a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday 18 August 2019

Pedalling underwater on Route One

This week I did a bit of off road riding on the gravel bike and enjoyed a day out that I have been wanting to have for a couple of years now, I will explain the reason for the delay a little later. I am pretty lucky where I live in that our house is only a few a few hundred metres from a really good cycle path. What I hadn't realised until I started planning my day out was that our local cycle path forms part of the SUSTRANS  National Cycle Network and the section of cycle path closest to me is actually part of Sustrans Route 1 a cycle route that stretches all the way up the east coast from Dover right up to the Shetland Isles, an incredible 1,695 miles.

The recently re-opened and beautifully restored 900 metre long Tyne Cycle Tunnel. It looks like it's a dead end in this picture but it's left at the end for the stairs or right for the lift.

The ride that I had planned wasn't quite so epic, just a one day excursion up to the Quayside at Newcastle, the reason for the delay in doing this ride was that I have been waiting for the re-opening of the Tyne Pedestrian and Cycle Tunnel  (Tunnel Hub) The tunnels, one for pedestrians and one for cyclists have been closed for six years for refurbishment a project which was delayed numerous times and went hugely over budget in part due to the discovery of significant amounts of asbestos but also due to issues with various contractors. There have been a few promised opening dates which have passed for various reasons but the tunnels finally re-opened on August 6th.

The pedestrian and cycle tunnels first opened in 1951 to provide access to the north side of the Tyne for the large numbers of people who worked at the shipyards, lead and chemical works that lined the banks of the river at that time. At peak usage up 20,000 people used the tunnels daily to get to work until local industries particularly ship building began to steadily decline from the late sixties. 

The tunnel entrances - Jarrow on the south side and Heddon on the north.

Originally my plan was to ride from home up Route One through the tunnel and along the north side of the Tyne to the Cycle Hub on the Newcastle Quayside and then return the same way. After considering it in a bit more detail I realised that the distance was going to be around a hundred miles which at my gravel bike riding pace was going to be a very long day out. So I came up with plan B, let the train take the strain or a bit of it anyway. Travelling by train with a bike was also something new to me and I wasn't sure if it was going to be a bit of a hassle, it wasn't at all, in fact it was really easy. I rode to Thornaby station about 20 minutes on the cycle path, bought a ticket to Sunderland and the fifty minute journey knocked twenty eight miles of my cycling distance, I even had a seat.

I quite enjoyed my little train trip and I am definitely going to do it again, either a one way ride and a train home or the other way round. From Sunderland station I was only few minutes pedal away from the Wearmouth bridge across the Wear and back on Route One heading for the coast and ready for a coffee.

First stop was at Fausto Coffee a great cycling themed cafe at Roker, super location with good food and right on the beach, definitely worth popping in if you are in the area. From Fausto its cycle paths all the way up to South Shields, a really nice ride with loads to see on route and plenty of places to take a break ... or a picture.

         Gravel bike and the Souter Lighthouse at the Whitburn Coastal Park ... plus a dog.

                                          I had forgotten how nice the beach at South Shields is.

When the tunnels opened in 1951 the access was provided by two escalators and a lift at either end. At the time they were installed the escalators were the longest single span vertical rise wooden escalators in the world. Access to the tunnels now is intended to be only by the lifts as presumably the cost of restoring or replacing the nearly 70 year old escalators was too high but one of the escalators has been left at each end to be used as a stairway in an emergency.

Good plan so far, but unfortunately when I arrived at the Jarrow entrance there was something of a hold up because the lift on the south side wasn't working. As I waited at the top to descend there was a group of cyclists trying to come up and it was obviously a massive struggle for them. The six cyclists (3 male and 3 female) all looked to be in their seventies and were carrying/dragging their far from lightweight bikes up the 140 steps. Such was the effort required they were having to stop every few steps to recover. Eventually after about twenty minutes four of the group had made it up but one of the ladies was still only half way being assisted by a friend and the two ladies were lifting her bike up one step at time with a long queue of people behind. The elderly gents in the party were in no condition to help so at this point, feeling a bit sorry for them and also to speed things up bit, I did my good deed for the day and went down and carried the heavy hybrid bike up, for her for which she was extremely grateful. There is probably a case for closing the tunnel if either of the lifts is out of order as climbing up with a bike is really quite challenging for anyone - might be worth checking if you are planning ride up there.

                             Pedal pushing and coffee drinking on Tyneside with VelojunkieCC

On the north side of the river it's a very easy pedal of about four miles to the Cycle Hub This section of the ride is along Hadrians Cycle Route a 170 mile trail that goes all the way across the country from South Shields to Ravenglass in Cumbria. 

The Cycle Hub is a really well used facility with a great cafe, a workshop and hire bikes available and only a few minutes ride from Newcastle quayside and the city centre. With almost a 50 miles home I didn't stay too long before re-tracing my route back to the tunnel on the way passing the Segedunum Roman Fort at Wallsend, somewhere that looks worth a visit next time.

After my cafe stop I knew I had the challenge of the dreaded escalator to look forward to, although it turned out not to be as tough for me as it was for the poor I guy I was chatting to at the bottom. He was about to go up for the fourth time carrying his own hefty looking MTB after already carrying up his wife's bike and both his kids bikes, nice chap, if I had got there a little earlier I could have helped ... or maybe not.  

After a few road miles through South Shields and across the river Wear to Sunderland the last 35 miles were all off road mostly on gravel trails along the route of disused railway tracks. Final distance for the day was 72 miles with 6 hours of pedalling, you can check out the route here on my STRAVA 

I took a a bit of a diversion as I passed through the port of Seaham on the way home to take the final picture of the day of the Tommy World War One Soldier sculpture - absolutely beautiful.


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