Welcome to the Trans Pennine Trail
A national coast to coast route for recreation and transport – for walkers, cyclists and (in parts) horse riders
The Fatman Cometh
In the spring of last year I spotted across a sign for the TPT just outside Penistone and it triggered a memory of the same sign in Liverpool near Aintree. It was only at this point that I made to connection and realised what ‘Trans’ meant in this context, thence I sought more information from the internet.
After about 30 seconds searching I found the TPT home page and started to think. Here I was just about to turn 45, over 17 stone and in need of a kick up my capacious backside to do something about my weight. I decided to return to the saddle, having not cycled further than the local takeaway in over 25 years and thought that the TPT would be a good place to start.
I dusted off my father-in-law’s mountain bike (think old bed end with a chain on it!) and took the plunge. Starting on June 30th I tried the section from Barnsley Station to Silkstone Common and nearly made it to the top, but the uphill gradient finally defeated me. Undaunted, I continued my training over the next couple of weeks around the Penistone, Barnsley, Elsecar areas and then sat down to think.
I have always worked best when I have a definite goal and so set myself the challenge of cycling from Barnsley to Caldy, on the Wirral, in time to play cricket for my old club on the last day of the season, when the 3rd Team was scheduled to play the 4th Team. Always a fun game and good for a few laughs. I announced my intention to all and sundry and invited sponsorship.
My training continued apace with the longer evenings and I found that I was getting up to a, for me, respectable mileage of 25-40 extra miles a week (daily mileage to and from work doesn’t count!) over the TPT and roads. An extract of my training diary can be found at : http://www.caldycricketclub.co.uk/index.php?p=forum&forumID=1&threadID=42489 and is a riveting read!
A sudden work requirement to go abroad for a couple of weeks meant that I had to bring my ride forward by a fortnight and I decided, therefore, to start from Penistone and need the missing training to be able to deal with the route up to Penistone (my excuse and I’m sticking with it).
On 29th August, 61 days after my first tentative pedalling, I set off at 05:55 from the car park outside Penistone Fire Station. I said a tearful farewell to my wife and daughter (who responded to my efforts by immediately returning home and going back to sleep for 2 hours) and headed off up into the darkness.
The section up to the high point of the trail at Windle Edge was too steep to cycle (can you see the theme developing here?) so I pushed my bike up into the clouds to the top where the views stretched away into the distance for a full 20 yards before disappearing into the mist! I decided to take my life in my hands and use the road for the first part of the Woodhead Pass and was overtaken, quite slowly at one point by a car showing 55mph on his speedo, before I joined the Longdendale Trail. This took me down the valley past the picturesque burnt out car near where the Pennine Way crosses the TPT to Hadfield, where I lost my way for the first of several times that day. I’d like to thank the many lorry drivers who pulled out widely enough to pass me safely and roundly curse the BMW driver who nearly took me out whilst speaking on his mobile phone. May all his teeth fall out except the one that hurts!
I regained the trail and followed it to Broadbottom (08:15) up the longest hill it has ever been my misfortune to attempt with a bike. Needless to say I pushed up it. After another diversion from the route, I made it past the end of the M67 and picked it up again at Hyde. After breakfast (09:15), I continued on to Stockport, possibly my least favourite part of the TPT that I have ever encountered. I am sure that it is a delightful place to live and visit, but for a cyclist with the map equivalent of dyslexia, a nightmare. Several signs on the way to and through there had been interfered with, or removed. No doubt very funny for the morons involved, but a serious inconvenience for me.
I stopped on the banks of the Mersey, which I think I crossed about a dozen times in the day, for lunch (12:00) and took stock. It was a sunny day, but not too hot, my gear had all dried out form the morning mist, I was just onto the third section of my TPT map out of the six I would cross and my legs hurt, but not as badly as I thought they would. The vast majority of the hills had been crossed and it was an easy flat run to Liverpool from here. Poor deluded fool!!!!!!
I managed to get lost near Carrington due to a couple of ambiguous signs (there was a family with the National Cycle Route Map for the area and they got just as lost) and ended up doing a 7 mile figure of eight before returning to the original sign where I went wrong. I pressed on for another 100 yards and found the right sign. I swore profusely and eloquently and continued on towards Warrington.
Arriving at Latchford Locks (14:15) I met an elderly gentleman on a bike who persuaded me that a shortcut would cut a couple of miles off my route. Clutching at any straw, by this point, I followed his advice and got hopelessly lost in Warrington’s one-way system and was forced into the ultimate male humiliation. I asked directions from a woman! Given the way my legs felt by this point, it was appropriate that I regained the TPT next to a sewage farm and, vowing never to leave it again, I made my way along the banks of the St Helens canal to my last big way point of the Widnes-Runcorn Bridge, where I stopped to take on food (15:00) having passed the Ferry Bridge Inn by a supreme effort of will.
I made it to John Lennon Airport (16:30) then lost the trail for the last time (it’s not well signposted at this point) and the only bit of my body that didn’t hurt was my eyelids. Using my keen sense of direction and innate ability to find my way through unfamiliar territory, I got hopelessly lost in the riverside area near Garston and it was only when I found Liverpool Cricket Club that I recognised my way onwards.
Once past Aigburth CC, I made it to Otterspool Promenade and slogged my way along the last few miles, past the Albert Dock and arrived at the Pier Head at 17:55, exactly 12 hours since I set off. I caught the ferry across the Mersey, resisted the urge to throw the bike over the side, contemplated suing Gerry and the Pacemakers for inflicting mental cruelty with that blasted song and continued along Egremont Promenade to New Brighton, where I had intended to finish before getting the train to my parents’ house in Hoylake.
There was no headwind, so I carried on along the promenade to Derby Baths (19:10) and there was no point in stopping at that point so I continued along the Wirral Coastal Path to Hoylake arriving at 19:45. I never thought I could make it that far in one day. My calculations, including various diversions put it at 105 miles in the day and I had a pint of beer, an enormous plate of stew, a hot bath and then slept for 12 hours.
The following day, with only another 7 miles to do, I had a lie-in and my wife and daughter arrived before I set off, so we had lots of hugs and kisses before I made the last leg. An easy ride along the Wirral Way to Thurstaston, discomfort in the nether regions notwithstanding, and then a final push up the hill to The Cottage Loaf, where I took on a last fluid load and then free-wheeled (lovely word) to the cricket ground.
Lots of congratulations and a cold beer from my brother. I would never have made it through the training and the ride without the encouragement of my family (and the beer helped). I raised £450 for charity and got my weight down to 16 stone. We won the game too. Result!
In the interim (it is now Jan 2009), I have relapsed to 16 stone 9 and I have started working towards another long ride. I don’t know if it will be along the TPT, but it will form the largest part of my training and will always hold a special place in my memory, if only it wasn’t for those damned hills!