2020

Bright Lights, Big City. Eventually.

The Lake District is one of the most impressive areas of England, with towering (by English standards) hills dropping almost straight into the sea. Unfortunately, it took a while before the hills made themselves apparent. Everything over about 200 metres remained thoroughly shrouded in clouds until the day I left the area.

But the coast was nice. Possibly not including the waste nuclear fuel site at Sellafield, but otherwise nice. There was quite a lot of decent infrastructure, including this bike bridge at Workington:

And some crazy infrastructure, like this shared footpath / bike track bridge over an estuary a little further south:

Both these bridges are on the UK’s National Cycle Network. And while it’s nice to have a bit of variety, it gets very tricky to plan routes when the surface, size and quality of the bike path, off-road track or main road can change so much within in a few kilometres.

The weather kept some of the nicer bits of countryside hidden from me until I turned the corner, and began heading in another estuary-interrupted zig-zag along the south of the area. Monday was a beautiful day meandering along, including the bay at Grange-over-Sands (below).

Having cleared the ‘bulge’ of the Lake District, it was time to hit Lancashire and head south. The landscape changed almost immediately, with just a few smallish hills (below) as I parallelled the M6 motorway for a little while.

But I was pretty quickly into the flat lands of the Lancashire coast. I rode straight into Lancaster on the canal towpath, with suburbs below me as I followed the water. I always find it slightly bizarre when water is above the surrounding land, and was delighted to come upon this aqueduct (below), carrying the canal over the river Lune on the edge of Lancaster.

And from Lancaster, there’s barely been a bump in the road. Or, more accurately, the sea wall for much of the time. There’s been a lot of easy cruising along traffic-free sea defences, and paths through sand dunes. It’s generally been pretty relaxing.

On Tuesday, I finally got to the bright lights of Blackpool. The illuminations are already looking quite impressive, but there are lots of closed hotels. The centre, much like every other large town and city in the UK, felt eerily quiet in the evening.

Blackpool’s big time was in the late Victorian era, as a seaside resort for workers in the Industrial Revolution’s heartlands of Lancashire, Manchester and Liverpool. There’s a bunch of similar resorts, which sprang up for the same reason along this part of the coast, most of which then fell on hard times in the late 20th century as people went abroad on holiday.

You’d think that the Covid crisis this year would have resulted in a massive surge of business back to these struggling towns, and a virus boom, but there’s not a lot of evidence. After an astonishing event – my first puncture after over 3000 miles! – more easy beach cruising took me to Southport (above), which again felt half-empty, despite the sunshine.

And yesterday evening, I rolled into Liverpool, to find a host of big hotels fighting over no business. I’ve taken advantage, and popped into a major brand place right in the city centre for only £25. While this is great for me, it can’t be great for the city.

I’ll be across the Mersey on the ferry, and then on into Wales today, which is really the final leg of the trip. From where I sit in Liverpool, it’s actually only a comfy three-day ride to Bristol. It’ll take much longer going around the edge, but once Wales is done, it’s only a few miles home.

It should be ‘interesting’ – Wales is getting hit with some major Covid spikes, which may complicate things, and they still have more restrictive travel rules than most of the rest of the UK. Fingers crossed I can get around without the road getting locked down in front of me…

Kernow

Legs get stronger with time. And with tailwinds.

The pain of the first few days of this ride is fading into memory. Dots are advancing on the map (you can find it via the ‘Rides’ tab above). And the weather’s been very kind. Progress is being made.

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The climbing still goes on, but that’s the nature of a rocky coastline. Amazingly, I’ve already climbed 70% of the height of Everest on this trip in just over 300 miles / 500 km. Thankfully, it should only be another few days before I hit the flatter parts of the south coast, although it’ll stay tough for a while.

The rocky coast gave rise to Cornwall’s big industry of previous times. The landscape is dotted with old tin mines and the engine houses which kept them pumped out. Many of these are ruins now, although I found this one, which has been converted into a holiday cottage.

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The other thing that Cornwall is famous for is its tourist towns. It’s an odd situation at the moment, with many places operating under capacity, and many non-tourist towns still feeling very quiet. Meanwhile, tourist areas like St Ives (below) feel almost normal – though presumably with less traffic.

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I say ‘presumably’ less traffic, because there is still loads of it. One of the features of Cornwall is that there are not many direct routes. It’s a skinny peninsular, which obviously gets skinnier towards the tip, so there’s not a lot of space for major roads. So all the big roads are pretty rammed. And driving standards are a little heart-in-mouth at times due to some very inappropriate overtaking tactics. The only option is the tiny country lanes, which are beautiful, but incredibly slow to ride, due to the endless hills, endless potholes, and the occasional need to wait for tiny ferries across rivers (don’t forget your face mask if you want avoid long rides around estuaries this year!).

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But, if you can take your time, and avoid the main roads, Cornwall’s a lovely place to be in the summer sunshine. The only exception so far is Lands End, which has been turned from a fairly insignificant headland into a bizarre cliffside theme park. I was pretty happy that getting to the signpost indicating the end of the country was not a big issue for me. But I’d be quite upset if I’d done the length of Great Britain as a lifetime challenge, or charity ride, only to have to pay to finish. I skipped the theme park, and just completed the turn that the finish of the road dictates. There’s no more south west on the mainland.

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For me, Lands End was just a corner to turn; the first major change in direction. It’s taken me out of the Atlantic, and into the English Channel, which I’ll now follow up to Kent. There’s just half a chance that the wind might be about to turn again to assist, but that’s surely in the realms of fantasy cycling…