Date: Thursday 9th April, 2015
Distance: 85.4km | Elevation: 1,247m
Destinations: Alnmouth — Banburgh — Wooler — Morebattle
Start kms: 2,018.6 | Finish kms: 2,104.0km | % complete: 21.0%
There are occasions when, setting out for a ride, you tightly cross your fingers and pray to whichever god might care to listen that the run-up to it is not indicative of the excursion itself.
With an hour of the morning spent trying (and failing) to load two routes onto Gorrods Garmin, this was one of those sort of run-ups. With 30 minutes left before our train was due to pull out of Kings Cross Station, we eventually decided we were flogging a dead horse. On this occasion, the Garmin would not be our guide.
With neither of us knowing where we were going beyond the station we’d be arriving into, we quickly hatched a plan. On the ride to the station, Gorrod would veer off to locate an iPhone mount for his phone whist I powered on to the station to print out our tickets. We set out together, darting through the rush hour traffic and snaking between the masses of cars, buses and motorbikes in a manner more reckless than I’d care to admit.
Tickets in-hand, I ran through Kings Cross. Anyone who has tried walking on a tiled floor in cleats knows this is no mean feat, but I was determined to pick-up some remnant of the Stag breakfast I had intended.
With two bikes, two flat whites and a paper bag full of impulse purchases, we ran for our platform to load our bikes into the front carriage.
We had 3 minutes to spare.
After months of careful planning, this is not how I had anticipated us beginning the two-day ride that would kick-off Gorrods Stag Weekend. As Best Man, I did not feel like the best man.
Seats located and cycling accessories safely stowed away, we took approximately 10 seconds to breathe, basking in the fact we’d managed to stick to time, before greedily going at our almond croissants and cinnamon doughnuts. This was chased down by a past-its-optimum-drinking-temperature coffee.
We were heading for Alnmouth, Northumberland and would be crossing the Endland-Scotland border later that afternoon. However, with a 4-hour train journey ahead of us, there was little to do in the meantime except kick-back, watch the south of England transform into the north, consume a questionable array of pre-ride fuel and relax. Awkwardly, I took my level of relaxation a little too far, nonchalantly knocking over my just-opened can of beer and watching its contents drift slowly and precariously closer to the MacBook of my neighbour. Whilst I felt bad for disrupting his in-train entertainment (at points I became as enthralled by the silent rendition of Rambo I’d been watching over his shoulder as he was by his full sensory experience), I have little doubt that watching a Lycra-clad idiot jog down a moving train carriage in cleats in search of loo roll had its own merits.
Accompanied by the vague stench of beer and sausage rolls, the cycling itself began at around 13.30. Normally, our rides end with a train journey rather than beginning with them, so I thought we might be a little more lethargic in our riding style.
I was wrong.
With the sun shining brighter than it had all year, we were expressing levels of excitement over the first bib-shorts-and-jersey-only day of 2015 that, for countless reasons, was unacceptable for two guys in their mid-twenties. Throw in the fact that the first part of our route was taking us down to Bamburgh and its coast, meaning a fairly constant downward slope, and we’d covered 40km in little over 90 minutes.
Stopping only for a photograph of Bamburgh Castle, we were quickly on the move again, back in-landf towards Wooler which, at around 65km seemed like a sensible place to stop. Both of us could probably have pedalled on through to the finish, but it feels wrong to complete a ride of this distance and not have one rest-and-cappucinno stop along the way. Gorrod added a tiramisu to this, which is arguably excessive, but forgivable on account of it being his Stag Do ( I suppose…).
With the sun warming us on the terrace of thew inspiring and uniquely name Milan Restaurant (it was indeed an Italian), we were sure we were moving closer to the England-Scotland border. However, the fact that everyone was still speaking with the warm, affectionate lilt of Sarah Millican suggested we weren’t there yet.
We did arrive at it soon enough, though, and thankfully it had a level of ceremony to it. This is the first time I’d cycled over a country border in the UK and I had a mild concern that we’d find ourselves missing an understated sign that was characteristic of our nation and not discover we’d made the transition until we reached our destination. Instead, we pedalled up towards a large sign that simply stated: “Scotland welcomes you”.
Behind us, we left an even simpler sign: a plaque screwed to a wall that read “ENGLAND” in block capitals.
Make of those what you will.
Our stop for the night was only a few kilometres beyond the official border in a small town called Morebattle. Neither one of us for the indulgences of lad culture, the first night of Gorrods Stag could not have been further from the Hollywood-inspired debauchery of Vegas: a quiet cottage on Teapot Street named Kissingate, located by a stream, complete with free-standing bath and gas stove. The owner could be forgiven for thinking us honeymooners rather than Stags.
I’m sure our matching embroidered casquettes, Gorrods labelling him ‘Groom’ and mine ‘Best Man’ removed any doubt from the situation. Following a beer on the balcony in the last of the days sun, a bath and a Chinese Takeaway, we prepared for the following day by mulling over our route and drinking whisky from makeshift whisky glasses (refashioned tea light holders). We also located our all-important breakfast stop — approximately 60km away, allowing us a reasonable warm-up.
Meanwhile, Gorrod pondered aloud the major concerns of what the day held in store:
“I wonder what roll our haggis will come on tomorrow”.