Lanarkshire to Lancashire

February last year I completed 200 Strava challenges by doing a 200km ride (Strava activity here). So when it came round to 300 challenges I thought about doing something similar, although I wanted the ride to be a bit more memorable. I therefore decided to look at taking a train somewhere, and them cycling back. Glasgow was about the right distance, and I had never cycled half of the route, which made it an ideal choice.

I kept a close eye on the weather, and it looked like Friday would be best, so I booked myself and my bike onto the first train of the day. I also decided to start my ride in Motherwell so that I wouldn’t have to negotiate Glasgow at rush hour. The photo below was taken a few minutes before 6am at Lancaster station, with my pink Principia, loaded with extra food and lights, just in case.

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The staff on the train were friendly and I had a very nice cup of good coffee as I watched the changing landscape. The train manager was having a rough morning as there was a man without a ticket, and no way of buying one, who was refusing to get off the train. Transport police were due to meet him in Glasgow.

Getting off in Motherwell I was glad that I had created a route for my Garmin, as I would have got well and truly lost, but less than 10 miles later and I was on the correct road south. Another reason for cycling home from near Glasgow is that there is a road running parallel to the motorway all the way to Carlisle, making it fairly easy to navigate.

First stop of the day was at Abington after 50km, just for a few minutes, before continuing on to Lockerbie for my second stop at 100km.

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I was also lucky with the weather, as there was a small tailwind, although this did change later in the day. A few miles past Lockerbie there was the town of Ecclefechan. I had to stop for a photo, and I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce it.

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I was nearing the end of my Scottish leg, and onto roads I’d cycled previously. I had also created a route for my Garmin to take me through Carlisle. It is one of those cities that I’m sure there are easy ways to get through on a bike, but this is the fifth time I’ve been there and it doesn’t get any easier, much like trying to cycle through Preston or Hull.

I saw a few other cyclists on the route towards England, many of them fully loaded with panniers, who could well have been doing Lands End to John O’Groats. I used the Flyby function on Strava and saw that one cyclist had done 155 miles from Penrith to Glasgow, almost my exact route but in the other direction.

Once through Carlisle I stopped to refill my water bottles in Dalston and eat more flapjack (made by my lovely wife). Out of Penrith and I once again used a route I had plotted in my Garmin so that I could avoid the A6. Unfortunately my Garmin froze, so I restarted it and saved my ride up to that point. The last time my Garmin had done this I lost everything after that point, so I wasn’t risking losing 70 odd miles. As they say, if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen.

The route from Penrith to Shap was where myself and Helen had intended to go on our Easter mini adventure (read about it here), although it was quite a bit lumpier than the A6. This was the first time on the ride that I had had to use my small chainring, as all of the hills in Scotland had been very gentle. The wind had also picked up and was definitely not a tailwind anymore.

I stopped once again in Shap as my total so far was 202km. One fairly bland Costa’s coffee and a very poor Ginsters sausage roll didn’t make me want to linger in the village for too long (sorry Shap).

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The last time I had cycled south from Shap was in terrible weather, so I opted to detour through Orton and Tebay, although the climb out of Tebay is a real killer. I also passed a geological feature that I visited on a field trip as a second year undergraduate, ten years ago. As far as I’m concerned, Geology doesn’t rock!

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Up in the Howgills, and the micro climate decided that it was time to rain, and rain hard for half an hour. I made the decision that if it didn’t stop raining I would take the direct route home and not worry about completing 300km. Fortunately it soon stopped as I made my way to Kirkby Lonsdale and a slightly longer route to Morecambe to add a few extra miles.

On the cycle path from Morecambe to Lancaster I was still short, so I completed a few laps of the cycle track at Salt Ayre and then made my way home just as it was getting dark. My full route can be seen below, along with the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty I passed in England. Scotland doesn’t have any designated AONB’s, because the whole country is one.

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Total distance cycled was 300.3km with over 2500m of climbing, which took me about 12 and a half hours, including stops (Strava activities here and here). The bike I rode was my old aluminium Principia from 2000 with 9 speed dura-ace group set, which is still by far the nicest and fastest bike I’ve ever ridden (read about it here).

Helen, my beautiful wife, was waiting for me with pizza, beer and a hot bath. She also said how good I looked compared to when I was doing these sort of crazy distances last year, when I was training for a triple ironman (really should blog about that soon).

Overall it was a great day and a great way to tick off my 300th Strava challenge. At the rate at which I’m completing these challenges it will probably only be a year before I reach 400, and I might have already started looking at 400km routes. Edinburgh via Durham to Lancaster. Who’s with me?

 

Wigan Train Station… again

I’ve blogged about Wigan Train Station in the past where I mentioned about the new code and security for the cycle store (read about it here). This morning I saw a notice taped to a couple of bikes.

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This is good, as it can be really frustrating not being able to park your bike because there are bikes that have been dumped and never move from one week to the next. If you’ve ever lived in Oxford or Cambridge you’ll understand how many bikes are abandoned, so it’s good that Wigan Station are doing something positive.

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The bikes in question are old and cheap and they could have been used as an excuse to be in the bike store, pretending to unlock a bike, but in reality eyeing up other bikes.

Next on the agenda must be to stop people parking in the short stay disabled spaces.

The Fleetwood Ferry

Helen’s Mum lives in Fleetwood, which isn’t too far from Lancaster, but it’s only 21 miles if you take the ferry across the River Wyre. The ferry only takes 5 minutes and cuts out about 12 miles, some of which is on busy roads, so all in all it makes the journey more fun and enjoyable. Below is a photo of the Ferry arriving in Knott End, along with some side beard.

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The prices have recently gone up, so it now costs £2 per passenger, plus 50p for your bike. Well worth it I say, and a vital link between the two towns if you don’t own a car, as the bus takes hours.

The Ferry has been running for over 175 years and is part of Lancashire’s heritage. Unfortunately, due to the savage cuts to local authorities in the last seven years, the Council can no longer afford to run it. Arrangements had been in place for the Council to fund it for another four years, but this has recently fallen through, and the ferry is up for tender from private operators. Inevitably this will mean more price increases.

The cuts to local authorities has meant the closing of libraries and museums as well as dozens of services being paired back to the bone. None of these cuts are necessary, and I’m not the right person to blog about politics, but I worry about the state of our country if we have another five years of Tory rule.

Once we reached Fleetwood we only had a mile to cycle to get to Helen’s Mum’s house, and lunch, sitting in the sun in the garden. We then headed back to the ferry. The journey back across took slightly longer, as the tide had come in.

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Back in Knott End and it was a tailwind all the way home, only spoiled by some very poor driving.

If you’re in the area, make a point of using the Ferry, as it could do with our help, and once it’s gone I fear that it will be gone forever.

The Bay Cycleway

I like Sustrans routes, even if they do take you around the houses sometimes. A couple of years ago Sustrans made a big fuss about the new Bay Cycleway, which starts (or finishes) in Barrow and finishes (or starts) at Glasson Dock, taking you on a picturesque tour of Morecambe Bay. All you need to do is follow route 700.

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Myself and Helen had decided some time ago that as soon as she got her new touring bike we would make a day of it. So last Saturday we bought train tickets from Lancaster to Barrow and cycled to the station for the 9am train. This is the first problem with the route, most of the trains are run by Northern, who don’t take bookings for bikes. The train pulled in and it only had two carriages and five of us with bikes trying to get on. We were too slow and couldn’t get on.

Plan B: We would cycle to Carnforth and get on the next train, instead of waiting in Lancaster. This train when it arrived was five carriages and had plenty of room, although there was already two other bikes on board. We chatted to the other cyclists, who were off to Whitehaven to do the coast to coast. They had to change trains at Barrow and were slightly worried as they also hadn’t been able to book their bikes. I hope they got there. Helen has since emailed our local MP about the poor service for cyclists on trains run by Northern.

The train journey to Barrow is full of interesting views, as I described in a blog from a few years ago (read it here). Once again I mused over the lack of a cyclepath across the bay at Arnside. One day it will be built.

Once in Barrow we headed towards the start, but as we were an hour behind schedule, we opted to miss out section to Walney Island and join the route as soon as we found it. You can see our route below. As you can see we also missed out the loop through Arnside and Silverdale as well as the loop to Morecambe. We also stopped in Lancaster rather than go all the way to Glasson Dock.

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Out of the train station in Barrow the roads were busy with Saturday traffic and the cycle paths would suddenly stop and then re-appear later. We then almost missed a vital turn that took us down Cavendish Dock Road. There didn’t appear to be any sign posts at all. Fortunately I had created a route for my Garmin which let me know where we should go. This section was brilliant on traffic free cycle paths and views out to Roa Island and The Bay.

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There were also a few narrow barriers that could be a problem if you had wide bars.

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Once beyond the traffic free section the route follows the coast before looping inland towards Ulverston, where you can see the hills of the Lake District in the background.

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Here we made the decision to miss out the loop to Bardsea. Our pooch, Nelly, had been left at home so we didn’t want to be out too long, especially as we were running late. Ulverston was even busier than Barrow and once again it wasn’t totally clear which direction the route went, but we spotted a 700 sign and climbed out of the town, tipping our hats to the late great Stan Laurel, who was born there.

I had warned Helen about the climb out of Ulverston and it didn’t disappoint as it seemed to go for ages, with a couple of fun twisty descents before a last very steep section. It was then downhill all the way to the footbridge and dirt track that we would take to miss out the A590. My beard doesn’t do justice to how windy it was.

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We had been warned about the rough section although you might want to take it easy if you’re on 23mm tires. Once we re-joined the road the route took us up Bigland Hill and over to Cartmel. This is a real monster of a hill, often overlooked because of all the other monster climbs in the Lake District. Cartmel was full of posh people in large cars who had been to a wedding and didn’t want to share the road with a pair of cyclists, so we pushed on, missing out the loop to Cark and Flookburgh. Mid week Cartmel is much nicer, and the sticky toffee puddings are world famous, which you can read about here.

We then found a nice cafe in Grange, had sausage butties and a coffee, before heading back to Lancaster. As I said earlier, we didn’t do the loop through Arnside as we had done this many times before, so we turned off through the deer park to Betham and onto Warton. From Carnforth we took the shortest route home along the A6, which for us was the worst part of the whole route, and is why the official route directs you onto the canal and along the sea front at Morecambe. With a bit more time we do intend to go back and do the whole route.

If you are thinking of doing the Bay Cycleway, here are my top tips.

  • Have a plan B in case you can’t get on the train. TransPennine Trains do take bookings for bikes and they run the odd train here and there to Barrow.
  • It’s very easy to lose the route in Barrow and Ulverston, so either make sure you have the Sustrans map or download the route to your Garmin (other GPS devices are avalaible).
  • Bigland Hill can be missed as the B5278 isn’t too busy. I would also recommend missing out Crag Road to Warton, unless you want to complete the whole route, or love unnecessary climbs.
  • The cycle path from Aldcliffe to Glasson Dock can get really muddy if it’s been raining.

The full route is 81 miles and can be done in one day, although there are a few hills. Overall the Bay Cycleway is a fine additional to the local and national cycle routes and I would definitely recommend it.

Checking out the Quantocks

The Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is without doubt one of the best places to cycle in the country. You should go there… now. In fact, every AONB that I’ve cycled through has been brilliant, so when work sent me to Taunton I took the chance to load up my commuting bike and check out the Quantocks. The hills were not as large as in Bowland, but I still managed 450m of climbing in 28km.

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I didn’t find the steepest climb, and I also found it hard to take a good photo as every lane seemed to have hedges big enough to hide giraffes. I only skirted the southern area of the Quantocks, as can be seen in my route, but next time I want to explore further.

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Another reason that I was excited about seeing the Quantocks is that they get a mention in a song by my favourite band. And not just any song either, but probably the best song that they have written. Joy Division Oven Gloves by Half Man Half Biscuit from their Achtung Bono album. The song also became the unofficial anthem of the save the 6 music campaign back in 2010. How can you not smile at a song that mentions the Quantocks.

The Beards of Bowland search for Botton Head

Another Beards of Bowland outing, although it was only myself and the Prof. Our route was devised by the Prof as he wanted to look for some dead ends near to the Cross of Greet. We set off and leisurely made our way to the bottom of Bowland Knotts with a hefty head wind, where prof insisted on our first photo of the day. What is the difference between a headwind and a block headwind?

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From Bowland Knotts we returned the way we came, looking for dead ends. A couple of gravel roads were found that will be saved for another ride. Disappointingly there was only one other small dead end so we set off up the Cross of Greet, whereupon I got a puncture.

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This was the first puncture that I’d had on my road bike for over a year. My front tyre has now done 8640km, which isn’t too bad. I reviewed it a while ago here.

Once I’d swapped tubes Prof set off across the grass to climb a stone. You’re probably not allowed to do that.

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Once back on the road the serious business of finding Botton Head began. We were both sure that there was a sign post, but we couldn’t find it as we crisscrossed some more back roads, until there it was.

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There wasn’t much to see at Botton Head except for a small farm, although the farmer was surprised to see two cyclists and was happy to chat for a few minutes.

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We then headed back to Wray for a cafe stop. I’ve never been to the cafe in Wray, but others have said that it isn’t very good. £2.40 for a scone without any jam or cream. I won’t be going back.

During our ride we had discussed the relative merits of flat bars and how much better they are for descending. The Prof has flat bars on most of his bikes, while I have drops on my mountain bike. We also discussed close passes. I had had a very scary pass the other week (read about it here), while the Prof recounted an encounter he’d had that week. Coming to a traffic island he’d pulled out to take the lane much to the annoyance of a driver towing a trailer. If he’d gone through the gap he would have taken out the Prof, as the trailer was much wider than the car. At the next set of traffic lights the Prof shouted at the driver, who shouted back, before they both went on their merry ways. I’m not one for arguments.

It was then time for me to head home as I was meeting a real Prof from the Uni to discuss air quality, while the other Prof detoured up Roeburndale, getting himself a couple of KOM’s. I was obviously holding him up.

Another great day out with the Beards of Bowland, both of us. Next time will be my choice of dead ends. Previous Beards of Bowland rides can be found here, here and here.

Salisbury: Cycling, running and designated habitats

My parents have recently moved to Salisbury, so me and Helen (A.K.A. The beautiful wife) decided that it was about time we visited. Bikes and Nelly (A.K.A. The Hound) were packed into the car for the loooong journey south, without passports.

Only a couple of minutes walk from my parents house there are some great running tracks alongside the River Avon. On the Saturday morning we had thought about joining in the local parkrun, but as we were off to London later that day, we opted to run along the river instead. Hopefully this would tire out the pooch as we were leaving her with my parents for the day.

The River Avon and area is full of designated habitats, as you can see in the photo below, along with the out and back route that we ran (Strava here).

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The brown areas are Local Nature Reserves (Avon Valley and Bemerton Heath) and the green areas are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (River Avon System and Avon Valley). The Avon Valley is both a SSSI and a Local Nature Reserve. If you want to find out what designated habitats are near to where you live, search for ‘Defra Magic’.

As you can see from the next photo, Nelly really enjoyed the Avon Valley.

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On the Sunday morning I managed a short ride on Otis (Strava here and blog about Otis here). There is a terrible ring round in Salisbury and far too many busy ‘A’ roads, but I managed to find some very nice quiet roads going in a similar direction to the previous days run. There was a cycling event on as well, as I saw plenty of other cyclists with numbers, some directional arrows and a couple of marshals. My short route also found quite a few more designated habitats.

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The Lower Woodford water Meadows SSSI was particularly pleasant. A Strava friend, seeing that I was in the area, suggested that if I had the time I should go up Camp Hill, which I managed on the Monday morning. It wasn’t a huge hill, but it reached 12% and had a couple of good corners.

While I was out cycling, Helen repeated our run from yesterday, once again with the pooch. She gave it some biscuits on the way back, and managed a top ten place on a Strava segment. Helen keeps on telling me that she isn’t much of a runner, but she sure looks like a fit runner to me.

My Strava friend also suggested that the next time we were in the area he would take me on a ride around the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, see below.

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I’ve got to say, that looks like a great area to ride around. Salisbury, we will return.