After a surprisingly good night’s sleep we awoke to clear blue skies, dismantled the tent and packed up while the midges breakfasted on us. The little pests spoiled ours so we were glad to get away at 10:30 along a forest track. We’d opted for the “direct link route from Leaplish” which includes Serpent Brae, described on the map as “rough and steep descent – be prepared to dismount – take care!”. This was an outrageous understatement, the Brae taking us a full hour during which we had to remove all our luggage and pass our bikes down a ledge. We emerged with muddy bikes and soaking wet feet – this would have been a challenging section with an unladen mountain bike but was totally unsuitable for touring.
From here the forest track was delightful in the warm sunshine with only the sound of birdsong to accompany us. We skipped the detour into Newcastleton as we’d wasted so much time descending the bog. We reached the road at Kershope Bridge but it carried barely any traffic and we enjoyed a great undulating run through the peaceful unspoilt countryside. Then we lost Rowan!
I suddenly felt very tired and was lagging well behind, with Christine way ahead and Rowan between us. When Christine stopped for us to regroup he was nowhere to be seen, so the only explanation was that he’d turned off the road. As I was tired we decided I’d press on to Bewcastle in case he found his own way there while Christine retraced our route. I had trouble finding it without a map and twice had to seek directions – Bewcastle looks like a village on the map but it’s actually just a church, a mediaeval cross, a couple of houses and a pub! No sign of Rowan so I made for the pub, which was closed. Luckily the owners were sunning themselves and agreed to serve me provided I drank it outside. While I was pondering how long to leave it before calling the police, the two of them arrived. It seems Rowan had spotted a sign partially hidden by undergrowth that we’d missed, so he was on course rather than us! Signposting is a mixture of
1) Big blue signs proclaiming REIVERS accompanied by a bike symbol
2) Small stickers comprising the number 10 in white on a red background
3) The letters RCR painted in white on the path – some of these are very faded and hard to spot.
Only the blue signs are sufficiently prominent. Often one of us would miss a sign but someone else would spot it so it helps if there are a few of you – provided you stay close enough together!
We’d phoned ahead earlier in the day to book in at the B&B at Kirklinton. There are no facilities in the area so we stopped at the pub at Hethersgill. They didn’t serve food but the landlord produced an O.S. map and with the aid of the locals at the bar suggested where we could eat. They were so helpful we felt compelled to order drinks! They recommended the Salutation Inn at Irthington, about three miles away on the other side of the A6071. Our B&B lay just off this road so we weren’t going much out of our way. The landlord phoned to check they were serving food then off we went. The Salutation was another very friendly pub serving excellent Thwaites’s bitter and good value food. After climbing back up to the A6071 a fast run delivered us to the B&B where the chatty farmer’s wife served us complimentary tea and home baking on arrival. Lovely!