St Neots to St Andrews, St Pauls to St Pauls, over the Forth Bridge... by Charlotte Lawson...
Funnily enough, after returning from St David’s last September I had been toying with a trip from St Neots to St Andrews as one of my “saints” tours but when the email advertising London Edinburgh London 2022 arrived I thought it would be a good alternative (someone else to route check, free board and lodging, what could possibly go wrong?!). Then I bought a Brompton called Tinkerbell and thought it would be a jolly wheeze to attempt the ride on her. Alas, it was not to be due to a tumble outside Louth, but after several trips to the osteopath for acupuncture (I 100% recommend Krishna @ Lake View Osteopathy) to sort out my injured back, and a brief trip to Lisbon to visit my parents I set off for another crack at Scotland. I was still riding Tinkerbell, but now on a one-way trip and a train booked from Edinburgh Waverley to whisk me home. Inspired by Steve Silk’s excellent Great North Road book and a fondness for the A1 (I have lived on or near it most of my life), I decided to follow the GNR north through Doncaster and then along the east coast rather than the LEL route which took us across the Humber Bridge and then via Carlisle and Gretna. I was disappointed that I hadn’t got far enough on LEL to go across the Forth Bridge and when looking at the map noticed that Dundee wasn’t much further than St Andrews, has another excellent road bridge and would make getting back to Edinburgh a bit easier. As usual my planning was sketchy, but with the vague idea that I would follow the A1 / GNR / LNER railway.
Day One - I decided to start at the beginning of the A1 so having arrived back from Lisbon after midnight on Friday I set off on Saturday morning for London by train to start the ride at St Pauls Cathedral, which according to Steve Silk was the original start of the GNR. Once I got there, I dashed into the tourist office to buy a couple of postcards, the idea being to record my stops along the way – but then I realised that THIS IS NOT AN AUDAX, so now I have two postcards of London! I followed the A1 up through the City and The Angel, past the Whittington cat, Highgate Hill, onto East Finchley, North Finchley and Barnet, stopping briefly and spontaneously for refreshments with Trish and Richard (thank you both!) then on through Hadley Wood, Potters Bar and Hatfield – roads I know very well, having lived nearby previously. I nodded to myself at the Lemsford roundabout then carried on north. I decided not to go through Biggleswade and Sandy but got back on track at Tempsford, making sure I also went on the GNR at Eaton Socon before heading home to pack and prepare for the rest of the journey.
Day Two – I was up early and away by 6am, following the path from St Neots on the southbound A1 (memories of running across the road at Southoe for all those years!) then on through Huntingdon and Sawtry, still on roads I know well. I stopped for breakfast at Wansford and then pushed on north without incident. A road closure outside Grantham meant a diversion that I realised could have been avoided completely – it was cutting off about a mile of the A52. I wanted to stop in Newark and finally found an ice-cream parlour just outside the castle that was bike friendly and with dairy free options. Then onwards and upwards to Retford for a water top up and a bar of chocolate in a dodgy petrol station. I made it to Doncaster at around 7:30pm, but my Travelodge was actually quite far north of town on the A1 itself. This turned out to be not a bad thing as it meant I wouldn’t have to fight with Monday morning rush hour traffic. Burger King beckoned (double chips J) and then off to bed for another early start.
Day Three - A thunderstorm overnight meant wet roads and big puddles for the tiny wheels but luckily it wasn’t raining. All was going well until I needed to cross the Aire and Calder Navigation after Pontefract. The route I had plotted turned out to be busy dual carriage way so after a mile I pulled off to find a quieter way. I stopped at a lovely café in Castleford and took out my road map to look at over breakfast (always carry a road map – if nothing else a local resident will help you out – and that was exactly what happened here!). With a bit of local knowledge, I was soon back on track and onward through Wetherby. I stopped in Northallerton for a quick lunch at the Golden Lion (inspired by the GNR book) then back on the road and into Brompton for a photo (I had been so close but not quite there on the LEL route a few weeks earlier!). Onward, onward and next stop was Darlington (no opticians that I could see J), straight through Durham (I may have climbed one of the TOB climbs – I certainly saw signs for the race) and then Chester Le Street, and past the amazing Angel of the North, a truly impressive statue even at dusk! I made it into Newcastle, crossing the Tyne over the Swing Bridge and then got totally disorientated trying to find my next Travelodge in the city centre. I eventually found it after asking a security guard in a different building– shower, chips and Iron Bru then off to bed for another early start.
Day Four - Once again it had rained overnight but the sky was clear so I hoped we would have another good start, however it took an age to actually make it out of the city and onto Gosforth and beyond. I stopped in Morpeth for breakfast and into Northumberland [whoop whoop]. Things seemed to be going well and I made it to Seahouses in good time, although the mist was starting to come in by now. A quick second breakfast at the Golf Club and then off along the coast road crossing the A1 and LNER railway and sometimes following Cycleroute 1. At Lindisfarne it all went a bit Pete Tong – Cycleroute 1 became a gravel track, not ideal for a Brompton (!) so I stayed on the road alongside it but then the track went to the left and there was no gap in the hedge! Whilst I was pondering what to do two lovely walkers came to my rescue and helped me lift Tinkerbell over a five-bar gate! So, I carried on and the gravel became looser and then petered out altogether. By now it was drizzling and the track was getting slippery, then became a field… so I walked for about a mile with some amused sheep looking on. Back on a track and onto a road and past (yet) another golf course, I asked a passing MTBer what was to come and he advised more of the same (eek!). I decided to take the road and put up with potentially angry traffic. I finally crossed the Tweed, got through Berwick at rush hour and into Scotland [yippee]. The route became quite rural and began to climb and descend, climb and descend. The rain started in earnest and the roads were very wet with large puddles forming. I dropped right down to the coast and was confronted with a ford that was moving quite fast and with very steep steps to the pedestrian walkway. I decided to walk through as my feet were soaked anyway to much amusement from a passing dogwalker. Cycleroute 1 eventually got better and I was on a cycle path heading towards Dunbar. After stopping briefly in Haddington to load up on sugar – there is always a point where you have to eat sh*t in a petrol station – rolled into Edinburgh first box ticked – London to Edinburgh! Next stop Forth Bridge. What seemed like several hours later I managed to navigate through the north of the city through various roadworks and diversions and finally found the bridge. By this point I was a bit p*ssed off so felt quite underwhelmed by the bridge itself although another box ticked! Once over the bridge, I was in Dunfermline and finding my next Travelodge. Oh dear, it all unravelled at this point. I had made some sort of mapping error and simply could not find it. I switched to the phone but Apple Maps could not figure out that I was on a bicycle and kept switching from walking to driving and trying to put me on the motorway, then being really wonky with its sense of direction. After some frustrated tears on a roundabout, I gathered my thoughts and using my physical compass (I always carry one for this very reason) I finally found my bed for the night. It was so late by now that I was seriously considering ditching my original plan to push on further so decided to play it by ear when I woke up in the morning.
Day Five - After 3h sleep the other residents were waking up and moving around and I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to carry on with Plan A to St Andrews. Now I understood the road layout getting out of Dodge was ok and I was soon on my way. The route was hilly and remote but the sun came out and I kept turning the wheels. I was ambushed by some sheep who were wandering on the road. They kept running away from me and I was worried that I would be herding them into St Andrews, then they abruptly turned across the road, pushed themselves through a wire fence and into a field full of cows – they knew where the grass was greener! I eventually made it into St Andrews (ticking another box – St Neots to St Andrews) where the new academic year seemed to be in full swing, a mix of students and tourists all out in the city and enjoying the sunshine. With little sleep and not enough food, I had thought I might just get a coach back to Edinburgh, but after breakfast and coffee and a chat with the café owner who assured me that it was only about 15 miles to Dundee, I was ready for the last part of my journey. Passing St Andrews golf course(s?) on a lovely cycle track I made my way west through Tayport and onto the Tay Bridge, arriving in Dundee city centre with time for a wander round to find St Paul’s Church, my final destination and my final box ticked - St Pauls to St Pauls. Photo duly taken, I ambled back to the train station and made my way back south on the train across the Forth Bridge and into Edinburgh Waverley. With some time to spare before my LNER train was due to leave, I found a local pub for some stodgy carbs and a celebratory pint of local craft beer! Snoozing on the train and passing through many of the towns I had cycled through I finally ended up in St Neots sometime before midnight and ready for my own bed!
The whole point of my adventure has been raising money for Parkinson’s UK and as always, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone has sponsored me and supported me and put up with my mad training and planning! I could not do these crazy-challenges without you!
If you would like to make a donation my page is www.justgiving.com/fundraising/crazy-lady
Total Distance: 548 miles
Total Elevation: 22,642 feet
Total time: 98h
Total money raised: £2260
Total Calories: a lot!
Total revolutions of the tiny (31cm diameter) wheels: too many to calculate!