The Second City Divide
WRITTEN BY:Luke Douglas
Outdoor Provisions 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, whatever you want to call it, 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. Handily linked up by the West Coast Mainline, too.
Anyway, 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
104km | 2589m+
The Second City Divide can be roughly broken into five sections, though it’s felt different every time we’ve ridden it. Out of Glasgow and for most of your first day, section one has you in the Borderlands.
Huge windfarms with recently made gravel access roads, b-roads and the odd bit of bridleway.
Camp out of town at Whitelee if you get a late train, or detour just off the route to Lanark where there’s a hostel around 70km. Enjoy a stop and get a picture with the World Famous Cock of the North trees that you always see from the motorway. Your first bothy opportunity is about 130km at Talla Linfoots.
We’ve done this day out of the city in terrible weather previously, where WINDfarms have really lived up to their names. 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 the quick progress was a bonus and even after finishing in the dark after the second punchy windfarm section of the day AND a tubeless puncture faff, we covered 130km, taking a short track off the route to an empty bothy.
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 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.
The cut-through after Craik is becoming increasingly infamous now. You'll have to push for a few mins but trust the gpx and you'll emerge safely on the otherside. GBDuro now use this as part of their Lands End to John o' Groats epic.
Kielder is so big and empty and is lovely to ride through, crossing the England/Scotland border as you do.
A pre dark pizza once we'd made it to Kielder Water (you notice the accents turn from Scottish to Northern East English suddenly) then off into the dark for a second bothy stop all on our own.
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.
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 Road*. It's tough, but lovely, with plenty of cafes and pubs to keep you interested.
*yeah yeah, Salter Fell road is in Lancashire, but depending on your schedule is probably right at the end of this Yorkshire heavy section.
The YHA at Slaidburn, just after Salter Fell, is about as far out as we reckon you'd want to stay and still make it into Manchester for the afternoon.
This day started very early for us. Like 5am early.
Having cut the previous day short (a wise decision in hindsight) 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's no 'perfect bike' for this kind of ride. Different bikes will excel on different sections. Don't underestimate it though - many have tried and bailed. We reckon 35mm wide tyres at least, more if you can. Here are the bikes from our little group:
There is plenty of climbing today, on and off road. A 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?
Grab yet more food and head out to find a place to sleep... tomorrow we ride to Manchester.
Day Five - PBW Near Trawden to Manchester
Wake up early from a wild camp, which is now trickier on the English part of the route. Porridge, pack up, leave no trace.
The final leg into Manchester, section five, is through lumpy Lanchashire. It's tough; a real sting in the tail. From Salter Fell road, the rough Rooley Moor cobbles and the sublime singletrack of selected parts of the Pennine Bridleway, it can really catch you out.
When you first catch sight of Manchester, you still have 40km* to go, traversing round to the high point at Hartshead Pike. From here, you know you've made it and it's downhill into the city.
*Use the Rochdale Canal to cut out this last section if you're really hangin', or have a train to catch.
We'd pushed on in the dark the night before, knowing full well the delights of the final day and aware that we needed to be in Manchester by 3pm to claim our single free beer.
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.
The last day is the definition of undulating. Tired and dirty now, we're ready to finish and catch sight of the city we've been cycling towards for 5 days as we rattle over the huge 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 (it was a Sunday to be fair) and we began to pick our way around the city limits.
There are many benefits to riding in a group, providing you all get on! Company, encouragement, the loan of an inner tube (cheers Pete) and shared gate opening duties.
From Hartshead Pike, we ripped down into the city and onto a final bit of canal to The Pilcrow, where the sun was out and no one really cared where we'd been, except a few other riders who'd been ahead of us the whole time.
Obligatory photo by the 'keep you pecker up' sign, pizza and exchange of each riders different experience, which given you've ridden the same route only slightly apart, can be wildly different!
We've spent a fair bit of time researching the route and putting on the event. Mainly as it's rewarding and we wanted to give something back to the bike packing community. The route is open for use by anyone. So if you've enjoyed riding it, we'd be made up if you donated some pennies to some of the people that make bikepacking in the UK some of the best.
This isn't mandatory, but it will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
And lastly, see below or a dump of phone snaps from the trip 🙌