How bad can the railways be?
Very. We had wanted to take the train over to Whitehaven as that is the obvious and potentially easiest way to get there. It was supposed to be a green cycling holiday, after all.
For us it should have been a piece of cake. We lived in Durham so could hop on the train to Newcastle and then if we timed it right get a train direct to Whitehaven - how cool was that? Easy and a very reasonable fare of less than £20 each.
However (and there's always a 'however') there was a flaw in our cunning plan. At the time of our trip Northern Rail who operated the route from Newcastle to Whitehaven only allowed two cycles per train and there was no way of booking in advance. Cycle spaces are on a first come first served basis. What, exactly, is the use of that? If you're planning a scheduled C2C trip with booked accommodation each night you just can't be expected to turn up at the railway station and hope there's space for you on the train. What if someone else already has their bikes onboard? Or, worse still, what if others are waiting at the station and you have to fight to get your bike on board?
We weren't up for potential fisti-cuffs on the platform so we ended up driving. We had looked at a taxi service (there are several in the northeast) but for the two of us it wasn't financially viable. So, driving ourselves was the only real option. It did undermine our green credentials, but what can you do?
What will also probably happen is the train company will look at how few bikes use the service and say "See, there's no point in us making more provision for cycles as so few use the trains". Yes, quite.
Come ride with me on a detour
Ok Sustrans, what's with the obsession of making cycle routes follow convoluted tracks that unnecessarily increase the overall mileage? Example? The descent towards Keswick after Whinlatter visitors' centre. It's steep, loose surfaced and windy. Real potential for accidents. Is that safer than going on the road? I don't think so.
Also, there's that 'diversion' alongside the A66 at mile 37 that takes you four miles to go forward about one. Is that the best they can do?
Ok, the C2C is a sort of holiday and it's not a race. However, we have to power ourselves every single mile up hill, down dale and in whatever weather is thrown at us. Why is it that we have to do all the long way rounds and motor vehicles get the quickest routes? Yes, the detour at mile 37 is pleasant countryside but then a lot of the C2C is pleasant countryside. I could do without that bit. I don't think it would detract from it to have more direct routes.
Guests are a pain in the arse
What does every cyclist on a long ride want from a hotel or guest house? Lots of decent grub served at a reasonable time, and maybe a couple of beers. They may also want an early breakfast so they can hit the road next morning and get a good start.
Cycling friendly accommodation like Motherby House know this. We wanted breakfast at 7am and we got it at 7am. We were guests, see. When you run a guest house, you look after your guests. Not a hard concept, is it? Have I made myself clear?
Allenheads Inn prides itself on being cyclist friendly and has 100s through every year. Given this fact, how come we couldn't get an evening meal before 7pm and breakfast before 8.30am? (actually I lie, we could have had breakfast at 8am if we "insisted" but nobody wants a grumpy cook).
This leads me to a rant about bad service in general. Why do we put up with it in this country? I never liked America and had no desire to go there until I met my wife who is American. After several trips over I have been amazed at the service you get there - friendly and efficient. Certainly puts things into perspective. All too often customers here are seen as an inconvenience to have their cash milked as appropriate.
So, my message to all those in the service industry is: If you don't like customers and guests - and don't want to look after them - go get a different career. Sure, customers can be assholes, and if they are then give them as good as you get. However, if all they ask is a breakfast at 7am, don't treat them like they've just propositioned your daughter. It ain't nice, get it?