|In the Yorkshire Wolds|
The next flurry of rain was not long in arriving, and I made several stops on the way to Stokesley to stand by the roadside beneath my umbrella. However, as I swept down off the moors again the sun came out and, after some searching, I picked up National Cycle Route 1 again in Stockton-on-Tees.
From just north of Stockton the route follows the old mine railway that winds between former pit villages before ending up on the coast at Sunderland. I knew the names of these places - Trimdon and Shotton and Sedgfield carried echoes of the miners' strike in the early eighties, but the beauty of the countryside around here came as a surprise.
|Wheatley Hill miners' memorial|
The lovely Durham countryside was all rolling hills and fields with, eventually, occasional glimpses of the sea in the distance. With the mines gone, the streets of tiny industrial style houses now look oddly out of place, and there are occasional memorials to the mining past.
|On the way to Sunderland|
Apart from very occasional muddy sections the old railway track was a joy to ride on, especially the long, straight descent into Sunderland where the route meandered around before depositing me very close to the centre of town. It was Match Day. Sunderland were playing at home and the wide, sunny streets were full of fans. There was an open, seaside feel to the place as I pushed my bike through the crowds and over the bridge and then followed a beautiful, rocky coastline to South Sheilds, where I found my onward passage blocked by tens of thousands of runners arriving at the finish of the Great North Run. It was completely impossible to cross the road to get where I was going, which was lucky because I cycled along the coastal footpath instead and saw the best part of South Shields, with the Red Arrows thrown in.
|Coastal path at South Shields|
I visited a small lifeboat museum, beckoned inside by an enthusiast standing in the doorway, and then caught the ferry across the Tyne to North Shields along with hundreds of runners who had completed the course.
The coast was still very fine through Tynmouth and Whitley Bay, with long rows of Victorian villas overlooking the sea. North of Blyth the River Blyth forks inland creating a slightly torturous route northwards. Finally I saw a signpost for Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and decided it might be a likely stopping place. It was slightly difficult to persuade the landlady to let me have a single room in her Bed and Breakfast, and when I was installed it was in a tiny room barely big enough for the bed, but with a great view of the sea. In the local pub the talk was all about immigration. At every table people were having the same conversation about Syrian refugees. 'We wouldn't want them here though, they'd change the place, wouldn't they?' Did you see? They were all young men. They're not real refugees, are they?'
I'd hardly seen a black or a brown face since I'd arrived in Sunderland.
It was the unknown they were frightened of.
Maps: to Hovingham; to Fishburn; to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea