TwoLegsTwoWheels

A record of my cycling trips in Britain and abroad

May
09

Through Liverpool

Day 3
Distance: 134 km / 83 mi

2342.jpgWell, what a day! We awoke refreshed and ready to go, after our night camping out in the woods. It really is the best way to sleep, except possibly bivouacking on a warm night. I would say it feels ‘at one with the forest’ or some such nonsense but I’d sound like a hippy. Anyway, I slept well (Polly, I think, less so: a sleeping mat really makes a difference!). We had a downhill start to the day, back towards the sea to pick up the coastal route again, after cutting off the north-easternmost corner of Wales. However, we’d not been going five minutes when Polly’s bike suffered a puncture. Swiftly repaired, we were back on the road again. Being a Monday morning, the traffic was a lot heavier than yesterday, and we were making our way closer to Chester. After an hour or so, we stopped to replenish our food supplies and have a second breakfast. I’ve already lost track of how many cereal bars I’ve eaten! We also stopped by a bike shop in Flint to top up the tyre pressure and pick up a spare inner tube in case of further punctures (it’s difficult to get a high pressure with the small pump I’m carrying); they were very friendly, and we also cleaned and oiled our chains and tightened up a couple of loose bolts.

gmap_day3.pngWith our bikes back into tip-top condition we cycled through Flint along the town high street. The roads were busy, but the traffic was slow-moving. The scenery hardly gave us the drama that Snowdon had, but it was a pleasant enough ride. We picked up a cycle path and were ticking along nicely, making good progress now through the flat countryside. We crossed the Dee over a somewhat rickety railway bridge (it wasn’t rickety for us, but I’d have been a bit worried if we’d been in a train - it looked rather like the wooden rollercoaster-style bridges you see in films of the Wild West), and a couple of kilometres further on brought us to a sign: ‘Welcome to England’. We paused for the obligatory photo and a drink, the photo somewhat spoilt by the graffiti on the sign.

This was something like 9 or 10 o’clock; from here, the day went downhill (metaphorically rather than literally, though that phrase seems very inappropriate - surely downhill is a good thing? It is at least when you’re on a bike!). The signposted cycle route took us away from the village backroads onto a busy A road heading towards the refineries and industrial sites around Ellesmere. We took a promising turn - following the signs - away from the main roads, leading us if not into open countryside at least through fields rather than right alongside oil storage tanks. However, the track petered out in the middle of a hayfield, and the next couple of hours were to prove distinctly dispiriting, as we searched for the elusive path and blue signs indicating the national cycle network. Being lost is not so bad in itself, but being lost in the outskirts of Ellesmere Port is a bit like being lost in Purgatory, but without the same sense of optimism. Eventually, we gave up on the search, cut our losses and found a way past the smelly factories and on to the road around Frodsham. From here, it was a fairly boring cycle through moderately-busy roads into Runcorn. As we got into Runcorn itself, we turned off the main road as it became a busy dual carriageway, aiming to thread our way towards Runcorn bridge which, rumour has it, sports a cycle lane of some sort. Marvellously, we found the blue signs again indicating the national cycle network route 5; not that they were a huge help at this point, as they soon disappeared again! Feeling tired, hungry and a bit dispirited after a slow and uninspiring morning we sat down to lunch. The one saving grace at this point I think was that it was warm and sunny.

2345.jpgAfter lunch, with no signs visible, we could only weave our way slowly through Runcorn, following the line of the main road to the bridge visible on the horizon. We soon grew bored of the slow pace through the suburbs, with roads turning every which way except, it seemed, for the direction we wanted. After more of the same, we decided to once again cut our losses and head straight for the bridge along the ‘expressway’. Although not a nice road, it wasn’t actually too busy.

Not too busy, that is, until we merged with another dual carriage way; but with no hard shoulder and a shear wall on our left, and a double line of traffic thundering past at 70mph on our right, we were now most definitely committed to the bridge approach road. Oops! As we crossed the Mersey the next sign read ‘Liverpool John Lennon airport 8 miles’; 8 miles of busy dual carriageway, with no turn off either for us or for any other traffic. At least we were making progress at last. (The airport was our target, as that was a point on the national cycle route network; I just hadn’t planned to get there via a motorway!) After half an hour or so we came to the airport junction, and - as if by a miracle - there was a small blue sign on the opposite pavement, with the white number 5 tantalising in the sunshine. We could not afford to let this chance go: the next stop otherwise would be central Liverpool. We hopped the central barrier and it was with some relief that we swung off the dual carriageway and onto a winding path through housing and parks.2344.jpg A mile or so later and we found ourselves on what was evidently an old railway line. The embankment rose up above the surrounding houses with trees on either side; the surface was smooth and level; surely, we could not be heading through the centre of Liverpool? After this morning’s tedium it was shear bliss to be cycling on something this nice, and I was torn between the wish to race along, making the most of the opportunity, and the desire to savour the surroundings, feeling certain that the tree-lined avenue would end soon. Reality imposed itself: we were already behind our estimated schedule, and Simon was getting the train to Ormskirk for the night, a good 25km away. We had to head at least as far as that, with enough time to find somewhere suitable to spend the night. So, with this in mind, we set a good pace along the remains of the permanent way. Despite my inner reservation, our luck held, and the smooth off-road tarmac took us almost as far as Aintree. Our route so far had been a funny inverse of expectations: mixing with heavy lorries through Wales and the outskirts of Chester, and yet a lovely, tree-lined and peaceful avenue through Liverpool. (Well, comparatively peaceful, discounting the group of boys around 13 or so sniffing glue, and the couple screaming their heads off at each other as they ended their relationship. But we passed them by swiftly.)

2343.jpgBy the time we made it to Aintree, we were feeling like we needed to recharge. We had done 100km or so by this point, plus the various detours we’d made earlier. We took a pause to get some chips (and a milkshake :) Most important, of course.) We were still following the signs at this point, and although the old railway disappeared at Aintree, our route kept us mostly off-road, following a hard-packed gravel path through fields and by streams (the sort of fine gravel often found along canal towpaths, that makes for nice cycling, even on narrow tyres and a road bike). This was flat and nice, easy going: just what we needed at this point! We were ticking along, sensing a certain feel, a smell in the air and a change in vegetation that told us we were nearing the sea. With the land being so flat, we could sense this long before we could actually see water, and we were cycling along a road through sand dunes with coarse grass on when we finally rounded a turn, and saw the sea stretching before us. A short ride further took us into Southport itself; cue a long discussion about the relative merits of camping and youth hostels! Eventually, the camping view prevailed (although only because we tried and failed to find a hostel in Southport); another few minutes’ ride onwards and we found a busy campsite, with plenty of space, and hot showers galore.