Sunday 5th

My last weekend MTB ride was on Sunday 18th June for the Club’s 10th Birthday at Glentress due to my preference for or just dedication to Cycle Speedway racing which has consumed my last three or four years, so I was absolutely desperate to get another one in before I die. With that in mind I set about plotting a “new” route to try in my beloved Northumberland. Yes it’s nice to follow some of the more well-trodden old faithful paths but a little bit of exploration always adds some spice to the ride. Although I enjoy trail centres as much as anyone you can ride them in your sleep once you’ve been there 50 or 60 times, whereas virgin turf is completely unpredictable and much more of a challenge. Quite apart from that, Northumberland is fabulous.

Our very own Mark Sweeting had suffered a nasty shoulder break months earlier and as he’d just regained enough fitness to get back out on the bike I thought I’d try and tempt him to accompany me on this one. As a Sweet-ener (sorry!) I decided to include a chunk of Terry-tory (sorry again!) that I know he loves, as do many of us, that being the drop from Chartners to the Coquet. I also wanted to include some extra features for anyone not familiar with the area so the village of Elsdon and Winter’s Gibbet were obvious targets.

I decided to start at Harehaugh to provide the ideal finish, downhill all the way to the cars so Mark and Paul Houghton left Asda in Mark’s car together with my van containing Colin Mitcheson, Simon Joicey, Ian Mundy and myself around 9.10. John Rivers joined the train at Ponteland and we headed off west, arriving at our parking spot around 9.50.1 start

Half a mile in we began the long drag up to Herdlaw, first on the skinny tarmac of the B6341 before starting off-road on the bridleway at Ovenstone. The terrain was fine and dry to start with so the going was good until around half way up at Harbour Crag when it got rough, as in a wee bit of hike-a-bike needed and this is where we began to lose time, although we didn’t give our overall progress much thought this early. Eventually we arrived at Herdlaw where we reached the relative smoothness of farm track at The Raw and got back up to speed, the next mile and a half downhill and fast. I've never seen so many deer running together as we found up here, superb to watch them in action.

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2 1stfield Carrow Haughs 11 37

"There's a DH trail over there".

3 1stfield North Riding 11 48

We re-joined the B6341 for a short time before jumping off on another bridleway for the next two miles, again a mixture of tricky and straightforward terrain but running gently downhill. The expected problems with the brisk wind never really materialised, which was just as well with progress not too rapid anyway. We did get a nice fast run down into Elsdon as compensation.

Stopping for a breather at the top end of the village we were attracted to the sign declaring the toilets open at the Community Centre, and it was time for a snack break anyway. Indeed the front door of the Centre was open but access was limited to the toilets and the compact lobby, which we proceeded to invade. Boy was it nice and cosy in there!

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With the nibbles gone it was time to face the worst of the ride, if you exclude the heavy heathland we’d already encountered, but mercifully it was to be tarmac all the way southwards and then east from the village. There was an absolutely ginormous, old-school bonfire waiting to be lit on the village green, shame we were too early! Somehow I managed to be first up the initial 500 vertical feet from Elsdon Bridge up Battle Hill, still not sure how I managed that, must be all the short track training I’ve done. I think it’s a way bigger pull than those terrifying Ryals!

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Gravel Riders!

After a photoshoot at Winter’s Gibbet, from which nothing was hanging but it could have been me as we’d overrun massively, I led into Harwood Forest on a sweet little singletrack that lasted all of 200 metres! We’d spied what looked like the firebreak Paul and I knew from old stretching away northward on the western edge , but could we hell find it after tunnelling along the whoops for a fun but pointless half mile lap of the trees before popping out again on the main road with the Gibbet still in sight! We’d obviously got it wrong but not to be beaten we headed back up and in again at the same entry point, this time looking for Mark’s “left turn just in”, which scout Colin couldn’t find so out we came again.

The only sensible thing to do now with time pressing, and John getting anxious about his firework display deadline and Simon getting anxious about being permanently locked out of the house, was to hit the tarmac and pray. As it happens I knew (but kept it quiet!) that to take tarmac all the way back to the cars would add at least 13 miles and we were already knackered. Little did I realise this shortcut direct through the trees would be almost as far but at least we’d still get the promised treat at the finish! Fortunately we didn’t whizz straight past what proved to be the ACTUAL fireroad Paul and I had been looking for (the Border County Ride route) and we duly turned north into Harwood to start the return leg. This was easy going all the way, stopping twice to check Mark’s GPS rather than trust our instincts again.

Although we’d had to puff up Ian’s front tyre twice already (once before leaving the cars!) much worse was to come, as on the long drag up through the forest from Fallowlees his derailleur hanger snapped, and for no apparent reason! Luckily he was carrying a spare which was duly installed but followed by much hilarity and p-taking as the chain had somehow become twisted and unfixable without removing the quicklink.

8 Fallowlees 14 19

Approximately 200 metres further up the gravel road the new one snapped in the same place (but 200 metres further on – you know what I mean). Again luckily, I was also carrying a spare, still in my never-used backpack from the days of my old but good CBR Excess and DDG Hitman full sussers. Before riding away this time though, Colin produced a knife and more-or-less demanded that Ian scrape the crud off the lower jockey wheel which is what had caused the other two breakages – job’s a good’un. Except that once again the watchful eyes of Ian and helper Colin failed to spot the chain twisting itself around the chain stay yet again, requiring that link removal once again! At least John’s super little link squeezer/expander tool had seen some use today, and impressive it was.

Highwaymen!

9 Highwaymen

Unfortunately these two slight holdups cost us almost 40 precious minutes and I began to feel really guilty about declaring a 2 o’clock finish :(

On we plodded becoming wearier with every pedal rev until after what seemed an age we emerged at the Chartners junction, and I’ve never been so happy to see another climb looming, even while still on one. This must be the first time we’ve ridden straight past the building without stopping for a picnic, there was only one aim in mind now, the manic finish.

Up at the famous gate out onto bare moorland there were many frozen body parts between us and all at once the last 15 years of my most arduous winter MTB ride memories came flooding back. Our arrival at the gate corresponded with the local farmhand’s on his quad and he was more than willing to have a natter, a very pleasant surprise. We ushered him down the trail in front of us after he’d offered to wait, didn’t want him to see any embarrassing moments.

10 TheGate 1515

A few photos later and I sped off to find a half decent spot for some shots of the lads descending but unfortunately, as you’ll notice from the video, the spot I picked allowed the sun to interfere with the exposure. Once they’d all passed me and came to a halt I scuttled between them to cheekily lead down the rest of this super-fast, rocky 800 foot descent and found myself hanging on grimly as tears filled my eyes (no, from the wind and cold, silly) and cut my vision somewhat hence slowing hot pursuer John quite a bit. I think he was too much of a gentleman here as I could hear the pebbles he was throwing up bouncing down the hill. Sorry John, feel free to overtake next time!

As we gathered at the first gate down below the grins were huge, as always, so at least this highlight of the ride hadn’t disappointed and was well worth the pain (OK then, my pain). That just left the pleasant field crossing to finish with, John and I arriving at the last gate way ahead of the others, because – you guessed it - Ian’s rear end problem again. Not quite so bad this time though, no hangers snapped, but the thing did seize up with a mile to go so I ended up pushing him all the way back to the cars. Now that brings back some memories! Speaking of which, I'm sure the seven of us will all "Remember, remember the fifth of November"!

The pdf file here shows my planned route (orange) versus the actual one we took (purple) in order to get home the same day!

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Next Sunday Ride (plus other odd days) - See our Facebook page.

Next Night Ride: Thursday as usual.

Thursday nighters are 10-25 milers, 7:00pm start at ASDA East car park, Benton, 3-3.5 hours and generally OK for fit new riders but you need decent lights you can see with, NOT CANDLES. You MUST wear a cycle helmet.

Sundays are generally much longer, 8:00am to 10:00am starts from ride venue ending around teatime, and much harder rides.

Other ad-hoc rides are always being organised, see our Facebook page. Gloves, waterproof coat, snack and drink recommended. Carry basic tools.

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