Day 22

Thurs 22 Oct:  St Bees to Carlisle, via Workington and Silloth

Recommended reading: ‘Gironimo’ by Tim Moore. His account of cycling the route of the most gruelling Grand Tour, the 1914 Giro d’Italia, on an authentically rebuilt 100 year old road ‘racing’ bike. Wooden rimmed wheels, wine cork brake blocks. No gears. Quite heavy.  He likens the resisting effect of a head wind on a cyclist’s progress to that of the flat hand of a bouncer on the chest of an under-age hopeful at the night club door “.. and where do you think you’re going Sunshine?”

Today, the 30mph gusting wind was not a problem. It was WITH me for most of the day. Bliss. Like the hand of an encouraging dad or big brother flat on my back, easing my progress “That’s it. You’re doing it all by yourself!”

Continuing north, via Whitehaven, today’s first stop: Workington All Weather Lifeboat Station. One of the more senior Lifeboats, a 23yr old Tyne class. The only ALB Station in the country to have a davit launch facility! Now that’s grabbed your attention. Let me expand. No, don’t. If you are genuinely interested (Norman) check out the Workington Lifeboat website. The crew are very proud of their davit. A jolly bunch of lads too, if the four I met today are typical. Lots of good humoured banter. Young Steve is introduced as someone who hasn’t yet fully acquired his sea legs. Later the truth about his recent award for gallantry is acknowledged. As one of the younger crew on what became a difficult 10-hour rescue mission in a stormy sea, he felt quite rough on the return leg. Sorry Steve, I didn’t really mean to ask if you are now as famous as the other Seasick Steve. The words just spewed out. Well done you and the rest of the unsung RNLI heroes. You are what this ride is all about. Thanks Richard (mech) for the welcome and good brew and for sharing the hot-off-the-press news about your station’s official allocation of one of the latest Shannon Class boats. Due spring 2017. Thanks also to Joe, self-appointed “top crew man”, for the laughs and unrepeatable tales of Irish shenanigans, and to big Aaron for deftly fixing and resetting my not-so-smart phone, recently dashed to the concrete floor.

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Another 21 miles, still heading north with a strong westerly in my left ear as far as Silloth. England’s most north-westerly town. Originally a port built to connect the Solway Firth to Carlisle via a canal, then bought out by a railway company who closed down the competition by filling in the canal. Still a fascinating little town, with some fine Victorian buildings and a grid of wide streets, still cobbled. Another challenge.

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The boathouse doors were wide open on my arrival at Silloth Inshore Lifeboat Station, with the Atlantic 85 sitting proudly at the top of the slipway. Great photo opportunity as the self-righting bag was inflated as part of a scheduled service. According to Eddie (LOM) and Malclom, it’s been a quiet year up here at the top of this Firth. Looking across the vast, still, open estuary, it’s hard to imagine anything different. But there’s an awful lot of water out there. No matter how shallow, I wouldn’t fancy venturing out onto the Solway Firth if the Silloth Lifeboat wasn’t there.

Time to touch base. Problem is, you’d need very long arms to reach Bristol from up here, so it’s off to Carlisle to give Fondo a well-deserved ride home on the train.

Those last 25 North Cumberland miles were a dream. With that helping hand on my back, still blowing in from the west, along a mostly flat, very scenic route (good choice, thanks to Malc at Silloth and Colin at St Bees) the final compound challenge ahead was swept aside like a pesky horsefly. First there was a pair of hedge cutting tractors, obviously heading home from preparing a carpet of hawthorn shrapnel around the final bend. Then the only real hill of the afternoon, combined (having turned into wind on final approach) with the resisting bouncer’s hand for a mere quarter of a mile. The horsefly was back for one more bite. But we, Fondo and me, were invincible. Carlisle or bust.