Late April. The forecast for the first proper GUTM ride looking ominous for the Saturday, possible showers all day. The pressure was on at 1am on the Friday to get my replacement Gilles Berthoud mudguards fitted over the WTB Byways I’d purchased, I wasn’t riding down wet trails without them!
Following a few hours rest it was an early start for me, up at 6.30 to finish drilling and re-fitting my rear light. Packed my Ikea Rando bag, bike in the back of the van and I set off to the usual rendezvous point at Sale canal side.
Steve had recently returned from New Zealand from a memorable effort on his part of the Tour Aotearoa. The stories of him crapping himself while trying to make progress on his big ride certainly started the day with a laugh! Graham arrived shortly after, followed by Ella and her Dad!
We set off down the canal path dodging the busy weekend traffic. Dog walkers, runners and the rowing club. Past Altrincham to our first junction on to the Trans Pennine Trail, a disused railway line toward Warrington, via Lymm. No showers yet, big skies, but the remnants of rainfall in the week scattered the trail with muddy puddles. Ella commented on how well her mud hugger MTB mudguard was working, sub-standard. Most of the crew had full-guards which were working well.
We continued on the trail, noting the different shapes and sizes of the ‘Ultra Marathon’ runners coming toward us. They’d set off from Liverpool earlier in the day to cover some substantial miles on foot, I’d rather be on a bike! The trail came to an interval at Latchford Locks, near Warrington. I was glad to show the crew the route over the lock-gates, dodging the Warrington traffic. We commented on the fantastic feats of civil engineering. Steve shared a design term I might adopt, ‘Let’s Victorian It’, aka belt-and-braces design!
Shortly after the locks the desire for a brew was kicking in. The trail through Warrington has few scenic spots to pause with a bench, we persevered to a boating hub a mile or so down the trail near Penketh. The Ferry Tavern was yet to open so we used their beer garden to make the first brews of the day. A mixture of stoves were set to flame, coffee and snacks were consumed. The sun continued to peek through the clouds, the conditions were great.
We continued down the trail through Widnes. The new toll bridge to Runcorn had thrown my familiarity of the area. Road closures and lack of trail diversions sent us down industrial roads. We re-joined the trail at Pickering Pasture, a nugget of green in a somewhat bustling industrial area. Steve suggested lunch in the bird-hide. A fantastic spread was laid out on the numerous benches and convenient work-top like shelves in the observatory. Scotch Eggs, Pork Pie, Sausage Rolls, Crackers & Fish, Cakes and Treats. More coffee and tea. More reminiscing and discussion of the current hot topic, the production, use and disposal of plastic… We cleaned up, no plastic thrown, and left the hide ready for the next guests walking down the access path. Graham joked with the new visitors ‘I’m afraid you’ve just missed seeing a golden eagle’.
Such is life, not everyone had the flexibility of being out all day. Steve said his goodbyes and rolled back toward Manchester to see his family. The remaining crew decided to head for ice cream at Southport. Graham fired up his Kommute app to navigate us on to the trail bypassing Liverpool toward Southport. It unfortunately didn’t bypass the few undesirables riding un-licensed motorbikes, and the notable amount of glass on the trail, but the greenery, bluebells and blossom counteracted the negativity.
Inevitably we had a victim of a puncture on the way to Southport, oddly caused by an earlier pinch-flat. A team effort to get Ella’s dad back up and running saw us on our way in a short space of time, assisted by Graham’s ‘boy scout’ repair outfit and my Zefal HPX pump. We continued with the goal of ice cream.
A few turns and twists up different parts of the trail popped us out near Aintree. Wallys Steps took us down the Leeds/Liverpool canal and onward toward Southport with segments of ‘Grass Up The Middle’. The weather was on our side, apart from a slightly testing coastal headwind as we got closer to our destination. Legs were emptying at this stage, shifting the desire from ice cream to Fish and Chips.
We persevered up the long coastal road on a segregated lane arriving at tea time. We ate our food accompanied by Southports fineist cover-artist trying his best to sing the chart hits we all know. I pulled out my phone and began thoughts of the route home. Some of the lanes nearby were familiar from my time living nearby. Ella and her Dad planned to take the train. Myself and Graham were to crack on toward Ormskirk, the weather beginning to take a turn. We deliberated the remaining journey shortly after doing a segment of Bradley Wiggins’ home time-trial from Bickerstaffe. Rolling up the Rainford Bypass cycle path we decided to sack it off from St Helens to cut part of the journey by train. Graham had fasted the day before, and I was content with the longest day in the saddle I had done for ages.
We ate Graham’s emergency parkin at Lea Green station, a short wait for the train to Eccles limiting the distance back to our end points.
A joyous day was had by all!
Words & pictures – Will House