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.

Mini Adventure Day 3 – Penrith to Lancaster

If you’ve not read the first two parts of our mini adventure you can find Day 1 here, and Day 2 can be found here.

On to Day 3, and the weather forecast¬† had constantly changed over the weekend, with supposedly bad weather on Day 1 and sunny on the other days. By the Saturday night the forecast was cold and wet for the Sunday, and our last day. It’s only 50 miles from Penrith to Lancaster, so we should be fine.

When we woke up the weather looked great as we skipped downstairs to breakfast. A Spanish girl was having problems with the toaster, and had filled the kitchen with smoke, while a couple and their three young children hunted for eggs in the garden. Back in the kitchen and another man spent 20 minutes making one ham and mayo sandwich. Hostels are a great way of meeting interesting people and I cannot recommend them highly enough, especially the Wayfarers Hostel in Penrith (link).

As with the previous day we didn’t set off until 9am, and it still wasn’t raining, although it was a bit chilly. Because of my navigation skills (or lack of) from the previous day we opted for the A6 all the way to Kendal. It would be a bit less fun, but not too much traffic uses that section of the A6.

We soon reached the village of Shap, where we stopped for a banana before tackling Shap hill. Just before the climb begins there is a 96 room hotel, literally in the middle of nowhere. Passing the hotel from ‘The Shining’ also coincided with it starting to hammer it down. As we slowly climbed we passed a couple of roadside ‘shrines’, which is never nice to see. By the time we reached the top, both my hands and feet were numb from the cold and wet, making the descent very unpleasant, and there might not have been much traffic, but what little there was would invariably pass too close and too fast.

By the time we reached Kendal both of us were desperate to stop. Helen was worried that nowhere would let us in, but a small cafe called Finkles, located down an alley were more than happy to welcome two bedraggled cyclists. I then suggested to Helen that she phone Dan her son, who had been staying at our house, to see if he could pick us up. “Not a problem, see you in 40 minutes,” he said. While we waited we consumed hot chocolate and warm scones.

I don’t like giving in to the weather, but my waterproof jacket wasn’t, and my gloves were not designed for 5 degrees and rain. If Dan hadn’t been able to pick us up we would have made it home, but it wouldn’t have been much fun. It was a slightly sad end to a great weekend, but we can take loads of positives, even from the final day. Helen now knows that cycle touring (with me) is brilliant. I know that I need to be better at route planning and we both need to be better prepared for inclement weather. In fact, we both loved the weekend so much that we’ve started to plan mini, and not so mini adventures for years to come. I would whole hearted recommend cycle touring to everyone, just go for it.

The Strava route for the final day of our adventure can be found here.

Finally, the next day I bought myself a new saddle, a Brooks Cambium C17, and first impression are very favourable (Strave ride here).

Mini Adventure Day 2 – Grinton to Penrith

That was a tough day. We’ve all had tough days in the saddle, but today was a real humdinger. It started off well, with a great nights sleep and large breakfast at the Grinton YHA. We then had a short lie down before heading off at 9am. The first mile was downhill and then flat into Reeth. From the village of Reeth to the top of Tan Hill took us two hours to cover under 12 miles, although that was with over 1600 feet of climbing. We were even smiling half way up.

I’ve ridden the road from Reeth to Tan Hill a couple of times before, and the road never seems to end. Eventually, when you think that there is no way the hill can go on any further, you come to a sign saying Tan Hill Inn 3 1/2 miles.

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It totally knocks the stuffing out of you, especially with the strong head wind we were faced with. When we did eventually reach the top we stopped for a few minutes, but the wind was so cold that we soon set off again.

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Another annoying thing about Tan Hill, is that when you reach the Inn at the top, there’s still loads more climbing to do. How is that even possible?

When we did eventually start to descend the wind was so strong that I was getting blown about, and I was riding a big heavy bike with fully loaded panniers. If my bike was a horse, it would be a shirehorse. Helen was having a much worse time on her lightweight Orro.

Once at the bottom we both decided that a brew was in order. A couple of miles later we were in Brough. The place was busy and we couldn’t find a decent cafe. There also seemed to be an antique bus fare (fair) going on, so we pushed onto Appleby-in-Westmorland.

A cautionary note to add, and something I deeply regret. When you’re tired and in need of food and a sit down, you don’t always make the most rational decisions. In Appleby I saw a sign pointing to a cafe, but it was down a one way street, the wrong way. I made it, but my wife was almost hit by a speeding Range Rover. It was stupid and reckless and could easily have ended badly, so be careful out there. The cafe was also rubbish, so we went somewhere else which turned out to be eccentric and therefore ideal for us.

Feeling refreshed we set off for Penrith. The wind was still howling, but with less than 15 miles to go it should have been easy, but I messed up the route on my Garmin. We passed a sign saying Appleby 5 miles, and then a couple of miles later another sign saying Appleby 4 3/4 miles. My route then tried to take us down an unpaved farm track, over some stupid hills and a very busy main road.

When we did reach Penrith we were both shattered, although the Wayfarers Hostel was clean and welcoming with safe bike parking in the cellar. There was also tools, a track pump if required and a sink for filling up your bottles. The bloke working at the hostel also complimented me on my bike, as he had the same one, albeit in a different colour. That’s two other people I’ve met in the UK with the same bike.

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Our room in the hostel was on the top floor with a great view and our own private bathroom. A long shower, clean clothes, Wifi and we were ready for food. We found an inviting Mexican restaurant with an immediately friendly owner. The place was colourful and warm with a genuine earthiness, coupled with great food.

Back at the hostel and we both hoped that the next day would be less windy. I also realised that I needed to get a new saddle, as the one that came with the bike was not up to the challenge.

You can read day one of our mini adventure here, and our Strava route can be found here.

Finally, a short note about the added miles. It wasn’t too much of a problem today as we only ended up doing 55 miles, but in a couple of months we’re off to Scotland for eight days and if I make navigation errors there it could be a problem. We have one 80 mile day planned, with hills, and we do not want to be doing extra that day.

Edit: I had written most of this on the evening of day 2 in the hostel, and when my wife read it, she mentioned that it sounded like we had a really sh*t day. Lots of wind, lots of hills and I tried to kill my wife. We did actually have a great day and we’re both really looking forward to our next adventure, so in the future I must be a bit more careful what I write about at the end of a hard days riding.

Mini Adventure Day 1 – Lancaster to Grinton

We’d booked the hostels for this mini adventure a few months ago, expecting Helen’s new touring bike to have arrived. Unfortunately it was stuck in America, or Malaysia or somewhere exotic like Milton Keynes. Plan B involved fitting Helen’s new handlebar bag to her road bike, and then loading me up with everything else. Fortunately, we were travelling light.

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Good Friday arrived, and I took Nelly for an early morning walk around the park, while Helen made sure that the house was neat and tidy for her youngest, who was staying the weekend with his girlfriend to look after Nelly and the cats.

At 9.30 we headed out into the Lancashire rain, down to the cycle path and out of Lancaster. ‘Steady away’ was our motto, as Helen was worried about doing 50-60 miles a day, three days in a row. The plan was to stop little and often, taking plenty of photos.

Soon we arrived at Ingleton and stopped at the marvellous Seasons Bakery, and despite the large array of cakes we both opted for a chicken, pork and stuffing pie. Tasty!

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We then prepared ourselves for the long slog over Newby Head to Hawes. It’s one of my least favourite roads due to the traffic, but today, most drivers seemed to be giving me extra room, which makes a pleasant change from cycling in Wigan. We stopped at the famous Ribbleshead viaduct for a quick selfie….

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…before the last climb up to Newby Head and the long descent into Hawes. We cycled around the busy town looking for a welcoming cafe, although the one that I’d stopped at a few years earlier was now a Chinese take-away. We re-traced our steps and stopped at Cafe Curva, where we sat outside in the sun, with good coffee and equally good bacon butties. What more could you want? A friendly woman then came and sat near to us with her beautiful dog, which was a Bernese Swiss mountain dog. She was huge, but apparently the smallest of the Swiss mountain breeds. Helen, ever a sucker for a furry face, saved some bacon for her.

Back on the bikes, and the sun was really out now, and with a nice tailwind the 17 miles from Hawes to Leyburn flew by, except for the monster climb out of Askrigg. This is the village where the TV show ‘All creatures great and small’ was filmed. Also, the ‘monster’ climb wasn’t the proper ‘monster’ climb out of Askrigg, just it’s smaller cousin.

Once in Leyburn we stopped in the sun for a cold fizzy drink. Helen wanted a diet coke while I opted for a refreshing fizzy rhubarb drink, which my beautiful wife decided was much nicer than a diet coke. Leyburn was busy with a Friday market and was packed, mainly with cars. If only there was some other mode of transport, for example, a bicycle. There was also a shop called The Wobbly Dog, which probably sold tea towels.

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Out of Leyburn and the final climb, while not steep, did go on for ages as we made our way through an army firing range. There were also loads of cyclists coming past in the other direction, some wearing numbers, so there must have been an event on somewhere. Once at the top the view was amazing, and Helen did that panoramic thing with her phone, which was ruined by my face. The last mile was then all downhill to the Grinton YHA.

The YHA at Grinton is in a grand old house, welcoming and warm, with half a dozen ‘pods’ in the garden, as well as brilliant views across the valley.

Over pizza and a beer we chatted about bicycle touring, and how Helen had been a little nervous about going touring with me. I truthfully told her that if I’d been on my own I wouldn’t have been going any faster and would have stopped just as often. There is no rush, take your time and enjoy being on your bike.

In the dinning room of the YHA there were some creative drawings of woodland creatures on the walls. A stag, ram, hedgehog and a fox, all without feet, hidden in long grass. I suspect that the artists wasn’t confident drawing hoofs and paws.

That was the end to a brilliant day one of our mini touring adventure, although I should add that I’ve had my bike for about six months. In that time the left cleat has been a little tight, so on the morning of our little trip I decided to loosen it a little, as I didn’t want to come a cropper with a fully laden bike. I should have looked closer, as I tightened it, and at the first junction I very nearly did fall off. To prove how much of an idiot I can be, I decided to leave it and loosen it when we reached Grinton. I forgot and spent the whole of the second day being unable to un-clip easily as well.

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You can read day two of our mini adventure here, and the Strava route can be found here.

To Huddersfield

Me and my lovely wife were off to Huddersfield to see her eldest playing a gig. I had a quick look at the map and realised that it was only approximately 75 miles from Lancaster, so I would cycle there while Helen drove.

I set off via Garstang to say ‘hello’ to friends from Garstang CC, who were doing a rufty tufty route. It appears that many of my friends have road and cross bikes with flat bars, while I appear to have a mountain bike with drops. After a quick chat we went our separate ways, and I soon had my first problem. The road from Longridge to Ribchester was closed. The alternative route wasn’t any longer, but it was a little lumpier. The same thing happened after Whalley, giving me a detour to Sabden, home of the Pendle Witches, which was apt as I had watched two TV programs about the pendle witch trials in the last couple of weeks. This detour again added in more lumps, although the descent into Padiham was great. From there I joined the Leeds to Liverpool canal through Burnley. Another issue here with my route taking me down a flight of steps, and then my Garmin switched off. This has happened before and I’ve ended up losing some of my ride, so I turned it back on, saved the ride up to that point and then restarted it.

I knew that from Burnley the route would get seriously hilly, and I had already done 71.8km with 779m of climbing. Past Turf Moore and then straight up for mile after mile, as I climbed over the moor. Fortunately it wasn’t windy or icy. I took the more direct route down into Hebden Bridge, which is not a descent for the faint hearted, very steep, with plenty of hairpin bends. I was glad I had disc brakes and 2 inch tyres. That particular hill is climb #139 in Simon Warren’s book Another 100 greatest cycling climbs, and is given 10/10 for difficulty. One day I will have to go up it instead of down.

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Hebden Bridge was full of traffic so I was pleased to have plotted a route off the main road, and while it was a through road for bikes, it was also more lumpy. After Sowerby Bridge there was another horrific climb before I headed towards Saddleworth Moor. I ducked under the M62 and rode alongside the motorway and the Scammonden Reservoir.

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Less than 10 miles to go, a quick text to Helen’s son to let him know I was nearly there and my last gel. It was mostly downhill as well, with a great section through Golcar, into Huddersfield, more dodgy traffic and taking the wrong road a couple more times, and then I was done.

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The section from Burnley was only 52km, but had over 1000m of climbing, giving me 124km and 1800m of climbing for the whole day.

https://www.strava.com/activities/792788447

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A tough day in the saddle, but plenty of the ride was on roads that I had never ridden before and it did give me another 40 explorer tiles from Veloviewer. Oh, and the gig was brilliant, you should keep an eye out for The Orchid Family.

Weekend in Liverpool

Last month I spent a great weekend in Liverpool for the British Beard and Mustache Championships (post to follow soon). I have cycled to Liverpool a few times in the past and have always stayed at the Youth Hostel. The only problem is that while the route is almost totally flat the roads are far too busy. This time I decided to not take the direct route and head along the Leeds to Liverpool Canal towpath for some of it. It would also be the first proper outing for my new bike, a Trek 920, loaded up in the photo below.

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The bike was bought from The Edge Cycleworks in Lancaster, and comes with front and rear racks, hydraulic disk brakes, enough mounts for four bottle cages and 2 inch wide tyres.

The first part of the ride was a bit boring, getting through Preston, but once I hit some small side roads it was more fun, and onto the towpath the bike really came into it’s own. Nimble and responsive, even with two full panniers and a top box at the front.

The towpath was also the best way to travel into Liverpool, no traffic and amazing views.

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I took my time and didn’t push it too hard, arriving in Liverpool in less than five hours, including a few stops. I was then pleasantly surprised by the cycle shed at the Youth Hostel, which was new and included a track pump and tools.

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The Saturday morning I made the most of being in Liverpool by taking part in a local parkrun, where to get there I had to run through Toxteth, which definitely wasn’t as bad as it used to be. Not a riot in sight. I was a bit slow at the parkrun, partly due to cycling 100km the day before, as well as having too many beers the night before.

Sunday morning, after the beard shenanigans, I set off only to find that my front tyre was flat. I suspected that it was a slow puncture, so I pumped it up and hoped for the best. The weather wasn’t great as I headed up the coast through Crosby, Formby and Southport.The red lines are my route to and from Liverpool, and the blue is where I ran on the Saturday.

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It was raining hard at this point, so instead of stopping for photos I pushed on home, only stopping for a few minutes when I had less than 20 miles to go. I was tired and wet when I reached home, but very happy with the bike, especially as the tyre had remained inflated.

A couple of days later I noticed that both tyres were flat, so since then I have got The Edge to convert it to tubeless, which so far has not resulted in any punctures.

Here’s to many more adventures on my Trek 920.