16 May 2012

Riding the Trans Pennine Trail

Our grand tour of the year is approaching fast. On the May bank holiday we had set out to ride most of the Trans Pennine Trail, a mostly off-roadie trail that runs from Southport (on the UK's west coast) to Hornsea (all the way on the East coast). It is pancake flat, except the bit in the middle, across the Peninnes, where you will find some inclines. Due to train connections and time constraints, we only did it from Liverpool to Hull. The route we followed, although with some detours, can be found below:



Day 1: Liverpool to Stockport


So, another super early start and a smooth journey to Liverpool. Suprisingly, the ride out of town was quite pleasant, with little traffic and wider roads than we are used to in London. Soon we were on the official route heading East towards Stockport.

About to set off from Liverpool 
Once we cleared the Liverpool suburbs, we followed the river for a while and took in the first view of the water. This ride is supposed to go from coast to coast, but this would be the only water that we will see until we got to Hull.

Weather was threatening with rain, but stayed dried in the end
The route passed through many urban areas and was not particularly nice or what we were exactly expecting. Plenty of road crossings and gates made for a very slow progress. Also, the scenery was not the nicest as we went through industrial areas and the odd power station...

A usual sight in the UK
Somewhere half way we rode on what it turned out to be the only mountain bikey section of the trail on day 1. However, due to the heavy rains of April, we encountered lots of mud, some of which made it impossible to ride through...!

At least we could push the loaded bikes!
Once we cleared these muddy sections, we were quite near the Manchester area and thus plenty of developments. Past 5 pm we headed off the main route and into our B & B, where we spent the night. It was not the most ideal ride, but it got us there without doing much on-road km.

In Stockport we ended up eating at what it was probably the worst Italian restaurant that I can recall. Something called "Amici". If you happened to be there, I would avoid it by all means, unless you want frozen pizza for 9 quid each... Fell asleep pretty quickly after a long day, and looked forward to crossing the Peninnes on the following day.

Day 2: Stockport to Doncaster


We woke up to a sunny and cold morning. Had a hearty breafast and set off minutes before 10 am. The Peaks awaited us, so we needed the extra calories for this one.

Before hitting the Peaks proper, we encountered the first and only group of cyclists doing the trail. Some sections were relatively busy with other, more leisurely cyclists, but not much people doing the whole coast to coast. These guys happened to be from near Hull, and so the route was just too convenient for them. They finished quite literally at their doorstep! We chatted to them a few times, especially on the hills, but eventually ended up loosing them towards the middle of the day on the highest point.

We're now quite familiar to the Peak District, although this was the first time that we attempted a ride with our mtbs. I was glad to be back on some good trails, with potentially steep inclines. We really tested our legs here, and even had to walk one of them as it was just too slippery and rocky at times! Lucy did very well indeed, despite this being her only third or fourth time on her mtb. She was initially scared of some of the steepest hills, but in general made excellent progress and I believe she is a good climber!

The views were just too good, especially given the good weather. Of all the times we've travelled up here, it's only ever rained at night, so can't really complain!

Peaks
Making good progress
Once we reached the highest point of the trail, nearing 500 m, we put all our warm clothes back on for what I was expecting it would be an exciting descend on trails. Unfortunately, it was all down on easy roads and well-paved trails, so we descended back to sea levels in no time. 

Admittedly, had to walk up this one...
Next, the Pyrinees...
Reaching the "summit"
Glad to be back on easy trails
The last bit out of the Peaks and into Doncaster was quite nice, along old disused railways and quiet paths and soon after 6 pm we reached our destination.

Highlights of the day included some challenging climbs in the Peaks, seeing locals without a shirt at below 10C (this included very young children!), people on flip-flops and some scenic views. We should definitely come back for some good mtb-ing in the near future!

Rail bridge into Doncaster
Day 3: Doncaster to Hull

We woke up to yet another sunny day in England. But the forecast was not so promising for the rest of the day. Heavy rain was approaching from the West, making its way East by noon and hitting us soon after that. We tried to make an early start to avoid all this, but only managed to re-join the trail at 9 am. 

After some 30 km into it, it was time for a cake stop. This time it was not the regular café on a high street, but someone else's house tucked in some random town suburbs near the trail in Braithwaith. The owner was catering for walkers and cyclists. Prices were reasonable and portions of American standards, so all good and happy faces.

Cottage full of tourer's pictures
While enjoying our cakes, an Irish cyclist turned up. We soon found out that he had been travelling from his house in Donegal to Belfast, then boat to Liverpool and he had plans to carry on to Prague. I can tell you that he made me very jealous, especially as this was our last day of the trail. Although we would have loved to chat to him a bit more, we were worried about the rain and getting late to Hull for our train back.

At some point we saw a bunch of cyclists going past us through the window, and we guessed those must be the group we saw the day before. Indeed, they were. Again, we engaged into interesting conversations and got an invite to join them (20 of them!) for lunch. They had a support vehicle! They really insisted and we could not refuse the offer. Nice people up North. Even had some fantastic conversations about statistics with one of them, an statistician himself, who gave me good advice. Who would have told me?

Again, we worried about making slow progress (they were literally heading home, in South Cave, while we were due to catch an 8 pm train from Hull!) and set off on our own. My wheel was feeling a bit weird, and it was here where I noticed my first ever broken spoke. As it usually happens, it was one from the drive side...Luckily I have 32 spokes on both my mtb wheels, so after a bit of re-adjusting of the other spokes, we carried on without much delay. I will fix it back at home. 

20 km out of Hull, with the Humber bridge in the background
It's not the Golden Gate, but still, quite impressive!
The bridge from below, over the river Humber
For the last 50 km we met up with the Irish cyclist again, and between the three of us battled some head and crosswinds on our way to Hull. Apparently this area is always windy, but still, quite nice with the farmland, rolling roads and the bridge. Most of the day we were on really quiet roads and very few trails.

At 6 pm we arrived in town, after some pretty boring stretches of roads into Hull. Being a bank holiday, everything seemed deserted and closed, so grabbed some quick snacks at the station, waved our Irish friend off and wish him well.

It had been a good trip, not particularly adventurous or challenging, but we really enjoyed the second day through the Peaks and some good company along the way. It is still quite impressive that they have managed to join some 360 km through the midlands, full of industrial towns and suburbs, with most of the way on trails or super quiet lanes. Good for families and novices, maybe not the best if you're looking for something challenging, scenic or country-sidey. For us, it was more a test of the bikes and the luggage than anything else, but we did have a great time, and most suprisingly, did not get rained on for the whole trip!

Next stop, El Camino Francés.

The stats for the trip:

Overall odometer: 315 km (split in three days)
Moving time: 21h 23 min
Stopped time while en route: 5 h 25 min
Overall average speed: 11.7 km/h
Moving average speed: 14.7 km/h
Maximum speed: 42.9 km/h

3 comments:

  1. Fascinating account.....and looks as if you had some good weather

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  2. I absolutely love the Trans Pennine Trail, its such an interesting cross section of all that the North has to offer. The only thing missing is some information about the history and culture of the places one passes through which is what I decided to research and write about. You might be interested to have a look - http://cyclingthetranspenninetrail.seasonjunkie.com.

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  3. Hi! :-) I want to say a huge thankyou to everyone involved and to everyone who is supporting us in this challenge!

    'I have always wanted to bike the Trans Pennine Trail as a personal goal of mine. However, it became more than a personal goal when a close friend was diagnosed with cancer. This friend left me feeling utterly inspired after witnessing the endurance of the human spirit, from the point of diagnosis and through the course of there treatment. It was at that point and meeting others in similar situations that drove my passion to do this bike ride for a reason.'



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