Friday, 9 August 2013

This ain't no technological breakdown ......

..... Oh no, this is the Road to Hull !! (with apologies to Chris Rea ;-) )

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

or this:
(photo courtesy of blog

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 © 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.

I'll admit, we were starting to flag a little now. But convincing ourselves that once through Stockport we were on the last leg of the day, it was good to eventually see the familiar sight of the Co-operative Insurance building. Now all we had to do was find our way around Stockport using the TPT markers as our guide and then do a little climbing through the woods and trails of Tameside. Easy; think again?! The signs in Stockport were confusing; constantly checking and rechecking signs and the map slowed us down, as well as using up energy we'd preferred to have kept behind our ear for later. Things didn't improve with a lot of stop/start around Reddish and Denton. Eventually though sign, map and eye started to work in cohesion with our tired legs and we reached home for the night, Hadfield.

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!

Day Two: Hadfield to Selby
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. 

The thought of Woodhead now being behind us was an understandable relief  and wanting to make up for any perceived lost time we were anxious to press on along the Upper Don Trail and Penistone. Predictably, just as things looked to be on the up, somewhere around Oxspring (though we're not sure) we missed one of those vital blue symbols and drifted North of our route by a couple of miles. Given that the road we'd just encountered wasn't the best (hardly surprising if it was the wrong one in the first place of course) we were reluctant to retrace our steps entirely. After a committee meeting we opted to take the short but busy A628 and head in the direction of the M1 and Dodworth Bottom, where we hoped to re-join the TPT at another point. Nicki's map reading skills are far superior to mine, but the maps we were working from were hardly OS detail, so after a little trial and error, along with a rest stop, probably using up ninety minutes or more additional time in the saddle than we could afford, we got back on track, following the Dove Valley Trail to Wombwell.  The route we were following at this point was mostly woodland tracks with more than their fair share of puddles, mud and random bushes and branches; with probably another 52 miles left and the clock already well past 1.30, I was having genuine reservations whether we'd make Selby in daylight safely and that a contingency plan might be needed.  A sharp cloud burst, our first of the trip, didn't help to lift the mood!
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.

The route from Bentley to Braithwaite was mostly quiet country lanes interspersed with a few sections of track. There was also the odd unmanned level crossings to navigate where the onus was on us to not only look carefully before we crossed, but also to open and close the crossing gate. The construction of a new rail link around Owston Wood resulted in another detour from the trail though. Fortunately the diversion meandered along some pleasant quiet country roads and we managed to link back up with the TPT further up at Trumfleet Grange with no unnecessary additional exertions. Result!

At Braithwaite, by way of a pleasant change, we got to ride along the towpath of the New Junction Canal which, whilst not entirely smooth, was straight and flat. The distance covered seemed to be flying  by now although, in truth, we still had another twenty miles of the day to complete. With Sykehouse and Pollington ticked off, we reached the M62, the cooling towers of the Selby area were in sight now. Once we'd reached Snaith the clouds had gathered a little and the daylight was starting to prematurely disappear. After another brief committee meeting we opted to take the more straightforward route of the A1041 rather than the trail in order to reach Selby, where the Hazeldene Guest House would be our resting point at the end of day two.  A big relief for both of us I think, boosted by the knowledge that we'd well and truly broken the back of the ride and a comparatively short 54 miles was all that stood between us and the North Sea now.  Even the fact that the weather had now turned wet, as we tucked into our evening meal at the nearby Wetherspoons, wasn't going to spoil our mood; we were almost over the line; just one more final push on Saturday.

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. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Final countdown ....

Eleven days to go until blast off on our charity ride which will take us from Southport, across the Pennines to Hornsea and the Humber Coast!

The last month has been a little bit of an anti-climax. An impromptu meeting with a taxi door knocked the wind out of our sails (quite literally) and dented confidence a bit. It was the first time I'd been hit and to be honest since it happened there has always been the fear that we'd now be riding with a target on our back. Got back out on the bikes today at long last, hoping that we'd shaken off the injury niggles sufficiently to ride with comfort. Only a short twenty miler in truth, but today wasn't about the distance, rather it was a bid to banish the monkey of doubt that had temporarily perched on our shoulders. Glad to report we got around without incident, though still a bit sore in truth; mission accomplished; even time for a quick photo in Hilton village.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

One pedal forward .... two bikes down!

All good intentions .... followed by a rude awakening and an abrupt end.

Following on from our recent "training" ride between Oxford and Cambridge a few weeks ago, we opted to use the signposting of an organised event, for a change, last weekend; it's so much easier following someone else's lead than having to use a map! So, last Sunday we  headed off in the early morning sunshine in the direction of the city to join up with the Cambridge News sponsored Bike Bike Event. With the breeze on our backs for once, all was right with the world. Making good time through the city along fairly deserted streets we were looking forward (well as much you can to 120k + miles) to the day ahead. The Lensfield Church clock read 8.25 as we approached a stationary taxi; drawing level with it, I wish it had remained stationary! A split second later the door flew open, sending both me and the new bike to the tarmac; worse still Nicki followed suit, unable to avoid the ensuing chaos. Cue  one profusely apologetic driver, two battered, bruised, shaken cyclists and the end of our day earlier than we'd imagined, via a quick visit to A & E.

We were lucky, there's no denying that. We got away with a few sprains, scratches and bruises, and the bikes, barring a few scratches themselves, seem to have come out of it unscathed too (subject to a once over from the local bike shop later in the week). The only casualty was my helmet 

But it could've been oh so different. I could instead be bemoaning the end to our great Summer bike adventure with a month still to go; a fractured wrist or collar bone would certainly have achieved that. Taken this weekend off from cycling though, just to let everything heal. Hopefully we can get back to normal soon.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Out with the old .... and in with the new

Despite it's sterling efforts the old mountain bike has been starting to live up to its name, quite literally. It has to be said, it has done me proud and (with the exception of a snapped chain at Rutland Water two years ago) has never let me down. Lately though it's developed its own unique automatic gear change, which is not so clever when it makes the wrong choice at crucial uphill points on a ride. If I'm honest, the rust is building up a bit  too (I never have been big on bike maintenance) and if I were to add that the Schwalbe Marathon + tyres probably double the value of the machine, then you'll probably understand where I'm coming from!  So, time for a change and off to the LBS (local bike shop in long hand) in search of a replacement, namely a shiny new Trek DS8.2 2013, complete with 29" wheels.

The old bike is heading for warmer climes though, Africa in all probability, as the plan is to donate it to a local charity who refurbish bikes for export to the Third World.

New bike duly collected and awake to sunshine and blue skies, Sunday seemed a great day to test drive ride it.

Have to say, probably the flatest route we've ever ridden. Okay so it was never going to build on our hill climbing prowess, but at least it added more miles to the cause .... and, we actually enjoyed every minute of it ..... well almost. Initially we headed out along the quiet back lanes in the direction of St Ives, before picking up the Guided busway, which while a tad boring at times, allowed us to get the first twenty miles out of the way with little or no traffic to hamper our progress. Uncharted territory from there on in though, passing through Cottenham and out into the flat openness of the Fens and Chatteris. I chose the route well (even if I say so myself) with the only really busy road being the relatively short stint along the A142, (which did feel a bit unnerving at times) before heading off along the New Bedford River, although only thirty five miles in, was technically the home stretch.  Things stuck pretty much to plan, with only the occasional need to reference our map, which is also an excellent excuse to nibble a biscuit or two. In an ideal world we'd have extended our ride through the village of Somersham, but in the end the more direct route back into St Ives only robbed us of a couple of extra miles at most. Fifty eight miles and a few hours of sunshine; job done!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Grafham Water ride

Okay so it's been a while since my last blog entry. However, rest assured we've not been sat with our feet up! 

I've always thought the key to successful cycling is to at least enjoy it (well as much as that's possible of course), so we are I admit, a bit picky as to what weather we will venture out in. Bit of light rain and a stiff breeze is okay; torrential rain, particularly if a few miles are involved, is avoided; snow and ice is a non-starter. Also we've neither the time or, to be honest the inclination, to spend every waking hour on our bikes at the weekend. That's not to say, however, that we don't also recognise the potential enormity of the task ahead of us this Summer; being under prepared could be an uncomfortable mistake. Biggest dilemma then has always been trying to strike a happy medium with our preparations.  

In an effort to ramp up the miles a bit, we headed out on a much cycled route which meanders through the back lanes of Cambridgeshire and North/Central Bedfordshire in a loop, taking in scenic Grafham Water before heading home again.  While the day was reasonably dry and sunny, the gusty wind was a real trial. 

Cambs and Beds can be lovely and flat in places; it can also be rather open too! Time and time again, we were surprised by quite stiff cross winds, which could quite easily have thrown us into the deep ditches at the side of the road. I think at times early on,  it had crossed both our minds to question the wisdom of continuing; though not for the first time in our relationship, we didn't actually share these misgivings and so ploughed on!

Thankfully we survived the 11% hill descent between Everton and Tempsford; potentially heart stopping at the best of times, a rogue side wind was something we could've done without. Grafham Water came quickly enough though and before we knew it we were passing through the chocolate box imagery that is Hilton Village.

Perversely, we did actually enjoy the ride, although perhaps some of that was purely down to the fact we'd achieved what we'd set out out to do, by covering a reasonable distance, including a few climbs, for the first time since the Autumn, in what were rather trying conditions. So job done I guess.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Springing into action

Spring almost knocking at the door, it’s high time to dust the cobwebs off the bikes and us, and start to focus on getting some of those miles in readiness for the big ride later in the year.

Tyres inflated, water bottles filled, feet clipped in ... and away we go. Or rather seeing as I’m writing this now post-ride, maybe that should be “away we went”? No matter!! Sunday greeted us with watery sunshine and a nip in the air, which to be honest got nippier as we progressed; but after all, we’re barely out of February.

Plan of action – a seventy kilometre (40 odd miles in old money) ride, taking us out through the country lanes of Connington and Fenstanton, before finally reaching the market town of St Ives, where we left all the cars behind and joined the Guided Busway.  For those who don’t know the area, the Guided Busway is a veritable Cambridgeshire County Council financial white elephant (long story for another day) but it does make for a safe place to cycle while clocking up the miles.

For some, forty miles is no big deal, and to be honest I’d agree. On this occasion it’s a fairly flat ride too. But you have to begin your season somewhere and this was as gentle an introduction as we could get away with. In the coming weeks and months rides will become longer and more regular, as we introduce our muscles to consecutive days in the saddle; for now though it’s a question of reminding the brain what stiff muscles feel like and how numb (in my case) my fingers become when they’re fixed in one position for too long.

Our ride was relatively trouble free. There was some evidence of the flotsam and jetsam washed up after the recent floods, but with a little care we got through it unscathed; before we knew it we’d headed out through Long Stanton and Oakington before reaching Worlds End, better known as Histon village, the place where  the Busway runs out shortly after and our marker point for a quick banana break before we turn around and head back from whence we came.  Highlight of the day, aside of the warm drink when we reached base, was a little boy on a bike, who remarked “Daddy, it’s Bradley Wiggins”! It was probably the yellow shirt that did it; it certainly wasn’t the speed I was riding or the haircut!!

Monday, 11 February 2013


Last Wednesday marked the day of the funeral and an opportunity for all those whose lives have been touched by Leicester to celebrate his time with us, and yes, to mourn his passing too. Well with not a spare seat to be had in church, they certainly didn't let him down! The day was marked with tears, laughter and plenty of chat; summed up Dad's life perfectly in fact. 

Thanks to all who came and celebrated the final few yards of Leicester's journey of life; one thing is certain, he'll have been pleased to have you along keeping him company.