Wiggle Northern Angel

‘It’s mizzly out there today’ said mum as I dragged my bed head around the kitchen looking for coffee. Is mizzly even a word or did she just make it up. Anyway, it was miserable and drizzly and I really wasn’t sure if this was a good idea – especially since I had to drive the 300 odd miles back afterwards. Still – I was up so it was a case of might as well go as wish I had. 

Kirkley Hall is the local agricultural college for the area and now also a zoo. Of course wiggle had taken over and to be honest it was lovely to see some life in this usually desolate college.

Everyone was efficient and sombre not looking forward to cycling in the wet weather. There were three routes, short – 54miles, standard 81miles and Epic 94miles. I had opted for the standard purely because it passes though my home town of Rothbury. Although, after tackling the first two hills I was sorely tempted to nip off along the short route. 

The problem wasn’t the height of the hills – it was the steepness of the inclines. Even in granny gear I ran out of puff and with a shamed face had to stop! A guy in orange who ended up keeping his eye out for me all the way around said in his soft Geordie accent ‘It’s horrible …. just horrible’ as he flew past me and he wasn’t wrong. 

The supporters were out in force at the first feed station at Thropton Village Hall (or rather the grandparents and Nodge). The wiggle girls were fab as Nodge filled his pockets with jelly beans. Obviously he had to get in line behind me and about several other guys. This is what cycling is all about after all – the sooner he learns this the better. 

The following feed station was just ten miles on a Elsden. To get to Elsden you have to pass through a pretty little village called Hepple which is also home to Hepple Gin. Sadly my pockets weren’t big enough to pick up a bottle on the way last but it’s certainly worth ordering online if you’re into your gin. With such clean air and pure water no wonder the gin is so good.

I tried to keep my mind focused on the gin rather than the climb over the ranges to Elsden. The climb was brutal but luckily I found a perfect place to stop and take a photo of the amazing Coquet Valley (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

Of course, after an almighty climb comes an amazing downhill. The descent to Elsden was incredible however the roads were so slippy with the drizzle that a couple of lads had an altercation with the road. ‘Hope it’s nothing serious guys and that you mend quickly!’ st x

I stocked up on jelly beans and flapjacks whilst moaning to a wiggle guy about how much I hated the hills. ‘Hills are our friends’ he said smiling in his clean dry wiggle t-shirt standing next to his cushty car! ‘Then I’m a Billy no mates’ I grumbled as I hauled my big fat wet ass back onto my bike! 

Elsden is home to Winters Gibbet on top of Steng Cross hill. William Winter, executed in 1791, was the last man left hanging on a gibbet in the uk. Beautiful Northumberland has quite a gruesome history.

The drop down to Otterburn was relatively  easy which was good because we were about to take on the desolate heather clad moors surrounding Kielder. The climb was wicked – and not in a down with the kids kind of wicked … But seriously evil! 

Now you’ve heard me tell you before and this proves its true – the sun always shines on the righteous. After struggling to the almost top of the hill, the sun came out and gave everyone the opportunity (ahem – excuse) to stop and strip and take in the views. We surely had to be on top of the world.

A quick descent took us to the final feed station at Bellingham. I’ve picked up a stupid habit today of dropping my gears as I come to slow down. Great – except I forget to actually turn on the last drop before stopping and keep popping my chain off! Grrrrr! Bad habits! 

The lovely Coquet Cycles mechanic came to the rescue. He had a quick look and explained that he rear derailleur cable was too short and had a kink in it which could cause the gears to jump as I changed so he offered to change the cable. It was fascinating as he takes me through what he was doing. Apparently, the old cable was Teflon costed which makes for smooth gear changes initially. With time though, the coating wears off and further jams the cables. (have I got that right?)

He also told me that you can reset the gears by turning the adjuster a quarter turn. I have to say I was at technical information overload by this point though so I smiled sweetly whilst thinking … ‘You are so servicing my bike so I really don’t need to know this!’ He’s based in Alnwick and does mobile repairs and service so save his number … You never know when you might need it.

Pink felt great when I got back on her and then cycled through the lush green fields of Ridsdale and onto certain death. That really is what the hill should be called … The climb to certain death.

The first part of the hill was short and steep with a sharp bend at the top. I gritted my teeth and powered on up taking note of the wiggle sign ‘shut up legs’. Around the bend was yet another hill – not as steep but a hill non the less. In my head, I thought I’ve got this … And I had … until I saw the guy in orange and his friend by the side of the road! Yikes – if he can’t do it and he is super fit there is no way I could. And so I stopped just around the corner …. And stared in horror. The first thought that went through my head was ‘I wonder if they saw the hill and turned around’ followed immediately by ‘I wonder if I should turn around and run?’. The adjacent wiggle sign said ‘it’s only gravity’ and so I took a deep breath and set off. I only have to make it to the brow I thought as I dug deep, calmed my breathing and got into a rythm. My lungs wear burning and I honestly thought I was going to throw up but the top was now just meters ahead. I really can do this I thought as I slowly crested the hilltop … Yay … I’ve done it I thought congratulating myself …. only to see another long steep hill stretching into the distance. My heart dropped and I seriously contemplated getting off my bike and pulverising the happy orange wiggle sign which said ‘if you can read this you’re going too slow’! 

Photo by Ian Glenndinning

Despite this, the sun was shining and the views were incredible. Probably some of the best I have ever seen (with the exception of the ones from my holiday cottage at Overthwarts). You could see the Simonside and the Cheviots surrounding the Coquet valley. I wish I had stopped and taken a photo – although I doubt any camera could ever capture that moment. 

Thankfully, it was an easy cruise downhill into Belsay and then onto Kirkley Hall to pick up my medal and t-shirt.

And although it’s mainly flat down here in London, I promise to practice my hills and will be back next year to see all you lovely people again. 

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