BerWin: The Wrap-up

Map of BerJog-BerWin-LeWinWe’ve been back home a while and busy with other things, but now a quick wrap-up of the snappily named BerJog-BerWin-LeWin multi-tour, and specifically its BerWin leg. I’ve updated our map of all cycle tours and doodled a map just for BerJog-BerWin-LeWin because I’m incapable of leaving things to your imagination! Caroline The Stats has added some facts and figures for your amusement.

I said I’d comment on our experiences touring in the UK versus Europe.

Firstly, the weather! I’m hesitant to generalise from a small sample, but both our UK tours have had prolonged rainy spells. In Europe we’ve had severe weather but it tends to be one bad day and not prolonged. I guess the difference between a maritime and continental climate.

Most of our European tours have followed major rivers, and consequently our stops have been rich with cultural cities. Lots of things to see and do, lots of places to eat and drink. British tourism seems to emphasise landscape over culture; maybe because we have so many beautiful places, maybe because London sucks the life out of our regional centres, or we don’t cherish the culture in other cities (sad to see Liverpool ousted from UNESCO world heritage status).

I can’t ignore the state of cycle infrastructure. In one sense we are fortunate: there is a wealth of very low-traffic lanes in Britain. Other, more recently-developed countries might have just one way to go city-to-city, and it can be monstrous (Romania, ugh!) But we sorely lack the visionary, high quality cycleways of Germany, Netherlands and Denmark. Even France has invested heavily in tourist-attracting routes on the Eurovelo network.

Don’t want to end on a sad note though! We have happy memories of the wild and remote places, the exceedingly steep hills and extreme weather of the Pennine Cycleway 🙂

Meet us at Land’s End in September.

BerWin: Sheffield – Ashbourne

Descending to HathersageWhat a difference good weather makes! Today was a game of two halves (and no extra time). Tough climbing for 40km, but in lovely sunshine it was a pleasure to spin up from Sheffield, where we’d enjoyed lovely dinner bed and breakfast with Clara, to Stanage Edge. Fabulous descent from there to Hathersage. The long backroad climb from Ashford in the Water towards Monyash was a delight. After climbing again out of Monyash, we were treated to the Tissington Trail, 30km of steady descent into Ashbourne.

Yesterday’s ride got short shrift because a certain football match kept me busy in the evening, but it was another rainy one, beautiful in its way, plunging repeatedly into West Yorkshire mill towns, before spiralling back up to the Moors. For TV afficionados, apparently we started in Happy Valley and passed through Last of the Summer Wine.

BerWin: Dent to Heptonstall

Climbing out of ColneMentioning no names, one of us has a battery to help on the hills, of which there are plenty on this trip. The e-bike offers five rockets. 1/5 rockets compensates for the extra weight of hauling a heavy battery around; 2/5 roughly equalises with the (ahem) human-powered partner (who still fails on the 25% sections); 3/5 will get you up nearly everything; 4/5 will get you up the mad climbs around here, and 5/5 for all we know will launch you into orbit (never been tried). There was a little scare, range-anxiety I think they call it, when the remaining battery-life fell to 21km on a 90km ride with mostly 3/5 rockets engaged. So the battery-assisted partner has to ration her (oops, giveaway) rockets. Since yesterday’s deluge, an added complication is that the control unit has taken in water, and the ‘reduce rockets’ button won’t work!. No joke: you have to turn it off and turn it on again, to revert to no rockets. Well, on today’s quite challenging (understatement) 100km / 1800m climb ride, the battery-powered partner survived mostly on 1/5 with an occasional blast to mount the 25%ers. Kudos.

Though the bar is now quite low, the weather today was fine, often drizzly, occasionally rainy, sometimes sunny. We scaled the col out of Dent, and several more categorised climbs, before eventually plunging into Heptonstall, where we are staying tonight. At lunchtime we even met and ate outside in Settle with Cathy and Richard. All is good!

BerWin: Alston to Dent

Hartside Summit
Weather report for July 5th. Today will be drizzly, followed by rain, heavy over Hartside Summit, lashing and freezing on the descent, brightening later, followed by rain, sun, rain, sun, rain and finally hot sun. You will wear light rain gear, heavy rain gear, every layer you’ve got, long trousers (not before time), raingear, no raingear, raingear, no raingear, raingear, shorts, suncream (not before time). Sheep spilling messily across the road, electricals misbehaving, crackling fresh tarmac, diverting to train later.

BerWin: Horsley to Alston

Lambley Viaduct lies on the South Tyne Trail, a splendid converted railway line, with gentle gradient and mostly good surfaces. It provides an excellent facility for walkers and cyclists, except in the region of the viaduct, where a property owner, whom Caroline dubbed The Selfish Gardener, prohibits cyclists from using a short section of the trail. Hence a big climb to the fell above. The compensation is a great view of the viaduct which walkers will not see, and for us, a sighting of a pair of curlews.

A very soggy day at times. Just after Once Brewed, we were caught by a thunderous downpour with lip-smacking rain pellets, and flash floods. As we emerged, sodden, we followed a sign to Hardriding.

The offroad trails around Wark and Kielder forests were leg-sapping and deserted. Northumberland’s epic emptiness has been its striking feature. I’m reminded of my Brummie grandmother who, on being taken for a holiday in the Highlands of Scotland, was unimpressed. “Just a whole lot of nothing” was her verdict. I think that’s rather the point.

BerWin: Norham to Horsley

Otterburn ranges

I have a phobia about bridges, so when we crossed a narrow one, open railings at each side and just wide enough to walk side-by-side with the bike, my heart was in my mouth. We dropped down the other side and looked back up at the crossing, just as 15 road bikers in team kit of the Early Morning Crew thundered across at full tilt. What a good job I wasn’t still teetering across when they arrived.

In other news, I can report that a sweaty man, grinding slowly up a hill in Northumbria in July attracts a gazillion flies. Luckily they don’t seem to bite. The longest climb of the day was up to the Otterburn ranges, and it was something of a classic. 4km of climbing including 2.5km over 5%, on a smooth military road across wild moorland I recalled my cycling mentor, Mike Spencer telling me once, 180km into a 200km Audax, that the next hill was ‘best attacked’. This one – at least at current fitness levels – was best defended; lowest gear, lowest cadence that will keep the pedals turning, don’t speed up when the slope abates and use the time to recover.

BerWin: On The Road Again

On The Road Again 🎶 No matter how I try to be sophisticated, the shuffle algorithm in my head picks the cheesiest music. Willie Nelson has been playing as Caroline, Rob, Eunice and Evgeny hit the road again. You’ve heard of LeJog; JogLe too if you’re fancy. We’re embarking on leg two of BerJog-BerWin-LeWin. Caught the train from Kings Cross to Berwick. Last time we were here we headed north to Orkney by way of John O’Groats, this time south and homeward bound. It’s been two years since we’ve toured and there has been a lot of idleness in between. So wish us luck taking on the Pennine Cycleway on weak legs. A short warm-up ride this evening, crossing the Tweed a couple of times to reach our B&B in Norham.

Transcontinental Race 2016: Durmitor

I wrote this little piece as a comment on a TCR Facebook group. Re-posting it here to preserve the memory.
On the CP4 parcour, Durmitor, Montenegro

Croatia had been hard on me. A small crash at the border left me a little concussed, and with a slightly bent disc rotor that was dragging me down, perhaps more mentally than physically. Then the heat of Rijeka and the bora wind of the coast nearly beat me to a pulp and I thought my attempt on TCR was all over. Passing through Sinj, things started looking up. I met Rory Bear Kemper in a bus shelter; we shared a few words, the first company I’d had in days. Then a roadside bike workshop appeared like an oasis in the desert, and they straightened my disc in moments. I was rolling again. Bosnia seemed to go by in a flash, and I spent a cheap night in a doss house in Capljina.

Up before dawn, I started on the deserted road through Republika Srpska to the ‘secret’ border with Montenegro, the beginning of maybe the most perfect day’s cycling of my life. Herdsmen led their sheep flocks down the road, but not a soul otherwise. I tweeted there might be radio silence because I had no data allowance in Montenegro, and Kevin, who’d been enjoying my gastrotour, said he *needed* to know what I was eating. I reported it was Nutella straight from the jar, as I rested in a shady grove next to a rough gravel path. The final 5km ascent to the frontier – the unmanned secret border crossing from which some riders had been sent back – was pure rock, a steep hike-a-bike for me (though I later saw photos of Carlos Mazon riding it I think). For all I knew it could have carried on like that all day, or I could have been sent back down for an 80km detour to one of the official crossings. But no! At the border, entering Montenegro and Durmitor National Park, the gravel turned to silky tarmac ( for a gorgeous descent to Pluzine. The cool and funky (but very slow) cafe marked the start of the parcours. It was late afternoon by now and I dawdled – my weakness – using the slow service as excuse for a longer rest. Riders passed through. Mark Booker, with his legs all scraped from a bad fall. Vinicius looking fit and organised. And Hilde, bright and cheerful despite a very painful knee. Eventually I dragged myself back onto the bike leaving Hilde finishing her food. As Mikko describes, the road climbs up from the lake via tunnels dug from the rock. But afterwards it’s bucolic. In the warm, dusky evening, farm workers rested beside the medieval-looking haystacks they’d gathered that day, swigging well-earned beers. The sun set, the air grew cooler and eventually I climbed to the double peak of Prevoj Sedlo in darkness. A pair of motor-bikers passed me and stopped to talk. They told me they’d met Hilde behind and she planned to sleep part way up the climb; I think a family had offered her a barn. Descending was tricky in the darkness. A few days earlier I’d descended the San Pellegrino pass in darkness to reach CP3, and that had been scary enough, even with the benefit of road markings and chevrons at the bends. This descent to Žabljak had no such help. But eventually Žabljak was reached and as I rolled past a restaurant with TCR riders, super-helpful CP volunteer (and future TCR5 finisher) Martin called out to me. The Highlander hostel was full, but Martin arranged a place in an overspill room. I was too tired for food, but elated to have reached CP4. With ‘only’ 1000km to go, and the major climbs all done, I had flipped into the ‘you can do this’ mindset that had deserted me in Croatia.

Next morning I woke up with the ever cheerful Giorsio, who told me that my loud snoring overnight wasn’t a problem at all, as he had noise-cancelling earplugs for *exactly* that purpose. It was the first of a few encounters over the next several days that would see us getting into various scrapes. The weather had turned cold and rainy overnight; I hadn’t expected that. Hilde had rolled in early that morning. The Highlander hostel promised breakfast, and Hilde and I waited, keeping warm under that same blanket Mikko is wrapped in. Martin had contacted a doctor to check out Hilde’s knee, and, after breakfast she sadly climbed into a car. We all thought it was the end of her race. Happily it turned out not to be so, and after a day’s rest she was declared fit and rolled into Çanakkale a day or so after I did.

Danube: Baia – Tulcea

80% of our hotel bookings have been made via, and we have found some great places. The review scores and comments are really helpful but occasionally you get a misery-guts who pans a nice place. “Orange Juice with breakfast was charged as extra, but not mentioned when served” said Istvan about Hotel Mondial. We found the place very nice, the staff were helpful, but when the waitress asked us “would you like Orange Juice with breakfast” I shot Caroline a look to say “it’s a trap!”

Baia to Tulcea was effectively our final bike tour day. The Danube has already divided into multiple branches, and Tulcea is where land turns to swamp. We will take a boat trip to Sulina today, where swamp turns to sea, and then return here for one more day ride to the railway station at Galati, from where we travel to Bucharest and fly home. It’s been a long trip and I think we are ready for home.

Strava: here

Danube: Constanta – Baia

Slightly awkward departure from Villa Anticus, our hotel, this morning. When we checked in, the proprietor was at pains to tell us not to allow any strangers to follow us us in through the front door. “There are many people passing here. Guests have their own key. Do not let anyone enter!” Pause for emphasis. “Do not forget!”.

This morning, ready to leave and waiting for our bikes to be brought up from the cellar, I thought I would step outside and ring the doorbell to get attention. Step back inside and conscious of someone following me. Put shoulder firmly against door to thwart the invader. Eventually realise it is our host and I am expelling him forcefully from his own house!
North of Constanta, the Mamaia beach strip stretches for miles and miles. It’s extraordinary how much accommodation capacity is available on this coast, and more part-built on the way. Then again, Romania has less than 100km of beachy coastline, for a population of 7 million, so they have to pack them in.

Picnic lunch in Säcele, where an old fellow with a long staff was sitting on a nearby bench. A few spots of rain and he retreats into a covered bus stop. Rain dries up and he emerges again. I become convinced he has been engaged by the village as a life-sized Austrian weather house.

Half an hour before we were due to arrive at our isolated hotel in Baia, the heavens opened with an almighty thunderstorm. Absolutely pelted with rain. But welcomed in to a comfortable room with whirlpool bath. It seemed like fun to share the bath but forgot that cyclists at the end of the day are prone to cramp; cue comedy leaps, splashes and stretches.

Strava: here