Edinburgh to Bristol cycle tour
September 1985

I came across the log I kept of this trip many years afterwards. It was the first cycle-camping trip we did, when Paul was 39 and I was 40. Can't remember the details of our bikes or equipment, except that it was a lot heavier and the sleeping bags weren't so fast-drying as those we use now.

Ann French - June 1998

Prologue

We took the train to Dundee to visit my parents on Saturday 14 September 1985. When loaded up the bikes felt a bit unresponsive. The trip to Temple Meads station was uneventful but nerve-wracking because of the drizzle and heavy Saturday morning traffic. We arrived at the station 40 minutes early to find hordes of Bristol City fans. To our relief they were going in a different direction, to Cardiff.

Unexpectedly, my parents met us at Dundee station and took our luggage for us. The journey to Kirriemuir (about 19 miles north of Dundee) wasn't too bad despite the squally showers. My light wasn't working well and the cars speeding past on the main road were disturbing. One carload shouted at us - "Why don't you buy a car?" - but most ignored us and we arrived safely though late.

We cycled back to Dundee the following Thursday to catch the train to Edinburgh. The trip was much quicker than coming to Kirrie even when carrying luggage. We had a few nasty moments as we had our first experience of exposed roads with crosswinds while fully loaded, and found out how much turbulence high sided lorries cause.

Day 1 - Edinburgh to Dunbar
Thursday 19 September 1985

30.2 miles, 13.9 mph

We had thought of doing something cultural in Edinburgh, or at least visiting the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative, before setting out. In the event, it was too noisy and busy and anything other than leaving immediately seemed like too much hassle, so we just headed out along the A1. We left it with relief to follow a minor road for a while but had to rejoin to go into Dunbar. The last bit was very narrow with a high-kerbed pavement at the side which made me very nervous when lorries passed.

The road was flat most of the way with only one significant hill. Paul is learning to cycle slower which is nice as I don't spend all my time trying to catch up. We skirted Prestonpans on the way - always thought that was a silly name for a town. Passed an unmarked castle at Spittal. It was guarded by an alsatian so we didn't investigate it too closely, but it looked like a small-holding trying to be self-sufficient with rabbit skins hanging in a shed etc. As is usual with castles, the wall was covered in scaffolding.

Day 2 - Dunbar to Beadmill
Friday 20 September 1985

54.4 miles, 11.4 mph

Lots of the day's riding was on the busy A1. The first bit wasn't too bad - a concrete road with a white line 3 feet from the edge forms a sort of cycle lane though there's a lot of nasty-looking clinker off the edge. The latter part is a narrow 2 lanes and the lorries invariably buffeted me around as they passed. The road was fairly hilly till after Berwick. We took a detour from the A1 to go on the A1107 which turned out to have a steep hill. Otherwise the hills were fairly gentle though getting tougher as we neared Banburgh with its impressive castle.

We stopped for lunch in Eyemouth at a beach cafe run by a woman with three kids in tow. Also stopped in Berwick to wander round golf links, go to the bank, and have a drink.

On the way into Beadmill we saw our first live rabbit - all the others have been in varying degrees of deadness. One of the few advantages of main roads is that they have much less roadkill.

It was very windy most of the day, only dying down after we'd put up the tent. It started raining around 8.45 pm on the way to the pub.

Day 3 - Beadmill to Finchale Priory
Saturday 21 September 1995

65.7 miles, 11.3 mph

It rained all night interrupting my sleep. Rained all day as well (though apparently it only started here at around 3 pm). Everything is wet to some degree between damp and soaking. The sleeping bags aren't too bad, having been protected by dustbin liners.

The ride was very flat until past the mining town of Ashington where we stopped for lunch. It took forever to get through Newcastle. It has a bit of a cycle path which we decided to use. Paul dropped a pannier while going over a kerb at one of the many crossroads too quickly. The motorway begins at the end of the cycle path and there are no instructions as to what cyclists should do then. We went through the park under the motorway and rode around till we eventually found the road out. We went past the football ground where a match was being played. I'd forgotten how much noise a football crowd makes. Luckily we were out of the way by the time they came out.

Eventually made it to this pretty campsite, with the ruins of a priory at the bottom of the field and a flock of sheep wandering around. We're miles off our projected route but still within earshot of the A1(M) which is droning in the background. No pubs for miles though so we had an early night.

Day 4 - Finchale Priory to York
Sunday 22 September 1995

77.5 miles, 11.0 mph

A long, hard day. We started late because it was still drizzling as we packed up. Then we looked round the Priory and took some photos before eventually setting out at around 11.30.

We got lost in Durham. There was a nice view of the castle and cathedral on the way through the city. After climbing out of the centre, we discovered we were on our way to the motorway instead of the A177. Fortunately, we managed to recover without having to go back down, but had covered only 8.5 miles in the first hour's riding.

After another couple of miles we stopped for lunch in Coxhoe. Lunch was a bit confusing. We ordered and paid for a bar meal before being told that they only did Sunday lunches on Sunday. After a strong hint from the waitress, we moved from the public bar to the restaurant, which we hadn't noticed before. Paul had a prawn cocktail then we had huge servings of roast chicken with turnip, cabbage, mashed potato and onion gravy. It was very welcome after last night's tinned ravioli, and also very cheap since they refused extra payment following the initial confusion.

After lunch we just battled on. The route was fairly flat especially after Sedgefield and the weather improved enough to ride in t-shirts. There were lots of people out for Sunday rides include two older couples on tandems. We only passed one person - an old guy on a three-speed upright - and he passed us later when we stopped for a rest.

We phoned the campsite (Rawcliffe Manor) from at 5.30 Northallerton to make sure it would be open when we arrived. Turned out to be open until after 11 pm! We were both ready to give up when we reached Thirsk, but the thought of the rest day ahead kept us going (only just in my case) and we arrived in York at 8.45. At least we proved we can put up the tent in the dark.

This site is a complete contrast to the others we've stayed in. It has a bar and disco (packed out) as well as a launderette, shop, restaurant and unlocked toilets. The guy at reception asked if we had come from Scotland when I paid with damp 5 notes.

Day 5 - Rest day in York
Monday 23 September 1995

Having failed to find an empty machine in the launderette, we went into York to sightsee. York has lots of similarities to Bath - it's full of tourists, tourist shops, tea shops etc. It was also founded by the Romans, in 71 AD, and was used by the 9th Legion for centuries.

We wandered round a bit, had lunch in a wine bar, looked round some of the city walls, and visited York Cycleworks to buy some badly-needed oil and light bulbs to try to fix my lights which weren't working properly. Then we walked round some more of the wall to Clifford tower, where a group of 12th century Jews had killed each other rather than waiting for the mob to get to them. Had tea and cakes in a nice tea shop, bought nectarines and figs in a high-class fruit shop, then had ice-cream. Afterwards we visited the Minster. The multitude of notices asking for money were off-putting though what we could see of the building was very beautiful. Lots of it was closed to repair the tower following the lightening strike last year. Perhaps as retribution for the grudging way I paid my pound as requested before taking photos (or perhaps because it had got so wet on the journey), my camera refused to work altogether.

We started to panic because we couldn't find anywhere to buy food but eventually managed to find some tins in Marks and Spencers. Then we went back to the campsite, oiled the bikes and did the laundry.. Nice to have things clean, dry and non-squeaky again.

Day 6 - York to Fenton
Tuesday 24 September 1995

75.6 miles, 11.5 mph

Sunny and warm all day though a bit windy sometimes. We got off to an earlyish start. The road was dead flat all the way to Crowle, then there were a few gentle hills to here. We stopped for lunch in Goole. While we were eating lunch three blokes stopped to look at the bikes. They seemed amazed by the number of gears - not surprisingly since 3 gears would be more than adequate around there.

There was a very bland bit of country for about 10 miles after Goole, zigzagging round the edges of large fields. All the fields were either spinach or straw, the latter burning, burnt, or laid out ready for burning. There was a greater variety of dead things on the road than usual - birds, hedgehogs, a mole, a cat, lots of beetroots,some french beans, and a couple of rats. No rabbits though.

We got lost, though not seriously, in all the major towns we went through - York, Goole, Crowle and Gainsborough.

Day 7 - Fenton to Leicester
Wednesday 25 September 1995

69.2 miles, 10.9 mph

This started out as a nice, peaceful day. We rode about 11 miles down to Lincoln, took pictures of the cathedral (somewhat hampered by the multi-story car park in front of it), had an early lunch, then wandered through the pedestrian precinct and old city gate back to the road out. We pootled along more flat roads, stopping occasionally for pictures. Until we got to Grantham it was sunny, warm and only a little windy - very pleasant cycling.

We joined the A1 again to bypass Grantham. There were roadworks for the first mile so we rode on the closed off bit of road to avoid the traffic. Stopped for tea at a service area that was full of coachloads of American tourists.

After leaving the A1 (with great relief), we went on to Merton Mowbray where we planned to stop for the night. There were a couple of long hills for a change and some downhill. Unfortunately we could only find a 3-star hotel in Merton Mowbray despite circling the one-way system several times (or that's what it felt like). So we carried on along the Leicester road expecting to find a pub where we could stay. Eventually we came across the Manor Hotel about a mile from the centre of Leicester which looked hopeful. However, when we asked about rooms, the landlord drew a map showing us where the B&B area of town was - the pub hadn't operated as a hotel for years. After another 5 miles through the town, we reached the right area. The first place we stopped at was full but phoned another B&B round the corner which had a free room.

I'd forgotten that Leicester has such a high proportion of Asians. We passed hundreds of Indian restaurants and shops that were still open at 7.30 with lots of people walking around - it seemed much more alive that most English towns. Unfortunately this was some way away from where we were staying so we just had a boring pub meal.

Day 8 - Leicester to Stratford-on-Avon
Thursday 26 September 1995

45.8 miles, 11.0 mph

We left the hotel early since breakfast finished at 8.30, and managed not to get lost leaving Leicester. A lovely, sunny, warm day with hardly any wind. Stopped at Leamington for lunch, then went on to Warwick hoping to visit the castle. However it turned out to be too big to try and look round in the time we had and there were no viewpoints where we could take photos from outside so we abandoned it. We wandered around the town for a while, doing some shopping and having coffee and cake. My chain broke as we were leaving and I got filthy putting it back together. Made a note not to ignore funny scrunchy noises when riding along in future.

Arrived at Stratford at around 4.30 and had no trouble getting into the campsite, despite both camping books claiming that you have to book in advance. It's a nice open site with free showers and unlocked toilets (though we got bitten by ants). For the first time, there were other cycle campers in the site - a group of three and one single bloke. We didn't get a chance to talk to them though.

Wandered around Stratford for a while in the evening before having another early night.

Day 9 - Stratford-on-Avon to near Tewkesbury
Friday 27 September 1995

44.8 miles, 11.4 mph

We spent the morning sight-seeing in Stratford and saw another couple of cycle-campers riding through. It was a beautiful day - possibly the best weather we've had all summer.

We visited Nash House which is supposed to be built on the site of Shakespeare's house. It has a fairly interesting museum and a lovely Elizabethan knot garden.

We had lunch by the river, then walked the bikes over to Evesham Road and cycled to Evesham where we stopped for tea by the river. Evesham is as pretty as Stratford but far less touristy. It was very busy nonetheless and we pushed the bikes most of the way through it.

We set off for Tewkesbury, going round the north of Bredon Hill just for the ride. After Tewkesbury, we went down the A38 for a while then turned off to find the campsite marked on the map. Came across it just as we were about to give up looking - a nice, traditional pub (the Red Lion) with the campsite attached and the A38 just over the hill.

Day 10 - near Tewkesbury to Bristol
Saturday 28 September 1995

38.6 miles, 12.1 mph

Another beautiful day. We overslept until 8.45 but the mist was still heavy until about 10. We didn't leave the campsite till after 11. It's a lovely site on the river with lots of fishermen and we took lots of pictures before leaving at 11. The hill out of the site looked less steep on the way out (though I still walked up it).

We came back to Bristol along the A38, stopping for lunch at a fairly pricey place. Economised by only having starters. A very uneventful end to the trip. We didn't even get lost going through Gloucester.