Day Seven: “L’Enfer du Nord”
Day seven was one of those days that should have been relatively easy – leaving Lancaster in the late morning, I was hoping for an easyish run to Altrincham (where I would be staying with Bryony’s sister Beth and her partner Andy).
It was already raining and a little windy – although the rain let up from time to time, it was never long enough to get truly dry before getting soaked again.
I had already expected parts of this ride to not be my favourite, going as it did through some quite built up areas. This was true of Preston and Wigan although there were more clear green bits than I was predicting. Also, any day where you go through a crossroads and the signpost to left and right points to ‘Goosnargh’ and ‘Woodplumpton’ respectively, can’t be all bad.
I stopped between Preston and Wigan on the A49 at a place called Euxton and had a pint – I sat outside (as it was dry at this point) and was chatting to an old boy – he was reminiscing about cycling back when he was in the RAF and was talking about old brands of bike, none of which I can remember. He did talk nostalgically about 531 tubing and I was able to tell him that it’s still popular among some fraternities of cycling. He pottered off after checking the pressure in my front tyre and nodding approvingly. Before he went I asked him if he thought it would be safe to leave my fully laden and unlocked bike outside while I nipped back into the pub to the toilet.
“Oh the kids don’t steal bikes round here” he assured me. He paused for a while in thought then added “They wouldn’t fucking know what to do with them”.
After Wigan I got a bit confused, I was trying to cross the M62 via the B5212 which avoids the alternative busy junctions and was anyway my most logical route – finding it proved less than easy. The 1:125,000 scale maps I had were great for countryside navigation and route planning, less good for negotiating cities. My route plotted on GPS would probably have looked like an ever decreasing circle.
I eventually found my route and crossed the Manchester Ship Canal via the toll bridge on the way to Warburton (bikes go fee, hurrah!). I would have photographed the bridge but it was pouring with rain and I was too tired to stop.
From then on it was a final slog through rain and wind to reach Altrincham. Beth and Andy had done a “Welcome Iain” sign which helped me find their front door in my fuddled state.
They were very kind to a cold and wet cyclist; yet another great dinner followed, then much drinking. Beth was running for the Wilmslow half-marathon that weekend and I hope all the drinking didn’t do in her chances.
I’m Bacchus me. Everywhere I go, people drink more…
Day Eight: “Keeping on, Keeping on”
After a memorable night of music, conversation, food and drink, I awoke to see the welcome sight of blue skies out of the bedroom window.
Sadly they didn’t last. After a late breakfast I started getting the bike ready and noticed that all was not well with the back wheel.
A few days before I had noticed a strange noise (a sort of “pink, pink, pink” sound). I eventually narrowed this down to the rear brake or mudguard stay slightly rubbing against the tyre, the back wheel having picked up a slight buckle somewhere along the way.
A bit of adjustment and all was well. I did thoroughly inspect the tyre at the time and found no problem except some slight wear. I continued on my way and thought nothing of it until the morning of day eight a few days later.
The tyre wear was now becoming a split, with the tyre starting to overhang the wheel, presaging an eventual and dramatic puncture. Not wanting to wait until this happened randomly, I went to a local bike shop and bought a new tyre (Beth was kind enough to drive me there). I replaced the faulty one and re-oiled the chain for the second time this trip – in fact by the time we got back from the bike shop, Andy had the bike up on his bike stand and had the rear wheel off ready for me to replace the tyre.
This was another example of three things about the ride –
1.People were amazingly generous with their time and hospitality along the way.
2.With all the help I had, I certainly can’t declare the ride was unsupported.
3.I really did need the spare tyre I left behind in London all those days ago.
After this problem, I started very late into day eight. By now the weather had changed and had reverted to the rain and wind of the previous day – the wind was stronger and almost directly from the south. This made slow going for most of the day, a shame as I had been looking forward to blasting along on the flat roads through Cheshire.
I rode through Mobberly, aware that I was riding through countryside from Alan Garner stories (sad that I had neither the time, energy or foresight to divert through Alderly Edge), the roads I took overall weren’t bad and I think this would have been a great and restful ride were it not for the challenging headwind and constant rain.
Thinking back,this is the day I remember least, it just being a steady fight against the weather (not really bad enough to term a constant battle but persistent enough to be an overriding feature of the day). At this point I was glad that Bryony had not joined me for this ride as originally planned – this would have been a downright miserable day for her – was hoping we would have an enjoyable ride to share.
I remember some bits, I remember getting lost in Crewe and how pretty either Market Drayton or Newport looked but much of the rest of the day is a wet and windy blur.
My time estimate for completion kept shifting backwards, from originally hoping to be in Shifnal and my parent’s house for 5pm, I eventually reached there for just before 7.30pm.
Not the best day but was good to complete the day (this was almost bang on 666 miles completed. Oddly appropriate).
Was good to see Bryony at the end of the ride (especially after more than a week (the last time I saw her was being waved off in London eight days and more than 600 miles ago) and enjoy a good meal with my parents – had just missed my sister Kathryn sadly by the time I got there.
In the night I could hear rain and wind and hoped it would clear for the ride next day to Hereford that I was to share with Bryony.
The weather had cleared mostly and we set off for Bridgnorth. We were mostly on main roads as far as there then starting heading south-west on minor roads (that rolled a bit but reasonably gently as I recall).
We stopped for an early lunch at a good pub, sitting outside at first but changeable weather drove us indoors. The weather that day was still mostly clear but had sudden intermittent bad spells including a memorable hailstorm, nature’s exfoliant.
I can’t remember what time we left Shifnal but the day seemed to fly past – so by the time we reached Ludlow the castle was closed.
We set off again for Hereford (via back roads south of Mortimer’s Cross via Yarpole (“Yarp!”). At this point we acquired a dog that decided to run along with us for some distance.
After that it was a slog on the A road south (although our back roads route had helped us avoid Hope Under Dinmore and brought us towards Hereford by a better road for our purposes. It was a road I knew reasonably welland we passed places I had ridden through first decades before – passing fruit farms where I had earned cash in school holidays here and there.
The evening was drawing in, as evidenced by sightings of two different barn owls ghosting across our path until finally we re topped the last rise, just before the Roman Road to the north of Hereford (by a suburb with the ridiculous name of Bobblestock). Looking at Hereford from the outside, the cathedral and two main medieval churches are still the tallest buildings in the town and so are still the main landmarks.
We crossed the town and were at my brother’s house, got cleaned up then headed off for more curry (no wonder I didn’t lose weight riding this). I now had a rest day to enjoy before setting off on the final part of my journey. I’m not sure but I think at this point, the ride this day was thelongest Bryony had ever ridden in one go.