As the evenings draw in, here’s one to warm your cockles – an after dark coast-to-coast ride on the shortest night of the year.
It started with a casual conversation after some thought (not much) and some beer (considerably more). With roads so congested during the day, especially in the summer, why not do a night-time run? Free from traffic, cooler travelling conditions and a new experience.
I was thinking of a trip to the coast one night for chips, but Martyn had a better idea – ride to the west coast to see the sunset, then overnight to the east coast to see the sun come up. And we’d do it on the longest day/shortest night of the year.
Martyn (Yamaha FJR1300) and I (BMW K1200LT) set off from Grimsby and met Philip (Fazer 600) the other side of the Humber Bridge. After a quick chat we set off for Squires bikers’ cafe, had a spot of lunch and headed west on the M62 to the A1 up to the A659 towards Harewood Hall then Harrogate and Killinghall, where we picked up John (early Pan Euro). At Ambleside we all stopped for a stretch of the legs and a comfort break (plus a fag for Phil). From here we followed Martyn across to the wilds of the southern lakes and he led us along what I would consider C-roads, though he insists they are ‘unclassifieds’. Whatever you want to call them, these are single lane roads with passing points, hairpin bends, rough and loose surfaces, fatal drops and 1-in-4 hills. We were four middle-aged bikers on middle-aged bikes, none of which would spring to mind as suitable for rough-edged lanes. It was like this for 10 miles, at the end of which we discovered that Martyn might possibly have been this way a few times already. “Well,” he chortled, “that’s the first time I’ve been down there and no one has fallen off!”
We carried on westwards across the lower lakes area through Greater Langdale, Little Langdale, Rhino’s Pass (not to be confused with Wrynose…), Cockley Bridge, Hard Knott, through to Boot and on to Eskdale Green where we turned right towards Gosforth, Egremont and up to St Bees.
Now the plan was to watch the sunset at St Bees and make that the start of our ride, but parked up in the car park, realised we’d miss the whole thing owing to the rocky cliffs to the northwest getting in the way. So, clock ticking towards sunset, we set off towards a viewing area on top of the hill just south of Whitehaven. This all looked good until we came to an abrupt halt outside a farmer’s house where the road ended and a rutted green lane confronted us. Well, in for a penny… so I led the gaggle of sweaty bikers, on the principle that as my LT was the least suitable for green laning – if I could manage it the others could too. It was hard work as the lane was heavily rutted. I grounded the K1200, tried keeping my feet on the pegs (not good) then tried paddling, but only got my foot caught under the panniers. Eventually, we came to the end of the green lane onto another unclassified road. It felt like a motorway.
Having seen the sunset and feeling that we’d earned some chips, we headed for Whitehaven, but despite touring the town centre couldn’t find a chippy. So we did the modern thing, stopped, googled ‘fish and chips’ and were told the nearest place was just 2.7 miles away. I put the co-ordinates into the TomTom and Martyn said “Make it so,” in his best Captain Jean-Luc Picard Star Trek voice. Five minutes later we were outside the chippy… which was closed. Fortunately, the nearby curry house did us chips and gravy for four.
Now 11pm and properly dark, it was time for us to head eastwards, so we rode over to Cockermouth then across to Penrith to be confronted with a detour to God knows where. Eventually we reached the outskirts of town and stopped for a comfort break at a garage which was… closed. The ‘comfort’ bit was no problem (sometimes it’s easier being a man) but more to the point, no coffee.
But fortune smiled once again, as we knew that on the A66 there was a serviceable service station with services that were open. And it was (albeit with fuel at a pricey £1.34 a litre). Fuelled and coffee’d up, and with the LT’s trip computer suggesting a chilly but tolerable ambient temperature of 11 degrees, we all cracked on east along the 48 miles of A66 up and across the Pennines. The roads were almost empty now and I was glad to lead with my new twin spots lighting up the road ahead. The KI200LT of 18 years ago was not blessed with the quality of modern bike lighting but the twin spots make up for the yellow headlight/main beam.
At the A1 end of the A66 the Great North Road was closed for roadworks so we followed a detour (again) and were soon winging our way towards Teeside, continuing past Darlington back on the A66. Bypassing Teeside we turned southeast towards Whitby. Already the sky was getting light, and time wasn’t on our side, but the roads were still empty so we made Whitby in time, leaving us the short trip to Robin Hood’s Bay. We parked just in time to see the horizon turn red with sunrise. We put the kettle on for a brew, followed by bacon butties – it was a good moment. But then that is why we do these things, for the memories. And I can honestly say, I haven’t laughed so much in years.
Words & photography: Bob Southcoat