The Second City Divide

Part Two of the Double Divide

Words & images by Luke douglas (OP co-founder)

Let me set the scene. We’ve just made it from Inverness to Glasgow on a mix of every terrain the Badger Divide could throw at us. 330km down, a couple of celebratory shandies and a ‘munchie box’ before taking up the offer of a bed for the night - a benefit of making friends on the trail.

Full unpack, wash and dry. Full repack with slightly less faff than 4 days ago. New set of brake pads and some fresh lube applied before rolling down to the start of the Second City Divide route in George Square.

The Second City Divide, as you may know, is our baby. Riding the Torino Nice Rally in 2017 planted the seed for devising a UK equivalent - A to B, country to country, city to city with a load of rough stuff in between. Just swap gnocchi and pastries for Lorne sausage and Eccles cakes.

After a few years of refinement, the route now links up the sections we already knew were good as well as plenty of new ones we’ve recced since. Since discovering the Badger Divide, that follows a very similar ethos, continuing on from Glasgow back to our home city of Manchester just made sense. The result is a kind of best of British all road/rough stuff, bikepacking trip that, depending on how you want to ride it, would make a good long weekend or the best part of a week, without a ton of travel to start/finish.

So, back to George Square with a replenished stash of dark chocolate Tunnocks to compliment a dwindled stash of OP bars. Jim from Albannach knows these roads south of Glasgow well (and has done his fair share of route planning, see the Fault Line Trail) and is joining us to roll out. 600km ish between here and Manchester.

Day One - Glasgow to Talla Linfoots

The Second City Divide can be roughly broken into five sections. Out of Glasgow and for most of your first day, section one has you in the Borderlands; expansive windfarms with recently made gravel access roads, quiet b-roads and the odd bit of bridleway.

Camp out of town at Whitelee Windfarm if you get a late train, or detour just off the route to Lanark where there’s a hostel around 70km. Get a picture with the World Famous Cock of the North trees that you always see from the motorway.

Pete from Adventure Pedlars had pitched up just as we were leaving, Gregg’s pasty in hand, and after Jim has turned back, Stu and Carl caught us up, making for a nice little riding group.

We’ve done this day out of the city in terrible weather previously, where WINDfarms have really lived up to their name. This time was the opposite - once we’d picked out way south and began to head east (passing three Second City Dividers who had ridden it south to north) a ripping tailwind made for quick progress.

Having left at midday this assistance was a big bonus and even after some tubeless puncture faff, we covered 130km, taking the short track off the route to an empty bothy at Talla Linfoots.



Day Two - Talla To Kielder

Section two passes through Ettrick and Kielder Forest. Windfarms are swapped for hard packed forestry access roads and old drover's roads. A cut through to avoid a long road section will require a tiny bit of hike-a-bike before the long climb up to the Scottish/English border. There are several bothies hidden away in these parts, close to the route.

Hermitage Castle is worth stopping at too with Newcastleton a good detour if you need food, a bed, or a bike shop. You could get caught out if you don’t pick your resupply points wisely for this surprising barren section and timing your arrival at the Kielder Waterfront cafe/little shop is recommended.

Breakfast at the Glen Cafe (CHECK OPENING TIMES!) is highly recommended once you’ve climbed the Wall of Talla and scooted down past the reservoirs to St Mary’s Loch.

In fact it’s the last hot food option you’ll have for 100km or so. We ate some excellent Lorne Sausage butties whilst some fresh-air-heads went for a swim in the loch. The grassy drover's road climb out of here is lovely too.

"It was somewhere in the middle of that bit where there was nothing."


Day Three - Kielder To Dufton

Section three: Welcome to the Pennines. Once you've escaped Kielder and crossed Hadrian's Wall you can make good progress south. There's the posh new Sill YHA and The Twice Brewed Inn or Haltwhistle for resupply.

The main focus is getting up and over Cross Fell, unless you plan to spend the night at Greg's Hut near the top. If you're lucky, you'll get incredible views of the Lake District and Solway Firth.

More camping and YHA options in the Eden Valley below, as well as some tarmac for making progress.

We were not so lucky. As we headed south on the Tyne Rail trail we could see the rain coming in from our right. Leaving Alston it was spitting and as we left the road and started climbing, it was chucking it down. The previously visible Cross Fell summit was now engulfed in cloud. Heads down, waterproofs on.

The Glasman - Glas(gow)man(chester)

Information on the Glasman is scarce. We know he stalks the route, looking to add to his dangle mug collection. The cut through near Craik, the bothies in Kielder, Cross Fell summit or in the deepest Dales, he (or she, we don’t know) could catch you out when you least expect it, when you're separated from the group, when night falls or when you puncture. If you do come across them, be kind. #donotfeedtheglasman

Day Four - Dufton to PBW Near Trawden

Section four is all about Yorkshire. Tan Hill Inn, Swaledale, Beggarman's Byway, Cam High Road, Batty Moss Viaduct and Salter Fell. It's tough, but lovely, with plenty of cafes and pubs to keep you interested.

The YHA at Slaidburn, just after Salter Fell, is about as far out as you'd want to stay and still make it into Manchester for the afternoon.

Having cut the previous day short after the soaking we got over Cross Fell we'd found some bunkbeds in Dufton for the night, grabbed a campsite shower and a pub meal. After 6 days back to back, the desire to eat everything was strong.

We zipped through the Eden Valley back roads in the early morning light and climbed up to England's Highest Pub, Tan Hill Inn. Usually, a stop here would be a must, but it wasn't even open yet. There is plenty of climbing today, on and off road. The cafe in Hawes and Season's bakery in Ingleton are much needed. Salter Fell road beckons and remains one of the highlights of the route - a premium 12km section of white gravel that could have you thinking you were in Tuscany if you squinted, really, really hard.

Grabbing some warm food (chips) in Gisburn after a tarmac section, we navigated Colne, the first biggish town since Glasgow. What are these traffic light thingys?

Day Five - PBW Near Trawden to Manchester

We woke up early from a wild camp on the soft loamy floor of some woods. Wild camping is now trickier on the English part of the route. Porridge, pack up, leave no trace. We'd pushed on in the dark the night before, knowing full well the delights of the final day [Ed - now made easier, as mentioned] and aware that we needed to be in Manchester by 3pm to claim our single free beer.

[Ed] This section has been notoriously difficult, a real sting in the tail, so we updated it in 2022 to run more directly into Manchester on the GBduro route. It's still a great finish!

Parts of the Pennine Bridleway are much better suited to mountain bikes but the parts the Second City uses are lovely, especially the big loopy singletrack switchbacks we hit just after breakfast. Legs are feeling cooked now, though.

Tired and dirty, we catch sight of the city we've been cycling towards for 5 days as we rattle over the cobbles and cart track slabs of Rooley Moor road. A quick lap of the pump track at the bottom and a terrible coffee at the only service station open on Sunday. Peyte lends me an inner tube for the tubeless leak I've been avoiding fixing since day 1 and our little group of four shares gate opening duties.

We rip down into the city where the sun was out and no one really cared where we'd been. Obligatory photo by the 'keep you pecker up' sign at the Pilcrow, pizza and exchange of each riders different experience, which given you've ridden the same route only slightly apart, can be wildly different...