sand

To Anglesey, and the Covid Squeeze

After the stunning success of pretty much every pun I’ve come up with, I’ve spent a chunk of the last few days on the bike trying to come up with a way of getting ‘it’s the angle, see’ into a sensible sentence. Having found no realistic way of doing so, I’ve decided (wisely, I think) to just leave it.

I escaped from Liverpool on the ferry ‘cross the Mersey 24 hours before they announced new Covid restrictions, along with most of the north of England. The only barrier to my departure was a significant number of sand drifts covering the sea-wall bike paths along the edge of the Wirral peninsular.

Just a couple of hours after leaving Liverpool, and fresh from a decent rail path down the west side of the peninsular, I was heading across the valley of the river Dee when I crossed into Wales (the fourth and last of the UK’s constituent bits for this trip).

I’m not sure if the nice boardwalk over the Deeside marshes (above) was in England or Wales, but being confronted by a wooden miner a few miles later (below) confirmed that I had, indeed reached the Welsh side of the border.

The north coast of Wales is a series of holiday resorts, for the most part with broad concrete sea walls to ride along. This should be both nice and quick. And the lack of traffic is nice. But the propensity of wandering pensioners to lose all sense of spatial awareness when grappling with chips or ice cream made things slow. Very slow in places. In a normal (non-Covid) summer, it must be nearly impossible to make any progress at all along the north coast.

Things change after Llandudno. The coastline tilts southwards, faces the island of Anglesey across the Menai Straits, and takes on more of the character of the mountains of Snowdonia, which are never far away.

And castles begin to appear, like at Conwy (above), ringing the areas of Wales which the English found hardest to control back in medieval times. Pretty soon, it’s hard to move without stubbing your toe on another castle.

The pensioners disappear as the coastline becomes more rugged, and the route (still mostly traffic-free) becomes more spectacular. The only downside of this is that progress is a little tougher than it would be on the flat.

I spent most of the last two days lapping Anglesey (the second, after Northern Ireland, of my two laps-within-a-lap). Crossing the Menai Bridge (below) gives you a good view of the ferocious tidal current running between the island and the mainland.

And on Anglesey, the landscape changes again. The south of the island, especially, feels a bit like being back in Devon and Cornwall, with short, but very steep climbs on tiny country lanes. It’s very pleasant, but if you don’t already know the Welsh word for ‘Slow’, you will after pottering around the island.

If you’re in a hurry, the jet fighter trainers buzzing out of RAF Valley will exacerbate any frustration at the lack of speed. I wasn’t hurrying, so it was fun to watch them zipping around in formation for a while, before trundling down to the beach at Trearddur Bay (technically on Holy Island, a sub-island of Anglesey).

Yesterday (Saturday), it was the return to the Menai Straits and the small city of Bangor. There’s been an unusual, really strong north-easterly wind for the last few days, which blew me nicely along the north coast, but was pretty fully in my face as I struggled back towards the bridge. It’s all, erm, about the angles, see?

Ha! Think I got away with that pun, after all…

A quick stop at Beaumaris en route revealed part of another castle, but also a spectacular view back across the straits, almost all the way back to Llandudno. There’s more of that sort of landscape to come as I head south in the next few days.

That’s all assuming that the Covid situation doesn’t finally mess things up. I’ve been very lucky so far, but the last few days have seen restrictions ratchet up all over the country, and serious-sounding talk of further measures to come. Especially worrying for me is that there’s some discussion about areas of South Wales, which are on my route, and would potentially block it.

Having got so close to finishing the trip, it would be pretty gutting to be halted by Covid restrictions just a few days short of home. But it’s out of my control, so I’ll just have to keep plugging away until I can’t. Hopefully, I’ll at least get to somewhere with a direct train connection before things fall over…

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…