We cycled and enjoyed the Sustrans Coast to Coast route in May 1998. Cycle touring was fun and something we might do again.
But at the end of the C2C we asked the question:
Would we go cycling again? and answered ourselves Yes, but:
We need to take a more "lightweight" approach to luggage.
We need to resolve the problem of John being up the hill, while Sheila is still coming along well below.
The first question was the easier to resolve. We thought again about luggage and gave everything one of four classifications:
The second question remained, with no easy answer. We were always going to be different in our cycling abilities, particularly going uphill - even if Sheila had a lighter machine than the Pink Peril. A simple answer would be to handicap John (or to put it the other way, liberate Sheila) by giving him both panniers to carry and Sheila none. While this might work on tour it was not a solution for longer day rides.
Time to consider something more radical – join the two bicycles together.
In the back of the garage was an old 1930s Sun ladyback tandem*. We dug it out and cleaned it up. It was very very heavy. In fact current health and safety regulations would probably require it to have a label warning of a hernia risk if lifted by one person only. It had ordinary bicycle wheels with steel rims and not very effective rim brakes, so stopping power was limited and almost non-existent in wet weather. It had a three-speed Sturmey Archer hub with two of the ratios working. We did a bit of cycling around a nearby car park to try it out. We went a bit further. And within a few weeks we cycled it around the hilly 50km Wincester Circumventa event organised by our local CTC.
We were convinced that tandeming was for us. Sheila had an extra source of power. John had a navigator to stop him shooting ahead in the wrong direction. And we arrived at the top of hills together. Well actually most hills, because our unwritten tandem rules say that John will cycle the tandem, his body weight and the luggage and Sheila will cycle her own body weight. So sometimes we both give up on ludicrously steep hills and sometimes Sheila steps off to walk and John continues to cycle to the top alone.
We asked lots of questions and researched the options for an upgrade to a medium priced new tandem. In 1998 there was not a lot of choice. Custom built or American imports were too expensive. Some cheap tandems were ruled out. Two options remained: Dawes or a Thorn tandem. We ‘phoned SJS cycles, said that we intended to buy a tandem, not just waste their time, and booked a date to go to Bridgwater for a conversation. We spent the morning discussing our needs, versions of their tandem models and possible upgrades. Then we had lunch in their café and pondered all that we had talked about. Some further questions after lunch and we settled on a final specification for a version of a Thorn Explorer tandem* and placed our order.
Not too long to wait before Sheila became the proud owner of a shiny green new tandem. It was at this point that we also made the transition from cycling in old trainers to proper cycling shoes and SPD pedals. We took SJS’s advice and put them on only one side of the tandem until we got used to clipping in and out!
The difference between cycling on the Sun tandem and our new Thorn Explorer was as great as we had hoped, so after some day rides it was time to think about a first tandem tour. Not so hilly as the West Country Way had been, nor any off-road stuff like on the Coast to Coast. The east side of England looked to fit the bill.
* to find out more about either the Sun tandem and why it was in the back of the garage, or about our Thorn Explorer tandem see Bicycles
Not being confident to plan our own route on traffic-free or quiet roads we turned once again to Sustrans and bought their maps for NCN Route 1: Hull to Fakenham and Fakenham to Harwich. We thought that a start in York might be better than Hull and although no published Sustrans map covered York to Hull one was in preparation and Sustrans very kindly let us have a pre-publication photocopy.
So, we had a route. We just had to get to and from the start and finish. The train service from home to London, which we had used as a first leg to get to the start of the C2C, was not available. We had met the tandems on British trains that no longer have guards vans problem. In short, it can’t be done.
Our Final Tour Itinerary
We followed Route 1 most of the way from Hull to Harwich,
But we :
Gave up on the Marriott's Way and took to the alternative roads route before Norwich because of the poor condition of the track
Went on a bit of a circular tour In Suffolk clocking up extra mileage in search of a B&B with a vacancy
Departed from the route to visit Southwold
Took the alternative link from Felixstowe to visit Woodbridge
Took the alternative link from Stratford St Mary to Colchester via Dedham and Flatford Mill
Total distance 420 miles
Unfortunately we did not keep a diary of the tour and at the time of writing this no longer have a record of distances or the location of all of the places where we had B&B overnight stops.