Monthly Archives: August 2013

Leg 60 – to somewhere near Penbryn, via Aberystwyth

Although I’ve completed my tour now I’ve still got around 20 blog posts to write up from it, so if you’re enjoying it or finding it useful for planning your own tour please consider making a donation to the Big C, either directly or via my charity page:

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/james

The following was one of the toughest days of the tour so far, just down to the conditions and hills, but satisfying to cover around 100 miles, and good to meet a few friendly folk.

30 June 2013

I was up in good time, keen to cover a good distance and get ahead of the game in my quest to get to Latitude by 18 July. Unfortunately it was another overcast and windy day, the prevailing south westerly having strengthened overnight which was going to prove tough. Why couldn’t there just be no wind for a day or two? Perhaps I’d angered those Norse gods again.

Post a check over the Ridgeback I received a bacon roll from my next door neighbours, a bonus I wasn’t going to turn down. It was their last day camping before driving back to the Midlands so they had food to use up, and I was perfectly placed to oblige in ensuring nothing went to waste! Perhaps some of those Norse gods were in fact on my side.

Suitably loaded with calories, and with my bike loaded with luggage, I was on the road by 09.30 pedalling off towards Harlech.

Bike loaded and read for another day's riding

Bike loaded and read for another day’s riding

Harlech has an impressive castle, overlooking Tremadog Bay. Unsurprisingly it’s another castle that was originally built by Edward I, and was also the stronghold of Henry Tudor. The Welsh ruler Owain Glyndwr captured the castle, along with large parts of Wales during the revolt against the English which started in 1400, and lasted through to 1409 when he disappeared; the English never caught him though.

Harlech Castle 1

Harlech Castle 1

The castle lies atop a crag, about a half a mile from the sea, although when it was first built the coastline was a lot closer.

Harlech Castle 2

Harlech Castle 2

Pedalling on down the A496 I had the song ‘Men of Harlech’ going around my head for a good hour. It’s a good stirring tune, perfect for a grey day, and I was soon humming it quite loudly. I like it when they sing it in the film Zulu. The road follows the coast down to Barmouth, a once popular tourist destination, taking in several quite big hills on the way.

Hills above Harlech, looking back North

Hills above Harlech, looking back North toward the Lleyn Peninsula

A random picture of my leg, note tan line

A random accidental picture of my leg, note tan line.

I made it to Barmouth in good time, where the Great Western used to deliver droves of holiday makers for their once a year seaside break from up north. By the looks of it tourists are still visiting in significant numbers.

River (Afon) Mawddach

River (Afon) Mawddach, Barmouth

I was able to take the toll bridge over the Afon Mawddach, which is open to pedestrians and cyclists and saved me a long trek inland. As with the previous day’s toll bridge there was no-one to pay a toll to, so I happily trundled over the somewhat bumpy wooden boards across the river.

Toll bridge looking back towards Barmouth

Toll bridge looking back towards Barmouth

There are rail tracks across the bridge, and I believe a train still runs across it, but it didn’t make an appearance whilst I was there.

Toll bridge looking towards opposite shore from Barmouth

Toll bridge looking towards opposite shore from Barmouth

On the other side I continued around to Rhoslefain, getting a bit blasted by the wind. I felt a bit better about it as at least there were more cyclists out today, getting equally blasted and thus sharing the pain. Greetings and mutterings about the weather were exchanged with several, and I was joined by one near Bryncrug. Eddy stayed with me until Tywyn, which was really nice as I was able to slipstream him slightly, taking the edge off the wind. I hadn’t ridden with anyone in a while and it was good to chat as we pedalled along. I think he’d recognised I was struggling slightly with my heavier load, and I certainly made better time for the next stretch.

We both stopped at a cafe in Tywyn, in need of sustenance. I opted for the full Sunday roast and Rhubard crumble, Eddy for just the crumble. I figured my bike was a lot heavier so I could justify the extra calories, plus I still had a long way to go. Eddy bought me a coffee which was nice, and it was good to chat over lunch with a fellow cyclist.ย Having had quite a hard morning with the weather and hills, riding with someone else, followed by a very decent lunch break, was a great morale boost. Eddy is from Worcester and regularly comes up to the Welsh coast to cycle. He’s a member of a road cycling club, but also gets in some mountain biking; sometimes it’s a case of never the twain will meet however I think it’s good to get in a bit of both. Speeding downhill on a mountain bike, almost expecting to be thrown off at some point, can be very exhilarating. It was good to share experiences, the good, bad and ugly, and my theory on hills being honest and the wind dishonest.

Thanks for the drink and for the slipstreaming Eddy, much appreciated, and good luck on your Lejog!

Eddy had to leave so I finished dessert, which had an ample amount of custard, and called my brother to say hello before getting going again.

It didn’t take me long to get to Aberdyfi, or Aberdovey, where the windsurfers were out in force, along with kite surfers a bit further up the coast. The beach was really busy and it was perfect conditions if you were using the wind to power your transit, rather than it being a pain in the proverbial.

Aberdyfi beach panorama

Aberdyfi beach panorama

According to my brother, a keen windsurfer himself now he doesn’t spend most of the time in the sea rather than on the board, the coast around here is very popular with windsurfers. I could see why, and there seemed to be a competition or at least gathering of surfers going on.

Aberdyfi windsurfers 1

Aberdyfi windsurfers 1

Several of them were ripping along, with good planes going, and some quick carve gybes that if I’d attempted would have resulted in being catapulted off the front of the board, and the sale mast landing on my head.

Boards on the beach

Boards on the beach

Aberdyfi windsurfers 2

Aberdyfi windsurfers 2

I’m quite tempted to have a go again myself when I get back to Norfolk, perhaps going up to Hunstanton with Will (brother) at some point, although it’s been a few years so I’ll probably spend most of my time in the water.

Flags flying in Aberdyfi

Flags flying in Aberdyfi

Leaving the windsurfers behind there followed a long stint inland alongside the Afon Dyfi (River Dovey), which doesn’t have a handy toll bridge over it. It was nice to have a bit of a tailwind down to Machynlleth, but then I had to turn back south west towards Aberystwyth. I passed an Osprey centre just before Furnace, but couldn’t spot any of these great birds of prey as I rode along, through quite a bit of forest alongside the river.

There’s an old iron smelting site in Furnace, from whence the town’s name is derived. The building has a great waterwheel, and was obviously quite an important industrial spot from the 1750’s through to the 19th century.

Waterfall next to Furnace

Waterfall next to Furnace

Iron smelting building and waterwheel

Iron smelting building and waterwheel

Waterfall and enthusiastic springer spaniels

Waterfall and enthusiastic springer spaniels

At Tre’r-Ddol I turned on to the B4353 to follow the coast, over some flatter terrain to Borth, although the lack of hills meant it was more exposed and I was getting knocked about by the wind again. Borth was a childhood holiday spot for my Mum, which was just a smattering of years ago of course, and she remembers it being just as windy when she used to visit.

A blustery day in Borth - big hill coming up

A blustery day in Borth – big hill coming up

Borth beach - not too popular today

Borth beach – not too popular today

Borth beach - looking south

Borth beach – looking south

Out of Borth I had to tackle a very long and very steep hill climb, with a few 25% sections that really pushed the limits of my ascending ability. I had to stop to rest a couple of times, but made it up the hill without having to push which was pretty satisfying. I don’t think I could have done that when I’d started a couple of months back.

    Top of the hill looking back towards Borth

Top of the hill looking back towards Borth

The road continued to be challenging as I pedalled over to Aberystwyth, with lots of long, steep and continuous hills. Any cyclist up for a challenge should consider the B4572 from Borth to Aberystwyth, very satisfying once you’ve made it. Do it on a fully loaded touring bike for the extra challenge. A random passing car even gave me a cheer on the final ascent before the long downhill section into town, all encouragement was gratefully received.

I had a quick cycle around Aberystwyth, considered stopping for a quick pub break, but didn’t find anywhere inspiring so decided to push on.

Aberystwyth seafront

Aberystwyth seafront

Aberystwyth University building

Aberystwyth University building

Aberystwyth Harbour - choppy sea

Aberystwyth Harbour – choppy sea

Cardigan Castle is another one built by Edward I, who replaced the original Norman built fortress. The castle was razed by parliamentary forces during the English Civil War, so is now mostly in ruins.

Aberystwyth Castle

Aberystwyth Castle

With lots of miles to do but doubtful of reaching Cardigan, my original target for the day, I rode south from Aberystwyth, joining the A487. The next set of hills weren’t small, so I settled into a slow but steady pace, taking them one after the other and refusing to stop for a rest. Up, then down, and repeat. The constant hills were stopping me from getting into any real rhythm, and with the day drawing on I was beginning to think I’d be wild camping if I didn’t stumble upon a campsite. I stopped at a handy garage to buy a few snacks to keep me going – you can never go far wrong with an emergency pork pie break, bag of crisps to replace salt, and perhaps a bottle of chocolate milk.

I eventually made it to Aberaeron, pushing on past at least two campsites whilst I still had a few hours of daylight left. Despite being tired I was keen to get a few more miles done. Sometimes I just can’t decide when to stop, and defer making a decision for ‘just a few more miles’ to see what’s around the next corner.

The big hills continued as I pedalled to Llanarth, where I turned off the main road on to the B4342 to New Quay, not to be confused with the Newquay down in Cornwall. Earlier I’d checked the Internet on my phone and seen there were lots of campsites around New Quay, so thought it would be a good place to stop. Unfortunately despite being given directions by a helpful local, and following what I thought was a signpost to a campsite, I couldn’t find one, and didn’t have enough signal on my phone to check the web again. I have absolutely no doubt I passed with a few hundred metres of several, but one of my other flaws when cycling is I don’t like to turn around and retrace my route, so I just kept on going out of New Quay, tackling more hills, but enjoying the fine evening. Oh, and more snacks were duly consumed to keep up energy levels.

Verdant Welsh Countryside near Llangrannog

Verdant Welsh Countryside near Llangrannog

With the sun starting to get seriously low I followed the signposts to Llangrannog, sure I’d find a campsite somewhere. I didn’t, the road just continued to go up and down, but was very pretty. I passed through Nanternis, continuing to ride parallel to the coast as much as possible, and after wiggling around a bit made it to Llangrannog.

Llangrannog Beach

Llangrannog Beach

According to local legend one of the rocks sticking up in the bay is actually the tooth from a giant named Bica, who spat it out when he got toothache.

Llangrannog panorama

Llangrannog panorama

The village and beach looked beautiful with the sun going down, and there’s a nice looking pub, but no campsite I could find.

Llangrannog pub

Llangrannog pub

I had to cycle up another steep hill to get out of the Llangrannog, something that was definitely becoming a feature of this part of the Wales with the road following the coastline and dipping down into all the valleys and coves.

Me looking a bit wild in Llangrannog

Me looking a bit wild in Llangrannog

Llangrannog silhouette

Llangrannog – silhouette of the statue of St Caranog

The statue definitely has a nice view.

St Caranog, Llangrannog

St Caranog, Llangrannog

Llangrannog looking North

Llangrannog looking North

Llangrannog Village

Llangrannog Village

I rode down country lanes continuing to look for a place to camp (on reflection I should have pitched up next to the saint). It was still light, vaguely, but very dark where the trees formed tunnels over the road, and I had to get my lights out. The road continued to be very pretty, but I was starting to get very tired due to the incessant hills, and I was passing lots of farms, with lots of sheep who were looking at me balefully as usual.

On one particularly wriggly bit of road I rounded a corner to come face-to-face with a frisky bullock. This wasn’t the first annoyed bovine I’d met on this tour, but it was definitely more aggressive than it’s Scottish cousin, having become a bit panicked by a car horn. It’s fine beeping your car horn to try and encourage a cow off the road when you’re safely ensconced within a metal body, however I didn’t have that luxury on my bike. Thankfully after about a minute of it pacing about, and me slowly backing off, the farmer turned up with a couple of helpers. Two of them did have to jump back into their Landrover at one point when the bullock charged them, but eventually they got it back into a field and I pedalled on unmolested.

My close encounters with Welsh farm animals continued as I rode through another farm, where three dogs bounded out to greet me, barking manically. I was a bit nervous they were going to bite me or my panniers, but they calmed down once I said hello and left me alone thankfully.

Finally, with the light almost gone and post more hills, I found a campsite somewhere between Morfa and Penbryn, near Sarnau, although I wasn’t really sure where I was by this stage, I just knew the coast wasn’t that far away. I arrived about 22.15 and checked in at the farmhouse, the farmer and his son looking a little surprised to have such a late visitor turn up on a bike. It cost me ยฃ12 but they were friendly, and a warm shower was most welcome after the hard day.

That was one of, if not the hardest day of the tour so far, due to the bad weather throughout most of it, and leg/lung busting hills. I was however very satisfied to have covered nearly dead on 100 miles, even if it had taken me about 12.5 hours; my average speed had dropped somewhat. I was a bit concerned as to what the state of my legs would be in the morning, and my morale had taken a bit of a beating at times, but thanks to lunch with Eddy, a phone call to my brother, and some nice Welsh countryside I was feeling alright again.

I got my tent up as darkness fell, and it wasn’t long before I was soundly asleep.

Leg 59 – to Porthmadog via Caernarfon and the Lleyn Peninsula

29 June 2013

I was beginning to think summer was already over, waking up to another overcast and slightly chilly day. I was also somewhat reluctant to get up due to feeling a little achy after a hard day yesterday. My left calf had a niggling injury that wouldn’t seem to go away, more irritating than anything else, and my right wrist felt battered after some long legs and bumping about a lot. My wrists had been suffering a bit lately due all the vibrations running through the bike into my arms, I probably hold on to the handlebars too tightly which doesn’t help. I’d have to keep an eye on both, and maybe investigate some strapping for my wrists if they got any worse, or ice, ice seems to solve most injuries, if you can get hold of some.

Talli Ho campsite, Bodorgan

Talli Ho campsite, Bodorgan

With the weather brightening up a bit I got the usual morning routine out of the way, and packed up, attaching the solar panel of my Power Monkey battery pack to the rear rack of my bike, to charge up as I pedalled along. Fingers crossed the sun would stay out. I wasn’t on the road until 10.30, having really wanted to start about an hour earlier, especially now I was covering longer distances each day. To get to London by 17 July I had to make sure I kept my daily average above 80 miles really, so a more disciplined morning routine was needed. It was going to be tricky, especially if I continued riding late into the evening.

Anglesey - ready for another day's riding

Anglesey – ready for another day’s riding

I had about 15 miles left to do on Anglesey, which passed pretty uneventfully aside form lots of traffic on the road and nearly turning right to Aberfraw instead of left to Newborough. I took the south coast road to the Britannia Bridge, just west of the Menai Bridge which I’d crossed yesterday to get onto the island.

Crossing the Britannia Bridge

Crossing the Britannia Bridge – looking east toward the Menai Bridge


Once over the bridge I took a combination of minor roads and cycle paths to Caernarfon, alongside the Menai Strait. Caernarfon is another old walled own, with a big castle and marina.

Caernarfon - town wall from the marina

Caernarfon – town wall from the marina


The sun was coming out, providing a welcome bit of warmth, and with it getting on towards lunchtime I decided to stop for a bite to eat in one of the many cafes the town boasts. A great all day breakfast and decaf coffee set me up for tackling the Lleyn Peninsula, although you had to watch out for the seagulls.

Beware the seagulls - they'll nab your breakfast

Beware the seagulls – they’ll nab your breakfast


The table next to me was occupied by a group of hungover lads on a stag do, one of whom was somewhat irritated when a seagull stole his sausage. Not a good result when you’re trying to get over the previous evenings libations.

Caernarfon street

Caernarfon – street running up to the castle

I had a bit of a cycle around Caernarfon, a Royal town with a rich history. The castle is another that was built by Edward I in his conquest of Wales, as he tried to keep control of the malcontent locals.

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle


More castle wall - pretty large and imposing

More castle wall – pretty large and imposing


More of Caernarfon Castle

More of Caernarfon Castle


I had a quick scoot around the market, noticing a statue to Lloyd George, the Prime Minister during the First World War.

Caernarfon Market

Caernarfon Market


The Right Honourable Lloyd George

The Right Honourable Lloyd George

It was pretty packed with tourists so I was glad to make my way out of town, dodging buses and mobility scooters, as well as the usual unobservant pedestrians. There was a lovely old steam train about to set off down the Welsh Highland Railway, from just outside Caernarfon.

Welsh Highland Railway Steam Train

Welsh Highland Railway Steam Train


Steam Train - with the castle and medieval town I half expected to see something from Harry Potter

Steam Train – with the castle and medieval town I half expected to see something from Harry Potter


I was able to cycle alongside the railway on a Tarmac’d cycle path for several miles after Caernarfon, saying hello to a few other cyclists out on day trips. The cycle path runs from Caernarfon to Bryncir, with some great views into Snowdonia, however I needed to cut west to the Lleyn Peninsula so had to leave it before too long. I had a brief conversation with a guy on a recumbent, which never look very stable to me, but are pretty fast on the flat. Apparently they’re harder to get up hills though.

At Llandwrog I turned on to the A499, making good time along the flat road. I could see mountains looming in distance, with a thick bank of cloud hanging over the peninsula. It looked like it was going to be a tough afternoon.

Mountains and clouds building up

Mountains and clouds building up


Sure enough there followed some pretty vigorous hill climbs over to Nefyn, through some pretty dramatic scenery. Thankfully it remained dry, although a bit of rain might have helped bring down the pollen count which was making my eyes itch. There’s not a lot you can do with itchy eyes when you’re out in the middle of lots of grassland, other than load up on anti-histamine and try not to rub them. At times I felt like extracting my eyeballs and giving them a thorough wash, the pollen count must have been really high.

Mountains of the Lleyn Peninsula

Mountains of the Lleyn Peninsula


I continued down the Lleyn Peninsula, with sheep regarding me balefully from the fields. At least they weren’t occupying the roads, yet, but I’d learnt to distrust the blighters so kept a careful eye out; they can ambush you quite unexpectedly.

Road to Aberdaron

Road to Aberdaron


The Welsh seemed to have built their roads to go up and over every available hill in the area, rather than on the nice flat farmland, which incidentally was mostly occupied by sheep. Fine if you’re in a car but tiring on a bike after the first few climbs. I did however make it Aberdaron, which was the furthest west I was going on the peninsula. The road to the end was tempting, the Lleyn peninsula being a wild and beautiful place, but it was a dead end, involved another big hill, and the weather was looking like it was going to close in.

Aberdaron beach

Aberdaron beach


I stopped for a rejuvenating bottle of Bud in Aberdaron, to try and raise morale which had been teetering a bit all day. Wales had not been too kind so far, with some pretty bad weather, tough riding and busy roads. The Lleyn Peninsula provided a break from busy roads, but I was missing the friendlier faces I seemed to have encountered more of in Scotland.

Aberdaron Bay

Aberdaron Bay, looking west


I took the minor road back east from Aberdaron, along the south coast, up and over more big hills that were shrouded in low cloud, lending a damp atmosphere to the proceedings.

Steep and foggy hills out of Aberdaron

Steep and foggy hills out of Aberdaron


Fog closing in

Fog closing in


It was a little bit eerie cycling though the fog, with sounds distorted and limited vision. I could well imagine giants looming out of murk, hunting for a rogue Englishmen on a bicycle, and chanting ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, Be he live, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread’. They’d probably be chanting in Welsh though, which seems to be predominantly spoken in the area, especially in the presence of anyone obviously English.

Thankfully no giants were forthcoming and I passed through Llanbedrog on my way to Pwllheli, joining the A497. I passed a few very tempting looking pubs, with lots of people just going out for Saturday night. I very nearly stopped for a pint, however that would have been dangerous leading perhaps to several pints by this stage. I was starting to feel pretty tired and still had low spirits, but had a way to go before I could stop for the day. At least the wind was behind me which helped speed me along on the next stretch.

Criccieth Castle

Criccieth Castle


The road to Porthmadog was more enjoyable as I sped along the coast through Criccieth, passing gaggles of young ladies out for the evening, some of whom offered encouraging remarks – helped boost morale! I made good time on the flat, smooth and wide road, untroubled by traffic, and was in Porthmadog by 19.30.

Coast looking east towards Porthmadog

Coast looking east towards Porthmadog


I’d originally planned to stop in Porthmadog, but it looked fairly uninspiring so I rode straight through it, and out alongside the railway line. There are lots of campsites along the Welsh coast so I had my fingers crossed I’d find one, but if not I could ride late and find somewhere remote to pitch up for the night. As long as I set off early in the morning I’d be unlikely to bother anyone.

View from cycle path alongside the Britannia Terrace from Porthmadog

View from cycle path alongside the Britannia Terrace from Porthmadog


Looking inland and north towards Snowdonia

Looking inland and north towards Snowdonia


I passed through Minnfford, where I was heckled in a not so encouraging fashion by some local kids, and stopped to look at the signpost to Portmerion where the Prisoner was filmed.

Signpost to Portmeirion

Signpost to Portmeirion


I didn’t see any large rubber balls attempting to herd me into the village, so pedalled on quickly, crossing the toll bridge over the river, the Afon Dwyryd. If it hadn’t been open I’d have had to pedal all the way inland to Maentwrog, before turning back down the other side of the river towards Harlech. The bridge probably saved me about 8 miles and several hills, which would have about finished me off today.

Toll Bridge over the Afon Dwyryd

Toll Bridge over the Afon Dwyryd – looking inland


Toll Bridge over the Afon Dwyryd 2

Toll Bridge over the Afon Dwyryd – looking west over sand flats

After crossing the river the scenery improved, with more trees lining the steep hills alongside the road. I found a campsite just down from the toll bridge, before getting to Harlech. It was a lovely quiet spot which was just what I needed by this point, with only a handful of other people on site. The owner was very friendly with a lovely sing-song welsh accent, who instilled a new enthusiasm in me for exploring more of the Welsh countryside; his passion for it was infective.

I was able to recharge my phone in the laundry room, which was handy given the lack of sunshine for most of the day which meant my solar charger hadn’t done a lot.

Campsite just north of Talsarnau

Campsite just north of Talsarnau


After a shower I settled down to a feast of bread, BBQ’d chicken, crisps, tomatoes, and a whole packet of Cadburys mini rolls for dessert. With my mood considerably improved I caught up on a bit of writing, before turning in for an early night. I’d covered 90.5 miles today, a good result all things considered, and wanted to get an earlier start tomorrow to head down towards Cardigan. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it all the way to Cardigan, it was a long way and I suspected there were some fierce hills in the way. Hopefully the weather would be better whatever the terrain was like.

I fell asleep pretty quickly and deeply, dreaming of foggy roads and giants. At least those pesky sheep hadn’t managed to infiltrate my slumbering thoughts as yet, hopefully the giants would eat them if they did, although they’re probably in league with each other.

Bike around Britain – Gallery 1

These are in a bit of a random order, which I’ll sort at some point.

Collection of some of my favourite photos of the tour – from the ones I’ve properly sorted through anyway. Been a bit busy to finish writing up the next leg, but should be out shortly.

Leg 58 – to Anglesey

Before I start a quick congratulations to Will and Louisa, my brother and sister-in-law, on the birth of their daughter Anna Constance on 02 August, which is easy to remember because it was Lucy and I’s wedding anniversary. Being an Uncle to a niece as well as nephew is pretty exciting!

Anna post a trip out to the park

Anna post a trip out to the park – she’d mostly been asleep until we got back


 

Nephew Seb tackling an ice cream

Nephew Seb tackling an ice cream, clever boy


28 June 2013

The not unusual sound of rain hitting my tent greeted me when I awoke, so I decided to have breakfast in bed and hoped it would stop. It did eventually so I clambered out, receiving my first shower of the morning as cold rain water ran off the canvas and down my neck. Now thoroughly awake I checked my bike and discovered another broken spoke I hadn’t noticed the day before. Luckily I had spares so I swapped in a new one. This was the first time I’d changed a spoke without assistance, and I followed Simon from Topmark’s advice; the bike shop I’d stopped at in Barrow-in-Furness.

I was able to remove the old spoke, leaving the nipple in the rim, and then thread in a new spoke and join it up, so I didn’t have to disassemble the entire wheel, bonus! I had to bend things around a bit but it worked fine, and after about 20 minutes of adjustments I was satisfied the wheel was straight and nothing was going to rub.

The rain and bike maintenance, followed by a shower and packing up, meant I didn’t leave the campsite until 10.30ish, bidding goodbye to the only other campers post a quick chat. The little girl wanted to know if I’d been woken up by the police sirens in the night, or the drumming, I hadn’t, having a tendency to sleep quite deeply once wrapped up in my tent. I hoped the weather improved for them.

Henllys - packed up and ready for another day

Henllys – packed up and ready for another day, grey skies again

I rode towards Abergele, joining the A547 along the coast. I wanted to avoid the busy and potentially dangerous A55 after yesterday’s experiences on dual carriageways. Just outside Abergele lies an impressive looking castle, which I subsequently learned is Gwrych Castle. It was built between 1812 and 1822, and is currently undergoing restoration with a view to converting it into a hotel – not sure how that work is going. Unfortunately I didn’t get any decent photos of it from the road, due the high curtain wall, so the one below is from google.

Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle

It fell into a bit of a derelict state after a succession of owners, then being vandalised, lived in by travellers, and suffering from collapsed floors, ceilings and the odd fire, so it obviously needs a lot of work. It could look like a fairy tale castle, with its follys and extensive grounds, so hopefully something good will happen. If I won the lottery, or earned loads of money somehow, I’d consider buying it if it wasn’t so far away from everywhere.

Continuing on my way I pedalled around to Colwyn Bay, having to negotiate at least one hill in the process.

Colwyn Bay

Colwyn Bay


 

Colwyn Bay - wild flowers

Colwyn Bay – wild flowers, or probably weeds but I thought they looked pretty

I rode along the promenade to Rhos-on-Sea, before rejoining the road to Llandudno.

Colwyn Bay - promenade

Colwyn Bay – promenade, sun even threatening to come out


Up until Llandudno there’d been few hills to contend with, and the rain had mostly held off aside from the odd patch of drizzle, so things were looking promising. Llandudno itself seemed a pleasant place, with a wide promenade you can cycle along to Great Orme’s Head, which looms over the town.

Llandudno and Great Orme's Head

Llandudno and Great Orme’s Head


 

The Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter – always been a bit of an Alice in Wonderland fan


I stopped in Llandudno for a bite to eat, and took advantage of some wifi to check my route and schedule. I reckoned I had around 1,300 miles left to get around to London, as long as I didn’t throw in any more islands or detours, which was just about doable by 17 July. As usual I’d make up my route as I went along, and stop when I found somewhere nice, that’s about as far as my advanced planning goes really. I only needed to keep the coast on my right, and ensure I averaged around 75 miles a day.

Unfortunately the rain set in post post Llandudno, coming down pretty hard, and I was quickly drenched – not that my shoes had had chance to dry out anyway. My waterproof had definitely seen better days and was leaking in several places, serving only to trap a layer of warmish water close to my skin, which I guess was better than being cold.

I rode over the bridge to Conwy and Conwy Castle, and opted to take the old suspension bridge into town.

Conwy Suspension Bridge

Conwy Suspension Bridge

The bridge is run by the National Trust, having originally been built by Thomas Telford in the early 19th century as part of the large scale road improvements between Chester and Bangor.

Bridge and Conwy Castle

Bridge and Conwy Castle


 

River Conwy - view under the road bridge

River Conwy – view under the road bridge


 

On the suspension bridge

On the suspension bridge

I enjoy looking at old feats of engineering and majestic buildings such as Conwy Castle, and often wish we put as much effort into elegant construction these days as our forebears did in past centuries.

The bridge again

The bridge again – are you bored of bridge photos yet?

The castle was built in the late 13th century, by that old favourite Edward I, during his conquest of Wales; he certainly liked his wars. It saw fairly active service over the years, before being partially slighted after the English Civil war and subsequently falling into ruin. It’s been restored since, and stands proud above the River Conwy as a World Heritage Site.

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle


It has massive defensive walls, which explains how it withstood sieges successfully. Must have been daunting to assault those walls with the defenders hurling things at you.

Conwy Castle in silhouette

Conwy Castle tower


Conwy itself is a nice looking town, with its own wall, and with lots of holiday makers wandering about its attractive streets.

Conwy town

Conwy town with castle in background – sky looks threatening


 

Conwy town and wall

Conwy town and wall


 

Conwy - raining again

Conwy – raining again


Avoiding the A55 I was able to ride along a cycle path for the next stage, which was handy given the road was very busy, with a lot of spray being kicked up by the traffic. Even off the main road it was a hard ride down the coast, with a fierce headwind at times, and the continuing rain soaking me further.

Looking back toward Great Orme's Head

Looking back toward Great Orme’s Head and Llandudno


The cycle path had a few exciting sections as it tracked the coast road, which itself passed through tunnels through the hills. I road up over cycle bridges, crossing the A55 on suspended walk/cycle ways that felt a little exposed in the wind. The track wound around, up and over the hills, rather than going through them like the road. This meant a few significant but fun climbs, despite the rain, and wind which when gusting nearly stopped me dead a couple of times. I had my head down as I was fighting into the wind, and nearly ran into a cyclist coming the other way at one point. Luckily he shouted a warning and I moved over; I think we were both pretty surprised to see someone else out in these conditions.

Cycle track following the busy A55

Cycle track following the busy A55


Continuing along the coast, thoroughly drenched again, I took shelter out of the wind and rain for a bit in a roofed seating area. It was a relief not to have the wind blasting me for a few minutes, and I had a few biscuits to top up energy levels.

A stop out of the wind

A stop out of the wind near Llanfairfechan

Riding on along a bit of promenade I approached a group of mallard ducks, sitting stoically in the rain by the side of the road. They looked quite content, until suddenly alarmed they took flight as a couple of terriers emerged from the bushes behind them, barking and dashing about in an animated fashion. The dogs obviously thought it was great fun, however the ducks were less than impressed as was evident from their disdainful quacking. They also flew directly into my path, and due to their low trajectory I was subject to a few wing buffets and close encounters with beaks. A high velocity duck quacking in your face can be quite alarming, however they were soon out of my way, and landed 50 yards away keeping an eye on the dogs who’d been hastily summoned by their owners.

The dog owners were somewhat apologetic, although they were laughing – it was quite funny. Given the abundance of signs on British roads I was surprised there wasn’t one warning of low flying ducks. On the subject of road signs, I do get rather irritated by how many there are. Do you really need signs warning that there aren’t any road markings. If you can’t see that there aren’t any road markings you probably shouldn’t be driving. Even more disturbing are the ones that tell you that cat’s eyes have been removed, I mean what kind of sicko goes around doing that. There are just so many signs you end up getting sign overload and start ignoring all of them, which defeats the purpose of the whole thing. Is there a bureaucrat somewhere trying to use up their sign budget or something, in case it gets slashed next year? Anyway, enough of slipping into grumpy old man mode, I’m still relatively young dammit.

The next section took me down a few country roads as I looped inland to avoid the main road, on my way to Bangor.

Wet country roads near Abergwyngregyn

Wet country roads near Abergwyngregyn


The route would have been lovely on a different day, with nicer weather, but it was just too wet and windy to enjoy today. I still however took satisfaction from the fact I was making good progress despite the conditions, and pressed on to Bangor.

I eventually made it to Bangor, which is a bit confusing road wise. I somehow completely missed the city centre, but decided not to loop back, and rode on to Anglesey which I’d opted to include despite my earlier thoughts on not doing any more islands. I reckoned I could just about include Anglesey, or Ynys Mon in Welsh, and still make it round in time for Latitude. I might just need to add on a few miles to some other legs.

I wanted to see the fabled island of the Druids, which was attacked by the Romans back in AD60 who wanted to break their hold over the Celtic tribes. General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and his amphibious Batavian contingent were apparently successfully in vanquishing them, putting many to the sword and destroying shrines and sacred groves. These Romans obviously had no intention of preserving sites of archaeological interest for future generations. Still, General Paulinus had to retreat before he could consolidate his victory due to Boudica and the Iceni revolting in the east (good old boys (and girls) as they say in Norfolk), just down the road from where I live, so I kind of hope some of the Druids survived to pass on their culture and history to future generations. It’s nice to think that maybe a little bit of magic and wonder of a different kind existed back then, however I suspect the Druids were pretty terrifying in their own right, and relied on superstition, rituals and fear to keep control. I could draw certain parallels with some modern religious institutions at this stage, but I won’t. 

The Menai Straits for the Menai Bridge

The Menai Straits from the Menai Bridge – Britannia Bridge in the distance


I rode over the Menai Bridge to the Isle, stopping to take in the view as the rain began to stop.

The Ridgeback on the Menai Bridge

The Ridgeback on the Menai Bridge


My dad was apparently stationed on or near Anglesey when he was in the RAF, and many antics were got up to, some of which involved the bridge. I believe at least one of my god fathers was also involved, but probably shouldn’t go into any more detail in case warrants are still outstanding.

Me on the Menai Bridge

Me on the Menai Bridge – helmet wonky as usual


I wasn’t going to do the whole coast of the island, but wanted to do a circuit to see what it was like, so rode up the A5025 towards Amlwch. There are lots of campsites on Anglesey so I wasn’t worried about finding a place to pitch up later, and if the worst came to the worst I was sure there’d be a quiet spot off the beaten track I could stop at for the night.

The rain stopped as I rode on, finally, and it turned into a lovely ride despite the initial heavy traffic on the road. Anglesey is by no means flat, but neither is it very hilly, the road just undulates a lot.

Travelling up the A5025 on Anglesey

Travelling up the A5025 on Anglesey – could this have once been a sacred grove?


I stopped in Benllech to pick up a few supplies at a small supermarket, stuffing down a doughnut to get some energy back, followed by a banana for good measure, and a chocolate bar to be sure. The road continued on to Amlwch, which is lacking in any vowels, but that isn’t unusual in Wales. I didn’t know how you pronounced it, but tried rolling the word around my mouth a few times. I don’t know how you pronounce a lot of place names in Welsh so I’d be useless if anyone asked for directions. It was nice to hear people speaking Welsh though, which has a musical quality to it.

Amlwch - twinned with Sankwia in The Gambia

Amlwch – twinned with Sankwia in The Gambia, which I thought was a little odd


With the evening stretching on, but the sun making an appearance for the first time in a while, I pedalled along the coast from Amlwch to Cemaes Bay before turning south down towards Holyhead. 

Anglesey has it fair share of wind farms

Anglesey has it fair share of wind farms


I passed a signpost to Church Bay where my dad used to go on holiday as a child, which potentially would have been a good place to stop for the night, but I decided to get a few more miles done.

Anglesey countryside

Anglesey countryside – looking towards the centre of the island


I didn’t go all the way to Holyhead, it basically being a sprawling ferry port where boats go to and from Ireland. Instead I turned back towards the Menai Bridge on the A5. I’d found a promising looking campsite via the web earlier, but was having trouble locating it on my map, and I didn’t have enough reception to use my phone. This meant I ended up riding slightly later than anticipated, via a more convoluted route.

A random standing stone

A random standing stone

 

Looking south west towards Holyhead

Looking south west towards Holyhead

 

Looking towards Church Bay

Looking towards Church Bay


I pedalled through more very Welsh sounding villages, although I guess they may well have Irish origins, the Irish having invaded in the early 5th century before being defeated in 470 by some Scots who popped down for a rumble. 

Sun going down over some cows

Sun going down over some cows

 

It was quite an impressive sunset

It was quite an impressive sunset


After passing through Bryngwran, Gwalchmai and Llanrhyddlad I arrived at the Tally Ho campsite just off the B4422, not far from Bodorgan. It’s a nice small Camping and Caravaning site, with friendly owners and a quiet camping field. You can order breakfast from them for the morning too, but I’d just bought a load of supplies which I needed to eat, regrettably. A bacon roll or two would have been most welcome. The campsite was £10 a night so averagely priced, with a decent but small toilet and shower block.

I’d arrived about 21.30, so was quite hungry, and set up my tent quickly before settling down to a meal of bread, cheese and BBQ’d chicken I’d bought earlier, accompanied by crisps, tomatoes and fruit. I saved some of the bread and a pork pie or two for the morning, before a dessert of chocolate buttons and a can of cider for good measure.

Sun gone on Anglesey

Sun gone on Anglesey


It was pretty late by the time I was all fed and watered, so after a quick call to my parents I retreated into my tent to write my journal, although I kept falling asleep so had trouble finishing it. The bleating of many sheep helped keep me vaguely awake, a kind of fiendish evening chorus on their part. Aside from the livestock it was a fairly quiet site, with several groups camped up in either tents or caravans. The lack of wind and rain meant sleep came fairly quickly once I’d stopped trying to write, although I was a somewhat preoccupied with how I could dry my shoes which where in danger of giving me a case of trench foot.

Having done 84 miles today I was in a good place to finish Anglesey tomorrow, before continuing along the coast to Caernarfon, and then further west to the Lleyn Peninsula. I was aiming to be up early in the morning for another longish leg, to keep my average mileage at a respectable score. The sky was clear so it looked like the weather would be better tomorrow; some heat would be nice to dry off a few things.

Bonuit tout le monde ๐Ÿ™‚

Leg 57 – to Rhyl (Towyn) via the Wirral

Limited pics today due to inclement weather!

27 June 2013

After a solid night’s sleep at Matt and Jo’s I was reluctant to get up, but had a big day ahead of me so needed to get moving. Remembering the promise of the pie shop in the village was all it took to get me springing out of bed. My hosts had to leave for work but left me a key so I could let myself out and lock-up once I’d had breakfast and packed up. I was left alone in the company of three inquisitive cats who wanted to find out what I had in my panniers, or at least work out whether they were a suitable place to have a snooze.

I had a quick bowl of cornflakes, with one of the cats after the milk, then showered and packed up. It was nice not to have to  pack up my tent and camping gear again, there’d be more than enough of that sort of activity over the next month! Glancing out of the window whilst I was getting ready to hit the road the weather looked suspicious. When you’re in a tent you can pretty much tell what the weather is going to be like before you get up, however in a house you’re cocooned away from it all. It looked sunny outside, but there were lots of clouds racing across the sky, and I feared the weather was destined to go rapidly downhill.

The key clunked down on to the doormat as I posted it back through the letter box, sealing me off from creature comforts once more. I mounted my trusty steed and coasted down the hill into Frodsham, stopping at the market and a few shops to buy supplies; pies featured prominently, as did fruit and chocolate. 

I  pedalled out of the delightful market town at about 10.30, post pie second breakfast, taking a rather convoluted route to Ellesmere Port, under and over a couple of motorways, and passing signs for Chester which would reoccur throughout the day. I have colleagues who live and/or work in and around Chester, and I’d visited several times on trips to MBNA which is based near the town. A day out at the Chester races is a lot of fun, but had somehow been omitted from my tour schedule.

It started raining in Ellesmere Port. Just a shower I hoped.

Paula lives in Ellesmere Port, and I could have stopped for tertiary breakfast, but I’d already had cornflakes, pie and a banana, and thought it would be gluttonous even by my standards, so pressed on through Bebington to Birkenhead via a slightly complicated route. I had to check where I was on my phone several times, to make sure I as going the right way. I hate it when you’re following a route, but the road signs either stop signposting where you were heading, or you miss one.

Birkenhead itself was pretty complicated. There are two tunnels over to Liverpool which I had to avoid getting funnelled to, lots of roundabouts, plenty of traffic to keep me distracted from reading signposts, and junctions to the motorway to avoid. Ignoring the Mersey tunnels I rode over the docks and down to the coast, arriving in New Brighton with the wind strengthening and rain continuing. Cycling along the promenade I was pretty much alone aside from a few determined fishermen crouching down behind the sea wall. 

Grim day on the Mersey

Grim day on the Mersey


I passed a couple of other cyclists who were attempting to ride the other way. At this point the wind had increased in strength and the rain was unrelenting. The two young ladies, on hired bikes, were berating the fact they’d chosen today to go out cycling. I guess it had been sunny when they’d set out, judging from their choice of clothing which was now thoroughly soaked. We looked at each other and just laughed. What else can you do?! I wished them good luck and advised they find a cafe, or better still a pub.

A very wet and empty promenade

A very wet and empty promenade


In the wind and rain I rode along the promenade, on the Wirral Way cycle route around Wallasey, before going astray in a golf course and nature reserve, forcing me to loop inland slightly.

Wet and windy on the Wirral Way

Wet and windy on the Wirral Way


I’m pretty sure you can stick to the coast all the way from New Brighton round to Neston, I just must have missed a sign. I didn’t however miss another activity evident in one of the lay-bys in the nature reserve. I’d stopped for an apple, and to drip dry a bit, when a car pulled up joining one already there, flashing its lights as it pulled up behind it. Funny I thought, is this a rendezvous for spies. They must have seen me standing there under a tree with my bike, but obviously judged me not to be a threat. In any event they turned out not to be engaged in espionage, but rather in dogging, and I saw rather more than I’d bargained for as I quickly made an exit stage left. Each to their own, however the two people in question could have had the decency to wait until I’d left, or conduct such activity inside somewhere. I thought that’s what motels are for, however evidently they were into exhibitionism. Urrrgh, thankfully secondary breakfast did not make a reappearance.

After getting a bit lost in an estate I rejoined the Wirral Way in Hoylake, following an old railway track down the side of the River Dee. The cycle track passes through West Kirby and the Wirral Country Park, and on a nicer day would have been a lovely ride, however it was really raining hard now.

The Wirral Way near West Kirby

The Wirral Way near West Kirby


I pedalled on, with mud being kicked up and my bike and parts of me turning a grey brown colour, past Heswall and on to Neston.

The Wirral Way - a pleasant route despite the weather

The Wirral Way – a pleasant route despite the weather


I stopped for a breather next to the coast near Heswall. I should have been able to see over to Wales easily, but the rain and low cloud were obscuring the coast opposite to a great extent, a sign of things to come perhaps.

Marshes near Heswall

Marshes near Heswall


The Wirral Way - I could just about see Wales

The Wirral Way – I could just about see Wales


Feeling a bit cold and wet I stopped in Neston and had a bite to eat in a cafe. The bacon and egg roll was exceedingly welcome, and very tasty. It was also nice to chat with the shop keeper and get a few route tips, although to be honest my main motivation was avoiding the rain for a while.

Neston Food Hall

Neston Food Hall – a welcome break from the weather


Somehow over the next hour I also managed to eat a whole bag of midget gems and three bananas. I was beginning to worry I might have worms due my un-abating appetite and sugar cravings.

Cycling ever onwards, and getting closer to North Wales which I was pretty excited about, I joined the A550. I’d been hoping to avoid this and link up with a cycle route, but I think Sustrans route 568 was/is still under construction. It will be nice when it’s finished, passing from Neston through an RSPB reserve and MOD range, and would have saved me a somewhat hazardous stretch on the main road. I’d checked the map but there really didn’t seem to be another way into Wales without cycling a long distance out of my way, via Chester. Having researched further I suspect there is a sneaky way in for cyclists, but I just couldn’t find it on the day.

I stopped on the slip road down onto the A494 to take a photo of the border, having had to join the very busy main road for the last stretch into Wales. I’d been able to cycle on a less busy road alongside the A494 for a bit, but unfortunately it doesn’t go all the way to Queensferry and Deeside, or didn’t as far as I could tell. Again I suspect there’s a route in if you know where to look.

Welcome to Wales!

Welcome to Wales! Croeso i Gymru

Whilst I was stopped a traffic cop pulled up to check I was alright, which was nice of him. Whilst it’s not illegal to cycle on a dual carriageway he was worried due to bad weather and traffic, advising that I stick to the hard shoulder. He didn’t know another way around either, and I wholeheartedly agreed with his advice.

The busy dual carriageway turned into three lanes at one point, and was a little dangerous with all the spray being kicked up by the heavy traffic. Thankfully I was safe on the hard shoulder, until it ran out!

There followed a fast, furious and adrenaline fuelled stretch to Queensferry, with traffic thundering by and me wishing I’d cycled the 50 or so miles out of my way. I think this was probably the scariest bit of road on the tour, and not one I wish to repeat, or would advise any cyclist to take unless it’s very early in the morning and nice weather. Thinking about it gives me the shivers and has resulted in a medicinal whisky as I write. It was also the only time on the tour I started thinking about the last time I spoke to friends or family, wondering if perhaps that had been the last time ever, and had I said all that I wanted to say? You get some strange thoughts running through your head at moments like this.

Thankfully I made it to Queensferry unscathed, with drivers being careful and considerate, where I got off that horrible road. The next 20 miles in Wales seemed to pass pretty quickly, especially with terrain still being pretty flat. I just got my head down and pedalled, ignoring the rain, and putting some distance between me and the dreaded A494. The wind had dropped which improved matters, but I couldn’t see much due to the weather, with low cloud and rain obscuring any nice scenery there might have been.

I rode up the other side of the River Dee, through Flint and Greenfield, and Ffynnongroyw which I didn’t try to pronounce. It was taking longer to read road signs as they’re in English and Welsh, and the Welsh names take some getting used to,  however luckily my route was very straightforward so I didn’t really need my map. 

The sands off Prestatyn

The sands off Prestatyn


Prestatyn and Rhyl came and went, both fairly typical and dreary looking seaside towns with not a lot of people about due to the weather. Maybe I’m doing them a disservice and they’d have been a lot more attractive in nicer conditions, I suspect not.  Unfortunately although once very popular tourist destinations, they’ve gone the way of a lot of other British seaside resorts and are now rather run down, with social and economic problems. They’ve still got nice long and clean beaches though, and plenty of cheap accommodation. They just need a bit of regeneration of the sort that has occurred in other parts of Britain, with better planning decisions being made, and efforts to keep antisocial behaviour under control or to address the root causes.

I pedalled on along the coast, past ranks of caravan parks, looking for a campsite to pitch up at. I knew there were several about after an earlier Internet search, but didn’t have enough reception to check again. I eventually found one at about 19.00, near Towyn. Henllys proved to be a friendly and well appointed campsite, with plenty of room to pitch my tent, there being only one other in the camping field. I had a quick chat with the owner before setting up, noticing people speaking Welsh for the first time. She’d speak English to me, and Welsh to her family in the room behind her.

The rain had just about stopped as I finished setting up. I thought it amazing that it was nearly July, but there was only one other tent in the field; the weather was really keeping people at home. I wandered over to say hello anyway, doing the normal British thing of talking about the weather. They were slightly jealous of how quickly I’d put up my tent, however they’d have struggled to fit two adults and two children inside it.

Feeling a bit cold post a wash I put on another layer then retreated around the corner to a pub I’d spotted earlier, grabbing a sandwich from a Spar on the way. The pub was very quiet, and somewhat sparse in its choice of beverages, but it gave me a place to warm up and dry off, and I joined the few locals and caravaners present in watching the football; the Confederations Cup was on – Italy versus Spain, Spain won. 

It was also nice and cheap so I wasn’t complaining, and spent the evening watching some very entertaining football, as well as writing up my blog and planning the next few days as best I could without the Internet, or decent mobile reception. The barman reminded me a bit of Al Murray, ‘the Landlord’, and I kept expecting him to come out with quotes such as ‘If we had no rules where would we be? France!’, which I sometimes think has a ring of truth about it given we seem to stick to rules laid down by Brussels far more than they do; very sensible of them if you ask me.

Feeling a lot warmer I retreated back to my tent post a few pints, hoping that the weather improved by morning. I’d covered just over 82 miles, so a good days riding despite the conditions and unexpected encounters during the course of the day. I was on track for Latitude still.

Leg 56 – to Frodsham via Liverpool

26 June 2013

Sue gave me a lift back to the Lea Gate Inn, where I’d stopped yesterday, after I’d finished checking over my bike. I’d only needed to tweak a few spokes, with no more significant repairs required despite the bone rattling streets of Lancaster, good news! Although saying that I’d been in no better place to conduct repairs, with Adrian’s exceedingly well stocked garage full of tools, and a good bike shop close to hand.

There was a lot of heavy traffic around, so I was aiming to avoid the major roads as much as possible by finding the Guild Wheel cycle path into Preston, recommended by ‘birchwoody’ on the CTC forums. Unfortunately by not wanting to break my route I needed to navigate my way down a couple of hectic roads to begin with. After unloading in the pub car park I repacked everything onto the Ridgeback and bid goodbye to Sue, before pedalling off in the sunshine.

Rather handily I found the Guild Wheel pretty swiftly, so didn’t have to endure traffic for very long. It follows the River Ribble to the centre of Preston, and I pedalled alongside it seeing the occasional grey heron fishing.

Guild Wheel cycle path alongside the River Ribble

Guild Wheel cycle path alongside the River Ribble


 

Grey heron fishing

Grey heron fishing

Avoiding most of Preston centre I crossed over the river, saying hello to a few other cyclists out for a morning’s ride, and headed south west towards Longton on the A565, at a rather idle pace.

Bridge over the River Ribble

Bridge over the River Ribble

I turned off the Liverpool Road up to Hesketh Bank, then pedalled around to Southport, joining a cycle path that runs alongside the road. I stopped in the Marshside RSPB nature reserve to replenish energy reserves with a banana and Kitkat; a balanced diet is important.

Marshside RSPB reserve

Marshside RSPB reserve


 

Marshside - you can see Blackpool on the horizon

Marshside – you can see Blackpool on the horizon


I passed around the outside of Southport, sticking to the promenade along the coast, before following the road through the sand dunes.

Southport beach and pier

Southport beach and pier


The cycle path continues alongside the road, which was handy given the steadily increasing traffic. It’s a little narrow in places meaning you have to be careful if other cyclists are coming the other way, which they frequently were. One especially large group of elderly cyclists were looking a bit unsteady so I hastily pulled over to let them past, lest my panniers interfere with their passage and cause some kind of domino cascade effect; I didn’t want to make the front page of the local paper for the wrong reason. It didn’t help that whilst it was a sunny day it was still quite breezy, so cyclists were getting blown about a bit. Once I’d extricated myself from the verge I continued on my, watching a couple of microlights buzzing about. I could see on the map there’s a microlight airstrip close-by (Ince Microlight Airstrip) and thought that would be fun to try, another thing to add to the list.

I followed a bit of a convoluted route after turning off the A565 to Hightown, down country roads to Crosby. At one point I ended up on a dirt track and had a rather slippery time due to the sandy surface, before rejoining a proper road. My route took me through a few pleasant villages before it started to get busy again as I passed through Bootle. The countryside disappeared to be replaced by boroughs, factories and docks, alongside the River Mersey, and I was soon into the outskirts of Liverpool. The cycle lane unfortunately disappeared, or I lost it, and I was forced to navigate my way along very busy roads, through clouds of rather unpleasant fumes, before I made it to central Liverpool.

I’d arranged to meet my friend Paula for a coffee break, whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, so headed for the Krazy House nightclub where she works. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, consisting of google maps on my phone, I found the club relatively easily after a brief tour of central Liverpool, and a sneaky sandwich break.

The Krazy House, Liverpool

The Krazy House, Liverpool

Paula duly appeared and we headed for the local Starbucks for a drink, where she seems to be on first name terms with all the staff, attesting to a healthy work life balance ๐Ÿ˜‰ It was great to catch up over a decaf mocha, with cream and sprinkles to help on the carb loading front. Hopefully we’ll meet up again at the end of August with a host of other friends, otherwise I’ll be back to Liverpool for another visit at some point soon.

Paula and I - Liverpool

Paula and I – Liverpool


I thought about explaining this photo, but it really isn’t worth it, other than to say that I need to practise that pose more before next time.

Saying goodbye I rode off to look at a bit more of Liverpool, stopping in at an Evans Cycles to check on my back tyre. The tyre was beginning to look very worn, however one of the staff reckoned it still had a few hundred miles left in it, especially as it was a Schwalbe Marathon plus. I’d been hoping that was the case so decided to leave replacing it until Cardiff or Bristol; I could always swap it with the front tyre which wears a lot more slowly.

Negotiating a few more of Liverpool’s busy streets, which primarily involved dodging buses, I made my way to the Albert Docks. Liverpool has seen a lot of regeneration over the last 20 years, and the docks have shared in this. There was a multitude of tourists wandering about, eating ice cream or visiting one of the many pubs, restaurants, cafes or overpriced shops that try to make you think it’s good idea to spend a fortune on olde worlde sweets…it was a close call. I liked Liverpool though, in a similar way to Glasgow it has a down to earth and good feeling about it. I dare say it also has parts you’d not visit at the wrong time of day or without company, but can’t you say the same of most cities?

Liverpool - Albert Docks 1

Liverpool – Albert Docks 1

I wheeled my bike around the docks for a bit, but only for a bit as it’s a lot harder to push than it is to ride. Riding it through the throng of people would have probably resulted in casualties and me ending up in the dock.

Liverpool - Albert Docks 2

Liverpool – Albert Docks 2 


 

Liverpool - Albert Docks 3

Liverpool – Albert Docks 3


 

The Kathleen and May - Albert Docks

The Kathleen and May – Albert Docks


I was quite tempted by a tertiary breakfast in the cafe behind me, in the photo below. ABig Top breakfast sounded like it had potential, unless clowns appeared with custard pies at some point. I decided not to risk it.

Me at the Albert Docks

Me at the Albert Docks – for some reason I’d forgotten to take my helmet off

I paused to look at the river for a bit, which was heavily polluted by industry until recent years. Despite there still being a lot of industry and shipping around, the water quality has apparently now improved to such a degree that salmon have returned, along with other fish, and the occasional seal.

The River Mersey, looking over to the Wirral

The River Mersey, looking over to the Wirral

With time ticking on, and one more rendezvous to make before I made my way on to Frodsham, I got back to the business of pedalling, passing the Liverpool Eye. 

The Liverpool Eye

The Liverpool Eye

I made my way upriver trying to avoid the worst of the traffic, passing through Toxteth and Garston as I left Liverpool behind. I stopped in the business park near Speke to see Lem (aka Andy), someone else I hadn’t seen in years. Another coffee break ensued as we chatted about my cycle tour and bikes. Lem is a keen cyclist too, although he’s been a bit distracted by his new sports car recently, which I’ll forgive him for as long as he gets back on his bike soon. He gave me a few tips on making my way around the Wirral and into Wales; always handy to get local knowledge. Thanks Lem and congrats again on getting engaged to Alison.

Next up was crossing the River Mersey via the Runcorn Bridge. I managed to get slightly turned around on some of the small roads, but made it to and over the bridge, despite the extremely heavy traffic. I was relieved to turn off the A557 into Runcorn, having been somewhat buffeted by some of the large lorries (not their fault, there just wasn’t a lot of space on the bridge). I’d advise any cyclist crossing the bridge uses the pedestrian footpath, and after checking the CTC forums since then apparently this is totally acceptable.

I needed to get to Frodsham to stay with friends, but it’s not as easy as you might think from looking at a map, especially if you don’t know the area well. There are lots of little roads and factories, and I encountered a few dead ends in my efforts to head round to Frodsham, and avoid accidentally joining the M56. Eventually I got frustrated and hopped on to the A557, the ‘Expressway’, and rode around the hard shoulder. 

It’s not illegal to ride on dual carriageways, it can just be a bit alarming when the traffic is heavy. I try to avoid it whenever possible. On this occasion it was fine until I turned off on the slip road, at which point I had to engage ‘owning my space mode’ and cycle defensively for no more than about 30 seconds, to stop anyone attempting a hazardous manoeuvre. Most drivers are fine, you just get the occasional one that has no patience and then puts themselves and the cyclist at risk.

I made it Frodsham, a lovely historic market town, and rode up the hill to stay with Matt and Jo. I actually rode all the way up the hill, which isn’t small, and which was an error seeing as they only live half way up it. Still it was a good workout prior to arriving just as dinner was being served, perfect timing!

It was great to spend another evening catching up with friends, and more cats, who again were excellent hosts; Matt and Jo were the excellent hosts incidentally, the cats whilst friendly probably weren’t that bothered by my presence. Matt is recovering for chemotherapy which touch wood has vanquished his cancer, excellent news. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how many friends and family I’ve known over the last few years who’ve been affected by cancer, and often it’s been people in their thirties or forties. They all benefit from the treatment and support supplied by various charities, so if you’re enjoying this blog and can spare a few quid please consider donating something to the Big C – http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/james Thank you if you’ve already sponsored my ride ๐Ÿ™‚

One side effect of chemotherapy is that you partially lose your sense of taste, so Matt has lots of spicy sauces on hand to bring a bit of fire to his food. This suited me fine as I like chilli, and a fine meal of posh burgers, sweet potato and salad followed. I might have overdone the chilli sauce at one point, resulting in burning mouth syndrome, but there was nothing left. 

Matt and Jo also let me know about the market in Frodsham on a Thursday, where I’d be able to pick up supplies for the start of my Welsh leg. There were a couple of handy bike shops should I need one, and a pie shop which would serve for second breakfast. Always best to be prepared.

After a great evening’s banter and chilling out, as well as a few biscuits courtesy of Jo just to keep energy levels topped up, I fell asleep pretty quickly and deeply. I was going through a phase of feeling pretty tired, and needed to get back in the touring zone after seeing lots of friends. 

It’s great to see friends, and I was very grateful for having places to stay and nights in a bed, but the trouble is it can be distracting and you lose focus when you’ve got lots of miles left to do; you start thinking about other things you could be doing and other people you’re missing. Still I didn’t know many people in Wales so for at least the next week I would be back to the normal routine, and hopefully some big legs; I needed to be in London or Colchester by 17 July, which was only three weeks away!

After 69 miles today, only the coast around the Wirral stood between me and the third country of the tour. Wales awaited….

Leg 55 – to Preston via Blackpool


Longer leg today covering 95 miles, average distance covered per day slowly creeping up. The wonders of Blackpool awaited me today.

25 June 2013

I don’t think I’ll spend another night at a Haven Holiday Camp. It was an experience, but at £22.00 for a basic camping spot, it really wasn’t worth it. And I still had several dubious songs going around my head in the morning!

Haven holiday park - beautiful morning

Haven holiday park – beautiful morning after a dubious evening’s entertainment


Once I’d paid, packed up and checked my bike I was on the road by 09.30, pedalling under sunny skies from Flookburgh to Grange-over-Sands, and on around Morecambe Bay. The wind had a bit of a chill to it, but the day looked promising weather wise. I followed a bit of a bendy route to begin with, avoiding the main roads, through some lovely countryside.

Cycle track running parallel to A590

Cycle track running parallel to A590 – nice view


I crossed over the River Kent on the A6, turning south, and stopped at Levens Hall for a hot chocolate and flapjack break in their cafe. It’s a lovely Elizabethan country hall, with a great old steam engine that they’ve restored, and a fantastic topiary garden. Of course the hall also has its fair share of ghosts and associated curses, and apparently appeared in an episode of Most Haunted years ago. I mostly liked the steam engine, which they still get up and running on a Sunday. Apparently it used to run fairground attractions, and eventually passed into the hands of the hall who’ve kept it in fine nick.

Levens Hall

Levens Hall – well worth a visit if you’re in the area


Refuelled on flapjack I continued down the A6 for a bit, before turning off at Milnthorpe and following the River Kent down to Arnside. 

River Kent and Arnside

River Kent and Arnside 


I noticed several fishermen out along the banks of the river, and stopped to see how they were doing. Looking down at the river I saw 4 grey herons in a group, also intent on fishing, and completely unbothered by their human counterparts. They seemed to be having more success.

Herons fishing in the River Kent

Herons fishing in the River Kent


From Arnside I rode down through Silverdale, passing and waving to several other cyclists out for a ride. Bolton-le-Sands and Hest Bank followed, as I continued to follow the coast around Morecambe Bay, before arriving in Morecambe itself at about lunch time. At one point I did have a near miss as a car tried to overtake me around a dustbin lorry. I slammed on my brakes before trying to pass the lorry as I realised the car was going for it, and thought it safer to let them though. In their haste they still managed to prang the safety struts on the truck, which flicked back into one of the workers. He wasn’t badly hurt but quite a bit of swearing ensued! Thankfully the driver did the responsible thing and stopped to check no-one was injured.

Morecambe Bay

Morecambe Bay


More of Morecambe

More of Morecambe – think the tower was a Polo tower


Morecambe really is typical British seaside town, complete with promenade, a multitude of fish and chip shops, amusements, bars, beach and baring-nearly-everything-holiday-makers, even though it still wasn’t that warm. I had lunch at a Weatherspoons, cheap and cheerful, whilst watching aforesaid holiday makers stroll about in unwise choices of outfit, with some disastrous tattoos. Far too many overweight people, that’d be lobster like in coloration by the end of the day, but it was quite fun people watching.

Cormorant statues - Morecambe

Cormorants – statues thereof – Morecambe

I’d quickly had my fill of Morecambe, so rode down the coast towards Heysham where you can catch a ferry to the Isle of Man. I stopped to call Lauren, one of the Latitude management crew, to talk to her about joining ‘Le Tour de Latitude’. We agreed I’d try and join up with them from either London or Colchester, to ride up to Henham Park near Southwold in Suffolk. It’s 125 miles from London, so I’d rather have joined them from Colchester, but it depended on how far I got around the coast by then. One bonus is that they’d carry my panniers to the festival, so I’d have the luxury of a lighter weight bike. Whatever happened I’d have to come back and finish off the rest of the coastline back to Norwich post the festival, so I’d didn’t regard it as cheating! Got my ticket reserved too so all good.

En route to Heysham

En route to Heysham


From Heysham it was a short loop inland to Lancaster, another place I’d never been before but needed to tackle to cross the River Lune. Lancaster was the most impressive city of the tour to date, architecture wise, with a great looking castle and nice streets with lots to see.

Lancaster Castle

Lancaster Castle


You could really see and feel why Lancaster was such a powerful city in the Middle Ages, and it got me wanting to learn more about the War of the Roses when Lancastrians fought Yorkists for control of the country, in another of Britain’s bloody episodes.

Lancaster streets

Lancaster streets


Wheeling my bike around the cobbled streets, and then through the pedestrian zone, I chanced upon a Cycle Awareness event and had a chat with Mickey, one of the people running it. He’s an ex-London courier rider and we talked about cycling on British roads, and encouraging more people to get on a bike. Safety is an issue but not as much as some people think, it’s often a confidence thing. Mickey pointed out the only person he has ever known who’s been killed on a bike was a courier rider who got hit by a car in the Welsh countryside. They’d survived being a courier rider in one of Europe’s busiest cities, but got nobbled by someone driving too fast on a country road. Very sad. 

Mickey, who is one of those people you can instantly get on with, had several bikes for people to try out, including a Penny Farthing and a Recumbent; it looked as if a lot of people were interested in learning more. Hopefully this sort of activity will get more people cycling. It would also help if people signed up to the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ petition, and dropped a note to their MP to ensure they attend the debate in the House of Commons – see the link below:

http://www.sustrans.org.uk/getbritaincycling

Really worth while supporting, and keep an eye out for Mickey and the Cycle Awareness event if it comes to a town or city near you.

I could have spent more time in Lancaster, so it’s gone on the list for a return visit, especially as my photos really didn’t do it justice. There awaited a long ride down to Blackpool, so I had to get on my way. The next stretch started off alongside the Lancaster Canal.

Lancaster Canal

Lancaster Canal


In gorgeous weather I slip-streamed two water treatment lorries down a country road, before turning on to a cycle track to Glasson, alongside the Lune Estuary. For once the cycle track was great, not leading me astray, with a good surface and no bumps.

Cycle track alongside the Lune Estuary

Cycle track alongside the Lune Estuary

I passed a couple of good looking pubs near Glasson, with holiday makers and a few cyclists enjoying a pint in the sunshine. As usual I was sorely tempted to stop, however I managed to resist and pedalled onwards, down to Cockerham, and then continuing on the A588 through flat farmland to Hambleton. The countryside reminded me a lot of Lincolnshire, being flat with lots of waterways and dykes, and similar crops being cultivated.

Sandy coastline and estuary

Sandy coastline and estuary


After crossing the River Wyre I turned north up to Fleetwood, on the B5412, riding around the coast and turning south back down to Blackpool. Fleetwood was not particularly inspiring, and the toilet cost me 20p which I wasn’t overly impressed with.

Fleetwood coastline

Fleetwood coastline


I made it to Blackpool at about 18.00 and had a great ride down the promenade, which goes on for miles and is very cycle friendly. Lots of people were out of their bikes, which had been the case all day with the good weather. There were the serious cyclists on their lightweight road bikes, mountain bikers, families with children either strapped to various parts of the bike or cycling behind, commuters, shoppers, and the odd tourer. All were generally friendly and said hello, and gave a wave or a nod. Cyclists are a good bunch.

Blackpool Beach

Blackpool Beach


I was also quite taken by the Blackpool trams, which run regularly and are quiet and clean. I reckon more cities should have them, although cyclists have to be careful not to get their wheels caught in the tracks and go a tumbling, or get run over by them as they can sneak up. I think a lot more cities used to have trams but they were scrapped with the advent of the car, d’oh.

Blackpool trams

Blackpool trams


The promenade runs all the way from Cleveleys down to practically Lytham-Saint-Annes. I cycled past the ‘attractions’ of Blackpool, including the Tower, Illuminations, and various other monuments and buildings. The sound of cabaret singing was coming from the pier as I passed by, and there was still the odd donkey or horse and cart plying their trade along the beach.

Blackpool Beach 2

Blackpool Beach 2


 

Hotel taking Christmas bookings

Hotel taking Christmas bookings – shocking in June!


 

Blackpool Pier

Blackpool Pier


 

Blackpool Tower

Blackpool Tower

The pier cabaret was belting out some classic numbers, which were being appreciated by the people drinking on the promenade, however I rode swiftly on not really wanting to partake of their Diamond White.

Interesting mosaic type affair on the Prom

Interesting floor picture thingamy on the promenade


The above contained much wisdom…

Bike around Blackpool

Bike around Blackpool

I’d noticed one of my spokes had come loose again, probably due to bumping about on Lancaster’s cobbled streets, so I’d need to have a wheel straightening session again that evening. Nothing new there though!

Blackpool Tower again

Blackpool Tower again

I believe Lu’s Dad, Norman, was born in the shadow of Blackpool Tower, although that might have been a dream, I’d best check.

Pony and carriage ride anyone?

Pony and carriage ride anyone?


In general I found the Illuminations pretty unimpressive, although I’m sure they’re better at night. The Tardis was quite cool though.

Doctor Who Illuminations

Doctor Who Illuminations


 And who can go wrong with big shiny balls. All that was missing was a bit of ‘Road to Amarillo’.

Blackpool glitter ball

Blackpool glitter ball


With Blackpool finally behind me, and not on the list to return to immediate future (aside from the great long promenade), forgive me Blackpool, I pedalled on towards Preston. It was a good last 10 miles with a bit of a tailwind, so I got my head down and the miles flew by. I rode along the A584, with the River Ribble on my right, and stopped just on the outskirts of Preston, quite by chance next to a nice looking pub; the Lea Gate Inn. Rather handily I had been in touch with Sue and Adrian, who live not far away in Bolton and had offered to put me up for the night, and collect me too! I gave them a call and settled down for a pint whilst Adrian drove out to meet me. Awesome after a hot day’s ride.

Before long Adrian arrived and we loaded my bike and kit into the back of Sue’s Mondeo. It was a bit shiny and new and I was worried my dirty bike would sully it, although thinking about it I was probably just as dirty so there was no hope really. It was a bit weird being in a car again after so long – the world seemed to zip past too quickly.

It was great to spend the evening with Sue and Adrian, post a superb 95 mile day, and a wonderful roast chicken dinner courtesy of Sue. Adrian has lots of IT kit and managed to find me a new cable for my Power Monkey, so I could get that up and running again; he has a treasure trove of useful bits and pieces, although I’m not sure Sue would agree. Sadly the Garmin wasn’t so easy to fix, I still needed to phone them. Sue’s Dad also has lots of biking contacts in the area and could probably get me a discount at the local shop if I needed any repairs post my bike checking session in the morning, very handy. After a good catch up I was quite happy to collapse into bed, and slept very well, although I did have to share!

One of Sue and Adrian's cats

One of Sue and Adrian’s cats – a Maine Coon


Maine Coon cats are much larger than most other domestic cats, and very fluffy. Whilst not very clever they’re more talkative and companionable that the usual breeds, and more dog than catlike at times!

Another fluffy cat picture

Another fluffy cat picture

Tomorrow I’d be riding on to Liverpool, after negotiating Preston, and intended to pedal around to Frodsham to visit the Duffys, after dropping in to see a couple of other people along the way. I’d need to put in some long legs to get round to Latitude, but planned a shorter day tomorrow to catch up with friends and rest my legs a bit.

Stats and general update, by the 25 June:

  • I’d covered 3,457 miles
  • Been on the road for 57 days
  • Had lost about half a stone, roughly
  • Had a niggling calf injury that was irritating more than anything else
  • Had an achy right wrist due to all the riding and juddering about. I probably hold my handlebars too tightly
  • Was feeling fit and healthy, aside from the above, although I could do with stretching more
  • Was feeling mentally strong and starting to seriously think about other future tours…
…although Wales was coming up! 

Leg 54 – to Flookburgh via Barrow-in-Furness

Before starting to recount Leg 54, here’s a link to the latest fun sketch from It’s A Trap:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RvWQyB4dcOo

It’s A Trap are a Norwich based group of friends who create entertaining film and audio shorts, check out our YouTube channel. I wasn’t involved in this one, so it was a nice surprise!

24 June 2013

I woke up in good time, keen to get down to Barrow-in-Furness where there’s a good bike shop I’d found on the net the evening before. The wind had dropped a bit but was still blowing, however it was a nice bright day.

Morning in St Bees

Morning in St Bees


Breakfast consisted of sausage rolls due to a slight lack of other supplies, although I wasn’t complaining, beats cornflakes. I had a quick check of the bike ably assisted by Lobster; my temporary spoke fix was holding up well, although my carapaced friend was somewhat dubious as to its potential longevity. 

Post a shower I was ready to hit the road by 09.00, and got on my way after bidding goodbye to the lads starting their coast to coast, as well as Dave the dog walker, who donated a quid to the Big C – thanks Dave, it all helps!

I stopped just outside the campsite to take another look at the bay and beach in the daylight.

St Bees bay

St Bees bay

I quite fancied spending a day on the beach, however bike mending was required.

St Bees beach

St Bees beach


 

St Bees beach looking south

St Bees beach looking south

St Bees village looked nice, with several promising pubs.

St Bees village, I crossed the level crossing with care

St Bees village, I crossed the level crossing with care, nervous of more spokes going

I pedalled along the wriggly country roads out of St Bees, the scenery proving to be a lot more entertaining than yesterday, with dramatic hills, and the wind being mostly behind me making for easier riding. It was a great ride down past Sellafield, near Seascale, where I was hoping I might benefit from a gamma ray or two to give my legs some Hulk like power, sadly it appears the plant is too well shielded for such things.

Sellafield

Sellafield – the nuclear reprocessing site


Next up was Ravenglass, another village which sounds like it should be in a science fiction or fantasy novel, with it’s Roman Baths and the castle of Muncaster just next door. By the looks of it there’s lots to do in the area, and I’d have to add it to my list of places to come back to, along with a visit to the Lake District which I was mostly missing by sticking to the coast. Sticking to the coast did have some benefits in that I missed the steepest of the hills, however I still had to deal with my fair share on the way down to Barrow-in-Furness.

Looking East into the Lake District

Looking East into the Lake District – ominous clouds


I was slightly concerned about the numerous dark clouds lurking over the a Lake District, making it look a bit Mordor like, however the coast looked mostly clear. I stopped at a garage in Holmrook and bought a chicken and leak pie for second breakfast, just in case the weather turned and I needed the extra energy – that was my excuse anyway. It was homemade and tasted excellent, so I bought another one for later, then phoned the bike shop to let them know I was coming and to make sure they could fit a quick wheel repair in. I ended up having quite a long chat with Simon, their wheel builder, who gave me a few pointers on my route down to Barrow. I was looking forward to meeting the guys at Topmark (108 Greengate Street, Barrow-in-Furness).

Riding down the A595

Riding down the A595


The hills looked impressive, and of course were called Fells now, rather the Braes or Munros of Scotland. Scarfell Pike lurked in their somewhere, which I’d climbed one early morning several years ago, starting when it was dark and reaching the top as the dawn broke. We were doing the 3 peaks challenge at the time, and I remember leading our group up a rather dubious looking path, using my head torch to pick out the stone cairns that marked the route. Thankfully we avoided any steep drops and saw the sun rise, before charging back down for bacon rolls at the minibus, happy days.

Muncaster Castle

Muncaster Castle


The signs said Muncaster Castle was allegedly haunted, however in the sunshine it didn’t look very spooky. I had fun whizzing down the hill through the trees from it, and then across the flood plain towards Bootle. 

The great countryside continued, accompanied by a few significant hills which got my legs and lungs going, as I looped around through Millon and down to Barrow-in-Furness. The last bit alongside the Duddon Channel and through Askam seemed to take an age, with lots of ups and downs, however I made it to Barrow at about 13.00, after a good session having covered around 50 miles.

I headed straight for Topmark, sort of, via a slightly roundabout route really, and met up with Simon who quickly got to work replacing my two broken spokes, and straightening out my wheel. This was a bit of a tricky task as I’d had to make a lot of tweaks to make it here (I’d done a bodge job really), and essentially involved slackening all the spokes off and starting again. 

Wheel straightened and reattached I picked up some spare spokes in case any more broke, and Simon gave me a few tips on wheel maintenance, and on my route over the next couple of days. I could only deal with non-drive side spokes, as the drive side are harder to get at and you need a tool I wasn’t carrying with me, so I was hoping it would only be non-drive side that broke, if any. It wasn’t surprising I was encountering spoke breakages, the rear wheel wasn’t exactly right for the bike, and I was carrying a lot of weight over some pretty rigorous terrain. My worry was that now they’d started to break they might all go, a bit like Velcro undoing. I also got my chain checked – it was still well within limits, so I hoped it would get me back to Norwich.

Full marks to Topmark for friendly and efficient service, and going that extra mile to help me out and offer advice. I was getting to really enjoy dropping into bike shops along the way, you learn a lot as things break! Here’s a link to the Topmark website – http://www.topmarkonline.com/ (they also do lots of water sports equipment)

Post bike repairs I grabbed a quick cheeseburger from a McDonalds, because sometimes it’s just nice to eat dirty food, and they have free wifi, then had a quick look around Barrow-in-Furness.

Barrow-in-Furness - statue commemorating engineering that goes on it the city

Barrow-in-Furness – statue commemorating engineering that goes on it the city

It’s a quite a big town, and not very touristy being quite industrial. I had a look at where they build submarines from the bridge over to the Isle of Walney (BAE Systems).

Submarine building sheds

Submarine building sheds – they were huge


Post Walney Island, which is essentially a large sand spit that been built on over the years, I followed Simon’s suggested route which took me along the cycle track from behind Morrisons, around the bay to Rampside. I passed a few frigates on the way.

Cycle path along bay

Cycle path along bay


 

Frigates 1 - Barrow-in-Furness

Frigates 1 – Barrow-in-Furness


I was a bit confused as to which navy the frigates belonged to, however the mystery has been solved by the Interweb! Apparently the 3 frigates have been moored there since 2007, after BAE built them for the navy of the Sultan of Brunei. Although the Sultan paid for them, he decided he didn’t want them anymore and was looking for someone else to sell them to. It doesn’t look like he’s had any luck, despite them being ‘lovely little runners’, with only one previous owner who has effectively left them boxed. At least the port is benefitting from harbour fees whist they’re moored there.

Frigates 2 - Barrow-in-Furness

Frigates 2 – Barrow-in-Furness


 

Cycle path through the mudflats

Cycle path through the mudflats


I had to dodge around a group of kids drinking beer, who thought it would be fun to throw empty beer cans at me, and then met some police trying to find another group of kids who were running amok, nice area. Despite the local flora and fauna I made it around to Rampside and to the end of the road where a ferry runs over to Piel Castle.

Piel Island and Castle

Piel Island and Castle


A nice couple offered to take my photo, so here’s a rare shot of me and my bike in totality.

Jetty to ferry to Piel Island

Jetty to ferry to Piel Island – me and my trusty steed


Of course then Lobster wanted to be in the photo too.

Me and Lobster - Piel Island

Me and Lobster – Piel Island

I decided against taking the ferry over to the island, it being a little windy out on the water, as demonstrated by my hair.

Ship moored off causeway to Roa Island

Ship ‘moored’ off causeway to Roa Island – not sure it was going anywhere in a hurry

A lovely ride along the western side of Morcambe Bay followed, up to Ulvertson, past the big sand flats which are so dangerous to  the unwary, with people getting trapped on them by the tides and sinking sand.

Morecambe Bay

Morecambe Bay

In 2004 twenty one Chinese immigrants were unfortunately drowned whilst collecting cockles out in the bay, when the tide came in. They were here illegally, and being paid £5 for a 25kg bag of cockles. They should have never been out on the sands, where they got cut off by the incoming tide despite a group of British workers trying to warn them. I guess desperate people will go to ay lengths to earn a crust, and unfortunately there are always people around who will take advantage. No one ended up getting prosecuted for any wrongdoing, which seems an injustice. I’d have thought those organising and paying the work gangs should be held accountable in some regard.

Morecambe Bay 2

Morecambe Bay 2


In Ulvertson I rode past the Hoad monument, which commemorates Sir John Barrow, a founder member of the Royal Geographic Society. 

Hoad Monument, Ulvertson

Hoad Monument, Ulvertson


Again following Simon’s directions, and with my bike performing well, I rode around the top of the bay and down to Flookburgh, via a cycle path that avoided the worst bit of the A590. The cycle path took me over a footbridge traversing the River Leven, which flows from Lake Windemere into Morecambe Bay. 

River Leven

River Leven


The slightly bumpy cycle track eventually deposited me on the B5278, for a very pleasant final stretch through woodland.

Country road down to Flookburgh

Country road down to Flookburgh


I stopped at a local shop to buy a few provisions before heading to campsite; I’d decided to try a Haven Holiday Park, how bad could it be? The shop owner let me know the holiday park shop was a lot more expensive, he having worked there, so I stocked up on essentials, and enjoyed a cold bottle of banana milk before going any further.

It turned out to be an ‘interesting’ choice for a stop-over, but I thought I should at least experience the holiday park sensation once. I probably should have chanced it and found a spot to wild camp but the lure of a hot shower trapped me. The holiday park is massive, with it’s own small supermarket, restaurants, bars, and swimming pools, as well as of course the entertainment complex. There were lots of caravaners and campers there for a holiday, but after 30 minutes in the live lounge I realised it wasn’t exactly my sort of place. Agadoo and Road to Amarillo aren’t my favourite choices of music, but seemed quite popular amongst some of the punters. I had a chat with one of the bar staff with whom I sympathised for having to listen to the same music night after night. He said the worse thing was when he found himself singing along without realising it.

I retreated to a quieter bar where I could use the wifi, charge stuff, and write up my journal and blog in peace, over a pint. It had been a good days ride, with excellent progress made covering 87.5 miles, so I was keeping up my average. I wandered back to my tent at about 23.00, humming the Spice Girls and Ace of Base; if you can’t beat them join them.

Full moon again

Full moon again – maybe that explained things

Leg 53 – to St Bees via Gretna

Back into England!

23 June 2013

For the second morning in a row I lay in my tent listening to the sound of rain, and not really wanting to get up. The persistent drumming turned into a more gentle pitter-patter, so I made a dash to the toilet block for a shower and a shave; I’d make it back into England today so thought I’d better smarten up. The rain stopped and the sun appeared whilst I was washing, drying off my tent a bit, so I had a bite to eat and packed up whilst further evaporation took place.

Morning in Annan

Morning in Annan

A slightly eccentric American couple in their late sixties were camped up next to me, having also retreated to their tent early yesterday evening due to the weather. They were in the process of a UK tour on their tandem touring bike, and I had a chat over breakfast. They were veteran tourers having travelled all over the globe on their bike, including to Australia and New Zealand, as well as all over Europe and down to Greece. It was interesting to hear about their experiences and relate some of mine. I think I learn something useful every time I meet people like this on the road. They’d had trouble with wheels in the past, which is common on tandems due to the weight, but had had no issues since they got hand built wheels – no spoke breaks in about 5 years. This was their first tour including a mobile phone, having foregone all technology in the past, and were finding it quite handy but a pain to charge – I recommended my solar charger, but only if you had plenty of sunshine.

Lobster and I ready to hit the road

Lobster and I ready to hit the road, England beckoned


I hadn’t been able to pay for the campsite last night, and tried to phone the warden several times to ask where I could leave them some cash, but got no response. In the end I ended up stashing a fiver in a video case in the gents, and leaving them a message to let them know where it was, hoping it was sufficient. I couldn’t afford to delay any longer, as it looked like the weather might worsen and I had quite a lot of miles to get done; the American couple had already sped off on their tandem.

All packed up, and with the weather still dry, I set off east on the B721, avoiding the main road. Thanks to a tailwind and flat  road I made good time to Gretna Green, my final stop in Scotland before crossing the border.

Gretna Green

Gretna Green


I had a quick look around the Blacksmith’s Centre, where people get married after eloping across the border from England to get married under Scottish law, although I’m not sure if much of that goes on anymore.

Blacksmith's Centre - Gretna Green

Blacksmith’s Centre – Gretna Green


I didn’t pay to look at the Anvil upon which people get married, it was all a bit overly touristy, which whilst I’d expected was still a bit disappointing. There was of course a bag-piper present, who started up every time another coach disgorged its visitors, although I don’t think most of them realised he was a busker. I had a quick chat with the Blacksmith’s Centre attendant, mostly about my tour. I think he was quite relieved not to have to deal with more photo crazy Japanese tourists, of which there were a multitude. Whilst chatting I realised I’d been on the road 54 days, and in Scotland for 45 of those.

Horseshoes - Gretna Green

Horseshoes – Gretna Green


I grabbed a sandwich in the food hall, and visited the souvenir shop wincing slightly at the tackiness and stereotypical gifts on sale. They did have lots of swords and bits of armour on the wall, but I’m not sure what Lord of the Rings props have to do with Gretna Green. The Witch King’s sword as well as Aragorn’s blade were on offer alongside more traditional claymores and dirks, and the Black Prince’s sword, all a bit confusing. The shop did smell nice, with whisky fumes pervading the atmosphere and obviously having the desired effect with lots of tourists walking away with bottles of dubious looking liquor.

Next up I rode rode down through Gretna village, and approached the border, anticipation building. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting, a fanfare perhaps, but I was grinning when I finally crossed back into England. I’d loved Scotland, but had been there a long time, so it was a bit of a landmark to close off that part of the tour. I was also looking forward to seeing what Cumbria had to offer.

Welcome to England

Welcome to England

I had to ride alongside the M6 for a bit, which wasn’t entirely pleasant, crossing over the River Esk before turning West towards the Solway Firth. I passed a few other tourers going the other way who waved cheerily.

Barrier between me and the M6

Barrier between me and the M6

My good mood took a bit of a hit shortly after entering England, when I trundled over a level crossing. Bump… rattle… ping… squeak. Arse, two spokes had broken causing my wheel to immediately buckle and my rear brakes to rub. I pulled over, unloaded, and did a temporary fix by tightening the spokes either side of the broken ones. This straightened out the wheel sufficiently enough to allow my journey to continue, which was handy considering I didn’t have any spare spokes, and it would have been at least 10 mile walk into Carlisle to find spares. Once everything was loaded back on to the Ridgeback I pedalled on, doing my best to avoid any further bumps. I’d need to find a bike shop in the next couple of days to enable a permanent fix, lest more spokes break.

After wriggling around country roads for a bit, skirting around Carlisle, I joined the minor road through Burgh by Sands, out towards Bowness-on-Solway, the road following the last bit of Hadrian’s Wall. I passed several other cyclists and walkers going the other way, starting their coast to coast trips, including one man dressed in the full armour and garb of a Roman soldier, with all the kit. He was already looking pretty tired, but had a gaggle of supporters with him, most of them of the young, female and attractive variety, so I reckoned he’d be alright. The other end of the wall is around 84 miles away, in Wallsend just outside Newcastle, where I’d been several weeks before; I hadn’t really taken the most direct of routes to get here.

The next bit of the ride, alongside the Solway Firth, was pretty tough, into a harsh headwind that rivalled that which I’d encountered on Orkney. The coastline up the Firth is very exposed, with very few hills or trees, so I got blasted.

Riding up the Solway Firth

Riding up the Solway Firth


I passed lots of signs telling me that if the water reached this point, it would be a maximum of ‘x’ feet deep, where x was between 1 and 3 feet, so the road must flood sometimes. I could well believe this with the waters of the Solway Firth just off to my right.

Fishermen on the Firth

Fishermen on the Firth


I stopped in Bowness-on-Solway, a little bit frayed around the edges, and found a pub serving Sunday lunch. Roast Beef considerably improved matters, my first roast in weeks, followed by gooseberry pie and custard, all washed down with a pint of ale. It all cost a tenner which I thought was a bargain. The Kings Arms proved a welcome stop, and would be a good place to start or finish the Hadrian’s Wall Trail. I think it does B&B too.

Re-energised I cycled on, sticking to the minor road following the coast, which unfortunately meant more cows and sheep on the road. It seemed this issue was not contained to just Scotland, and I had to negotiate my way through a couple of flocks and past a few frisky looking cows. There are also a couple of heavy gates you have to get through, instead of cattle grids, but at least they didn’t increase the risk of more spokes breaking.

Looking toward Solway Firth and Scotland beyond

Looking toward Solway Firth and Scotland beyond


I swung around Moricambe Bay, a particularly wild part of the Cumbrian coast with large sand/mud flats and lots of bird life, before pedalling to Skinburness. It was a somewhat convoluted route due to having to dip inland to cross rivers, but the sun was out and the wind wasn’t constantly in my face so it was enjoyable. I did have to laugh slightly when I passed a group of charity riders going the other way, in their Asda tops, all slightly overweight and struggling slightly, with the fairy wings they were wearing being whipped about by the wind. Good effort though.

Skinburness

Skinburness


From Skinburness it was a short stretch down to Silloth, where I encountered a strange road surface which got me worrying about my spokes again.

Silloth - strange road surface

Silloth – strange road surface


Thankfully no further spoke breaks resulted, and I continued on to Allonby. There were a few kite surfers out in Allonby Bay, having a good time in the wind; wind good for them but bad for cyclists.

Allonby Bay - Kite Surfers

Allonby Bay – Kite Surfers


 

Back in England - no wild camping!

Back in England – no wild camping!


The next bit of the ride was fairly uneventful, it not being a particularly interesting bit of coastline, with quite a bit of industry in places. I passed through Maryport and Workington, piling on the miles, before arriving in Whitehaven. By this time the hills  had started up again making things more entertaining.

Whitehaven

Whitehaven


I stopped a break in Whitehaven and had a look around. There were a lot of people out and about, and the town had a bit of a party atmosphere, it being the end of a 3 day Maritime Festival. There were an awful lot of slightly merry people on the streets, and at least one rock band playing in one of the packed pubs I passed. A foot long Sub replenished my energy reserves for the final stretch over to St Bees, where I planned on camping for the night.

Ride out of Whitehaven

Ride out of Whitehaven – Cumbrian countryside 

It was a short ride over to St Bees, albeit with a couple of big hills. It’s a nice little village right on the coast, with a caravan park that has a camping field, and a hotel next to it. The bay is lovely, with a nice beach that had waves crashing in against it, driven by the still fierce westerly wind.

Road down to St Bees

Road down to St Bees


St Bees

St Bees

After booking in I quickly pitched my tent, and had a chat with a group of lads just camped down from me who were about to start their coast to coast cycle ride – think they’d just finished their A-levels. They were a bit bemused by the amount of kit on my bike, but I explained it was actually more stable with panniers on the front as well as the back. 

Feeling thirsty I headed to the hotel to get out of the wind for a bit, and recuperate after a hard day. I’d covered just over 85 miles, but it felt like further due to the weather. I enjoyed a couple of pints listening to other customers complain about the speed of the service, and the hotel staff complaining about being understaffed. It had a bit of a Fawlty Towers feel to the place, but the beer was perfectly acceptable. Thankfully I’d already eaten so I didn’t need to risk anything from the kitchen, and I spent a couple of hours writing up my journal and trying to catch up a bit on my blog.

With the wind continuing to grow in strength I retreated back to my tent, which was thankfully sheltered by a hedge. I did stop to re-peg someone else’s tent on the the way, which was in danger of blowing away – the owners weren’t present. I fell asleep with the wind howling about, whilst trying to write up more of my blog. Unfortunately I left my head torch on and the batteries ran out as a result. Whoops. First day back in England done.

Clouds and moon in St Bees

Clouds and moon in St Bees

Leg 52 – to Annan

22 June 2013

Rain, lots of rain. It had been raining when I got into my tent the evening before, and was still raining in the morning when I woke up. I lay in my sleeping bag for a bit contemplating what to do, before eventually deciding it couldn’t be helped and I needed to get on. I wanted to maintain at least 80 mile a day legs for a bit to give me some leeway in getting around to Suffolk in time for the Latitude Festival, and had emailed them to ask if I could reserve a ticket, so the race was on.

I got up as the rain stopped, perfect timing, meaning I could breakfast, shower and pack up relatively quickly and with a mostly dry tent. It was my brother’s birthday so I sent him a message, and would call later assuming I find dry land; everywhere was a little soggy.

After visiting reception to pay up for last night, I was on the road by 10.00, pedalling from Creetown down the coast, under grey skies and into a rather blustery wind. The wind was supposed to be a Westerly, or South Westerly, but seemed to keep changing its mind during the morning session, buffeting me around a bit. The sea in Wigtown Bay was looking progressively rougher, with plenty of white horses and churning waters. There was definitely the possibility of worse weather to come, but it’s so unpredictable in Scotland, it could have been sunny again in a few hours.

Grey skies and slightly choppy sea

Grey skies and slightly choppy sea – although this bay was relatively calm


I pedalled down the A75, past Ravenshall Wood, and Mossyard where I’d considered heading for to camp up last night; I was glad I hadn’t as it didn’t look as good as the Castle Cary Holiday Park and Lairds Inn. I made my way up the side of the Big Water of Fleet, crossing the river just below Gatehouse of Fleet, and turning off the main road on to the B727 down to Borgue. Imagine my ‘relief’ to be passing fields full of sheep again, phew, at least they weren’t in the middle of the road or ambushing me for a change.

Kirkcudbright Bay

Kirkcudbright Bay


Passing through more farmland I cycled up to Kirkcudbright, crossing the River Dee (I think there are a few River Dees around), another sticky-out bit of coastline done. There were several yachts of different shapes and sizes making their way up the river to the marina, including one nice looking catamaran, which I always have trouble spelling for some reason. The yachts were all using their engines rather than being under sail, the wind being somewhat unpredictable and feisty.

Kirkcudbright waterside - few dinghies out sailing

Kirkcudbright waterside – few dinghies out sailing


Kirkcudbright waterside - fishing boats moored up

Kirkcudbright waterside – fishing boats moored up


I had a bit of a cycle around the town, dodging the frequent groups of OAPs on tour that seemed to gravitate towards my heavily laden and potentially lethal bike. People use their ears more than they realise for crossing the road, and don’t necessarily look both ways as per the green cross code! I’d have flattened a few people if it wasn’t for my bell, or hollering, or evasive manoeuvres learnt from tackling sheep infested roads.

MacLellan's Castle - Kirkcudbright

MacLellan’s Castle – Kirkcudbright


Kirkcudbright is a pretty town, with its castle, marina, and several galleries, as well as the Belfry Cafe where I stopped for a bite to eat. The Belfry turned out to be a great greasy spoon, and I ordered the all day breakfast, after briefly contemplating the roast beef, all very reasonably priced at around a fiver. It proved to be a good choice, with lots of carbs for the ride ahead. I’d try and find somewhere for a roast tomorrow, when I’d be back in England, touch wood.

Kirkcudbright Marina

Kirkcudbright Marina – still a very grey day


Suitably refuelled, and after a quick chat with the mistress of the house concerning the merits of hearty Scottish fare, I got on my way again heading down the A711 along the coast. There are a few dead end roads you can take to get closer to the coast, however I ignored these pedalling all the way around to Dalbeattie. I’d considered visiting Castle Douglas, but that would have meant a detour inland which given the weather I wasn’t really up for, so it would have to wait for another day.

Kirkcudbright Bay from the other side

Kirkcudbright Bay from the other side – bit of blue sky!


With quite a bit left to do today I crossed the Urr Water, and pressed on round yet another sticky-out bit, past Dundrennan and its Abbey, with my brakes squealing a bit too loudly down one of the few larger hills of the day; I’d need to adjust them later.

Dundrennan Abbey

Dundrennan Abbey

Dundrennan Abbey was built in 1142, as a Cistercian Monastery, but fell into ruin following the reformation and the land passing to the crown. Mary Queen of Scots spent her last night in Scotland there, in 1568, before being imprisoned by the English.

There’s an MOD firing range and exercise area along the coast at Dundrennan too, and the red flags were up although I didn’t hear any bangs. I did see a few military helicopters flying about, hovering a bit, and then flying off, so some kind of exercise was going on. It would be fun to abseil out of a helicopter, as long as the rope proved to be long enough and the helicopter didn’t decide to ascend during the abseil.

I rode past Sandyhills and its big beach, which didn’t look very inspiring given the weather. There were still a few enthusiastic punters out on the sand, with kids building castles and people picnicking. Good to see other folks carrying on regardless of the weather, in that fine British tradition of forcing themselves to enjoy the seaside whatever the conditions.

At New Abbey I stopped for a break to have a quick look at Sweetheart Abbey, another Cistercian monastery, which proved to have a slightly morbid tale behind it. The Lady who built it was so devoted to her husband, that when he died in 1269 she had his heart embalmed and kept it in a casket of ivory and silver, as her ‘sweet and silent companion’. Lady Devorgilla lasted for another 20 years, keeping the casket close to hand, before she was buried alongside her husband, John de Balliol, with the casket clasped to her bosom. Call me conservative but that’s a bit odd if you ask me, reeking slightly of necromancy and lichdom. Their son was briefly king of Scotland, but met a tragic end, as so often seems to be the case with royalty of the period.

Sweetheart Abbey 1

Sweetheart Abbey 1


The abbey is built out of distinctive local red sandstone, which looks pretty impressive.

Sweetheart Abbey 2

Sweetheart Abbey 2

King Edward I stayed at the abbey one Christmas, and fought quite a few battles in the area suppressing the Scots in the Anglo/Scottish War. He spent a bit of time campaigning in the region, generally beating people up, before running out of money and having to retreat as troops and barons deserted. The pope had said his campaign was illegal anyway but he’d been trying to ignore that, obviously trying to route out all the necromancers! (this post might be going a bit odd)

Sweetheart Abbey 3

Sweetheart Abbey 3

There’s also a handy toilet handy incidentally, which I was quite glad of, and lots of well marked trails for hikers and bikers.

With time-a-ticking, and the weather not really showing much sign of improvement, I rode on to Dumfries, passing some very muddy mountain bikers loading their bikes back on to their cars, after what must have been a good days off-roading. I’d being seeing signs for Dumfries for days, but found it to be rather unimpressive after a quick look around. Really I’d been expecting more after it being heralded for the last 200 miles or so.

Dumfries - the River Nith

Dumfries – the River Nith


Dumfries city centre

Dumfries city centre

The coast road beckoned once more, so I cycled on through Glencaple, and round to Bankend before scooting along to Annan via minor roads that traversed the railway line several times. There’s a large area of marshland that doesn’t have any roads through it along that stretch, but no doubt has lots of interesting wildlife, and I passed signs to at least one more castle and a famous well. 

Coast near River Nith estuary

Coast near River Nith estuary

I didn’t stop as I was enjoying the benefit of a tailwind for once, which had really helped with my average speed over the course of the day, once it had decided which direction to consistently blow from.

Some reeds, I think this was meant to be an arty photo

Some reeds, I think this was meant to be an arty photo

I arrived in Annan, which isn’t far from Gretna Green and the border, at about 19.00, and found the campsite just outside the town post shopping for dinner. I’d been noticing more and more English accents as I got closer to the border, which sounded a bit odd after so long in Scotland. 

Unfortunately it started to rain in earnest as I pulled up to the campsite, having only been spitting for the last few miles. I had to put my tent up as it turned torrential, before diving inside and phoning the warden to let her know I was on site. I spent the rest of the evening cosy in my tent, feasting on pitta bread, cheese and peanut butter. I couldn’t be bothered to cook as I’d have got soaked, even if I’d sat in my porch area, and didn’t fancy one of my ration packs cold that were my back up meals. 

Dry land had eluded me, but I gave my brother a call anyway to wish him happy birthday, celebrating with a can of beer which meant having to make a run for the toilet about 30 minutes later, and getting wet anyway. It was great to have a chat, a bit of a morale boost given the weather, and I was looking forwarding to getting back into England the following day.

Post a good days riding, having covered just over 91 miles, I drifted off to sleep pondering what it must have been live up here in the 13th century, during the Anglo/Scottish war. I can’t imagine it was an easy life, and the average life expectancy must have been low – perhaps that explained the suspicious signs of the dark arts being practiced at Sweetheart Abbey (I’m sure Lady Devorgilla was completely innocent really). Mind you I believe the average life expectancy in Scotland is still lower than in the rest of the UK, which needs to be rectified, so maybe there’s still the odd Lich about.

Lich picture

For those unaware of what a Lich is, here’s a picture, courtesy of Google. Also refer to the Witch King of Angmar from Lord of the Rings