Welcome to the Trans Pennine Trail
A national coast to coast route for recreation and transport – for walkers, cyclists and (in parts) horse riders
Hong Kong to Hornsea via Southport
I have to admit I was worried at the start of my journey to completing the Trans Pennine Trail. As a Hong Kong resident I first planned to attempt the route in 2006, during my usual summer break in the UK. However, this all came to nothing when during a training ride on the Hull to Hornsea section I fell off the bike sustaining a broken wrist and a visit to Hull Royal Infirmary. In 2007 reported flooding on sections of the Trail thwarted my plans.
This year my main purpose for being in the UK was to attend my daughter’s graduation from University; my Wife had seen enough of my injuries and did not want them recorded in the graduation pictures, therefore I was banned from the bike until after the ceremony.
With the graduation a success and me still uninjured, I was now awaiting some decent weather to attempt the route. Eventually the conditions looked reasonable, so on June 2nd I boarded a train with a borrowed bike and set out from Hull for Liverpool. I next rode the bike out to Southport and bedded down for the night in a B&B ready to kick off the next day.
Day One: The morning of June 3rd arrived with a stiff breeze from the southwest and rain; so much for the predicted sunny conditions. Undeterred, and having taken the obligatory photograph at the start point, I set off from Southport under black skies with heavy rain falling. At least the wind was in approximately the right direction, pushing me along from the side. By Aintree the rain stopped, my morale improved and I made good progress to Halewood. However, the weather gods intervened again just before the Widnes Bridge with a thunderstorm interrupting this rather pleasant section along the Mersey. As I pressed on along the Sankey Canal, avoiding the fishermen and their rods, the rain eased and the sun shone again. Bliss.
Wilderspool, near Warrington, presented my first major route challenge. Essentially I got lost when presented with a number of options for the way ahead and some unclear signs. After a detour I re-established contact with the Trail with the help of a kind lady cyclist, who went out of her way to lead me back onto the Trail. She clearly took petty on me and for that I’m thankful.
I opted for Stockport as my first day’s destination, with a helpful taxi driver directing me to a motel for an excellent nights sleep. I was tired, but relatively fine by this stage.
First Day: 73 miles Time riding: 7 hrs 12 minutes
Day Two: Day two promised sunshine and hot conditions, and for once the weatherman was correct. My departure from Stockport went off route for a while as I struggled to find the Trail. After doubling back for a short distance, I was back on the route and heading to Hadfield through the Tame Valley. Arriving in Hadfield I took a short break for a late breakfast in a ‘local café for local people.’
Suitably refreshed, I next ventured onto the Pennines proper anticipating a hard climb to Woodhead Pass along the Longdendale Trail. To my surprise and great relief the climb was steady, with an easy gradient allowing me to maintain a decent speed. The views back over the reservoirs were lovely. The Longdendale Trail is clearly popular; busy with cyclist, walkers and a couple of horse riders all enjoying the sunny weather.
In no time I reached the blocked tunnel entrances and climbed to the A628. I stuck with the path over moorland finally cresting at Woodhead Pass. An easier route with a bike is to climb with the road, although the large lorries make this a risky option and it is not recommended. Next came the fast drop from Windle Edge into Dunford Bridge; just make sure your brakes are functioning for the stop near the bottom. I then turned onto the old rail line for a steady drop into Penistone. With the Pennines behind me I felt a great sense of achievement.
How far to go on Day Two was the next question I faced. I set my initial target as Selby, although as the day progressed and the fatigue kicked in I opted for Sykehouse, just north of Doncaster. I called my parents and arranged a pick up. Just beyond Doncaster, on a canal path, I had my only puncture of the trip caused by a large thorn. To be honest I had expected more punctures and feel lucky to get away with just one. A swift repair had me going again for a pick up at Sykehouse and home to Beverley for a soak in a hot bath.
Second day: 74 miles Time riding: 7 hours
Day Three: I was driven back to Sykehouse under threatening skies with gale force winds forecast and heavy rain expected. It looked like the British summer was over. As I boarded the bike the heavens opened whilst the wind decided to play games with me with gusts alternating from behind and then to the front. My progress was painfully slow with my mood rapidly deteriorating. As Selby came into view a welcoming McDonalds used its tractor beam to drag me in and held me for an hour as the rain tapped against the windows.
With the worst of the weather out the way, I set off again only to find the track dug up along the Ouse Bank. Clues to a diversion where posted on a rain sodden piece of paper hanging forlornly on the blocked entrance to the Trail. After 20 minutes I managed to get onto the Trail to press on with my relentless journey east. Patchy sunshine now accompanied me through Yokefleet, and I removed my rain gear, although I had not seen the last of the rain. I took a brief stop in South Cave for some refreshments, then set my sights on the Humber Bridge that was now beckoning me closer to Hull.
The ride along the Humber bank towards the bridge was the bumpiest I encountered on the entire trip, with my lower regions registering every hit. Maybe it was tiredness, but the ride felt rough and I was glad when I reached asphalt. Leaving the bridge area the rain was back with vengeance with a heavy downpour greeting me for my ride into Hull. The route through Hull is well signed and I was soon on the last leg along the old rail line to Hornsea. The rain had stopped but my lower regions were now protesting after three days in the saddle. I know the Hull to Hornsea track well and was able to tick off the landmarks as I raced to the finish.
Suddenly it was over, as my parents greeted me at a deserted Hornsea finish point. I’d done it in three days covering a total distance of 221 miles, as measured by my GPS. I’d rode with a heart monitor that helped me calculate my total calorie burn at about 13,500. And guess what, no injuries except a sore bum!
With rain threatening again, I quickly packed up and loaded the bike on Dad’s car to head home for a lengthy soak in a hot bath and a well-deserved cold beer.
Third day: 74 miles Time riding: 7 hours
Some thoughts: My bike was a loaned Marin Muirwood 29er. The bike was well up to the job, although the slick urban tires did struggle in the wet and required careful handling in the mud. To be fair, the Trail was relatively dry despite the rain, although mud and puddles are to be expected in areas where the sun does not reach. None of the Trail is technical. In other words, it’s a relatively easy ride and a suspension bike is not a most although it would make things more comfortable on a few sections especially along the Humber bank.
I found plenty of shops on the route or just off it therefore it was possible to top up my water and other essential items as I went along. At one point a well-stocked bike shop is positioned right on the trail (near Penistone if my memory is correct.)
The route is surprisingly easy to follow with generally good signage. I relied on the official TPT map for directions, which was adequate enough although I did get lost a few times due to my own misreading of features.
The most bothersome feature of the Trail is the angled cycle-gates. I would build up a decent speed then have to dismount and negotiate a gate that in places is so narrow that a bike with panniers struggles to clear them. Moreover, these gates appear superfluous given that motorbikes seeking to access the Trail could easily use the adjacent horse-entrance. The swing gates proved an easier option. Having said that, the Trail is well organised and a joy to ride. As regards scenery, things certainly improve from Hadfield onwards.
So do you have to be super fit to ride the coast to coast? No, is the simple answer. Although I consider myself to be a reasonably fit 48-year-old due, in part to my regular cycling in Hong Kong and China, in my view the Trans Pennine appears to be well within the reach of any rider with a bit of preparation. So get out there and enjoy!