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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.