Snail trail – from Coast to Coast
Being a small snail in wet weather on the Trans Pennine Trail is a hazardous business. Cycling along around fifteen miles an hour I was aware that the rain had brought out the snails and they were crossing the trail in large numbers here and there. It was mid July and as the two of us started our cycling journey from Southport we were dressed for brilliant sunshine and warm weather, but two days into the five day ride we were donning wet weather gear and it wasn’t until we had almost reached the east coast that we were able to finally remove them and cycle in t-shirts again.
How had we embarked on this adventure?
Although both of us are rising towards the big 70, we had started to enjoy a late revival in our cycling only twelve months ago and at first a 240 mile ride in five days seemed impossible. But the excellent website of TPT showed stories of other riders who had succeeded in enjoying this amazing route, so why not us too? The idea grew and we both knew well the different areas of northern England the trail went through, so it would be like a trip through memory lane wouldn’t it?
Our training started. Cycling along the flat lands around the south of France on holiday with warm breezes and croissants and coffee breaks, followed by oysters and wine for lunch, we graduated to more arduous days back in England, taking in at least twenty miles a day before collapsing in the evening over a take away.
Over the weeks we began to feel stronger and we felt our health began to improve as we cycled more regularly and further, and now forty miles a day seemed like a full day, with energy to spare for home cooking afterwards. We decided to base our trail ride on five days at around fifty miles a day, knowing we would be stretching ourselves just that bit more, but the lure of a bed and breakfast with a hot bath each night clinched it.
We had asked a good friend to drive us and our bikes to Southport where to our surprise the whole town was occupied by people wearing orange shirts. Of course, July 12th and the end of the marching season and my husband was wearing his only non-cycling shirt in – guess what colour? A hasty change to inconspicuousness and we were able to walk through the crowd without any more disturbance.
Breakfast at Delizzi’s in the town was superb and set us up in the sunshine for the first ride towards Liverpool and then on to Aintree and across the Mersey to Warrington. The trail here is well signposted and crosses stretches of flat dunes, golden farmland and green valleys, but also canal side paths through industrial areas and the inevitable working parts of a city, the water treatment and recycling plants that signify a big town is near. Victorian architecture of waterways, former railways and bridges strung out before us across the countryside, evidence of an industrious past and the masses who had laboured to build them. After a good night’s rest in Grappenhall, the second day dawned in sunshine again and we were off by eight fifteen towards the towns south of Manchester and across eastwards to the Tame valley, Stockport and towards the start of the Pennines.
This day we began to find our cycling legs as the wheels turned and we covered miles of well managed track. We even began to get the knack of going through the styles for bikes and A-frames which slowed us up every so often, and we commented on how flat it had all been so far. Swallows flung themselves into the air high above us and the trackside had many wild flowers, but as the day progressed we started to feel the climb of the hills whilst the clouds gathered. We began to benefit from the stronger North West wind on our backs, pushing us along in places towards our destination for the night beyond Glossop. By tea time we were beginning to wish we were anywhere but on bikes as clouds turned to rain, a steady drizzle and we were lost. Somehow we had gathered an extra ten miles after Stockport on this ride. When we finally arrived at six o’clock we had covered fifty-five miles before our warm welcome at The Old House in Padfield, high up on the bleak moors, looking down over the Derwent dams.
Setting off the third morning we donned full wet weather gear and squelched up to the trail in pouring rain. We knew today was going to be the hardest, up and up to the Woodhead Pass, the place in the Pennines where only sheep and coarse moorland grass survive. Grey skies with not a bird to be seen and even the sheep were sheltering under the walls as we climbed and climbed in lowest gear. A final burst on the main road with traffic as we couldn’t face another descent and climb of the trail and we were there. Luckily it was Saturday morning and not many people wanted to be travelling on this road also. Between Manchester and Barnsley the rain lashed and all the bleakness of the moor was around us – it was magnificent, but even better was the ride down on our brakes into the next valley beyond. We felt like Tour de France riders, even though we were doing little more than a third of the speeds they achieve. The end of this riding day took us over fifty miles again and into the peace and tranquillity of the South Yorkshire Dearne Valley for the night.
All through the trail until now we had accompanied waterways, canals or rivers, placid reservoirs or gushing streams in their courses along the way. Now we had the rivers of Yorkshire, the Dun, the Dearne, the Don and the Dove by our side as we finished our riding for the third day at Mexborough, in sight of Conisborough Castle. Local history around here is one of centuries of intensive occupation and rich farming through the ages, but although much of the land is eroded by past mining, the valleys are still full of beauty and abundance of meadow lands and flowering paths. One part of the trail near Penistone became a continuous border of wild cottage garden flowers, naturalised in colourful abundance as we cycled through.
Our fourth day was again starting as a wet one and as we pushed on steadily up to Selby we noticed the land once again flattening out, with only the ridge of the East Yorkshire Wolds between us and the sea. The wheat and barley fields stood sodden but ready for harvesting, and rapefields announced their presence by the overwhelming smell of their cabbage origins. The canals around here were fewer, but at one point we came across hundreds of fishermen lining the banks mile after mile with long rods that crossed the trail path as we cycled along it. There were good natured smiles as they drew them out of our way, not wishing to damage their expensive fishing gear and my husband remarked “their must have been hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of equipment lying on the banks”. By now, we felt our legs were much stronger than at the start of our ride. Changes in the landscape kept us going mentally as well and short breaks for photos or coffee from the flask helped. At one point we were near the beginning of the Humber estuary and we noticed marsh harriers flying, one came across the top of the hedge next to us and we had the most amazing view of it in close up. Such moments gave us energy and we pushed on, stopping for our last night before Hornsea in the Minster town of Howden.
Again, we met with warm Yorkshire welcomes and the next morning we were off and cycling by nine o’clock, through wet and gusty weather ready to make the last big climb of the ride. It was now day five, our energy was good still and we were looking forward to seeing the sea. As we cycled down the side of the Humber Estuary towards Hull, we reflected on the history of the industrial north, and how the landscape and cities showed their stories still in their buildings, and the strong worthiness of weathered stone. It showed too in the endless brick of canal side and viaducts, a testament to the hard work and labour, all now giving an entirely different purpose; one of peaceful paths and leisure. I wonder if the workers who gave their lives to build could have imagined that one day these places they had built could be green glades filled with birdsong. As we approached Hull we rode the trail under the Humber Bridge and it rose out of the rainy air in graceful and light lines across the water. It looked insubstantial from a distance with micro lorries passing silently along, but as we neared its massiveness increased into huge proportions and we could hear the thunder of traffic above the gusting of the wind. Hull city centre was colourful at its heart with bright summer flowers outside the City halls, and our lunch break was supermarket sushi and sandwiches in the damp air, but as we rode out of the city for the last fifteen miles of the trip the sun began to shine and clouds raced along, this time across our path. More wheat fields, a short climb with time to see spectacular views.
A moment on the trail with the song of the blackcap ringing in our ears and soon we were at the outskirts of demure Hornsea, moment of regret that this was ending. Photos at the end of the trail in front of the North Sea; rough and grey today with no need of the services of the lifeguards who were there to protect swimmers.
We clocked two hundred and forty miles, but the sign said two hundred and fifteen. Never mind numbers, we celebrated with fish and chips and one of the best B and B’s ever at Acorn Lodge in Hornsea.
The next day we cycled to Beverley station which was a good thirteen miles, and found a friendly train guard who helped us find room for our bikes for the journey home.
Would we do it again? Not this trail, but yes, we are already thinking about the next place to go, and we really will try to avoid as many snails as possible.
Pat and Bryan’s story has helped our Partners right across the Trans Pennine Trail network to see how changes can make the route more accessible. Take a look at what they've helped to accomplish.