Tuesday, April 17, 2007


On Saturday night Mum, Dad, Dougal and I went to a fabulous restaurant Opus - not new to the city as such but certainly new to us, and me in particular as I'm the one living in Birmingham. In the week I'm sure that Cornwall Street is part of the thronging business district, and there was certainly a lot of noise on the phone when I rang for a reservation on Friday lunchtime, but on Saturday night it was pleasantly quiet, though the restaurant was nearly full by 9. The waiters were attentive and knowledgeable, explaining the things we didn't know on the menu (rotollo). The menu itself made choosing hard but eventually we all settled on something different. I had exquisite scallops and monkfish followed by banana bread and rum butter pudding. All were exceedingly delicious. I would heartily recommend this place!

On Sunday Maggie came to visit us and we all went to see Madeleine Peyroux at the Symphony Hall - what a fantastic voice she has! We had songs in French and in English, and her band are pretty darn good too!!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Easter with Whistler

I squeezed Whistler, my bike, on to the train at New Street, ousted a chap from my reserved seat, and was then on my merry way to Edinburgh. The cabin I was in was alternately freezing and roasting as a mini battle played out between the passengers who liked it hot or cold! My excitement started to rise as we got to the coast and I glimpsed Alnmouth and then Berwick from the train. In two days time I would be peddling down this stretch of the coast. In Edinburgh I hoiked my bike up the steps and out on to Princes Street and wandered down to the youth hostel in Haddington Place. This has got to be the most swanky YHA I have ever stayed in! With a beautiful evening going on I didn't linker, though. I wandered up to the castle and then found fabulous little thai restaurant for a spicy thai green curry.

Getting up the next morning I bumped into a fellow cyclist and we chatted for ten minutes before going our separate ways - he was off to Gretna, which sounded suitably distant, and I was off into the Borders to Galashiels. The sun was shining again which was great until I realised I was turning a pretty shade of pink! And it took 3 days before I found a shop selling suncream!! I peddled merrily out of Edinburgh on mostly traffic-free routes seeing loads of birds and even a stoat (I think). As I came into Dalkeith I was pointed down a cycle route that was being retarred and when I shouted to the road crew if there was an alternative they said they'd carry the bike over the tarmac being poured and I could sneak across!! Just outside Dalkeith the the road began to climb through the Moorfoot hills and I looked out across a long plain to Edinburgh and the coast. I was soon into the Borders and it was so beautiful. In the autumn it must be even more breath taking with all the heather in bloom. I lunched, propped up on a fence next to the sheep and watched the speed demon cyclists in their lycra whizzing by. Down near Innerleithen I saw a sign advertising afternoon tea at Traquair House and decided it was that time of day. Traquair House is, apparently the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, and has not only its own maze and brewery but also makes jolly nice scones! My final route of the day took me alongside the beautiful Tweed river as it wound its way towards the sea, I was to follow it on the next day too. The B&B in Galashiels was a welcome sight and I headed into the highly recommend Salmon pub for Good Friday Salmon in a chilli and lime crust.

The bells started at 7 and I was out onto the road filled with scrambled egg by 9, pottering alongside the Tweed again towards Berwick-upon-Tweed. The cycling was undulating and it made for fine views and a hungry cyclist. I found another field for lunch and bathed in the sunlight. The route wound in and out of the border, just as well I didn't have to have my passport checked ;) and at Horncliffe exiting Scotland for the last time I sneaked across the closed Union Suspension bridge, only closed to cars really and pedestrians were using it so I didn't have to don my invisibility cloak. At the top of the last hill into Berwick I was greeted by a sign welcoming cyclists and also a chilly wind blowing off the sea. The town centre was thronged with people and I took refuge on the beach just round the corner from the B&B before dinner of as many carbs as I could lay my hands on.

I had checked the tide times and knew that I could get out to Lindesfarne from about 9 so I didn't dally in the morning and was off on Whistler down the coastal path. But even then as I got to the causeway I could see a steady stream of cars heading onto the island. It was easy getting out there, I thought because it was so flat but on the return with the wind in my face I realised the real reason. With a long ride to complete I chose to visit the priory over the castle and really enjoyed wandering through the ruins and round the exhibition. The boat hull sheds at the harbour tickled my fancy too. By the time I left the place was hopping, not quite the calm atmosphere I had envisaged. Back on the mainland I was confronted by a series of nasty little hills that were particularly precipitous and after battling away for a couple of hours I decided to take the coastal road from Bamburgh, busier but much less vindictive! My next stop was just under Dunstanburgh Castle on a wonderful sandy beach complete with paddlers and cricket teams. Then the final leg on the coastal path, possibly the best cycling ever, from Craster, past Howick to Boulmer and then on the road into the beautiful Alnmouth.

Filled with scrambled eggs again I pottered off down the coastal path through dunes and past daffodils. Over looking the sea at Ashlington I shared my spot with a couple of bumble bees and a goodly quantity of fig rolls were consumed to keep the energy up. Coming through Blythe I played cat and mouse with a couple also touring but eventually lost them, when I actually found a shop selling suncream, and never did find out where they were off to. In Whitley Bay I started on the 'shared use path', which was basically the footpath and seeing as I didn't fancy weaving in and out of the tourists I pottered down the road, managing to miss some of the signs and picking them up again as I got to the very edge of the mouth of the river Tyne. There I found a fantastic visita served by the largest number of benches I think I'd ever seen. Following the river inland I cycled past Segedunum at the end of Hadrian's wall and some of the old ship yards. My temporary destination was the centre of Newcastle as I wanted to see the new Millennium bridge and the Baltic Arts Centre. I wasn't disappointed even though I was on my last legs by the time I stopped. A few photos and a celebratory fig roll and then I peddled over the bridge itself and off to the B&B at South Shields.

It was a scrambled egg day again and then in overcast conditions I cycled past the coast park where we had finished the Great North Run 3 years ago. In Sunderland I wound around the marina, which was very beautiful, and toyed with the idea of visiting the National Glass Museum, but with only 10miles under my belt I wanted to push on. The route was pretty much traffic free but punctuated by A frame barriers that I could hardly squeeze the laden Whistler through. But it was worth it as I went along the East Durham railway route straight across the countryside. I stopped in Thorpe Thewels for an ice-cream and promptly lost the route, having to remove all the bags from the bike and get it through a kissing gate. But I found it again shortly after and weaved my way through the broken glass in Stockton-on-Tees and into Middlesbrough. Waiting for the B&B to open I ate lasagna and chips in Albert park and watched the first ducklings I had seen this year. There appeared to be 24 of them all belonging to one mother duck.

The B&B had a strange atmosphere and I was very glad to see fellow human beings at breakfast the next morning. But I still had no desire to linger and was out on the cycle path at 8.30. I had decided to go a bit more cross country through the North York Moors and so I took the road down to Stokesley and then a tiny little road into the National Park itself. The views were beautiful and I was just about enjoying the giant hills. One particularly memorable one was labelled 1 in 6 and I hurtled down it only to grind to a halt about 5m up the other side of the valley. The lorry in front of me was struggling too and I admitted defeat and walked to the top. But it gave me the chance to see the lapwings displaying as they wheeled about in the sky, dive bombing the ground only to soar back up again with a few centimeters to spare. I'd just joined the off road route to Castleton when disaster struck - my saddle was suddenly on the ground. The bolt had sheared off an I didn't have a spare with which to fix it. Luckily I was near the train station and I walked the remaining two miles and waited to take the train home, there not being a bike shop near by. Having cover 300miles in 6 days I wasn't disappointed and Whistler got a well earned rest. Whitby, Scarborough and Hull can wait til later in the year.
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