The end of July / start of August 2019 saw me undertake my very first long distance ride, cycling Edinburgh to Newcastle. This blog post is intended to help out people doing the same ride and who are maybe novice riders or unsure what to expect.
First of all – I had a great time! I was riding with a friend, so I had company, which certainly helped break up some of the long days in the saddle. We were very lucky with the weather, with minimal rain despite most of the country getting a drenching. We just got the timing right I guess? 🙂
(If you’re here to look at the kit I took, you can see the Kit List here!)
We followed a mixture of National Cycle Routes and our own more made-up-on-the-fly routes. Broadly, we were following the Coasts and Castles South route. We covered a lot of different terrain, which made me glad I was riding my Trek 1120. The terrain ranged from tarmac roads, to off-road single track. The route we followed cycling Edinburgh to Newcastle was :
- Edinburgh to Cockburnspath
- Cockburnspath to Berwick Upon Tweed
- Berwick Upon Tweed to Alnwick
- Alnwick to Newcastle
Edinburgh to Cockburnspath
Leaving Edinburgh, we headed towards Dunbar via NCR76. This took us a winding route through East Lothian, covering Whitecraig, Macmerry, Haddington (with a tea and cake stop), out past East Linton, West Barns and finally into Dunbar. We stopped at Dunbar for a meal, then pushed on to Cockburnspath, to find a campsite for the night. This section was our point of no-return. It represented going further than we had cycled before. Dunbar had until now, been the furthest we had ventured South, so this was in essence, cycling into the unknown. We wild camped in a secluded wood just outside Dunglass. It was a rainy night, but we were well covered by trees. We were only bothered by some foxes and a deer who came for a sniff round the camp.
Cockburnspath to Berwick Upon Tweed
We woke to almost immediately find a better looking campsite than the one we had slept at! Oh well. Maybe next time, we’ll push on for five minutes more…! That said, I was treated to the site of a deer, literally 5 yards from our tents, which stared at me as I emerged, then bolted into the brush, disappearing in seconds.
We stopped for a quick coffee and some boil-in-the-bag-breakfast then pushed on to Pease Bay. The downhill here was fantastic, but, as always, I couldn’t help feel that there would be a trade-off coming around a corner soon in the form of an uphill! This was indeed the case, and we started the long climb out of Pease Bay, which kept on climbing for the next couple of miles. Keep in mind, we were not riding skinny road bikes, but rather fully laden bikepacking bikes, with 29″ fat tyres. Quite a push up indeed.
Next stop was Eyemouth, which came up really fast, mainly due to the amount of downhill we were rewarded with after the long Pease Bay climb. Eyemouth was a welcome break and our first chance encounter with the public which really made the trip. I found these micro-interactions really quite powerful, a reminder that the majority of the people we find ourselves surrounded by are reasonable, nice, welcoming human beings. This experience in Eyemouth came in the form of the manager of an amusement arcade. We asked her where the public loos were, so we could wash and use the toilet. She very kindly let us use the loos in her amusement arcade, as she’d just cleaned them and said that they were several shades nicer than the public convenience. She then spent the next ten minutes chatting to us about the trip and giving us advice on where to get the best filled roll. It was a slightly surreal experience, walking through her amusement arcade, surrounded by loud, flashing, machines and then upstairs a ten pin bowling alley, but it was a lot nicer than using the public loos. So, thank you – you really helped us out! Freshened up and refilled thanks to the home bakery, we pushed on for Berwick Upon Tweed.
Crossing the border between Scotland and England was a real high point – we really felt like we’d achieved something! This was by far the furthest I’d ever cycled – it’s not a feeling I’ll forget in a while.
We were tired as we rolled into Berwick Upon Tweed. Thunder clouds were forming and the weather apps we relied on were showing warnings for lightning storms. In short, we did not feel like camping! With the help of the tourist information centre in Berwick (good tip if you’re stuck!) we found some accommodation – a small B&B owned by a lady called Beth in a place called East Ord, about a mile and a half from Berwick. We headed there and were happy to find a pub directly opposite!
Berwick Upon Tweed to Alnwick
If the thunderstorms hit, I didn’t hear them. Although the ground was wet and it was starting to spit rain when we left Berwick. After a near miss with a car, we headed South out of Berwick on to the Coastal Path.
The next couple of hours were spent making slow progress across a variety of terrains – ranging from tarmac to sandy single track. The scenery was spectacular though. We were treated to the site of Lindisfarne Castle rising out of the mist, looking brooding and mysterious as we pedalled quietly and respectfully by.
Again, trying to dodge thunderstorms, we stopped for coffee at The Barn at Beal. The rain had started to spit again, but nothing serious. We pushed on after having the strongest coffee I have ever consumed.
Our route was a winding mix of self-styled and Nation Cycle Routes which took us through towns like Bamburgh, Belford, Spindlestone, Glororum, Newham, Embleton, Rock, Rennington and finally Alnwick.
I had not taken on enough in the way of food or liquid on this stretch and arrived feeling very, very tired. Weirdly tired, sort of surreal, cycling Edinburgh to Newcastle was starting to take it’s toll. Food and bed followed in very short order.
Alnwick to Newcastle
Initially, I wasn’t sure whether I had it in me to reach Newcastle during the course of this day. Would I need to cut it short and stop outside Newcastle, finishing the ride the next day? I decided to test the water and see how I felt as we rode. Taking onboard a more sensible breakfast of oats, fruit and carbs, we set off, fully aware that this might be the last full day in the saddle…
It was wonderful. Sometimes, your bike feels like an extension of your body. My Brooks saddle was comfy, my bike was eating up the miles and my legs were happy to spin and spin. The weather was not too hot, overcast, but no rain, meaning it was staying cool. The roads were quiet. Perfect.
First Shillbottle, then Hazon, then Aclington, then Widdrington, then Morpeth. Morpeth? That means we’re almost there!? Let’s keep going!
From Morpeth, our winging-it route took us into gradually more and more built up areas like Wide Open and Seaton Burn. Eventually, taking us on a beautiful run into Newcastle along what seemed like freshly painted bike lanes. It was as if they knew we were coming, and improved and upgraded the cycle lanes specially. We arrived at our digs for the night, Travelodge Central, buzzing. We’d done it. Cycling Edinburgh to Newcastle achieved!
So what did I learn by cycling Edinburgh to Newcastle? First of all, I’m capable of more than I thought. I always felt tired after a long single day ride. The thought of getting up again and doing the same, or more, the day after always felt daunting. Now I know that it’s possible it feels like it’s opened up a whole world of possibilities. Also, people are generally good and will help you if you are lost or in need of some fresh water/directions/whatever. Most of the people we met along the way were lovely, were keen to hear about our bikes and were forthcoming with information to help us on our way.
I took too much stuff. I didn’t need a lot of it. My next long distance ride will feature much less in the way of kit.
Eat properly. This will depend on what your body is like at burning calories normally, but a 3-4 day cycle is a bit of a test for it. On day 3 I didn’t eat enough and paid for it by tanking once we reached our destination. So, I need to eat regularly. Lesson learned.
Happy to answer any questions in the comments!
- Bike : Trek 1120
- Tent : Wild Country Helm 2
- Quilt : As Tucas Sestrals
- Sleeping Pad : Kylmit Insulated Static V Luxe
- Pillow : Trekology
- Tarp : Alpkit Rig 3.5
- Stove : Alpkit Brukit
- First aid kit
- Bike clothes
- Town clothes
- Alpkit Griffon Hoody
- Down jacket
- Bike repair kit – pump, tube, multitool, zip ties, duct tape
- Food and coffee
- Electronics – charger, powerbank, headphones
So, I’m starting to plan my next long-ish ride now! Definitely got the bug! Happy to answer any questions you have in the comments below.