Graham's End to End - Part 6


 At Mardale Head on the southern end of Hawes Water two miles from the hotel the road came to a dead end, but not to worry as it was only about three miles to the head of Long Sleddale where the road again started south to Kendal. Was I not an experienced hill- walker who had tackled many paths and tracks in Scotland so there was little to fear? I had cycled into the hills before and many moons ago cycled over some hills so I thought Gatescarth Pass would be a dawdle to reach the promised land on the other side. Mr Wainwright wrote that the route is particularly easy and is in fact a hands-in-pocket stroll and that nonagenarians would find it eminently suitable. He did not envisage that a septagenerian with a loaded bicycle would be stupid to come this way.

Two walkers soon passed me on the hill path which reached a false summit which is a familiar sight to hillwalkers. At least the sheep were interested in my struggles across a level stretch followed by another climb to the true head of the pass which promised a ride down the other side. No chance as it was so steep that the weight of the saddlebag attempted to send me headlong down the descent. All bad things pass and I was able to ride a rough track to the start of tarmac at Sadgill, but not before adjusting the brakes. Long Sleddale is away from the popular areas of the Lakes and gives grand scenery. Misreading the map put me on a deserted A6 downhill into Kendal for a late lunch over which I concluded that my bikes were made for roads and should be treated as such.

I had an afternoon ride in scenery which I did not know existed in Lancashire. This was a far cry from the industrial route known to me from the old days through Warrington, Wigan, Preston and the like. I picked up National Byway 6 which took me through villages with the great names of Natland, Crosscrake, and Woodhouse to Milnthorpe, the home of Mike Armer who I guessed would be at his second home in France. On through some park land to Slack Head, the twin villages of Yealand Redmayne and Yealand Conyers roughly tracking the route of the A6, the M6 and the West Coast Rail line to come out at Warton and Carnforth, calling a halt at the Royal Station Hotel for a day of modest mileage, but with plenty of interest. Apart from overlooking Morecambe Bay and being the setting for the classic film (Brief Encounter) I have to report that Carnforth was a particularly dull place on the A6.

Annabel informed me that Friday, May 15 promised to be a very wet day and, of course, she was right and with that depressing news so to bed!

I got wet crossing the road to get some rations for the next stretch to Southport and set off into the rain with a tail wind to reach Halton to cross the River Lune at Caton. I was now east of Lancaster with the Pennines nearby riding in lanes with scenery which would have been near perfect except that everything was saturated by the heavy rain. Numerous signs told me that I was on the edge of The Trough of Bowland which is on my list of places to visit in England, but not this time! A wedding party was getting wet entering the church at Bilsborrow and here I decided to call a halt at the village inn for lunch – a good tip is that serviettes are very good for soaking up moisture from lycra clad legs. The rain continued, but eased off at Woodplumpton for the ride into Preston – getting in was easy, but getting out over the River Ribble was unpleasant. I had planned to ride a path by the river, but a friendly local dissuaded me as it involved negotiating numerous gates and styles so I gritted my teeth and bore with the traffic to Tarleton where I returned to the planned route. A very wet drizzle accompanied me across fields of salad crops – black fen soil, drains and dykes, greenhouses and poly tunnels – marked on the map as “moss” or “marsh”.

Southport seemed to last for an eternity to my weary legs and damp body, but enquiries took me into the land of bed and breakfasts. I soon found shelter with the Tifosi settled into the hall, followed by two hours and a warm welcome at Casa Italia to restore my spirits with an evening of pasta and a glass (or two) of Italian wine.

I think that I was taking the west coast route too literally, but the Trans Pennine Trail which commences in Southport promised a quiet and level ride into Liverpool especially as much of it was on a disused railway track. All went well to Maghull and Aintree (sunshine and a tail wind), but from there on I simply could not understand or follow the Trail. This led to circuits on a road near the famous horseracing venue worsened by the noise and fumes from motorcycle racing. The upshot or perhaps downside is that I again ended up by a flight of steps from the canal path going by the name of Wally’s Steps. This put me in mind of Alan Worthington aka Wally, our erstwhile member from West London, although I doubt if he had passed this way! The easiest course was to follow the signs to the city centre as I reasoned that I would finally arrive at the River Mersey to find the ferry to Birkenhead. This proved to be the case, but the ferry now includes a sightseeing tour of the estuary. There was not a ship in sight other than the ferry – like the Thames the Mersey is devoid of ships. However, I did see two surprising sights. The first was a U-boat preserved on the harbour side at Birkenhead and the second was a tram in service taking passengers from the ferry terminal to the city centre.

I had debated if I should pack a compass, but reasoned that it would not be needed. It was certainly needed now as I got lost coming out of Birkenhead, and I discovered not for the first or the last time that local people have quite often not seen a map of their own locality! Eventually a gentleman of Bebington pointed me in the right direction, but by now the planned route had gone out of the window in favour of a main road bash into Chester from Neston. Mobile phone contact was made with Annabel and Hazel and much to my relief I met them some ten miles from Chester. Food and drink was to hand, and with the saddlebag in the car I enjoyed a fast and easy ride into the city. I can vouch for the merits of a back up crew! At the Premier Inn south of the city centre I was able to relax, put my feet up and catch up with the news from home. This was half way point of roughly 750 miles in 16 days with no non cycling days, but the weather was making the journey hard going!

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