Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Coast to Coast challenge by tandem with a blind 76 year old man! - Eric

The Coast to Coast team
24-27 May 2013

Last year I recruited my son Fraser as a temporary member of the Sheffield Visually Impaired Walking Group (SVIWG), mainly because he owned a people carrier which we needed to ferry part of our team to Ben Nevis for our 2012 Challenge, raising funds for SRSB and SVIWG.

This year Fraser proposed that he and I, plus his pal Steve, do another challenge - Coast to Coast - once again raising funds for SRSB/SVIWG. I immediately agreed! All expenses were to be met by Fraser and myself and SRSB’s fundraising team were to organise a competition to guess the time it would take us.

Friday 24 May

After school Fraser picked up his daughter, Steve and me.

His people carrier had by now been converted into a camper van and would provide our support vehicle and the method for transporting Steve's mountain bike and our tandem.

Fraser's wife Lucy had booked us bed and breakfast at The Old Ginn House Inn at Workington which is only a few miles from Whitehaven, the start of the challenge.

Saturday 25 May


We were interviewed by BBC Radio Sheffield’s Georgey Spanswick via telephone on the harbour wall. Then a photo session at official starting point, the bottom of the slipway, and the start time was recorded.

About a mile out I noticed that I had forgotten my rucksack so Steve returned to the slipway and retrieved it. He had fallen into the trap - for rest of trip he had the rucksack!

This first day section was delightful, mostly good tracks along disused railway routes, and beautiful scenery described to me.

The weather was perfect - sunny but not too hot and very little wind.

Some later miles of this section became a little hairy i.e. steep hills with tracks constructed of poorly compacted crushed stone. Skidding was experienced which caused me concern and there were steep falls at the edge of this track when emergency braking was required.

When we arrived in Keswick a pint of shandy was appreciated for its calming effect. And while sat outside the pub, a kind Scot holidaymaker gave me a Scottish fiver donation.

Eventually we arrived at our first night camp between Keswick and Penrith - The Mill Inn, situated 10 miles from Keswick, in the foot of Souther Fell, in the Blencathra range in the Mungrisdale Valley. Here we enjoyed a good meal and fine ales.

The 17th century room Steve and I shared was tight to say the least, but had more headroom than some rooms downstairs which had only about 5ft 6 doorways and low beams. Not good for our 6ft and 6ft 2 frames!

Sunday 26 May

With a good hearty breakfast inside us, off we go again.

Easy going through Penrith, then we encountered our first steep road ascent. Fraser, who was taking antibiotics for bronchitis, decided we should dismount from our tandem and push it to the brow, which seemed to get further away every time he declared it was only about 50 metres away. Steve managed to ride all the way but we beat him to the top.

Now we started to make up time with the downhill speeds, the tandem was KING OF DOWNHILL FREE WHEELING, faster than any of the others, reaching unbelievable speeds. Both of us bent over for best streamlining: Fraser showing his racing pedigree; me not too happy.

Then back on tracks we suffered a setback. Our track passed under some overhead National Grid electricity cables and the route was blocked to allow cable replacement to take place. As they hadn't started this work, we argued that we could be through in only 5 minutes and would replace the barriers, but we were not allowed.

This diversion was not clearly signed and took us a long way out of our route. Furthermore this was to be our longest stage with the highest hills to date, a cafe at 1,900ft. Pilot Fraser kept calling "DIG DEEP Pops!"

I kept thinking that it was a good thing that I had done some extensive gym training, building up my stamina and breathing, and must thank all my trainers at Hillsborough.

After this summit it was another scary downhill, breaking through the sound barrier!

Unfortunately no mobile phone signals were available and we lost contact with Lucy, who was now at our next camp - Barrington Bunkhouse at Rookhope - and worried.

Eventually we turned up and by good fortune called into the only pub in this hamlet to enquire where the Bunkhouse was… Everyone knew about us, the bunkhouse was almost next door and Lucy had been showing her alarm.

Fraser went to find his van which was alongside the bunkhouse. Steve and I didn't waste a moment and were pleased with fine ale!

Fraser and his family joined us and explained that our sleeping quarters was a small caravan which had been taken over by chickens. The good news was they had chased the chickens away and found a couple of fresh eggs for our breakfast!
We decided to have another couple of drinks.

Whilst we slept reasonably well until about 3am, we were then awakened by the cockerel which started his loud cock-a-doodling almost non-stop forcing us up earlier than intended feeling murderous about cockerels.

Monday 27 May

We breakfasted with Fraser and Lucy at the Camper, then it was wagons roll on our final leg; probably our easiest day.

Interesting off road sections and after reaching the highest road climb in Northern Pennines we descended gradually down a good track across moorland, making good progress towards Newcastle.

We unfortunately became victims of sabotage i.e. someone had tampered with the route signs and we were sent on a wild goose chase. Eventually we rectified this, found Lucy and her camper, and enjoyed the lunch she had prepared.

We made arrangements to meet again at finish of Coast to Coast.


Our route now took us along the River Derwent, which eventually merges with the Tyne.

Riding alongside the rivers and then crossing over a bridge to North Bank, we also had to cross over a very busy road via a pedestrian ramp with 180 degree turns which Fraser skilfully rode our tandem over.

Then alongside the Tyne into the centre of Newcastle where we became entangled with crowds of young people going to a musical concert called Evolution.

We were advised to take a detour.

Eventually following the coast road we finished up in Tynemouth. Just before reaching the end we were greeted by a group from Norfolk we had met the previous evening who had generously donated £15.

We rode down onto the beach to dip our tyres into the east coast sea.

What a great team - thanks Fraser and Steve!

We joined up with Lucy and girls and after a celebration meal headed south through the Tyne Tunnel. The journey being all motorways was quickly completed but made me think again about the wonderful Northumberland coast for walking!

Total mileage from Whitehaven to Tynemouth - 155 miles (mostly painful)

Total time taken over the three days from starting each day to arriving each night - 21hrs, 1mins 36 seconds 

Any more donations will be gratefully received at SRSB, 5 Mappin St. Sheffield S1 4DT marked Coast to Coast.

To all who supported us, thanks a million, it's for a very worthwhile cause.

Eric Andrews (the blind one)
28 May 2013