Coast and Castle cycle ride - £26,000 raised (so far !!!!)
In June 2017, 28 riders completed the Coast to Coast (C2C) cycle event, from Whitehaven to Sunderland, raising money for the Durham 2021 Festival. During the majority of that ride the organisers were roundly abused by the participants. The first two days of that event are renowned for their difficult climbs and it would be fair to say that they took their toll on all of the riders who took part and the ride organisers took the brunt of their frustrations.
In the circumstances it came as somewhat of a surprise when, by the time the ride finished, the team were talking about a repeat performance the following year. The last day of that ride, however, is relatively simple. From lunch time on the last day it was a largely downhill ride from Consett into Sunderland. It would also be fair to say that adversity forged bonds of camaraderie that were quite unexpected when the ride was first proposed.
Spurred on by the success of that first event and the circa £25,000 worth of sponsorship raised for the 2021 Festival, planning therefore began for 2018.
After discussions with the Festival Director, John Thompson, the ride organisers decided to attempt to pull together a Coast and Castles Cycle Event for 2018. Traditionally, the Coast and Castles cycle tour is ridden from South to North, starting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and ending in Edinburgh. With a view to ending in the Province of Durham, however, the decision was made to reverse the route and fingers were crossed that the team would not be unduly affected by the usual prevailing winds.
The ride organiser, Gavin Rowell, enlisted the assistance of a number of those who took part in the first event, including John Thompson, Brian Bullock, Steve Piercy and Paul O’Doherty. With their assistance the route was finalised, that being the coastal route via Musselburgh, rather than the somewhat hillier inland route via Melrose, a Logo was designed, and enquiries began into appropriate accommodation. In that regard, after the success of the 2017 event, it was thought that there might be increased demand for places and the task was to try and find accommodation for 40 bodies, 36 riders and 4 support drivers.
It is difficult to find suitable accommodation for such a large team but on this occasion the Youth Hostel Association came to our team’s assistance. They have a large facility in Berwick and a similar large facility in Alnwick. They had 40 spaces available in each and the stopping points for nights 1 and night 2 were therefore set. The accommodation was booked, and the 2018 event was advertised.
As anticipated there was strong interest in the event and the places were quickly filled. Around half of the riders came from those who had completed the C2C event, but the other half were new comers to the joys of a Masonic Cycling Tour! Basically, that means that they hadn’t sworn at the organisers yet!
Over the space of the next 6 months the ride organisers’ sourced back-up vans (Thank you Richard Tucker for the loan of your van and John Thompson for hiring the other). They booked dinner at local public houses for 40 and made contact with Masonic Halls en route to seek assistance with lunch stops. It was also necessary to book a coach to collect the riders and transport them to the start line in Edinburgh.
Finally, with the assistance of the MCF, cycle tops were designed and ordered.
By January 2018 the team was in place and most of the organisation was well in hand. A training plan was drawn up but, as many will remember, the weather in early 2018 was atrocious and training was difficult. A number of the proposed training rides were cancelled accordingly.
The Festival Director reported that following the success of the 2017 event the MCF had expressed interest in the latest event. They were provided with details of the training plan and of a proposed team meeting and decided to send a camera crew along to film some interviews and a training ride.
At the team meeting, in May 2018, at Penshaw Masonic Hall, the ride organiser announced that there were 3 or 4 spaces available on the ride as a result of late enforced injury withdrawals and the like. Two of those spaces were quickly filled and the team therefore finally consisted of 34 riders and 4 support drivers.
After briefing the riders on the route, the itinerary, the dining, the sleeping arrangements and, most importantly, fundraising and sponsorship, those who were available proceeded out onto a training ride.
Their progress was filmed by the MCF cameraman who, quite memorably, when filming from the open rear of his van, as the team rolled out of the hall car park, was struck in the face as his van door closed on him. Suffering for his art I’m afraid.
Unperturbed the team carried on and headed for Herrington Park. They arranged to ride around that Park to allow the cameraman time to set up and film some footage via a drone. After taking the team around the park over some relatively rough tracks (particularly enjoyed by those on road bikes!) the group headed off towards Sunderland.
Mike Smithies suffered a puncture when riding through Pennywell but was able to get the wheel off and the inner tube changed before his bike was nicked. The group were then back on their way, rode through to the Queen Alexandra Bridge over the Wear, back then into Washington and then negotiated the steep hill back to the Hall, without any further problems.
There was time after this meeting for one more training event, being a ride out of Hartlepool and 13 of the team turned up for that morning ride. Guided by Mike Smithies the weather was set fine and the group were able to complete a ride of around 25 miles before having to stop for ice-creams. That was then the lot. The Team was ready.
The Coast & Castles ride was to take place from Friday 1st June 2018 to Sunday 3rd June 2018. In order to ensure that it could be completed smoothly the team were required to turn up at Washington Services at 6am, ready to depart by coach by 6.30am.
The original intention had been to start the ride from Edinburgh castle. Word had been received, however, that the local Police were not keen on large groups of cyclists setting off from that central point within the city and, as a result, the start point was moved to the outskirts of the city, at Craigmillar Castle. That saved the riders around 2 miles of riding and also helped with getting to the start line on time as it meant that the coach would not have to negotiate the very busy traffic in the city centre.
The original intention had also been to pick up the riders at Durham Services as a central point within the Province. Again, however, as a result of concerns over timings, the decision was made to move the pick-up point to the more northerly Washington Services. (Honest that wasn’t because it was closer to the organiser’s house!)
Ever worried that something would go wrong, the organisers spent the days leading up to the start of the event texting each of the riders to remind them of the start venue and time, contacting the two Youth Hostels where accommodation had been arranged (to ensure that all was in hand) and contacting the coach hire company to ensure that their driver would be turning up.
The support drivers for the 2018 event included three of those from the first event, (the fourth, John Thompson, electing to ride this time, rather than spend his time in McDonalds!) Those three were Paul Quinn, Frank Charlton and Mike Cockerton. They were joined by Graham Clark, who kindly offered his assistance for this latest ride.
Paul Quinn picked up the van borrowed from Richard Tucker and attended Durham Services on the evening of Thursday 31st May 2018 to collect any bikes that the team wanted to drop off at that time. Gavin picked up Mike and travelled down to Stockton to pick up the van that was hired in by John Thompson. They attended Washington Services that same evening to collect bikes from those in the North of the Province.
It appeared that everything was ready for the off, although when Chris Webb sent 9 emails on the night before the event trying to find out where the pick-up point was, there was some concern that some of the instructions given may have been confusing. As it turned out, however, it was only Chris that thought for some reason the start point was Wolviston Services. School boy error Chris – that would have been far too far from the organisers house!
At 6am on the 1st June 2018 the team began to congregate like clockwork. Remaining bikes were loaded into the vans and bags into the coach. The first hiccup occurred, however, when at around 6.15am a text was received from Mike Elner confirming that he was running “a little late”. When, by 6.30am, he had still not arrived, the organisers were beginning to become concerned.
As it turned out Mike was only around 40 minutes late in total (Blaming his lift!) and the riders were on the road to the start point by around 6.45am.
Thankfully traffic was relatively light that morning and the journey to Craigmillar Castle went without a hitch. In fact, despite the late start, the team arrived early at their ride start point, at around 9.15am
During the preparation for the ride Paul O’Doherty made contact with the Freemasons in the Province of East Lothian to enquire whether the team could gain access to Dunbar Masonic Hall for Lunch on the first day of the ride. The Masons at the Hall quickly agreed and confirmed that they would put a complimentary lunch on for the team. Contact was also received from WBro Stuart Robertson of Dunbar Castle Lodge No. 75. Stuart is a keen cyclist himself and offered to meet the team at the start point in Edinburgh and to ride with them into Dunbar. After the debacle of a 10-mile detour, in the first 10 miles of last year’s ride, we quickly accepted that offer.
WBro Stuart Robertson was already in place and waiting when the team arrived, and we were delighted to be able to present him with one of the cycle tops that had been ordered from the MCF. Bikes were unloaded, last toilet breaks were taken (Thank you Craigmillar Castle Visitor Centre) and the team congregated adjacent to the Castle Keep for a photograph.
By around 9.40am they were off.
On the bus on the way up to the start point the ride organiser gave the team a short briefing, confirming that we were riding as a large team and advising that one of the greatest dangers, other than traffic on the roads, was the danger of collisions with each other (John Thompson!) and asked the team to take care accordingly. It was also pointed out that the event was not a race and that the important thing was to try and get everybody from the start line to the finish line, without any major issues.
The ride away from Craigmillar Castle and onto the Coast and Castles National Cycle Network route took our team through the centre of Craigmillar, on the outskirts of Edinburgh City. Due to congestion in the area and the fact that the team hit almost every traffic light, it took over an hour to travel the first 7 or 8 miles. At that sort of pace, the team were unlikely to make their first evening stop in daylight.
Thankfully the traffic conditions quietened as the team reached Musselburgh and Preston Pans and speeds began to increase. It was not long after this, however, that the first mechanical issue arose. One of our new team entrants, Stu Gibson, snapped his chain and whilst the support crew had tools on hand, an early visit to Halfords was required.
The ride through Musselburgh and Preston Pans is relatively flat but the route then took the team inland through Haddington and towards Dunbar. The terrain became a little more undulating and it was at this point that those who perhaps had not trained as much as they should have, began to realise what they’d let themselves in for.
The team became a little strung-out in the morning but arrived at Dunbar Castle Social Club/Masonic Hall by around 1pm. They were delighted to be met by our Provincial Grandmaster, RWBro Norman Eric Heaviside, who had travelled up to Dunbar with his wife to offer some moral support.
The team were treated to a wonderful spread put on by the Masons of the Lodge (or more correctly speaking, their wives), and the ride organisers were delighted to be able to present the local Masons with a Certificate of Appreciation (albeit made out to the wrong Province as the Province had changed its name only weeks beforehand – don’t worry a suitable replacement has been despatched).
They were also delighted to present RW Bro Eric with one of this years’ cycle tops. Eric was already sporting the top that he had been presented with the year before and it was noted that Eric now owned more cycle tops than some of the participants.
After a wonderful lunch and a tour of the temple at Dunbar, WBro Robertson presented the team with a completed sponsorship form and £100 worth of sponsorship that he had raised in the lead up to the event. Not only had Stuart guided the team unerringly to their first rest point, he had raised money for the cause. Stuart had been great company on the first morning, explaining the history of the local lodges en route and welcoming the Brethren present to the Province of East Lothian. He explained to some of the riders that he had, unfortunately, lost a member of his close family quite recently. He advised that as a result, he had been looking forward to the ride, as somewhat of a distraction from recent events. When he advised that it had been his honour to take part, we assured him that the honour was all ours.
Sadly, WBro Robinson had other arrangements for later in the day and was unable to continue on with the team in the afternoon. It was therefore without a human guide that the team left Dunbar and began to make their way along the coast towards Torness Power Station.
Like the morning ride, the first part of the afternoon was relatively flat and went without any real issue. John “The Gutter” Thompson developed a habit of riding in the grass verge but other than that the team were eating up the miles and the overnight stop at Berwick seemed to be rapidly approaching.
It was at this point, however, that the team reached the notorious Pease Bay.
Many of the riders stopped at the cliffs above the bay, where conditions were idyllic. There was a red deer running across the field and the view across the bay was spectacular. There was then a wonderful long descent into the bottom of the bay, followed by a ride through a shallow ford. By this time the sun was out, and the team had all become a little hot. This must have been a particular problem to Kevin Howell as he decided to go for a swim in the Ford. He blamed a slippery surface and having touched his brakes at the wrong time, but he was the only one who managed to get wet. Sadly, despite the fact that one of the support crew vans was on hand, nobody had the presence of mind to film Kevin’s dip.
It was at this point however that the hardest part of the first day’s ride began. As you ride out of Pease Bay, you are immediately required to climb a steep bank back up to a position close to the A1. Whilst in his briefing Gavin had assured the Team that there were no hills on this ride as steep as those on the C2C route, once again, he was found somewhat economical with the truth. More than one of the riders found it necessary, at this time, to get off and push and those who kept riding found it difficult to keep up with those who were walking.
When a group of the riders reached the top of the hills in this area, Lee Surtees reported an issue with a tyre and that group were delighted to stop to try to assist him. Lee advised that his tyre had just been a little flat and was not punctured. When, however, despite trying some four pumps, the team couldn’t get the tyre to re-inflate, further investigation actually found that the inner tube had split at the valve.
“Have you got a spare inner tube” – we asked
“Yes, I’ve got a couple, I’ll get them” - answered Lee
There then ensued a memorable 5 minutes as Lee began to find inner tubes in his bags, all of which, it turned out, didn’t fit his bike. If anyone has a Chopper or a Grifter and is in need of an inner tube, then Lee’s your man. Another trip to a bike shop was on the cards.
After Pease Bay the ride continued to be somewhat undulating, to say the least. We were at this time following Garmin GPS routes that had been planned by Steve Piercy and more than one rider was heard to ask Steve whether he had set his navigation software to “hilly”.
The group of riders became extremely strung out that afternoon and the support crew had their work cut out trying to keep track of where everyone was.
When planning the route, we had asked the support drivers to position themselves at a particular junction on the approach to Eyemouth. The marked cycle route travels into Eyemouth before making its way back out towards Berwick. There was, however, a shortcut available at this point, which would have allowed the team to bypass Eyemouth (and two notable hills!) as long as they turned the right direction at a junction. We therefore asked the support teams to position themselves at that junction and to direct the riders accordingly.
Unfortunately, despite their best intentions, the support crew somewhat misled our team and, without fail, they managed to direct the riders into Eyemouth and away from the shortcut – thanks lads!
The riders therefore all had to negotiate the hilly ride out of Eyemouth and towards Berwick. The ride was now going to be somewhere in the order of 65 miles where it had been hoped that it might be around 60.
The leading group of road bike riders made their way into Berwick without too many issues by perhaps around 5.30pm – 6pm.
Those on hybrids and mountain bikes were still some distance away, however and mechanical issues were arising. By around 3 miles from Berwick, Gavin’s bike began to develop a disturbing clunk from the bottom bracket, prompting John Thompson to say “I’m not riding with you for the next 2 days if your bike’s going to make that noise all the time” – thanks John for the support – I never complained when you kept crunching along to gutter! Well not much.
By around 6.45pm the final riders arrived at Berwick, although the support van did have to go out and collect two riders who had managed to get hopelessly lost and travelled something like 70 miles before having to call for assistance.
Thankfully Lee Surtees had popped into the local bike shop to buy some inner tubes (that actually did fit his bike) and he was also able to have a word with the bike mechanic. He explained the event taking place and that there were perhaps a number of riders who might have some mechanical issues. The mechanic kindly agreed to come in early the next morning to assist.
Dinner in Berwick had been booked in a local pub for 8pm and there was little time therefore to get showered and changed (honest we weren’t worried about there being no time for a couple of drinks).
In the circumstances we contacted the pub, The Kings Arms and they kindly agreed to put back the start time to 8.30pm. After a couple of drinks (sorry I mean a shower and a change) the team made their way up the hill, yes, another hill, for dinner.
To try to give the pub a fighting chance at producing around 40 meals within a limited period of time, we had collected menu choices from everyone, in preparation for the event. Unfortunately, despite providing the venue with a sheet with all of the names and menu choices on, the proceeding meal was relatively chaotic. Eventually it resulted in Gavin getting up to help serve. Once a Steward always a Steward!!!
After the meal there was just time for a couple of drinks before most of the team headed to bed. One or two, however, continued on with a tour of the local hostelries.
On Day 2 the team benefited from the comfort of a lie in. The second days planned ride was only of around 45 miles and as a result the team agreed to meet for breakfast by around 8.30am with a view to getting on the road by 9.30am. Obviously, however, there was the small matter of repairs required in the meantime.
Gavin was the first in the queue at Berwick Cycles (what a great establishment) and after about 25 minutes of investigations the cycle mechanic confirmed that his bottom bracket was “goosed”. Thankfully he had a replacement on hand. Kevin Howell’s bike needed its gears re-indexed after its dip at Pease Bay and the cycle shop just about sold out of padded saddles and padded shorts.
There was then time to try and repair Joe Beal. For some unaccountable reason he had quite a headache. There was also the small matter of the industrial deafness suffered by those who had been sharing a room with Stu Gibson. Thankfully he had turned in relatively late that night (or early morning) and as a result his roommates had managed to get some sleep. When Stu’s jackhammer snoring started, however, that was that for them. Surprisingly, Stu himself looked just as fresh as he had done on day one.
Berwick Youth Hostel is a relatively new youth hostel and the facilities were excellent. Breakfast was good, and the service offered by the staff at the hostel was first class. After the repairs were completed bags were loaded back into the support vans and the group were back on their way.
The mornings ride out of Berwick proved relatively flat and enjoyable. Whilst it was a relatively misty start this soon burnt off and there were a number of our riders wishing that they’d remembered to pack sun tan lotion.
The ride continued through Goswick golf course and along the coast. The road cyclist split off to avoid an off-road ride along some sheep tracks. “The Gutter” however was in his element.
At Lindisfarne we turned inland to cross the A1 at Lindisfarne Services and to meet up with the road bikes. It was at this point that the team were delighted to be met by VW Bro John Arthur and his wife Joan. They had travelled up to the area to offer their support and encouragement. Their intervention was very timely as at this point the team had just negotiated the first of what was to be a number of hills on the route towards Seahouses. The Deputy Provincial Grand Master was also happy to co-star in a brief video diary that John Thompson decided to film. Once WBro Thompson was prompted on where he was and who he was talking to, the filming worked a treat.
After the brief rest bite and refuelling stop (thanks John for all of the KitKat Chunkies) the team were off again, climbing away from the A1.
The ensuing hills spread the team out over the next hour or so and there was probably something like a 45-minute gap between those who reached Seahouses first and those at the rear of the Peloton, or should I say - those who got ham in their sandwiches and those who didn’t (thanks lads).
At Seahouses the team were delighted to be met by the Assistant Provincial Grand Master for the North, WBro John Watts and the Widow’s Sons, who had come up to support the event (There was an ugly rumour that they ate all the ham actually).
The Freemasons of Farne Lodge, the only lodge that meets in Seahouses, had kindly opened their doors to our team and put on lunch consisting of soup and a ham sandwich (or roll – no it’s not a sore point), and once again the team were absolutely blown away by the support of Brethren from a neighbouring province.
After lunch there was time for another presentation of a Certificate of Appreciation for the assistance given by the Farne Lodge Freemasons. The Widow’s Son’s also presented WBro Thompson with a cheque for £300 towards the Festival (ok – if they ate all the ham, they are forgiven).
Mike Elner’s mountain bike had developed an issue with the pedal loosening as he was riding and there was just time for him to attempt a technical fix – hammering it back into place, before the team were treated to a motorcycle escort out of town and onto the first part of their route towards Alnwick.
The team had already covered around 25 miles by the time they reached Seahouses, so it was a relatively short ride into Alnwick that afternoon. Indeed, for the lead road bike group, who decided to just keep to the main road, it was a very short ride. They arrived in Alnwick by around 3.15pm - before the youth hostel was even open. Apparently, that was the reason why they all had to go to the pub!
The remaining group congregated at Embleton to attempt to let all of the riders catch up. It was at this point we found out that Chris Webb had had an issue with his knee and had had to be collected by one of the support vans. Brian Bullock, who was looking after the riders at the rear of the Peloton, had stayed with Chris until this point and was some distance behind. We kindly therefore offered to hold the team at Embleton and wait.
Announcing this development to the team, Gavin pointed out that we were at this point conveniently placed for the Dunstanburgh Inn and accordingly suggested that there was probably time for a quick pint. There then ensued a race into the Inn for a shandy. A quick phone call from Kenny Hiles and Lee Surtees resulted in Kevin Howell, who had already moved further down the road, turning around and coming back. That impromptu pint, sitting in the sun, was probably one of the nicest drinks we’ve ever had.
Eventually Brian re-joined the group and somewhat sadly (and after Mike had once again kicked his pedal back into place) we said goodbye to the Dunstanburgh Castle Inn and headed back en route towards Alnwick.
We continued along the coast towards Boulmer before turning inland past Hawick Gardens and Alnwick Gardens and then towards the Youth Hostel, in the town centre.
Those members of the team who are Provincial Stewards were delighted when on the outskirts of Alnwick, they were greeted by one of their colleagues, WBro Geoff Austin, who had made his way up to the area with his wife to offer his support. Having completed the 3 Peaks event only the week before, we were delighted to see that Geoff was walking a lot more easily than when he had literally crawled out of the minibus at the end of that event.
The last of the team reached the Youth Hostel by around 4.30pm and there was just time to store the bikes in the pigeon loft (sorry - bike store). After a quick shower we all then made our way into town to find somewhere to watch the England Match. The main point of concern was to find somewhere with the softest seats!
Dinner had been booked for 8pm, this time at the Market Tavern. Thank you, Steve Piercy, for sorting this out.
The team duly congregated at the Market Tavern and we were shown into the rear dining area which was set aside for our exclusive use. The meal at this site went much more smoothly than the first night and the service and the food at the Market Tavern were absolutely first class. I think all of the team would heartily recommend this site to anyone.
Evening meals and drinks were payable by each individual member of the team and we organised with the pub that as each team member left they would pay their bill on the way out. After the first 7 or 8 had done so, Nigel Watson approached the ride organisers to ask who had paid the first £10 of every bill as he wanted to thank them. It was quickly explained that no one had.
We then found the Pub Owner and queried the position. He advised that this was the £10 deposit that had been paid for each of those attending. We explained that whilst there had been some discussion about deposits, early on in the booking arrangements, no deposit had actually been paid.
Unfortunately, by this time, 7 people who had already paid had left site. Those who were still on site were advised of the error and correct payments were made. The restaurant owner then kindly agreed to waive the shortfall. (Perhaps those who benefited from a cheap meal could donate that saved £10 into the festival pot!)
Talk at the Market Tavern had turned to how our fundraising for the festival was going. The week before the ride commenced we were at around £9,000 worth of sponsorship on our Team Everyday Hero Giving Page. On the day we set off this had risen to £14,000. During the first 2 days of the ride the sponsorship had continued to come in and the figure had reached an impressive £18,000.
This was already way ahead of what had been anticipated. Whilst we did not set a minimum sponsorship figure, we advised the Team that if they all raised around £300 we would not be far off £10,000 sponsorship in total
In 2017 we had raised £25,000 but the ride organisers had not thought that they would reach anything like that on this occasion, as many of the team were taking part for the second year running and it was thought that they would find it difficult going back to the same supporters for sponsorship. It was clear, however, from review of the Everyday Hero Page, that the friends, family and Brethren of all the team had proven incredibly supportive once again. After discussions, around the dinner table about off-line giving still to be recorded, there appeared a faint possibility that the team could achieve a figure at just over £20,000. A remarkable result, all things considered.
After that, all of the team had a relatively early night (apart from those who had the honour of sharing with Stu Gibson again - apparently, they are currently considering a claim for noise induced hearing loss).
On booking Alnwick Youth Hostel the ride organisers had asked for an early breakfast on the final morning, in the knowledge that the last days riding would be of around 65 miles and would take some considerable time. The hope therefore was for breakfast at around 7.30am and for the team to be on the road by around 8.30am at the latest.
Unfortunately, whilst this requirement may have been mentioned to the Youth Hostel, it had not been passed on to the catering staff. On arriving in the dining room, the team were therefore advised that breakfast wouldn’t be ready until around 8am. The urgency of the situation was, however, explained and the chef confirmed that she would do her best.
To follow up on their attendance at our team meeting and training ride, the MCF arranged for a cameraman to attend the final day of the ride and Del arrived at Alnwick at around 7.30am. He proceeded to film the team as they arrived for breakfast and it was certainly an impressive sight, seeing the entire dining room filled with the bright orange MCF cycle shirts.
After recording a couple of interviews Del proceeded to film us packing the bags into the vans and unloading the bikes from the bike shed. They do say that bird guano is lucky. All I can say is that on that basis Craig Gartside must have the luckiest bike ever. Whilst there were a great number of bikes stored in the bike shed (or pigeon loft) WBro Craig’s bike was the only one that the birds decided to decorate.
After a quick clean down the team congregated in front of the hostel and were once more on their way.
Once more following Steve Piercy’s hilly satnav, the team were about a mile or so away from the youth hostel when somebody mentioned that there had still been two bikes in the yard at the hostel when the team had set off. Shortly after that we were contacted by Dennis Bartholomew and Gerald Humphries who advised that as Gerald had been unwell overnight, they had not made it down for breakfast and/or out on time. We can only put our failure to notice their absence down to the excitement of the filming going on – sorry Chaps. The support van was duly sent back to collect them, and the team continued on their way.
The first castle of the morning was Warkworth Castle and, as those who know that area can attest, that castle is reached by a relatively steep but short climb through the village. As always, the climb split the team up.
After passing the castle you turn left and drop down onto the banks of the River Coquet and head towards Amble and then on towards Cresswell, where we had next arranged to meet up with our support vans. It appears, however, that as the group had become strung out, a variety of different routes were taken to that point. When Brian, Gavin, John and Steve, who were guiding the last group, reached Cresswell, they were somewhat surprised, when they were refuelling, when some riders appeared from behind them. It turned out that Chris Battye and Mark Davies had somehow managed to find themselves in the Northumberland Cycling Club’s Time Trial. We currently await their results J.
For those of you who don’t know, Mark Davies has got something of a bionic ankle and it was remarkable that he had managed to complete the ride so far. I think it would be fair to say that it was not without the aid of some fairly strong painkillers and his indomitable spirit. There is a chance however that all the metalwork in his ankles may have slowed him down and ruined his split times on the Time Trial.
From Cresswell the route winds down the Northumberland coast, past Newbiggin and Ashington and on towards Blyth. It was en route to Blyth that the back markers managed to catch up with Dennis and Gerald, who had been dropped off by the van and had joined on to the lead group. They had, however, been lost by that group when Gerald’s bike had developed a puncture.
Gerald’s efforts to repair the bike and replace the inner tube were closely watched by all of the team and eventually we took pity and helped to pump up the tyre (yes, we were feeling a bit guilty for having left them behind).
The riders continued en route to Blyth, riding along the river bank. On crossing the river Steve Piercy spotted a hill that he had somehow managed to miss off his route planning and began to lead the team in that direction. We had however had enough of Steve’s hills by that time and managed to stop him and the team continued on into Blyth.
Once again, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Northumberland had come up trumps and had offered lunch at Blyth Masonic Hall. On arriving at the hall the team were once again met by VW Bro John Arthur who proceeded to show us his bike stacking skills when managing to get 40 bikes into the back yard. We were also once again met by the cameraman and by Michael Graham and Paul O’Doherty from our own Provincial Comm’s Team.
Blyth Masonic Hall put on a lovely soup for lunch and the bar was open. Being finely honed athletes, by this time almost every rider only had a soft drink.
We had reached Blyth Masonic Hall by around 12.15pm, only running around 15 minutes behind schedule and by shortening our lunch stop somewhat we were back on track and leaving that hall, after once again presenting a Certificate of Appreciation to the local Freemasons, by about 1pm. At this point there were around 30 miles to go to the finish line and the aim was to try and get all of the team to the end by around 4pm.
National Cycle Route 1 proceeds from the South Beach area of Blyth down the coast towards Seaton Sluice, then Whitley Bay and then Tynemouth and this section of the afternoon ride was very pleasant. Whilst conditions in the morning had been a bit drizzly the rain had largely dried up and the team were in relatively in good spirits.
The decision had been made to congregate next at the cycling Hub on Newcastle Quayside with a view to the entire team crossing the Millennium Bridge, back into the Province of Durham, together.
Due to one or two delays the team again became strung out. One of the most notable of these delays was when Mark Davies attempted to avoid a pedestrian, on the shared use cycle track at Whitley Bay, caught the pedal of his bike on a grass verge and was thrown off. Despite obviously being in a great deal of pain Mark refused any assistance and after only a short rest, was back in the saddle again.
The team had been met in Blyth by “Electric” Jim Pendrey who had taken part in the C2C event the year before. Unfortunately, Jim couldn’t make the full event this year but had asked if he could ride in with the team, along with his stepdaughter. We were delighted to have them with us although when Jim coasted up the hills on his electric bike our comments were perhaps not so generous. Jim could perhaps have been warned by Richard Hogg as he was also on a power assisted bike and had also been roundly abused, over the preceding 2½ days, every time that we came to a hill.
As it turned out the lead riders in the group ignored the request to stop at the Hub and, instead, elected to move slightly further on down the quayside and to wait at the Pitcher & Piano. I’m sure that was only to make it easier to access the Millennium Bridge after the team were brought back together.
The team duly left the Pitcher and Piano by around 3.10pm. Paul O’Doherty had come down to the quayside to photograph the team on the bridge and after passing Paul we began to wind our way up the hill from the quayside towards Low Fell.
As we had found throughout this ride, the hills spread out the group and knowing that that would be the case, even on this final 10-mile section, we asked everybody to congregate once again, before the finish, at the Lambton Arms in Chester-le-Street so that the team could ride in from there, to the finish line at Lumley Castle, together. Once again it appeared that the lead riders had time for some much-needed sustenance at the Lambton Arms before moving on.
When initially planning the ride, the intention had been to finish at Chester-le-Street Riverside Park, in sight of Lumley Castle. Mike Cockerton advised us, however, that Durham County Cricket were playing at home on our final day and advised that as a result the park and car parking facilities could be very busy, making access difficult for friends and family. As a result, the decision had been taken to move the finish line to right in front of Lumley Castle - up one last short steep bank.
WBro John Watts once again met us at the Lambton Arms and escorted the team up to Lumley Castle and that final climb was punishing after three days in the saddle (thank you Mike - the car park at the Riverside Park didn’t look that busy when we passed!!).
When the team rounded the corner at the top of the hill, however, their spirits were immediately lifted by the huge group of friends and family who had gathered to cheer them over the finish line.
After welcome hugs (although not tightly as some of the team were perspiring somewhat by this time) the team congregated on the steps of the castle for a last set of photographs and to announce the results of their sponsored adventure.
Sponsorship had continued to come in over the final day of the ride and after a quick totting up, the team were delighted to announce that, incredibly, they had managed to exceed the figure raised in the 2017 event. They were able to present a magnificent cheque, in the sum of £26,000, to the Provincial Grand Master, who was once again in attendance to offer his support.
After a very quick congratulatory drink (ok – thanks Mike – there would have been no bar available at the park), one or two interviews with the MCF Cameraman, and lots of requests that we do the same again next year, it was then time for home.
In the three days cycling from Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh to Lumley Castle in the Province of Durham, the 34 riders and 4 support drivers had travelled some 177 miles and had been drawn together in enjoyment, camaraderie and, occasionally, in adversity.
The Durham Masonic Cycling family had been extended still further and looks set to go from strength to strength. There is talk of a 2019 event and, indeed, within 2 days of this event finishing, there was talk of a reunion ride. If I can ever face climbing back into the saddle I might even take part.
On behalf of all of those who took part in this cycle event I would like to express our grateful thanks to all of those who assisted. Firstly, to Paul Quinn, Frank Charlton, Mike Cockerton and Graham Clarke, our intrepid support drivers, quite literally, without you all, we could not have completed the ride. Admittedly we might not have had to ride as far if your navigation had been better – yes, I am just getting my own back for all of the comments after I got the team lost last year - but your support and assistance was amazing.
On behalf of the team I would like to express our thanks for the assistance of our Provincial Comms Team. To Michael Graham for attending the start line and on the last day to offer his support and to Paul O’Doherty who did the same and who also acted as liaison and organiser for our visits to the various Provinces along our route.
We must express out grateful thanks to those Provinces who hosted us at Dunbar, Seahouses and Blyth. Those rest stops were absolutely essential. We would particularly like to pay tribute to Stuart Robinson for his guidance on the first morning from Craigmillar to Dunbar and for the sponsorship he raised on our behalf. These were all wonderful adverts for our Fraternity.
Thanks go to WBro John Watts and the Widow’s Sons, not only for the escort riding, but in particular for the further cheque in support of the Festival. There is a rumour that John may take to pedal power for the next ride we organise.
We would also like to pay tribute to the Provincial Grand Master, to our Deputy Provincial Grand Master and their Wives, for their support along the route. I know that I speak for all of the team when I say that we were all blown away that you had quite literally travelled the extra mile to support us.
And finally, we must recognise the amazing support of the Brethren of our many lodges and of our wonderful Friends and Families. Without your support and encouragement, the event could never have succeeded.
The sponsorship that you have helped us raise will quite literally change lives for the better.
Are we doing it again next year???
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