September 26, 2019

Coast to Coast – Hadrian’s cycleway

By Ian McEwan, NSB parent

The team prepared for their departure in a foggy car park with the back drop of the Solway mud flats. Once underway, the sun came out and we were set for some glorious cycling conditions. Within the first couple of hours we had successfully navigated Carlisle’s traffic, experienced a few mechanical issues and had our first minor mishap of the weekend.

Eventually, it was time for a luxury lunch stop – full buffet, along with cake, chocolates, sweets, fruit and hydration. Some full bellies and weary legs then started off on the tougher part of the day as we ascended up towards Hadrian’s Wall. The evening started to close in as we reached our first big challenge, the long climb up to Banks Turret on the Wall. While some of our more experienced riders smashed it in good time, every boy made it to the summit on their bike, pedalling, albeit with a little vocal encouragement.  From there on, we had a few inclines prior to our first stop in the salubrious setting of the Greenhead Hostel! The boys were fed and watered ready for a good night’s rest prior to day two.

I can’t help but feel that during the latter parts of the day, the boys all started to realise the challenge ahead of them as they reflected on their achievement. Not a single boy went near the broom wagon (cycle terminology for the support bus) and all of them put in a sterling effort, often in the face of adversity. Two boys in particular showed outstanding character; James displayed great courage for dusting himself off after his minor crash and Robbie showed resilience for digging deep into his reserves with his less than forgiving bike.

Following a hearty full English breakfast, we saddled up ready for a pleasant 14% climb straight out of the hostel on already weary legs. With the cobwebs well and truly blown away, we settled into a good rhythm across some undulating terrain through the stunning Northumberland countryside. As we slowly progressed toward our biggest climb of the day, spirits were high as the boys anticipated the challenge that awaited them. High on the wall the garrison at Vindolanda awaited our assault, with the added incentive of our lunch stop just beyond its defences. The peloton started well, with a lead group quickly breaking away under the leadership of Joe, a strong rider and a worthy winner of the climb. One by one, each and every boy made the summit on their bikes, rightfully proud of their efforts. A special mention must go to Kye for showing a great sense of community, sacrificing his lighter bike, by riding one of his friend’s heavier steeds.

Another well-prepared lunch was awaiting our arrival and the boys enjoyed a well-deserved rest and refuel.  As had become the norm, we started off straight into another mean and demanding climb onto the Stanegate Ridge.  Awaiting us was the added pleasure of a head wind which slowed our progress and started to sap the energy from the boys’ legs. Respite was in sight and we started the long and fast decent down to Hexham and a quick ice cream stop. The remainder of the day was mostly flat with the added complexity of some selfish and inconsiderate drivers. The boys dealt well with the challenge, emerging unscathed and probably far more road aware than should have been required.

As we drew close to our overnight stop, the boys faced the last and possible most mentally demanding climb of the day. Accommodation in sight perched high on the hill, they all knuckled down and dug deep with the dulcet tones of their guides ringing in their ears. We were welcomed by our host and the boys settled down to a well-earned rest, mountains of pizza and a good game of hide-and-seek; great hiding place, Reuben.

As the sun rose on day three, the boys were ready for the last downhill push to Tynemouth. With a full stomach and a sense of excitement, we started at a great pace to Newburn. The views and scenery were breath-taking as we descended to the Tyne. Even though we were taking it easy, we were soon in familiar surrounding as we approached some historic landmarks and eventually the five bridges. We were welcomed at the Cycle Hub with a freshly prepared lunch and some World Cup rugby as the boys eagerly anticipated the last ten miles and the completion of their challenge.

The last leg flew by and the boys set a great pace for the coast and our welcoming committee at the Spanish Battery. As we emerged from the Fish Quay, the sight of Lord Collingwood marked the completion of a tremendous and arduous three days. The boys pushed up the final hill onto the Spanish Battery, each and every one still pedalling, leaving the walking to those less seasoned cyclists. We were met by a vocal and excited group of parents and the Headmaster, all rightly proud of the boys’ achievements. 

The boys have achieved a great thing and now enter the ranks of those that can proudly say “I’ve done the coast to coast”. This is no mean feat for an adult never mind a young man.  They should rightly be proud of their efforts. Each and every boy cycled every mile of the route and fought their own demons along the way. The sense of community and teamwork was impressive and rarely seen from some so young. This band of brothers displayed every aspect of the NSB character compass. They really are young men of excellent character…