Monday, the day the trek across the country began, was a day of a fairly short distance; the aim for cycle the 30 mile distance to Hale, south of Liverpool.
We started off at a leisurely pace, pausing in Southport to complete a few mundane tasks – such as withdrawing money for the trek and purchasing on my part a pair of waterproof trousers (the weather forecast from the night before not having being particularly positive). I collected the first of our way marker stamps (with the aim of gaining a certificate to proudly display) at Southport Tourist information centre, as Andy started his job acceptance email, before we set off at 11am.
Having reset my cycle clock (removing from its memory the 155 miles I had already clocked up in training exercises) we reached the trail starting point with 3 miles on the milometer already.
After the obligatory stop for photos, we were off. Much to my astonishment, I rapidly pulled away from Andy on his mountain bike. My assumption that his much longer legs would set a fast pace to chase was clearly misguided. Cycling alongside the main coastal route between Liverpool and Southport we passed the open stretches of marshy beach, the tussock clad flat land and the impressive rolling sand dunes. We were traversing a tarmac cycle path, sufficiently wide for one bike, but not two (and it was only about a third of the way down we were warned that this was a narrow path – I can think of much narrower examples) alongside a gravel path and separated from the busy road by a series of small timber posts.
This was fairly easy going, but sadly Andy was already starting to struggle.
The overcast day was accompanied by a fairly strong wind such as one finds at the sea-side which varied from a frequent head wind or on occasional blast from the side. This continued even as we turned away from the coast and made our way through flat farmland. Cows and horses shared a common ambivalence as we progressed from smooth tarmac paving, to uneven farm track.
Andy’s concern was growing as we progressed through the farmland. Transporting the bike to Southport, he had removed both his wheels and left the bike in his car for the weekend and now seemed to be having problems with his hydraulic brakes (the fluid having over heated… or something along those lines). Any adjustments he was making at the handle bars as he cycled seemed to have little effect.
So, as we approached the turn towards Formby, eight miles into the route, we considered the option of finding the nearest bike shop.
Waiting for Andy to catch up had its benefits as I spotted the first wildlife slightly more exciting than a gull – a kestrel perched on the telephone wires that followed the road, watching for his dinner, as a pair of Shell ducks gleamed white in the green field beyond.
And so we joined the Cheshire Lines section of the Transpenine trail – an uneven dirt and tarmac track that was once the domain of the steam engine. Winding through a small deciduous copse we reached the turning for Formby. Andy was now fairly confident that the latest adjustment to his rear brake chord had had a result, and so we continued on the path we were due. Slicing through the farmland, this rail route was raised above the flat lands, with drainage ditches and banks on either side.
Flat and with a reduced breeze the route continued to challenge Andy. As I cycled on, I kept glancing over my shoulder, noting his diminishing scale as he battled on behind me. At one point, however, I glanced back and he simply wasn’t there. It is quite astonishing to realise that you have managed to loose an adult on a flat, two direction road (i.e a route you can go forwards or backwards on). Stopping to get a better glance over my shoulder, I realise that he is no longer on his bike, but standing on the ground peering at his rear brake disc.
Meandering back I arrive as he is about to start off again, but it isn’t long before he dismounts again. This time, his mountain bike is flipped onto its saddle and the wheel removed.
A group of seemingly local cyclists passed, pausing to check if there was any help they could offer – which as it turned out they couldn’t, as no-one knew anything about hydraulic brake systems. One of them, it turned out, had cycled the Transpenine trail the previous year, and offered us much encouragement as he confirmed the route was a lovely series of tracks. The only warning was of one steep section.
Buoyed by his enthusiasm and encouragement, we set off with the bikes back together and a banana fuelling the next stage of the route. Only to be greeted by a great groan of protest from Andy’s back brake pad.
The progress for the next six or so miles, followed a similar process. It is very strange cycling so far ahead at only eleven miles an hour, while Andy struggled to cycle through the groans and drags of his brake. Using his smart phone we located the nearest bicycle shop and plotted the quickest way to it on the TPT map that I extracted from my bike.
For a delightful interlude I received a phone call from one of my best friends confirming her engagement to her long term partner. Such good news, and a full year to plan the outfit!
As we eased off the trail to head to Maghull, the grey clouds released some of the rain that they were containing, and with a slight pause for Andy to put his waterproof jacket on (and to enjoy one of his homemade cookies) we headed off. We reached Maghull town centre over an arching bridge only to find that the bike shop was in an industrial park on the outskirts of the town. Near the TPT. The roughly two mile diversion, however, worked our appetite up for lunch, and as Andy left his bike to be checked out, we headed over the road to the local garden centre and enjoyed a hearty helping of two (each) hot butties and flapjack/ cup cake.
Setting off once more, Andy was delighted to find that the mechanics draining (and replacing) of the brake fluid had worked wonders and we cycled on side by side, as far as the canal that took us to Aintree. Two little Yorkshire Terriers decided that Andy needed investigating and it took a sudden pause to avoid hitting one of them.
The canal ended at Wally’s steps, and at this point it is worth paying attention to this hint. If you are cycling with full panniers, take them off for this set of steps. Even with the thin concrete bike ramp running up the left hand side, these step are steep and full panniers are heavy. Trust me, I tried it, and without Andy’s help pushing the saddle, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to get up the steps!
For a short while, the TPT followed the main road through Aintree, before veering off to the right, and meandering through a somewhat ominous twitchel (alley, or … as you prefer) round the back of the station before emerging back at the main road, at the perfect location to take the obligatory race course photographs.
Despite having worked the Grand National (in bar service capacity), my photos of the area are limited.
Cycling out of Aintree, there is a degree of confusion over the route for the TPT – we approached three different sets of signs directing us either to the left, or straight on. However, we managed to work out the required navigation, and reached the cycle path up on the bridge over the main road.
Although interrupted by many anti-motorbike ‘gates’ (which we grew to call momentum breaks), this trail remained a constant fairly level route through what can only be described as astonishing scenery. At no point along the trail would we really have known that we were cycling through a highly urban area. Any urbanity that we saw, was from above as the old rail way line carried us across the townships of Hartley’s Village, West Derby and Sandfield Park. The route sliced through rough limestone cliffs, flourishing with foliage, and spanned by the occasional stone bridge.
“Bridge route links”
As the track continued through almost woodland, we were astonished when we discovered that we had reached Halewood Park at Woolton.
We passed several signs for the Ecology park, through we never actually saw the building.
From this lovely rural route, we left the smooth dirt path for a truly urban industrial estate in Speke. The trail took us along the very busy main dual carriage way through Speke, before we dipped under a litter (and child football player) strewn underpass and worked our way along the edge of the Speke Housing Estate.
It was a great relief to join the rural road into Hale, passing the large thatched houses (probably called cottages despite their size) as we headed to our destination. Turning off the trail we didn’t have far to cycle to reach The Barn B&B, arriving with 34.29 miles on the clock, at half past five.
The Barn is a delightful red brick series of buildings just on the outskirts of Hale Village (and under the EasyJet flight path). The original barn has been converted into the family’s home, with the original outhouse (possibly the pigsty) turned into the first B&B/ self catered room. A row of three new build, B&B/ self catered facilities, with glazed walls, run the length of the courtyard opposite.
We had to call the owner – a retired Liverpool Policeman – to let us into the gates with our bikes, which despite a couple of rain showers, were fairly dry if not clean. Unloading our bags, we were quickly shown into the original B&B provision, before our bikes were taken into secure storage. Whilst they weren’t locked up, if I hadn’t followed him I would not have known where to find our bikes! We were led through a lawn area (playground for children, dogs and farm animals), through the chicken coop and into the field at the back, where three Jacob Sheep, three lambs (a larger single, that was a week old, and a pair of tiny twins that were only a few days old), two Alpacas and numerous chickens guarded the outdoor shelter in which our bikes were left.
Facing the gate, we were greeted by one of the large Superlambananas that had graced the streets of Liverpool at the end of the 2008 Capital of Culture.
As both Andy and I had toured the 50 statue route, ticking off and photographing as many superlambananas as possible, we couldn’t resist capturing this bright vision of colour and culture.
Having spent the first 14 miles cycling with his rear brakes on (and heating up the brake disc) Andy’s legs were exhausted, and noted that it was great to collapse onto the sofa in our space. I nipped into the delightful large, hot shower and relished in the clean feeling, before Andy took his turn. We headed out for food at a local pub at about half six. Following the advice of our host and aiming for another stamp, we visited the Wellington Hotel. With a big party coming in at seven, we only had a few moments to choose our nourishment, but discovering that it was buy one get one free on grills, we immediately settled on a steak and settled onto heated leather seats to wait.
Steak, chips and a beer (even a half) is a great way to recover from your first day’s long cycle ride. Although 30 miles (the intended length of the journey) may not be a great distance, especially for those more used to distance cycling, and certainly in relation to some of our other days, for an introduction to the saddle, I would say it is about right.
After the meal, we wandered back to our little house, pausing to photograph a variety of architectural, natural and memorable features of the village (such as the canon in the war memorial, the glorious sunset and several weathervanes). The evening was spent stretched out (and arguably spaced out) in front of the Television.
Day two (day one of the actual cycling) of the Transpenine Trail attempt. Pictures to follow!