You know the old adage: “Fail to prepare and you are preparing to fail.” Where the North East weather is concerned, it’s not always easy to plan ahead. As any natives of the region will tell you, bright blue morning skies can be chased away by dark storm clouds in the blink of an eye. But get yourself the right gear and there’s no reason you should let anything stop you from getting out on that bike and exploring the nation’s finest landscapes.

So, what should make it on to your checklist before you embark on a journey through the great outdoors? Here are our top 5 essential pieces of kit to keep you safe, secure and comfortable while you ride.

The not-so-humble bike helmet

Far from being a clunky bit of polystyrene, cycling helmets are now state-of-the art pieces of headgear. The technology within them has advanced as swiftly as the designs have changed. Whether it’s a short commute or a 100km epic, you’ll be looking for a combination of strong safety credentials and comfort from your helmet. After all, you don’t want protecting yourself against a road accident to give you a headache.

What you shouldwandee007 be looking for:

-          Safety rating

-          Comfort

-          Breathability

Our hot pick: The Bontranger Circuit

Staying safe with sunglasses

Don’t be fooled by the stereotypical posers pouting behind their Aviators. Cycling eyewear is as important for function as for fashion.

If you have ever suffered temporary blindness at the hands of rainwater, grit, dust or a fly hitting your eyeball at 30 mph, you’ll know how easily a hit to the eye can result in a trip down the grass verge – or, worse, into the middle of the road where a road traffic accident can be caused.

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-          Lens clarity

-          Changeable lenses

-          Snug but not painfully tight fit

Our hot pick: The Avenir Delta

Tough Tyres

Bike tyres are notoriously fragile and cycle accidents are common through punctures caused by nails, glass or even potholes. If you don’t want to be forced into fair-weather cycling, the answer lies in choosing the right rubber. In fact, recent years have seen the development of hardy tyres containing resistant materials such as Kevlar – yes, like the bulletproof vests.

On wet road surfaces, slick road tyres can also make staying upright tricky – even for experienced cyclists. To provide extra grip and reduce the chance of an accident on the road, winter tyres are available. These wider, treaded alternatives to slick tyres are better at dispersing water and increasing traction.

What you should be looking for:

-          Tread to increase grip and disperse water

-          Durability and puncture resistance

-          Minimal compromise on rolling speed

Our hot pick: Schwalbe Durano

The dreaded tool kit

You don’t need to become an expert in all things “bike mechanics”, but having a basic knowledge of maintenance can help you avoid the hassle and expense of carting your pride and joy down to the local workshop.

Once you’ve clued yourself up on the basics, the next stop is getting a kit worth its salt. There are all sorts of toolkits on the market but there are a few essential items you’ll always want to keep close at hand to help you mend your machine after a little rough and tumble.

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What you should be looking for:

-          Selection of Allen keys

-          Tyre levers

-          Pedal spanners

-          Tensioners

-          Cassette tools

Our hot pick: X-Tools bike tool kit

The essential cycling jacket

The North of England can be cold and wet – there’s no getting around that. But having an effective first line of defence against the elements can make all the difference. With hundreds of jackets to choose from for every weather condition, this one can be a bit of a minefield. But there are several features you should pay close attention to

What you should be looking for:

-          Breathability

-          Rain protection

-          Features – such as pockets and hoods

Our Hot Pick: DHB Minima S

 

Winn Solicitors is the UK’s leading accident management company. If you’ve had a non-fault cycling accident in the last 3 years call today on 0800 988 6288.

Northumberland offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the UK. National Parks, designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an abundance of beaches and a selection of ancient ruins and landmarks that make it the perfect place to unleash your Active Spirit._DSC5072a

Add to that the fantastic hospitality of the local population in the villages and towns in the county, and it’s no wonder that thousands of tourists – from both home and abroad – visit the region every year. Whether it’s a hike up to Hadrian’s Wall or boat trip out to Holy Island, the stunning scenery of the North East is hard to beat.

One of the best ways to see the countryside is undoubtedly the humble bicycle. The North East is a hotbed for National Cycle Network routes that make it easier to get about. Take the Coast and Castles route, for example, a delightful 200-mile voyage from Newcastle all the way across the Scottish border to Edinburgh with the North Sea on one side and high moorland on the other.

But if you’re heading out into the great outdoors to experience these wonders of the North East world, it’s important that you stay safe. Cycling is a fantastic way to see the world and keep fit to boot, but failing to take the right precautions while out on two wheels can result in a day to remember for the wrong reasons, rather than the right ones.

Here are a few top cycling safety tips to consider:

Wear a helmet

Gone are the days when bike helmets were considered uncool and unnecessary. Nowadays, they are as common amongst professional riders as they are Sunday amateurs. Bike helmet can help protect against brain injury in the event of a cycle accident, which is why you should always consider wearing one – particularly if journeying on narrow country roads littered with blind corners.

Wear bright clotheswandee007

Everybody knows how important it is to use lights and wear reflective clothing in the dark. But as a less visible road user, you should consider wearing bright clothes, reflective gear and even use lights during the day, too. As a smaller, vulnerable road user it is important to draw attention to your presence on any public highway to reduce the chance of another road user failing to see you.

Stay more central on narrow, rural roads

Gutters tend to be rougher and littered with potholes where adjoining grass verges on rural roads. Hitting one of these potholes or sliding on the uneven road surface can result in a loss of control and a potential accident involving other passing traffic. On these types of road, keep further from the gutter and choose safer ground closer to the centre of the lane.

Follow the Highway Code

It doesn’t matter whether you are on two wheels or four, you should obey the Highway Code at all times. That includes obeying road signs such as traffic lights, STOP and Give Way signs, and avoiding pavement riding.

Keep your bike roadworthykhunaspix

Performing basic maintenance work such as checking tyre pressure, oiling the chain, testing the brakes and ensuring the correct riding position are all important to staying safe and avoiding a road traffic accident. Mechanical faults are a common cause of cycling accidents, so take the time to check your cycle before embarking on any journey. And you wouldn’t want to break down miles from home anyway, would you?

Don’t get distracted

Enjoying the stunning scenery of Northumberland is a joy. But always remember to keep your eyes on the road when cycling – getting distracted, even for a moment, can prevent you from seeing a hazard in the road ahead.

If you are unfortunate enough to have been involved in an accident on the road in the UK, contact Winn Solicitors to access the nation’s leading accident management service.

Puffins have started to return to their breeding grounds on the Farne Islands two weeks early thanks to the milder spring temperatures.

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The National Trust, who look after the Farne Islands, have reported sightings of over 500 puffins on the islands just yesterday (Wednesday 12 March). It is thought this could be one of the earliest sightings on record by the national conservation charity.

David Steel, Lead Ranger for the National Trust on the Farne Islands told us:

“It is unusual to see puffins returning to Farne waters so quickly. In in a normal given-year, we would not expect to see them until the last few days of March at the earliest. This is in complete contrast to the previous season where birds did not start returning until early April. It is now hoped that this mild spell of weather will be a sign of things to come and the puffins and other seabirds of the Farne islands have a successful year. The Farne Islands are open for visitors on the 1st April and we’re looking forward to welcoming visitors once again.”

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The Farne Islands are home to 40,000 pairs of puffins during spring and summer. To keep up to date with puffin news and signs of spring with the National Trust in the North East like their Facebook page.

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It’s one of the best known tea types, but what is the story behind it? Perhaps surprisingly, the journey takes us not to far-off exotic tea plantations, but to the far-off northeast of England.

Charles Grey was born in 1764, was educated at Eton and Cambridge, and (as MP for Northumberland) was elected to Parliament in 1786 at the age of 22. He succeeded his father to become the 2nd Earl Grey, and became Prime Minister in 1830. He introduced the Great Reform Bill of 1832, the first major step towards modern parliamentary democracy, and (in 1833) led the government in enacting the law that was to abolish slavery in the British Empire.

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Despite these not inconsiderable achievements, his best-known legacy is the eponymous blend of tea. Prior to his premiership, Grey had held the position of Foreign Secretary and is reputed to have received a diplomatic present of some tea from a Chinese mandarin. This tea was said to have been specially blended with bergamot oil to offset the particularly lime-tasting water at Grey’s Northumberland home. Besotted with the brew, as his supply began to run out, the Earl approached Twinings tea merchants (which had been in business on London’s The Strand since 1706) and asked the company to try to match it for him. From then on the blend became known as “Earl Grey’s” tea.

Was all the tea good for his health ? The Earl was said to have been “tall, slim and strikingly handsome”, although in later years he went bald and wore glasses. On the other hand, he lived to the well-brewed age of 81 and it may be worth mentioning that he fathered 17 children. He is commemorated (for his political rather than procreational achievements) by Grey’s Monument (and Grey Street) in the centre of Newcastle. The monument comprises a 41 metre column topped by a statue of the great man, and was erected in 1838. On rare occasions, there are opportunities to climb the internal 160 step spiral staircase to the top of the pillar as part of a tour. Check with Newcastle Visitor Information (0191 277 8000; www.visitNewcastleGateshead.com ).

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Howick Hall has been owned by the Grey family since 1319. Grey had inherited Howick from his uncle, Sir Henry Grey. For the beautiful gardens one can visit today, much praise must go to another Charles, Earl Grey (the 5th) who was responsible for planning and implementing their transformation in the early-mid 1900s. The Hall itself is not open to the public at the moment, but there are long term plans to restore the ground floor and re-open it with an exhibition on the Grey family. After you’ve wandered the gardens and arboretum and had your fill of flora, a variety of home made snacks, light lunches, cakes – and teas – are on offer in the Tea House (it is open exclusively for visitors to the gardens). Whilst sipping and munching, be sure to look above the mantelpiece, where hangs a 19th Century copy of a portrait of our hero (circa 1828).

Howick Gardens and Tea Room

Howick Hall Gardens, Arboretum (and Tea House) 01665 577285; www.howickhallgardens.org.uk

Written by David Orkin

Sometimes, when the pressures of work build to boiling point, I take a few minutes out, imagining I’m running down the sand dunes onto Cresswell beach, feeling the sand underfoot and breathing in those seaside smells of salt, seaweed and expectation.

For me, nothing beats the simple, unadulterated pleasure of our Northumberland caravan holidays at Golden Sands which have a sense of charm all of their own.

Perhaps it’s because they rekindle childhood memories of caravan holidays…

Some of my happiest memories when I was growing up were spent in a caravan. Whether it was the riotous board games involving the entire family(I was always the competitive player, especially in Monopoly); the freedom of being allowed to roam around the caravan site, making new friends and the seemingly endless summer holidays. Even the sound of the rain pattering on the caravan roof imbibed a feeling of cosiness and I would simply curl up with a good book.

It’s vivid memories like these that I hope my children will grow up with thanks to our caravan holidays today.

And one of the greatest joys our holiday gives is being able to spend time together as a family.vn-large-Cresswell-beach-

This Easter, we’ll be packing up the car (complete with our two sons plus dog) and heading for Golden Sands Holiday Park where we’re renting our own self catering caravan for a week. There’s no headaches about luggage constraints, jamming liquids into clear plastic bags for security – and hey, if we’re an hour late setting off, it’s not as if we’re going to miss the plane!

The journey to the caravan is all part of the holiday experience. There’s the speculation about whether new friends made on last year’s holiday will be there, how many eggs everyone is going to find on the Easter Egg hunt and so on.

Although the park is just 30 minutes away from where we live in Newcastle, as we drive through the park gates, it really does feel as though we’re a million miles from the stresses of everyday life.

The park is right on the sea front a few minutes from the little hamlet of Cresswell and is surrounded by beautiful beaches. kite-golden-sandsThere’s the little one right in front of the park – which the kids can tear along with their kites, there are rockpools to explore and the sort of sand that makes the best sand castles.

Now the kids are older, we’ll be taking Fred the dog for walks along nearby Druridge Bay where there’s mile upon mile of wide-open beach.  Avid watchers of Springwatch and Autumnwatch – a visit to Cresswell Pond is a must for us, where I’ll be channelling my inner Kate Humble and looking out for rarities like Avocets which – like us – first nested in Cresswell in 2011, the most northerly site in the country.

While the kids are out with their new pals on their bikes or taking part in children’s activities (the park runs these in school holidays) and the Other Half is ensconced with the iPad, I like to nip out to nearby Morpeth and hit the shops.

And when we’ve all worked up an appetite, it’s back to the caravan for tea. Cooking never seems to be the chore it is at home when we’re in the caravan. It’s like playing house!bike-golden-sands

Then, if we’re feeling sociable it’s off to the clubhouse for a drink while the kids mix with their friends. Or if we’re not, it’s time to curl up on the sofa and relax – yes caravans have sofas these days, as well as central heating (ours even has a bath!).

Roll on Easter – we’re carrying on caravanning.