A Bicycle Tour of Northern England & Scotland
The Route, at a Glance…
Manchester, Lake District, Carlisle, Oban, Fort William, Loch Ness,
Inverness, Edinburgh, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Whitby, Leeds, Manchester
July/August, 2006 – Approximately 2000 kms
I surmised that a tour in the United Kingdom would strike my fancy sooner or later as I was born in the city of Leeds in Yorkshire, England and lived in the country for 24 years. I emigrated to Canada in 1974 leaving behind family and many friends. Although I had returned to the UK for periodic visits, I had never cycled there since living there as a youngster.
Scotland I had only visited a couple of times before and then either by car or train, so the idea of bicycle touring Northern England and Scotland seemed very appealing and finally came to fruition this year…
I took along all of my camping gear and my “Break-Apart” touring bike. My flight would be long, but that’s to be expected when travelling from the West Coast of Canada to Britain. Fortunately, I only had one stop at Toronto in Ontario where I switched flights and hoped that my bike and gear did too! They did, and all arrived safely in Manchester, England together with a very jet-lagged owner – I hate flying, but it’s a necessary evil!
I’d pre-booked an inexpensive (relatively, for UK prices) hotel in Altrincham, which is quite close to Manchester Airport, as I planned a loop tour returning to the same area for my flight back to Canada. The owners of the hotel would store my bike case for the five-plus weeks that I would be riding – for free too – bonus!
After getting settled in, I spent a few hours assembling my bike and loading my gear/panniers etc., and then went for a wander into the town of Altrincham for supplies and stove alcohol (“Meths” in the UK) – I was immediately waylaid by a pub with some excellent Theakstons beer on tap! After sufficiently refreshing myself, shopping was much less of a task! I got everything that I wanted and had a nice meal before heading back to the hotel for a well deserved sleep. I was very tired after the flight and the weather in the UK was exceptionally hot, which was very unusual and I found it very draining on my jet-lagged body. Nevertheless, no air conditioning in my hotel room made for a restless night.
I’ll mention here that I have only added a few photos throughout this blog post of my bicycle tour in Northern England and Scotland, but all my images from this trip are available for viewing by clicking this link.
What follows are my edited email messages sent to family and friends during this tour…
Day 1 (riding) – Altrincham to Clitheroe – 104 kms
Actually, I’m just outside Clitheroe at Edisform Farm, where they have a caravan and tenting field – 5 pounds for the night, not bad! The campground that I had intended to stay at in Longridge wanted 25 pounds for a site – no picnic tables or anything else, except showers – but come on, that’s over C$50! “No thanks,” I said. I really explained that I didn’t want shares in the place, just a site for the night, but they didn’t see the humour in that statement. It was getting late too, as I had a late start waiting for the Monday morning rush-hour around Manchester to subside. So I was lucky finding this place, with a farm shop and pub next door. That’s where I am now, enjoying a pint of John Smith’s at an outside table writing this report.
Life’s tough eh? But today was another scorcher – 30 degrees yesterday and today and even a hotter forecast for tomorrow – 35 predicted for Southern England! Unusual weather for here – lots of people with bad sunburns, they’re just not used to this much sun. Mind you, it took its toll on me too – lots of drinks and ice creams today, and I’m still downing fluids 😉
I can’t get over that 25 pound fee! What amazes me is that some people were actually camped there paying that extortionate price!
I had lots of fun today, map reading and wending my way on many minor roads trying to avoid the “big town” traffic. I did pretty good until I ended up in downtown Bolton, but with all the bike lanes here now, it was very easy riding through that town and any other congested areas that Basil directed me into – I’ll keep him off the beer tomorrow, his mind tends to wander when he’s passing this many pubs all the time!
So a long hot day with great scenery, it never ceases to amaze me that just a few kilometres out of the towns there is so much countryside still unspoiled – let’s hope it stays that way. After some canalside riding, I rode through a section of the West Pennine Moors that was really special and provided some good rubbernecking vistas. I’m even getting used to riding on the left again, I guess 24 years of living here and then riding in NZ recently prepped me though.
Tomorrow will definitely be more countryside riding on the way to the Lake District. If it’s hot again, I don’t plan to ride too far though, I’m still jet-lagged something awful – we’ll see!
Adam K. & (what day/time is it?) Basil.
Day 2 – Clitheroe to Crookland – 65 kms
Why only 65 klicks you may ask? Well the weather just seems to be getting hotter still, and I had some serious hills from first thing this morning riding over the moors/fells in the Forest of Bowland. I don’t know why they call it a forest, because it was completely devoid of anything larger than clumps of grass and thistles. So no shade whatsoever and it was a scorcher. The granny gear was in constant use and even then I could have cut off my right arm for a motor – very slow going on some posted 16% grades!
Very quiet road though – I kept thinking to myself that if I passed out from heat exhaustion or rode over the edge (one lane road for the most part), I would be sheep fodder. Hundreds of them suckers on the moors, a lot more than I saw in NZ. Quite the bloody pests too, when I eventually got some downhill runs I had a hell of a time avoiding them – lying in the middle of the road and running in front of the bike – lamb curry was looking good!
I stopped for lunch in High Bentham and it was an inferno there too – people just wandering around trying to catch whatever shade they could under awnings etc. The grocery store was busy, it was air-conditioned so lots of looky-loos – including me trying to get some cold air on me while I decided whole milk or skim – it was a long decision! I left there with big plans, but the heat was relentless and I’d had enough when I got to some road works at Kirkby Lonsdale. I was waiting in a queue there on a hill in full sun, for pavers to escort us through – eventually! I quit that idea after almost passing out with the heat reflected back from the roadway and went to the village for some more cold popsicles and drinks – I’m spending a fortune on cold stuff by the way! Anyway, I asked about camping and found out that there was nothing around until this place 10 kms away. So, I found a way out of the village avoiding the paving crew and pedalled here.
Nice place, shady campsite, showers – and a bar, ahhh! I didn’t sleep well again last night either, so tiredness, jet lag, heat – what the hell – I don’t need excuses, I’m on holiday! Tomorrow’s a new day.
Saw my first British bunny (for this trip) – live too!
Saw my first dead bunny too though.
Saw the absolutely flattest mouse ever.
Saw a whole lifetime’s worth of sheep shit.
So you see all was not lost! And I actually passed through a section of the North Yorkshire Moors. I never realised that Yorkshire stretched this far west – in fact, High Bentham is still in Yorkshire. Well, if it’s still this hot tomorrow, I won’t be going far again – too hard trying to keep hydrated and too much to see. Even with the hardships today, I saw some lovely small villages that are being kept up really well – picture postcard stuff!
Adam K. & (shave this damn fur off me) Basil.
Day 3 – Crooklands to Keswick – 68 kms
Another scorcher made 68 kms enough for the day. Mind you, I didn’t rush as I had many interesting and scenic villages/towns to visit and rack up some miles exploring. First stop was Kendal, then Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere and so on. Lots of bakeries in these places and I sampled quite a few of the wares. I also drank gallons of liquids today and I must admit that I needed them as the last two days have left me quite dehydrated. It’s easy to get like that when riding, because the breeze cools you off somewhat and you can fool yourself into thinking that you have drunk enough.
Anyway, I paid more attention to my body today and felt a little better, even though it’s plenty hot work all the same. The newspapers today are quoting temps of 102 down south, with roads melting and all kinds of health problems for some people – so you can see why taking it easy is important for me. I was talking with a fellow at the campsite here, he asked me how far I had ridden (as he was eyeballing all the crap strapped to my bike) – I told him that I had ridden a little over 40 miles (everything here is still in miles not kilometres) – he said that he hadn’t even driven that far today!
But what nice scenic villages and views today – it was really nice to poke around without worrying too much about destinations – I really have to do more of that. I’ve got a very nice campsite today, overlooking Derwentwater – almost cheapest yet too – at 5 pounds quite a bargain here in the Lake District. The whole of the Lake District is a tourist Mecca, so the only problem with all the quaint towns are the hordes of (other) tourists that I tend to meet, but one can definitely see why they’re drawn here away from other even more crowded spaces.
With a bit of luck, I should be just into Scotland tomorrow – we’ll see how tired the weather makes me again!
Adam K. & (better brush off that kilt) Basil.
Day 4 – Keswick to Carlisle – 60 kms
Not quite in Scotland, but at the site of a part of Hadrian’s wall. I’ve decided to have an extra day here, kind of forced, but it looks like an interesting town – Castle, Cathedral, Wall, etc.
I said, kind of forced, as I’m having problems with my sleeping pad – it keeps deflating overnight, due to a pinhole leak somewhere. I don’t understand why it started leaking, but Murphy’s Law is alive and well. Not very congenial to a good night’s sleep at all. So I’ve got a hostel room for a couple of nights while I resolve my problem and do some sightseeing. The only way to find such a small leak is to (according to the manufacturer) submerge in a bathtub – well I do carry the proverbial “kitchen sink,” but sorry, no bathtub. Hopefully there is a large sink at the hostel or something, otherwise ???
Today started with rain, just as I was packing up my gear at the campsite. I had to eat my breakfast under the cover of a tree to stay dry. I rode a short distance into the picturesque town of Keswick and wandered around there for quite a while trying to stay dry and hoping for the rain to stop – no dice. The light rain kept up and continued until almost my arrival in Carlisle.
It’s afternoon now and somewhat dry, but the clouds are battling with the sun for attention. The sun is still really strong behind the clouds, which makes for a humid day. Otherwise today’s ride was kind of ho-hum, with not too much to gawp at, other than the spray from passing vehicles. There’s not much for shoulders on many roads here, and there are some very busy sections to negotiate – Basil’s keeping an extra watchful eye out the rear!
Wish me luck with my sleeping pad repair, or I won’t be doing much camping without a replacement. Hostel doesn’t open until 5:00 p.m., so I guess that I’ll have to find some food and drink to pass the time on – oh well, it’s nice to sit and watch life go by too.
More the day after tomorrow…
Adam K. & (I hope the mattress tonight is better than that flat pad) Basil.