The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry

As an event organiser my eye is always on the detail. I need to ensure that no matter what happens come event day there is contingency in place to deal with any scenario. The show must go on...

The XPDTN3 post Dirty Reiver event trip had been in planning for a number of months. A 3 day circuitous route starting and finishing at Kielder Castle, the start/finish point of the Dirty Reiver. In 3 days it was planned to sample the diversity that is found in the English county of Northumberland, with a little of Scotland thrown in to the mix also. Day one would see us head out to the coast crossing numerous hills and valleys eventually arriving at the coast looking out on to Holy Island.  The following day would see us ride south with the coastline and sea views just on our left shoulder before heading inland through the city of Newcastle and eventually stopping at the small town of Wylam. Our final day would again see us in green countryside crossing Hadrians Wall before arriving back at the start of our journey, Kielder Castle. Well that was the plan anyway.

Stage One

Already feeling a little jaded from the Dirty Reiver weekend it was becoming clear the glorious sunshine we had enjoyed just days earlier had now departed and we were left with far differing conditions.  While packing for the trip the day before we departed I periodically checked in to Marc’s (Gasch Navarro) and Jon’s (Hornbeck) facebook pages.  Marc and Jon having ridden the weekends event were still at Kielder resting prior to the trip.  Videos of snow and chilling winds were being posted.  This drastic reduction in temperature was also being compounded by a dramatic increase in wind speed.  Already Plan A looked like it was in trouble so Plan B began to be formulated.



The planned party for this trip had finally been confirmed as myself, Oliver Townsend (Orange Trike Media), Marc Gasch Navarro (3T Social media extraordinaire), Jon Hornbeck (Road Bike Action Magazine) and the legend Magnus Backstedt.As locals, myself and Olly had been conversing the day prior on route choice and impending weather conditions.  After many iterations and worsening conditions, it was decided that to ride to the coast against gale winds while also trying to capture the experience would be fool hardy.  Plan B, shuttle bikes and bodies to the coast and ride a loop of local coastal trails.  This plan seemed far more palatable for all so van fully loaded we drove across to our originally planned overnight stay, Fenham Farm.

The weather was decidedly undecided.  A periodic shift from grey clouds scattering rain to blue skies with the only constant being the extra strong winds.We set off to explore the local coastal trail.  Jon, a native Californian, opting to wear his entire wardrobe.After barely making a few kilometres the adventure began with the trail petering out to nothing to leave a steep sided bank and stream to cross, good humour was had by all as team work ensued to forge across this small obstacle.  Not even a few additional kilometres had been gained before Magnus suffered a mechanical, a coming together of wheel and branch awkwardly rearranged his spoke count and left the bike unable to be ridden.

Plan B was now no longer valid.  Plan C, retreat to the accommodation and establish a local fix for the bike. An afternoon spent trying to locate a suitable fix in the local town Berwick upon Tweed proved fruitless, even a local store offering to fix any wheel for a few pounds had not anticipated anyone taking them up on this offer. Plan C was sent to the recycling bin and Plan D now had to be formulated. Plan D, enjoy the rest of the evening at the accommodation and early next morning some additional portage to my house to raid my garage of spares.

Stage Two

With 11km under our belts from the previous day we needed a hearty breakfast before the car drive down the coast to my house. Humour was remarkably still intact and surprisingly as per forecast the weather had improved to mostly dry and not so windy. Upon arriving at my house we ventured in to the garage and starting pulling apart bikes to source a suitable rear wheel or failing that a pair of wheels. No bike was safe as like cycling Vikings we pillaged, the resultant scene of destruction a warning to any bike that dare not function.  But for all our destruction we failed to come up with a suitable wheel.  Plan D was covered in petrol and lit.  Plan E, local bikeshop. ‘Local’ only in very general geographic terms as we ended up only a few miles from the originally planned Day two overnight stay in Wylam. The trip theme had certainly been set and though our legs had had little workout we were now very capable at packing 5 people and bikes in to a VW Transporter van.Cycle Art of Prudhoe, was the local shop that could offer a fix. Magnus received a loaner wheel and we left his in overnight for a repair.  Time to ride bikes!

The area surrounding the bike shop offered us some excellent riding opportunities.  We linked off road trails via quiet minor roads.  Initially we climbed up and out of the Tyne Valley.  The sun was out and the views were reward for the efforts.  Even in the company of seasoned professionals such as Jon and Magnus the riding was sociable and speed kept in check.  That’s not to say pro peloton high jinks didn’t surface every now and then.  On one particular steep climb after gathering much speed on a fast descent Jon quickly arrested my forward progress grabbing my seat as I was out the saddle hauling in the big ring leaving me floundering on a steep climb in a huge gear … f**king pros ;)

Quickly the dramas of the previous days’ efforts were forgotten and we all enjoyed being able to progress a route under our own steam.  The mid point reward for this loop arguably one of the finest cycling cafes in the UK, Pedalling Squares.  With the menu choices aptly named after many historic and current pro cyclists Magnus outlined what he could and couldn’t eat, partly based on taste and partly on ethics.

Following on from ensuring our calorific intake was far more than our expenditure we rolled on to the quayside of Newcastle Upon Tyne.  My home City and where I have spent most of my life.  The architecture adorning the banks of the Tyne now a beautiful mix of restored and renovated amongst modern, a real credit to this great city.  We rode to sample one of the last remaining sections of cobbled streets in the city, well you don’t bring a Paris Roubaix winner along for the ride and don’t ask him to perform.From the city centre it’s a straight ride of some 15 or so kilometres to Wylam.  Plan E had stuck and was working out just fine.That evening we celebrated our ‘success’ of the day with wood fired pizza oven delights followed by ice cream, apparently this is the ‘Ex Pro Diet’.

Stage Three

As with every other day on the trip it started with not riding bikes.  Cycle Art had repaired Magnus’s wheel and so the loaner could be returned and the Exploro returned to full 3T glory.This was our day of redemption. A return to the original Plan A route.  No deviations or alterations. The ride would take us from near our overnight in Wylam back to the starting point at Kielder. Almost a straight shot of 50 miles but again retaining the minor roads and trails our bikes loved and taking in some history on the way.  The sun was shining, wheels were turning and gears were shifting … we all moved along harmoniously, humour intact, the ex pro contingent taking any opportunity to mess with the bike handling skills of us lesser mortals.

Hadrians Wall offered the historic element of the day and a chance for a photo stop before the quick tarmac descent to another opportunity to indulge, Simonburn Tearoom. Though unsure if it was ‘Tearoom’ or ‘Tearooms’, the debate amongst owners and locals was in full flow as we ate.  This was a great opportunity to educate the token Californian about scones with jam and cream… and the rest of us taking the opportunity to demonstrate technique.

The hills were rolling, you never have to endure a sustained climb of any length but you always have to be ready for the punchy steep climbs. We rode minor roads until we reached Kielder reservoir at which point we could transition to gravel for the final leg of the journey.

The Lakeside Way trail is fast and following. This trail offers the final run in for riders completing the Dirty Reiver event. Many of the sharp corners had offered some adventurous lines in to the undergrowth as riders overcooked their approaches.  During the final few miles we were again reminded of Kielder and its micro climate as a heavy shower dampened the bikes and trails but not our spirits.One final steep tarmac climb and we were within the castle grounds.  Trip officially finished.

Though our original plan and several plans that had followed had all ended up in the bin we still felt like we had completed our objective of sampling the riding this part of the world had to offer whilst having an adventure doing it. Though our riding had been sporadic always it had been enjoyable. I could take the riding I had become so familiar with and enjoy it in fresh company.  Another person’s perspective on something that you feel is so familiar is always refreshing. Though the distance covered was ultimately far lower than planned I feel the experience was far richer for the tribulations we endured.


Check the (HUGE)  PHOTO gallery here below:



The 3 day route
takes in a mixture or coastal and countryside scenery.  The riding being on both minor tarmac roads
and gravel trails.

Location Northumberland, United Kingdom
Stages 3
Distance 297 km (184 mi)
Ascent 3222 m (10570 ft)
Best Time Late Spring or Early Autumn, these times can still offer settled and pleasant days of weather with still good light and fewer problematic insects especially in the forested areas.
Terrain Rolling hills. No long sustained climbs but some steep.
Weather Expect the unexpected. The weather can shift from snow to sun in an afternoon. The positive being it is possible to get some sunny warm days.
Tires Fast and light. The going is fast though at times can still be rough, high volume offers flexibility on pressures. . 650×47 or 700×40
Gearing As there are no long climbs and often the going is fast on tarmac minor roads a tall gravel gear can be adopted. 40 or 42t front chainring with a 10 or 11/40 on the rear.
Don’t Forget A waterproof and some warmer clothing. If luck has you setting out in the sun always prepare for a sudden and sharp shift in conditions.



Download our GPS files  on Komoot and go ride this route! :