Cycling Cumbria and Northumberland

I calculated that 84 miles was just about feasible. You need not be Geraint Thomas to manage 12mph on a bicycle, which neatly works out at seven hours.

Even allowing for some steep climbs for which this city bike is not designed, and refuelling stops for tea and cake, I thought I could make the Newcastle suburb where Hadrian’s Wall reaches a conclusion.

How I wish I had instead offered: “Cycling to the centre of Britain.” Because that is where, inadvertently, I ended up.

The cycle ride to Wallsend is paved with good intentions. The official start of the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail is in the village of Bowness-on-Solway. The village occupies the site of a Roman fort that helped guard the frontier marking the edge of the empire.

A planned archaeological dig may soon reveal that this was actually the location for the biggest fort on the entire wall. For now, though, you can reflect on events since AD122 at the pavilion where the trail begins: a location called The Banks.

You gaze across the tidal flats at Scotland. Online maps often suggest to people on the Cumbrian side of the water that the nearest pub or petrol station is just a mile or two away, when in fact it is an hour’s drive via Carlisle.

In 1869, the longest bridge in Europe was built across the estuary, connecting Bowness with Annan in Scotland. But with 12 years an extreme winter saw it damaged by actual icebergs, and by 1935 it was demolished.

Still, some locals say it is possible to walk north across the Solway Firth at low tide. Sea-to-sea hikers and bikers, though, head east. I met Spike and his dog, Dora, who were setting off on a week’s hike.

I’d like to say that I wished them Fortuna vobis adsit – “Good luck go with you.” But I read the inscription on the pavilion only after they had set off on their six combined legs.

Fortune deserted Edward I, “the Hammer of the Scots,” who died at Burgh-by-Sands, halfway between Bowness and Carlisle while leading a campaign against Robert the Bruce.

A Hollywood-style statue of the late monarch, clasping a sword in one hand and a crown in the other, guards the village playing field. On the long trudge to Carlisle, this is what passes for entertainment.

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