Cestria CC goes to Barnard Castle

On Sunday there were two options for club planned rides; Angela’s “Short and Steady” and Peter’s “Intermediate”. A large number of members appeared at Chester Market Place and about six opted for Angela’s Short ride (great to see five ladies giving this a go) and the remaining sixteen-or-so taking on Peter’s Intermediate route to Hamsterley. The weather was great and some had started the day in shorts and short sleeves (I had arm warmers which I took off later). There was a light west/north-west wind blowing, and we set off south to Durham by the Low Newton Road without incident.

At the former Pot and Glass pub (now Sainsburys Local) in Crossgate Moor, we turned right and headed through Bearpark and then along the beautiful Esh village ridge with great views in all directions. Having headed through Cornsey village, we kept on towards Inkerman where Trev turned back. Being such a large group, we stopped and regrouped a couple of times but it was no bid deal.

At Wolsingham we stopped at the side of the road for a piece of energy bar and a drink from our bottles. Having crossed the Valley road, we again headed south, this time up the steep bank over the River Wear and the railway. As noted some weeks ago, while this is a relatively quiet road we did have cars passing us and, once again, had a very patient motorist who waited a couple of minutes until s/he found a place to pass. This is a deceptively long drag and Emma made it to the top first, followed closely by Neil W. Again, we stopped, regrouped and took a few pictures at the top. Rather than taking the main road to Hamsterley, Peter had opted for the stunning Howlea back road and this enabled the group to relax and chat on the descent. The peace and quiet was shatted at the exact bottom of the climb when a large tractor, towing an equally-large load of hay, forced Peter off the road and nearly Joanne also. It happened on a blind corner and is one of the few hazards of using country lanes. Having organised ourselves to let the tractor by (with no ill feelings, by the way), we headed into Hamsterley, and turned west towards Copley.

We stopped to allow riders to catch up and I mentioned to Peter that we were thinking of leaving his route and heading for Barnard Castle to make a longer run (more like the main club route would do, but we didn’t have a set route for this group as mentioned). Mike, Donna, Craig and Ian came with me and, as we thought, everyone else continued on Peter’s route. When we had gone through Woodlands (rather the junction near the village), we discovered a large group of cyclists catching us! It transpired that most of the rest of the group had decided to join us (including Peter himself). This was not the original intention and many apologies to Peter for unintentionally highjacking his route.

At the top of the bank before Eggleston, we turned left along the main road to Barny. Here, there was a bit of sparring from some of the group and we had a fast run-in and sprint for the Barny sign won convincingly by Graeme (who had led, Miguel Indurain-style, all the way down the descent). At Barny we finally found a cafe with tables (on the main road close to the now-closed favourite former cafe some members called “Smoky Joe’s!). Although service was a little slow, the helpings were excellent and the coffee was of top quality. At one of the tables there was great hilarity, involving a mobile phone, I’m told!

Following discussion, we decided after lunch to head back via Whorlton Lido and Chain Bridge, avoiding the busy main “A” roads. Having crossed the bridge, some of us were surprised to hear the sound of a steam whistle. Apparently, there is a narrow-gauge railway beside the railway callsed “Thorpe Light Railway” and it opens on certain days of the year. Having fixed my puncture and listened to the soothing sounds of steam, we passed through Caldwell and back north to Winston. This village sign was always the signal for a sprint and Graeme, remembering this, opened up the sprint. Curiously, he seemed to get bored with it and opted instead to fiddle with the Garmin!  Continuing by the normal route to Staindrop, we had a conversation there about checking whether the cafe that was closed but due to open was still closed (beside the village green). in the end we decided to skip this and opted for the usual route to Hilton. This lane is an official road but the grass in the middle of the road was nearing jungle heights. The surface is basically fine, even if there is occasional gravel on corners/junctions.

At Evenwood Gate we joined the busier A688 as far as West auckland, where the bypass takes most of the traffic, leaving us to enjoy the village centres. Rather than sticking on the A688 to Spennymoor, we decided to go through Bishop and along the charming road beside the River Wear and Binchester Roman fort. Even the short, sharp climb near Willington up to the Wear Valley road did not dampen our spirits, and at this point, the group began to split with people heading for home.

What a tremendous day with something for everyone! Everyone I talked to really enjoyed the day, and for some riders, the 80 miles or so was a super achievement. Many thanks to Peter Sturman for the route, especially the stunning lane down to Howlea near Hamsterley.