coaching inn. I envied them their break in the dry but there was also a sign that said: “Darlington 4”. I pushed on.

By now I was completely soaked right down to, I could feel, my socks. But there was nothing for it but to continue.

At last I reached a roundabout on the outskirts of Darlington. As on previous occasions every direction other than Darlington town centre seemed to be indicated. Then I noticed a blue direction sign for cyclists: “Town centre 2 minutes”. That was more like it and I happily took up my legally exempted status on an otherwise one-way street.

I soon saw the entrance to my hotel the Mercure Kings Head. Obviously subsequent to a renovation the entrance was no longer on the main street but tucked away in a side street called Priestgate. Perhaps I was going to get the last rites.

Instead I received a wry smile from the chap at reception.

“Can I help you sir?”

I resisted the urge to say: “No, I have just come in to make a puddle on your carpet,” and we started the normal check in routine. He then told me to bring my bike through to their maintenance store where it would be secure. We surprised a gaggle of hotel staff who, thinking they were out of sight and mind, seemed to be having a crafty smoke.

Once organised in the room I texted to Tom to discover that he had not yet set out. His tactic to avoid the rain was to cycle later in the day. It was possibly a better plan.

Darlington town centre, not at its best on such a dreary day.

Darlington town centre, not at its best on such a dreary day.

I had a quick look around the town. It meant donning sopping boots again, I did not bother with socks, but I had several items I required. I asked in a shop that sold shoes if I could have some laces. The assistant looked shocked at the very idea. “No we don’t sell laces. You could try Boyes. They sell that kind of thing.”

A street waterfall seemed to me the very last thing that was needed.

This shopping centre in Darlington looked remarkably similar to ours in Guildford and, I suspect, those in countless other British towns.

I found the shop in question which appeared to be a kind of emporium. The closest we have in Guildford is probably Robert Dyas but the range of stock in Boyes was far more extensive. Almost immediately I found some perfect laces for my boots and asked about men’s handkerchiefs. I had managed to lose both of the two I had set out with.

A street waterfall seemed to me the very last thing that was needed.

A street waterfall seemed to me the very last thing that was needed.

“Menswear upstairs sir,” said the polite shop girl who obviously called men ‘sir’ regardless of appearance and an absence of socks.

I was spoilt for choice when it came to handkies and chose one plain white for normal occasions and one checked for when I needed to cut a dash. At 50p and 60p respectively they would not break the bank.

As I was queueing to pay I had a brainwave? “Do you have any waterproof trousers?” Yes they did normally stock waterproof trousers. I had to chose between blue and green. I went for blue to go with my bike’s colour scheme. These things are important.

When I eventually paid I complimented the store and asked if it was an independent. “No,” was the rather indignant reply, “We are part of a big chain…” and then after a short pauses when I think the assistant considered my southern accent added, “… in the North East like.”

My next port of call was my opticians or, as some refer to it, Poundland. I had left my reading glasses in York but with a new pair and a new case costing £1 each it was not worth getting them posted home.

Pleased with my purchases I returned to my hotel and waited for my Tom.

Whilst waiting I wondered if the King’s Head was the same hotel I had had dinner at with my aunt, uncle and cousins during a holiday in the 1980s. If so, it was then a traditional hotel which probably had looked much the same in the 1940s. We had decided to eat there and whilst it was a bit shabby its former grandeur was still apparent.

The head waiter came to take our order. His speech was one constant stream of announcements made for the benefit of the whole restaurant. “Ladies and gentlemen what can we get you? We have superb starters, magnificent main courses, including beautiful beef and fantastic fish which can be followed by perfect puddings. Meals can all be accompanied by a glass of our wonderful wines or excellent ales.” His alliterative powers knew no bounds. Presumably they never served zabaglione.

Tom eventually arrived at 7.45pm describing his fun and sometimes exciting ride. He had got wet but he didn’t mind, it had been worth it. After he had arranged the room to his liking by spreading his belongings over the floor we set out for dinner to discuss our biking stories.

07.06.14 UATW computer data:

Miles cycled: 29.28 miles

Average speed: 10.9 mph (fastest yet)

Cycling time: 2 hours 40 minutes.

Next report: No longer a solitary cyclist, I try and keep up with my son Tom on a 20 mile ride to Durham.


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