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