So Thursday morning August 1st finally arrived; the beginning of our journey, the seaside town of Southport.
Day One: Southport to Hadfield
An early start, with the alarm clock ringing in our ears at 5.15am, it was barely daylight, but close enough. Here we are outside the Royal Clifton Hotel, all set for the off.
Unfortunately at the unearthly hour of 6am there was no one to stamp our official TPT trail card, but we did at least get a photo of the Western Terminus marker post at the seafront on Marine Drive.
So without more ado, it was camera away and off we cycled! Our route took us out of Southport on some reasonable surfaces following the Sefton Coastal Path, which runs alongside Birkdale Sands and Ainsdale. Apart from losing my water bottle cage, everything was going well and we soon got the hang of picking out the little blue markers denoting the Trans Pennine Trail, which keeps you on track (well mostly). We quickly moved off the Coastal Path onto the disused railway tracks better known as the Cheshire Lines Path which would take us as far as Sefton. Not surprisingly the pathways we were using at this point were free of traffic, mainly because of deterrents such as this:
(photo courtesy of madcyclelanesofmanchester blogspot.com)
(photo courtesy of blog toddlerontour.com)
which while were great (for the most part) in keeping away errant scooters and quad bikes, quickly became the bane of the first day; having to constantly stop, dismount and negotiate each barrier all too regularly, causing both a loss of rhythm and inevitable tiredness.
Having safely negotiated the busier roads around Aintree, we linked up with the Liverpool Loop Line taking us through the suburbs of Broad Green, Childwall, Woolton and Halewood before being greeting by the dulcet tones of the lesser spotted EasyJet as we rode through Speke, skirting Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Now almost clear of Liverpool it was back onto some proper roads for a few miles as we headed through the picturesque village of Hale where we stopped for well-earned (albeit brief) rest and refreshment, as we were both starting to feel the effects of our early start as well as some urgent hunger pangs.
A bagel with peanut butter, a couple of pieces of dried apricot, along with a generous few gulps of water seemed to revive us both and thankfully relieved the slight headache I'd begun to feel.
Soon, we were back on traffic-free pathways again, where we were to encounter our next challenge in the shape of some steps at Ditton Brook, which not surprisingly were a bit of a struggle for both of us.
(photo courtesy of Geograph.org.uk © Copywright Ian Greig and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License).
After some minor hitches with a few of the blue TPT direction signs, we eventually got back into the swing of things, heading along the Sankey (St Helens) Canal past Fiddlers Ferry Power Station, finally reaching Stockton Heath and the county of Cheshire. There were still plenty of miles to go, but for a while it acted as a bit of a boost. We were now approaching the middle of the day and the pathways and trails started to get busier with pedestrians, dogs and a few other cyclists using the shared facility. The sun was out, we were getting warmer and the pace seemed to drop a little despite our best efforts.
Cycling out into the lovely Cheshire countryside we headed through Lymm and Dunham Massey, before finally skirting Altrincham and off into the direction of West Manchester. Plenty of people to slow us down now, including a group of sight-impaired walkers. It was getting warmer still and the water was disappearing from our bottles fast. Bizarrely, despite the fact we passed through the Water Parks of Chorlton and Sale, there was a distinct lack of vendors selling urgently needed refreshment. Fortunately we reached civilisation in the shape of a Tesco Express in Northenden and I managed to source two litres of water to quench our thirst; though I should add, I would've helped the situation further if I'd not bought sparkling water by mistake! Cue occasional water fountains from our bottles as the pressure inside got just too much for the stopper to handle.
A tough, tough day. In hindsight we'd bitten off more than we could chew in planning to ride this far in one chunk; fortunately we'd got away with it. The Hikers & Bikers B&B was once used as part of the film set for The League of Gentleman. Unfortunately, its downstairs cafe was undergoing a last minute renovation and so breakfast arrangements were going to have to be a little more informal. The staff couldn't have been more accommodating though and they certainly didn't give the impression it was a local B&B for local people! (That bit will be totally lost on you if you didn't ever watch the show by the way). Tired and by now a little nauseous, we looked forward to a hot shower, a few beers and a trip to the highly recommended Red Dragon Chinese Restaurant, before hitting the sack. Tomorrow is another day!
We needed a good start to the day and, Eric, the proprietor didn't let us down, greeting us with two large bacon and egg rolls each, accompanied by a bottle of HP sauce. Fortified by our breakfast and supplied with local information about a quicker route back onto the trail, we set off in good heart.
After a long first day, we knew the beginning of the second day was going to be no less challenging, as the route took us up the Woodhead Pass to its pinnacle at Windle Edge, a rise of 1435 metres and the highest point on the trail, before we could hope for any respite.
The route out to Woodhead Tunnels (and the start of the real work of the day) was pretty much a sand and stone combination. We set off at a sensible steady pace which, given the surface we were riding on, was probably the best move; any extra effort at this stage would've gone unrewarded. Eventually Woodhead Tunnels arrived and the 3.5 mile climb beckoned. The initial section was just impossible on our (and probably most other) bikes. The ascent was a sharp steep one and the surface was incredibly rocky. This was then followed by steps built in to the hill. At one point we wondered if we'd ended up on the walkers route instead. Discretion being the better part of valour, along with the fact we had another 68 miles to do in the day once we'd reached the summit, we opted to walk up, wheeling our bikes, which was probably not much less arduous than pedalling. Half way up our climb we were joined and eventually passed by a group of Barnsley College staff; it was nice to have some company briefly. After what seemed like a lifetime, we reached Windle Edge and were then able to enjoy the rewards of a downhill freewheel to Dunford Bridge on the other side.
We pressed on! Decent tarmac and sandstone surfaces and fewer barriers to negotiate, helped us progress a little quicker and eventually we left Sheffield behind us. We seemed to reach Cusworth Park and the Doncaster area sooner than I'd anticipated and gradually I began to think, maybe just maybe, we can pull this off today after all. A few undulating hills to climb, a few more stiles and gates to access, but finally we were getting there. Time now for a pit stop in Bentley, where we bought more water and also fortified ourselves with a snack; Nicki's weapon of choice being a Boost Bar, while I opted for a cheese and ham roll. After our breather it was time to roll again; the sun was out and there was a slight breeze; it was all feeling good.
Day Three: Selby to Hornsea
Not the best nights sleep to be honest. Maybe part of it was pondering what we'd achieved or were about to achieve; maybe it was the pain in the right shoulder (an ongoing problem since I slipped downstairs in April)? The torrential rain outside at 5am, as I checked my watch with bleary eyes, certainly didn't help! Was the weather and possible lack of sleep going to be the sting in the tail? Only time would tell.
After a breakfast refuel of muesli, followed by scrambled eggs, a quick call to my sister to confirm an approximate time of arrival in Hornsea, we retrieved our bikes from the Hazeldene's shed and were ready to hit the road for the final leg of our journey. Fortunately the heavy rain at daybreak had given way to a gloriously sunny morning, with just the right amount of breeze; looks like we had a pleasant day ahead of us after all.
In no time we'd picked up the Trans Pennine Trail at Selby Park and followed the path of the River Ouse off and on for a few miles. Again a mixture of bridle ways, sandstone trails and country lanes gave us some variety and broke the ride up, passing through Hemingbrough, Barmby-on-the-Marsh and Howden. Further along, the roads narrowed noticeably and on some occasions there wasn't even room for a car to pass us safely; fortunately motor vehicles were few and far between, because for a number of miles are only escape routes were the perilously deep looking ditches to our left. We courteously gave way to a mini-bus and trailer at one point, it bore the name Barnsley College on the side; we were to realise later that this was in fact the support vehicle for the group we'd bumped into over Woodhead the previous day. We continued to follow the path of the River Ouse which eventually became the Humber, before turning inland at Weighton. Looking to take our first real break of the day now, we found the ideal spot here at Broomfleet.
As we finished off our fig rolls and had a few final gulps of water and prepared to move on, the group from Barnsley College appeared from a side road behind us. We'd bump into each other now from time-to-time for the rest of the day, mostly when one of us had stopped to check out the directions! This too would unfortunately be a bit more of a regular occurrence than either group would have liked. While the other group were checking their maps and conferring, we put our best pedal forward and headed in the direction of Brough, which would give us the last couple of short sharp climbs of our trip. We could see the Humber Bridge now! Unfortunately our progress was stymied by a diversion at North Ferriby as the Hessle Foreshore, our direct route to the Humber Country Park was closed for repair work. Retracing our steps briefly back onto the A63 and a further mile diversion. Now we were back on track, cycling through Hessle and on to the most unnerving part of our whole three days as the TPT winds its way through parts of the city centre in order to link up with the Hornsea Rail Trail. While the vast majority of this part of the route followed cycle lanes marked out on the road, we were forever mindful of leaving enough room for unexpected car doors (we've been there before), watchful that we didn't get squeezed out by overtaking vehicles or left/right hooked by turning cars. The route should be around five miles and ideally, even with care, would have expected to have been achieved in no more than half an hour. With lots to think about and watch out for, it would be easy to miss a crucial blue marker and head off in the wrong direction, and guess what?
Finally, having used up an additional hour of riding, stopping to check our bearings on frequent occasions, we were back on the trail with around fifteen miles left and an expectant audience awaiting our arrival. After one last brief snack stop and a phone call with an update on our progress, we set a target of about hour to reach Hornsea. Although the trail was mostly sand and soil based once we'd finally left the suburbs of Hull behind us, we made surprisingly quick work of those final few miles, both of us determined to get it over with now. As we sensed the seaside was fast approaching, we caught up with the Barnsley College team, who'd left us behind in Hull, for the final time as they stopped for a puncture.
I'd always imagined those final few yards would be a moment of emotion and euphoria, but in truth it was all a bit of an anti-climax; although there was no doubting the physical personal achievement of course. Greeted by my Mum, Sister and Brother-in-law and their two dogs (with MNDA balloons attached to their collars!), we made our arrival on the sea front, just after 4pm. As is tradition, we dipped our wheels in the sea; now our journey was finally over.
It's been an eventful twelve months, with its fair share of ups and downs. But 225 miles (all our wanderings taken into account!) ridden and £708 (not including Gift Aid) raised to date, it has ended up ultimately a satisfying one. On reflection the realisation of what we've achieved here is still only just sinking in.