Travellers' Tales: Halfway north

Mark Green rode the first 400 miles of the Great North Trail in 2021

Having cycled King Alfred’s Way earlier in the year, I asked my pals Dan and Terry if they fancied giving the Great North Trail a go. They did. We settled on Derby to Edinburgh: half the total route, with 400 miles over seven days.

We set off in early October 2021, planning to stay in pubs and B&Bs. Our worries about taking ‘too much bike’ were proved false on day one: mine and Terry’s adventure bike rigs, with Jones bars and huge 29er tyres, were perfect. Dan’s decision to take his faithful touring bike with semi-slick tyres was a noble mistake – one that would lead to many timid descents and even pushing downhill! 

The off-road sections were varied and included flat, gravel trails, deep moorland bogs, and steep riverbed sections strewn with loose rock. The technical uphill sections were very slow and, as a result, we finished most days rumbling along hillsides in pitch darkness, thankful of every lumen we had.

On the section between Hawes and Alston we needed a plan B, as Great Dun Fell loomed before us in the gloom and we realised that the ascent over Tyne Head Moor would be too difficult in the dark. A campsite in Dufton took us in.

It was a hugely demanding but rewarding week. The geology slowly changed as we headed northwards. We felt honoured to ride through moorland valleys entirely empty of roads, buildings, and people. Next up, Edinburgh to Cape Wrath!