Over the years I've had many offers to try a spot of bike riding in Great Britain. I've easily managed to resist the temptation. If I’m going to fly to the opposite side of the world to get on a bicycle, it better be sunny, warm and dry. None of these things do I associate with the English summer. It isn't called a green and pleasant land for nothing. For some reason this changed after watching Michael Palin walking from Liverpool to Sheffield. What could be more pleasant than strolling along an old canal in the sunshine with a pub conveniently located every couple of hundred meters. Better still, do it on a bike, more time to chat to the quirky locals at the pub stops. The stars all align. My cousins want me to drive them around Europe, I'm being forced to fly to Heathrow, and I've forgotten about the English definition of summer.
This may come as a surprise to some of you but sometime I do have to work. A thanks here to the Australian Tax office for giving my life meaning. So I passed the planning off to my brother Mick. “Bike, Pubs, Canal, Liverpool to somewhere close to Liverpool”. Over the next couple of months I got regular emails with things like bike hire, and suggested route in them, which I skimmed the headers of, and then replied that’s fine. He even managed to sucker our friend Cath, to coming along. And thus I found myself at Euston station with a ticket to Liverpool, and a nagging thought in the back of my head that perhaps I should have read a few more of those emails.
I arrive and catch up with Cath and Mick at the station. We have a nice hotel booked in a converted mill in the middle of town, Cath has borrowed her sister’s bike. Just a` little summer rain to great us. Did you know the Beatles and Cilla Black where born here? Not that you can move more than ten feet around town without being reminded. Liverpool is a wonderful town with lots of bars and great old buildings. It's industrial history is everywhere, from the imposing East India` Building, to the old dock warehouses now turned into trendy flats and cafe's. We avoid all this and go for a dodgy Indian buffet in the back streets. The next morning we wander off to collect our renta bikes, it's only raining slightly.
Mick has also persuaded two English couples who we met in Cuba to come along as well. This is a stroke of genesis, not only may they have some idea of where we are going, Andrea has taken up the mantel of master logistics planner. I learn that we are ridding the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT). A two hundred mile trek that does follow some canals (without pubs), and climbs the Alpe D' Huez of England. First day, a leisurely fifty miles, the basted didn't put that in the header. We head off through the town bike trails down to the river. The sun comes out, and a brisk tail wind springs up. We ride along the Manchester ship canal ( to big for pubs), then duck on to one of the many abandoned rail lines that criss cross the area. All around us are remains of mighty Victorian industries. Coal pits, canals, train lines,and huge viaducts, all abandoned. A small note here on English bike paths, they are perfect except for the local councils love of putting obstructions on them. Every Kilometre, especially at the top or at the bottom of a steep hill there seems to be a narrow gate which you have to weave your bike through. A lot of time and effort has gone into making these extremely difficult to get a bike through, add random large rocks placed in the middle of the path, and you have made your signed bike path the most impracticably way of getting from “A to B” on a bike. Our track mainly avoids towns, but being Tom and Andrea's local they manage to find us a nice pub for lunch. Only 20 miles to go. After lunch continue till we hit Manchester. Only 4 miles to go. We ride around the Mersey and lose the trail. Only 4 miles to go. We leave the Mersey and hit the streets. Only 4 miles to go. Eventually we get to Tom's house where we are staying for the night. Only four miles to go becomes the standard distance measure to anywhere from now on. A few beers, a quick shower, chuck our washing in the machine,off to the local curry house for a non dodgy curry and some reds. Life couldn’t be better.
After a fab breakfast, we head out on our next leg. Tom brings out his riding secret. One hundred millilitre shots of condensed beetroot juice, this is the gear Lance Armstrong was on. For the next four days every time I go to the loo I think I have bowel cancer. The ride is only forty miles across what poses as a mountain range round here. Fortunately we are in the Costa del Sol of England so the weather is perfect. A few stops and a couple of hills and we find a pub for lunch. The trail continues rising slightly along an old line with great views as we rise above the valleys. John and Burnie, our other couple become our de facto leaders, John blazing the trail, and Burnie keeping an eye out for the pubs. Eventually we can see the top of our days ride, Its only about 4 miles down hill on the other side. There is a 3 mile tunnel through the hill. Great. Unfortunately it's full of high voltage power lines, put there after the line closed. We have to push (not ride) our bikes up a goat track another couple of miles to the summit. Eventually we get to the top, roll back down to the other end of the tunnel, only to find we need to ride back up the main road to get to our hotel for the night. It's worth it, beer and good grub await at the end. We all sleep well.
Day three. Selby only another leisurely 50 miles. Who organised this again.. I arrange to meet a mate, John at the end. Weather good as you would expect. Cath's sister has stuffed up her flights, and she has to leave us at the end of the day. That’s her story anyway, “Liz make sure she buys you a bottle of wine”. The trail is meant to be pretty much flat from here but some how we get lost and go down a steep hill. It takes us a hour to find the trail again. We ride another 4 miles to Bently train station . Three generations of the same family under 40 pushing prams, and a lack of trains are the only remarkable things about the place. Much to Cath's disgust we have to ride 4 miles back into Doncaster to get her a train out. She escapes while I try to find a loo in a Brit Rail station. We give up and check into the local motel. Total distance 37 miles. Bummer I missed John Stoddart for a bit of chat about the cricket which the Aussies are loosing along the track. Thank god for small mercies.
Day 4 50 miles, weather ominous. Trail flat. A good days ride past old airfields and along canals again. A bit of a Cuban tail wind ( straight in your face ) has sprung up. Lunch in Selby and I finally meet John for that chat. He joins us for the afternoon but heads back when the clouds arrive. We have a bit of trouble finding a place to stay so end up doing 60 miles for the day. It's starting to rain as we pull in to South Cave for the night but the food and beer is good
Day Six. 15 miles. Weather crap. The English summer has arrived with a vengeance. I get out the rain coat. Mick and I only have 15 miles to Hull. The others are foolishly going on to Hornsea. Another 15 miles. The track is good and we stop for a cuppa at the Hummber bridge which we can barely see through the mist. Soaking we finally get to lunch, and afterwards bid our English friends goodbye. They struggle along a muddy track for the next couple of hours but arrive in the end after a couple of punchers. I jump on my bike to ride a couple of hundred meters to to the car hire place. I've go a flat. It's close enough I'll walk.
We drive 200 miles back to Liverpool, through the mist to return the bikes, and spend the night in Southend reliving a bit of faded English glory, Basel Faulty would have been right at home at our “Prin of Wales Hote”. The Letters had fallen off the end of the sign. G n T, full English Breakfast, and a view over the mud where all available though. Back to Hull next morning to return the car, we arrive right on our 24 hour time slot. It's like ground hog day.
Thanks to Mick and Andrea for the planning, Tom for the bed, and the rest for being silly enough to come along.
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