Sept 30, Oct 1 New Lanarks
I was out of the Edinburgh Hostel and on the road by about 8:30. I had a little bike set-up remaining, but it was still cold and brisk as I joined the commuters. It took me about twenty minutes on a fairly direct ride to connect with the #75 bike route, which ran all the way to Glasgow. The route ran along the Union canal, a still active canal linking the two coasts and big cities of Scotland. I was headed to New Lanark, a place I knew little about but that was close to Glasgow, about the right distance away with a Youth Hostel.
Initially the bike route was a fairly wide paved bike path with many bike commuters, at this time of the day mostly coming towards me and going fairly fast. At points where the trail narrowed, under roads for example, it got down to not much more than a metre wide and I was a bit shaky, particularly since I was on the canal side as I passed those I met. As I began to leave Edinburgh the trail turned to cinder, got narrower and the traffic got less. In the countryside the route left the canals and followed the River Almond, still going up. In a large city I left the bike route behind because I was going to have to find my way onto roads that would go south to New Lanark. I had some troubles at this point; the wind now getting serious and the network of roads quite confusing, even though I have a very good road atlas. I did a short stint on the M (super highways) system to the accompaniment of the odd horn reminding me I did not belong. But this got me onto roads where I knew where I was going. Knowing where I was didn’t help much as I was now heading into the eye of the wind and it was brutal, particularly as I was now climbing steeply for about 10 km. I stopped a few times just to have a respite from the wind. My bike gears were also giving me fits.
I cycled into Lanark, a small attractive city, and got directions for the hostel in New Lanark. The road switch-backed steeply down into the forests of the Clyde River, and soon I saw a dozen large institutional like stone buildings. New Lanark is a restored 1800s Cotton mill that at its zenith housed 2500 people. Today the buildings house museum buildings, a large hotel, some highly sought residential apartments and a Scottish Youth Hostel. The attractive setting, the steep drop that I knew I would have to cycle back out of, and the state of my exhaustion caused me to ask for two nights when I registered in the hostel.
I had beer is the hotel pub, dinner and discussion in the hostel and a good sleep, knowing the next day I would not be moving on.
The next day I had a soothing two hour walk up the Clyde River past a series of water falls through deep forest. The drop in the river at this point turned water wheels that powered the cotton mill. There is still a power station here, and the cotton made is by machine and for demonstration purposes only. I spent an enjoyable three hours learning about the hardships experienced by the workers. Britain produced the lions share of the worlds cotton in the 1800s and that in turn drove much of the demand for cotton that lead to the slave plantations in North America.
Possibly what made New Lanark different was an early owner-manager, Robert Owen. He was an idealist who felt that even the lowest worker should have reasonable working and living conditions. He instituted compulsory education and would not let children work until they were 10, and then only 10 hours a day, six days a week. He also created a health system and a cooperative food store, in New Lanark. He became an early advocate of unions among other things.
I also got my bike tuned up, and with the day off and the edifying knowledge gained I was ready to go again.
Oct 2-4 Once Brewed – Hadrian’s Wall
I had booked myself into a hostel in England at a place called Once Brewed near Hadrian’s Wall, but it would take me two days to get there. I had a steep climb out of New Lanark on a bitter cold, but sunny morning. Getting out of Lanark meant starting on an A highway, not as wide or busy as the Ms, but I still took the first opportunity to get off onto a non-named road from my atlas that showed promise. B are the next quieter roads after the As, but the best are the undesignated tracks, and I followed these for about an enjoyable hour and a half, particularly since Friday was now running well. My atlas doesn’t show them all and so I don’t always know where I am, but the peaceful hilly roads worked this morning, bringing me out to bike route #74, which I followed for the rest of the day. It followed a B road which in turn followed a M road. It was moderately busy, but usually had a marked bike shoulder.
For the night I checked into the Ecclefechan Hotel, and with the wind and struggles of the day. I rewarded myself with a pint of bitter before I even lugged my panniers upstairs. A lovely old hotel with attractive pub, good food and a modernized bed room.
The next day was more wandering, as I had to leave bike route 74. I had one 4 km mistake as the day became drizzly. As I got to the beginning of my contact with Hadrian’s Wall I stopped for a bite and then the rain really hit and it penetrated right to the core. As the rain abated, I misinterpreted directions about getting onto the Hadrian’s cycle pathway; so I had another 4 km out and back on a extremely steep road that ended in a farmers yard. I was now in Northumberland and it is extremely hilly with roads simply going straight up and down. I walked a number of times on this day but finally reached my hostel.
Once Brewed is a hotel and an information centre, and their only neighbour is the Inn next door called Twice Brewed. I drank Twice Brewed bitter, during my two days here.
Again, I have given myself two days here, and so the next day I had a leisurely 4 hour walk. In a light drizzle I first walked about two km to the Vindolanda Roman Fort and Museum. In its day it would have housed 3-400 people, mostly Roman soldiers, but also service people. This is a major archaeological site, and excavations continue to reveal new finds; one being written tablets that are beginning to reveal possibly the most detailed information about life at that time 2000-1600 years ago.
I yhen returned past Once Brewed and up onto this section of Hadrian’s Wall, that I followed for a km or so. The weather is still very wild, but I escaped the rain, if not the wind. The food and beer in the Inn are great, but the visiting in the hostel possibly betterl. I had long visits with two couples from Nottingham and two cyclists from London. The cyclists came into the hostel by taxi, having left their bikes in a town down the road, carrying two flat tubes. They had spare tubes, but not enough and no patching kit. I fixed the tubes for them; they would catch a ride back in the morning.
Oct 5,6 Durham
I followed bike route #72 on some more undesignated roads on a clear but cold day again. It seems the rain happens every other day, with cold wind on alternate sunny days. I soon had to leave# 72 as I was now headed towards Durham, which is supposed to be am attractive University City. Still in Northumberland and still on very steep hilly roads, taxing my old body.. After lunch I switched back to an A road, which while busy got me to Durham much faster than meandering around on the un-designated roads. I rode past where I knew my hotel would be hoping to get a reasonable look at the cathedral and castle, but it was now late and it was obvious that I would need a second day here. My hotel is quite far out in the suburbs and so I headed off and managed to find it by only asking for help twice.
The morning was again windy and rainy and so I took the bus into town. I visited both the Cathedral and the Castle. In the summer I would have stayed in the castle as it acts as a hostel when the university students are not in residence. The castle is in fact the university residence, that reminds me a lot of the Harry Potter world. How would you like to live in a 1000 year old castle during your university days? Durham is considered the third most desirable university in England, after Oxford and Cambridge. The weather is really looking crumby for the next while, and so I bought a better rain anorak and booked the train to York for tomorrow. Two solutions to one problem, hopefully they will help me deal with the weather and the complicated busy road system around here. I will visit York and hopefully the weather will get a little better.