250 miles – 14500ft of ascent – 22 Castles. Garstang (Lancs) to Holy Island (Northumberland). It was just before all the lockdowns that I came up with the idea of a solo cycle ride across northern England connecting as many castles as possible along the way. Now that things are almost back to normal I couldn’t wait any longer so, on a drizzly Monday morning (Sept 19) I set off from the ruins of Greenhalgh Castle in my hometown of Garstang, Lancashire. The weather improved and the miles ticked slowly by as I made my way to Penrith for my first overnight stop. Along the way I had ticked off a further six castles – Lancaster, Sizergh, Kendal, Lowther, Brougham and Penrith. I was thankful not to have to carry all my gear with me as my wife Jo, my trusty support driver, was meeting up with me along the way.
Day two between Penrith and Haltwhistle turned out to be a harder day that I had imagined with lots of sharp, very steep hills around the Eden Valley to contend with. Kirkoswald Castle was followed by Corby Castle then into a very busy Carlisle to bag the city’s well preserved 900 year old monolith. Busy roads led me to Brampton then, catching glimpses of Hadrian’s Wall I passed by the castles of Naworth and Thirlwall before the welcome sight of Bellister Castle, just across the road from my farmhouse b&b at Haltwhistle.
Day three and up to Morpeth in Northumberland. This was the shortest day at 61 miles with not too many strength sapping hills – apart from the huge climb out of the Tyne Valley to avoid the busy A69 road! Still, all the effort made for a fantastic descent back down to the valley bottom. After a welcome coffee stop in the attractive town of Corbridge, the first of the day’s castles was Aydon, followed by Belsay (which I couldn’t see!), Mitford and Morpeth.
The fourth and final day was when the weather changed! It stayed dry until the first castle of the day, Warkworth, but then the heavens opened! The rain was on and off through Alnwick and it’s magnificent castle but set in for the remainder of the day whilst riding up the Northumberland coast. The atmospheric ruins of Dunstanburgh were just visible through the mist on it’s remote headland then it was a flat few miles north through driving rain to Bamburgh. With the end now in sight the rain didn’t matter, I was wet, so wasn’t going to get any wetter. Holy Island is only accessable at low tide across a causeway so, meeting up with my wife, we waited for an hour in the warm dry cafe just before the causeway until the tide allowed us to go onto the island. Those last four miles were pure joy! It was wet, it was misty, but I sped along like it was the start of the ride, not the end. The howling sounds of large groups seals just out of sight was eerie as I rode along at the same level as the perfectly calm sea. At last, the beautiful sight of the magical, mystical Lindisfarne Castle was straight ahead. I was there! Wet, bedraggled and tired but glowing with satisfaction, not just at completing the ride, but the knowledge that so many people had been generous enough to sponsor me in my quest to raise funds for CRY.
I did this ride in memory of Matthew Hesmondhalgh. I never had the pleasure of meeting Matt but got to know his parents Paula and Barry who set up his memorial fund and have raised an enormous amount for CRY heart screenings. Also, and always in the back of my mind, is my late brother, Keith, who died suddenly of an undiagnosed heart condition at the age of 38. That was way back in 1981 and he would have been 80 this year. Maybe if there had been CRY and free heart screenings in those days, he could have still been here. A huge thank you to everyone who has helped raise £1, 600 through this ride!