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Uphill All The Way – Saved By An Angel – (Durham to Newcastle)

Published on: 10 Jun, 2014
Updated on: 19 Jun, 2014

UATW 002 470This is the fourteenth 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

I was saved by an angel yesterday.

I had decided there was no need to rush my getaway from Durham, firstly because I was still enjoying my son’s company, secondly because I had not seen anything of the city itself yet and thirdly because the forecast seemed more promising for the afternoon.

So after a relaxed start, Tom and I bid farewell to the Seven Stars, cycled through the pretty village of Lower Shincliffe and then up the hill to the city, passing Durham’s impressive University Library.

Durham University's impressive library.

Durham University’s impressive library.

A right turn and a little further on we were at the edge of the old city centre and pushed our bikes to a cafe. I wanted somewhere with wi fi because I had realised, en route, that I had not yet plotted my course from Durham to Newcastle.

Yours truly - struggling to get a wifi connection.

Yours truly – struggling to get a wifi connection.

The wi fi connection proved impossible to use (I find that they are still frustratingly hit and miss, often for no discernible reason). It made me a bit edgy. My pattern had been to set off by eleven so that I had plenty of time in reserve to reach my next destination and cope with any mishaps.

Eventually, on Tom’s advice, we simply stopped outside Caffe Nero and used their wi fi link, one I had used regularly in Guildford. It worked. I connected to Cycle Street, allowed it to plot my route and relaxed. We decided to push our bikes up to the castle green, grabbing a sandwich on the way.

The brown line is my plotted route to Newcastle - mainly alongside main roads.

The brown line is my plotted route to Newcastle – mainly alongside main roads.

In the event we did not see a suitable sandwich shop so we parked the bikes and Tom doubled back to buy stuff for our picnic at M&S.

The green at Durham University

The green by the castle and cathedral – complete with rubber duck!

A crane had been set up on the green with a cage instead of a hook. I thought it was to raise visitors up for a bird’s eye view, but no, it was for bungee jumping. Tom returned as the first jumper launched themselves putting complete trust in the elastic tether. Fortunately for all present it worked and after a few bounces the survivor was gentle lowered. “And the next one please!” said the man with the microphone.

One committed jumper.

One committed jumper.

I turned to one of the many octogenarian visitors nearby whose mouth was still agape. “I think you’re next?” I said but did not see her join the queue. Perhaps the thought of being suspended upside down, in front of a crowd, reminded her that she had only put on her second best knickers that morning.

The jumping continued while we enjoyed our prepared salads. I was impressed that no one stalled or refused to jump. I think I might have done. I have had to deal with a fear of heights in my time, and, judging from a recent hill top walk in Gozo, it might be getting worse, but I am not sure I would be able to make the jump although I imagine it must be thrilling.

Lunch over it was time to set off. I said cheerio to Tom and his two friends who had fortunately just ambled up to join him, so we were able to have a group photo.

Gina, Adam, Tom and me just before I set off to Newcastle.

Gina, Adam, Tom and me just before I set off to Newcastle.

The sky looked ominous and I was sure I was in for a soak. I extracted myself from Durham slowly, constantly checking the iPhone map but still took a couple of wrong turns and it was quite a long climb out of the Wear valley. It started to rain. “Oh well. Here we go,” I thought and donned my jacket.”

Eventually, I got to the main Durham to Newcastle road. There was a cycle path but when they are so close to the road they are convenient more than enjoyable. Nonetheless with the rain on I decided to stick with it and get a few of the 20 planned miles completed.

In Chester-le-Street I recognised some of the scenery from background shots of the cricket test matches held there now but I did not pause to investigate.

Most of the route was depressingly alongside main roads.

Most of the route was depressingly alongside main roads.

Nearly all the route was through suburbs or by the side of busy roads. It was proving to be the least enoyable leg yet. I was tempted to get away to minor roads but at the same time just wanted to get to Newcastle. In the end I decided to do that. At least it would make the navigation straightforward.

A sign for a cycle route to Newcastle made me think that it would take me a quieter way but it was just by-passing a busy roundabout.

It was just a couple of hundred yards further on the angel appeared. I cannot claim it to be miraculous. After all, she has been there in situ, made of steel, set in concrete, since 1998. If I had been more aware I should have expected her. And I had even seen her before from the train or when driving past.

The Angel appeared. She might have been a saviour but it was no miracle.

The Angel of the North appeared. She might have been a saviour, but it was no miracle.

But the impact had been nowhere near the same and it was a moment that proved the advantage of bike or foot journeys where you are in direct contact with your surroundings and can pause at will.

All I had to do was steer 90 degrees to the left pedal for about 40 yards and there I was at the foot of this huge statue that has become an emblem of the North of England.

The feet of an Angel proved to be quite convenient as a bike support.

The feet of an angel proved to be quite convenient as a bike support.

Regular readers will, by now, have discerned that my uneducated artistic tastes are traditional.  To me it is not so much the form of the Angel of the North that impresses, but its scale.

The Angel of the North - it certainly impressed me.

The Angel of the North – it certainly impressed me.

Anyway, it certainly impressed me as it appeared, suddenly, close by. And it lifted my spirits on a dreary journey. If I was Anthony Gormley, the sculptor, I would be very happy with that.

The setting is ideal; one can see for miles and presumably the statute can, in turn, be seen for miles around.

Here are a few facts about it:

  • It has a 54 metre wingspan – almost the same as a jumbo jet
  • It weighs 208 tonnes and contains enough steel to make four Chieftain tanks
  • It has 20 metre deep foundations, necessary to allow it to withstand 100 miles per hour winds

In 2002, in a national survey, it was voted one of the ‘Wonders of Britain’. It makes the £800,000 price tag seem a snip.

The few remaining miles to Gateshead now seemed more bearable and it was good to seen another emblem appear before me, the Tyne Bridge. As I continued towards it I realised that my route would take me across it. Great.

My route took me right across the Tyne Bridge.

My route took me right across the Tyne Bridge.

On the Newcastle side of the Tyne I soon had to dismount to push my bike along the pedestrianised Northumberland Street. I felt like a country bumpkin as I gawped at the scale of the buildings all around. The journey on my bike had acclimatised me to more rural surrounds but I felt some excitement with my big city surroundings.

Northumberland Street, Newcastle's main shopping street.

Northumberland Street, Newcastle’s main shopping street.

Next I had to find my B&B. Problem. My iPhone battery died but I remembered it was called ‘The Avenue’ and was in Manor House Avenue. I cycled in what I thought was a easterly direction hoping to pick up the B road that I recalled would lead me towards it.

The B road did not appear and the path ways around the major roads were complicated. Then I saw a sign to Jesmond. It triggered my memory. It was the area in which The Avenue was located.

I stopped to ask a man for directions. He fetched a friend who had more local knowledge and gave me good directions which he tested me on before allowing me to proceed.

Within a few minutes I had, with relief arrived. It was a traditional B&B located next door to a cricket ground. It was a little way from the city centre but the rates were reasonable and I had no complaints. Tomorrow the world or at least Newcastle was my oyster on the final rest day of my tour.

09.06.14 UATW computer data:

Miles cycled: 19.00 miles (does not include 1.5 miles from Shincliffe to Durham)

Average speed: 8.2 mph (slowest yet – included several stretches where restrictions meant the bike had to be pushed)

Cycling time: 2 hours 17 minutes.

Next report: Rest day in Newcastle and the first leg of the final stretch to Ellington.

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