This was a trip done in 1999 on the Raleigh Record Ace, much to the dismay of the rest of the little team from the Hospital, as they were all equipped with mountain bikes but I must say that the bike acquitted itself very well, with not so much as a broken spoke or a puncture. The trip was all in aid of raising funds for the Ronald McDonald family rooms, which had recently been built for our Spinal Injuries Unit, but needed furnishing. We took four days and stayed two of the nights in Hospital accommodation (pre-planned, not by accident!!) One of the team members, Alan Sides, wrote a wonderful account, which I have included here.
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE TRANS-PENNINE TRAIL
CHARITY CYCLE RIDE – JUNE 99
Hole! hole! hole!,
Car! car! car!,
Bump! bump! bump!,
Gate! gate! gate!
****! ****! ****!
………… the cries echoed down the line to accompany the steady rhythm of chamois and lycra as the six intrepid cyclists headed east into unknown territory. It was a grey Thursday morning when the group from Southport Hospital set off to ride the Trans-Pennine Trail (TPT) to raise money for equipment to go in a unit in the hospital funded by the Ronald McDonald organisation. The implications of this latter piece of information will soon be apparent. The Support vehicle was left at the DGH to be picked up later by the Support Team.
Calling in at the two McDonalds in Southport the team joined the start of the "unofficial" TPT at the sea front. The first section of the route is part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network and also forms the western end of a trail that eventually finishes in Istanbul. Our first day brought a taste of the forthcoming mixture of cycleways along old railway tracks, canal towpaths, riverside paths and some unavoidable roads.
The Southport to Maghull Cheshire Lines path was familiar to most of the riders and the link to the Liverpool Loop Line which is not easy to follow had been previously scouted to avoid any early embarrassment. Before reaching this, a breakfast stop and rendevous with the support vehicle at Aintree McDonalds was necessary. This presented the first logistical problem as it turned out that there are two McDonalds in Aintree and the inevitable occurred. The planning of the venture had taken into account such possibilities and mobile phones were available to enable the situation to be rectified and we met with Ann and Pauline, our support team (code named Mission Control).
The route through to the start of the Loop Line was a mixture of paths and roads, with one TPT sign pointing in the wrong direction and another stretch with cycling strictly prohibited. Once located the route provides eight miles of easy cycling.
The Liverpool Loop Line cuts south through the heart of the Liverpool conurbation and at times it was difficult to believe that the city was all around us. Many stretches are through cuttings with lush vegetation and only the occasional old pram or washing machine to break the illusion. The Line finished at Halewood where we had to take to the road to get to our next McDonalds at Widnes for lunch.
After a fairly short engagement with more heavy traffic the route dropped down to Spike Island and picked up the St Helen’s canal. Single file was called for along the very narrow but pleasant towpath which, fortunately, was deserted. Despite being between Widnes and Warrington, there was a real feeling of being out in the countryside. At the end of this path, the landmark to signal our departure from the path was the local Council Tip. This was to become a familiar pattern during our journey. The TPT route through Warrington was well signposted and some sections of the route were newly established. After crossing both the Mersey and the Ship Canal the route left the water to climb up to another railpath.
The Lymm railpath is almost 7 miles long and goes through open countryside with good views all around. It has segregated tracks for cycles and horses with many chicanes where the two crossed. The group were in good spirits and it was like a breath of fresh air after Widnes and Warrington. The only thing that detracted from this were the deposits carelessly left by horses who clearly did not know which path to use. Consequently a new cry was added to the group’s repertory although we someone shouted "shit!" it could be somewhat ambiguous. Had they fallen off?, hit something?, their chain come off?, slipped off the pedals?, ridden into some soft brown smelly stuff or just plain had enough and wanted to go home? During the trip it was probably used on all accounts!
After an exhibition of riding under barriers by Alan, the concept of at least one stunt per person during the trip was adopted. It transpired that some of these would be deliberate and others would take everyone, even the rider, by surprise. The sun came out during this section of the trip and we were at peace with the world but in the distance ominous black clouds were beginning to gather.
At the end of the railpath, the unsuspecting would be left with no idea of where to go next. Fortunately, Martin had put in many hours tracing the route on the OS maps and had put together an itinerary with clear directions. This and the OS maps were to prove invaluable throughout the trip, particularly as some detours were required later on. The route took us through yet another tip and out on to roads again through Ashton upon Mersey to Sale Water Park. Our support vehicle was waiting for us and Ann and Pauline had persuaded the rather grumpy café lady to stay open a bit longer so that we could have a cuppa. The shutters went up as soon as we had been served.
Feeling suitably refreshed and still avoiding any rain, the group set off again and dropped down on to the Mersey Riverside Path. Although this was followed for less than three miles, it was a real boneshaker with acutely angled half bricks strategically placed at random intervals to cause maximum impact between bum and saddle. The Mersey at this stage of its journey to the Irish Sea looks quite attractive with a number of weirs and man-made rapids. The path exited at Simons Bridge and the Manchester A – Z was consulted to see how we could get to Stepping Hill Hospital without competing with Stockport’s evening rush hour traffic. Some wizard navigation by Martin brought us out on to the A6 only a mile from the hospital and the accommodation which Stepping Hill had kindly made available for us. Our luggage had been unloaded by Ann and Pauline and we were all keen to get a bath and change after this first day of 73 miles, the majority of which had been off-road.
After a hearty breakfast in the hospital canteen, the group was keen to make a start on what we knew would be the toughest day as far as terrain was concerned. We were waved off by Ann and Pauline who was now practising with the camcorder, something we were to regret later on. However, the first challenge was the Stockport morning rush hour and the A6 to pick up the TPT route again. Dropping down into Stockport was straightforward but finding the right back streets proved more difficult. Ace navigator Martin got us back on track even with the absence of TPT signs and we were soon on the railpath to Reddish Vale Country Park. There was a taste of some of the hills to come although the paths through the Park were excellent. The track crossed the M63 and led us into the edge of a housing development where we cut down a tiny path between houses. Our route guide warned that this could be muddy but, hey, we’re all pretty tough guys. The photographs should be interesting and Malcolm chalked up his first stunt with Ian not far (enough) behind.
A short stretch of road and a left turn took us into Hulmes Wood and more very pleasant country tracks, eventually leading to an impossible climb under a canal bridge and on a minor road to the main road. Further up the main road, a group discussion was held on a possible detour to avoid Werneth Low Hill. A typical NHS compromise was reached, 3 went up and over, 3 went round and we all met up half an hour later. An unavoidable road section followed with a brief meet-up with the support vehicle at Broadbottom Station. Further up and down hill sections of road were encountered after leaving Broadbottom which at one point was made more difficult by Ann being at the roadside, on a hill, offering jellybabies. As if this wasn’t enough, there was an error on the official route guide but this was over-ridden by Martin who guided us through Hadfield to the station where Ann and Pauline (with camcorder) were waiting with sandwiches, drinks and a bag of chips!
Suitably refreshed, the group girded their loins for the assault on the Pennines and headed east once more. Round the corner from Hadfield Station the route rises up on to the Longdendale Trail which runs down the valley for 7 miles surrounded by Pennine Hills. The route is an old railway line slightly elevated above a number of reservoirs and is very scenic. The 100 mile mark was passed during this section and celebrated with group photographs. Eventually the level riding came to an abrupt end on reaching the Woodhead Tunnels. These have been blocked off since the closure of the railway and cyclists now have to negotiate a very steep climb on a track out of the valley. The youngest member of the party confirmed his position as King of the Mountains although other brave efforts were not too far behind. A rough off-road section followed, crossing and re-crossing the main road. Close encounters with live Highland cattle and dead sheep were experienced on route until eventually climbing a minor road above Dunford Bridge.
The descent into Dunford Bridge was preceded by a spot of bird watching and Ian trying to tempt a curlew with half a Snickers bar. The actual descent was much more of a spectacle with most of the group trying to cope with 35 mph when from a position at the rear Martin managed to exaggerate the force of gravity and came flying past everyone at a speed of 44 mph! Another stunt for the log book and still no casualties. Those trying to catch Martin were not ready for the right turn back onto the rail path at the bottom of the hill and a certain amount of over-run occurred.
The rail path continued east and we came off at Penistone to find our second nights accommodation at the Hazelhead Activity Centre. A phone call to Mission Control was necessary to get the exact location. The bunkhouse arrangements were excellent and we were like little kids choosing who would have the top bunk. Only the eldest member of the team took up the offer of accompanying Ann on her evening jog. The whole group took a vote on where to have the evening meal and discovered that Yorkshire miles are somewhat longer than the norm. The route march to the Flouch Inn (Chinese quarter) was well worthwhile and, apart from the anaesthetic soup, the banquet was enjoyed by everyone. The heavens opened whilst we ate but fortunately had stopped again by home time.
The morning breakfast was superb, despite Malcolm's attempt at monochrome toast, and set us up for the next stage of the trip. The previous day’s 34 miles had been quite hard going and although the hills were mostly behind us, it was a long haul to York our next target. The group got the usual cheery send-off, again recorded by Pauline for posterity. We returned to the railpath and set off at a good pace along the cinder track until Oxspring where the route dropped down to cross the River Don. A short bridle path descended on the Dove Valley Trail, another one of the excellent cycle paths in this area.
An ambiguous TPT sign resulted in the wrong route being taken down to the Silkstone Tunnel and we had to retrace our steps as there was no way through (confirmed by Steve who disappeared into the gloom). Having got back on the correct route, which was a very narrow path bordered by stinging nettles, we came out alongside a main road and a huge model of Thomas the Tank Engine. The other feature was the abundance of roadside poppies, which called for another photograph.
The route then took off round a lake in an embryo park and along a river path before having to revert to roads again. The roads were reasonably quiet but were still a contrast to the previous tracks. One very steep hill into Cadeby got the heart-rates racing but there followed a pleasant downhill freewheel to the Boat Inn for lunch. This time the support vehicle did not join us, as there was some serious shopping to be done. The location of the Inn by the river was great but the food and service was only just approaching mediocre and had to be supplemented by Ian’s never ending supply of Snickers and Boosts. By this time, Peter had become addicted to these and was later, apparently, to display some electrifying boosts of energy (which no one noticed).
The climb up from the river was not as bad as anticipated and even had Malcolm in hot pursuit of a lone cyclist who had had the audacity to overtake him unexpectedly on the hill. We soon left the road to join the Doncaster Linear Path which apart from a lack of TPT signs was a thoroughly enjoyable ride mainly surrounded by trees and shrubs. One feature of this cycle path was the gates where, copying from other cyclists, we learnt to open half of them by riding directly at them. Unfortunately the other half were hinged to open towards us and an error of judgement (or eyesight) on approach could have had nasty consequences. A stretch of busy main road followed but we soon turned off into quiet country lanes.
Our progress was halted somewhat unexpectedly by a bridge over the canal, which had assumed a vertical rather than horizontal position for maintenance. Advice was sought from the workmen who sent us off down a track towards another bridge, which actually turned out to be a railway bridge, but an encounter en route provided more useful directions. Coming towards us down the canal towpath and across a field was a cyclist in full racing kit who turned out to be a very peeved local. His language in relating his encounter with the authorities over the closure of the canal bridge is not repeatable even in a Yorkshire dialect. He did, however, indicate how we could get back on route for which we thanked him, but left him still chunnering to himself as he rode off. After a double session of lifting bicycles over gates and fences, we were able to proceed and soon picked up the rather splendid country roads again.
The route then took off down tracks through fields with three of Yorkshires many power stations and cooling towers in sight. After returning to the road we had to stop at a level crossing to let an express thunder by. On setting off again, we were so amazed that it was out of sight already, that attention wandered and Malcolm hit the kerb and then the pavement. A quick check to ensure no serious injury and we were off again with the not so bright idea that Malcolm should go at the front to make sure he was OK. The next few miles were spent with anyone trying to keep up with him!
We passed through quaint villages called Hirst Courtney and Temple Hirst and were soon out on single-track roads in the back of beyond. It was a surprise to arrive at a manned level crossing at which we stopped to make a phone call to Mission Control. As we were doing this, the gatekeeper came out of his little (garden) hut to enquire in a polite Yorkshire manner whether we were coming across the line or not. The reply was in the affirmative and when we struck up further conversation with him about his local county, we were advised that it wasn’t really worth the visit ‘cos thes now’t there. Shortly after the crossing, the route guide took us through, or around, a locked gate and on to a (partially) disused airfield. We did our impression of 633 squadron, although I can’t recall them on bikes, and were fascinated by the gliders taking off and landing nearby.
It was not long after exiting the airfield that we dropped on yet another canal towpath which as Martin discovered was also a favourite with dog walkers. Keeping a safe distance from Martin we carried on into Selby where we crossed an old toll bridge to pick up a riverside path. This joined an old road which itself became a cycle path alongside the main A19. Soon this veered off to an old railtrack which ran straight as a die for miles. Apart from a brief stop to let two elderly lady cyclists pass us, progress along this stretch was pretty swift. At the end, the route passed through a small housing development and on to a track when we suddenly found ourselves on York racecourse.
The first furlong was not too bad with Peter in front by a short head but then we hit the crowds weaving and staggering back to their coaches after drinking good health to the gee-gees and waving goodbye to their money. The place was packed as we tried to ride through to the other side trying to look inconspicuous in our lycra. One punter pointed at Steve and said that he wished he’d have backed him because he looked a lot livelier than the xxxxxx he’d lost all his money on! After surviving the gauntlet of inebriated race-goers we had to head for the railway station and rendevous with Mission Control.
Because of domestic commitments, Martin had to whiz back to Southport by train that evening and we would not see him again until Sunday afternoon. After treading in all that dog-shit we were all well pleased to see him go. Ann and Pauline arrived at York station at the same time as us and Martin’s bike went on the back of the vehicle and we saw him off. Our condolences went out to anyone who had the misfortune to share a railway carriage with him. Our task was to find York Hospital and our accommodation where our luggage had already been off-loaded. This was only a mile away and we were soon there having completed 77 miles that day. Bedrooms were allocated on the basis of seniority within the organisation with Peter getting his own, plus 3 bikes. Baths were taken in descending order of age which was the only perk allowed to Alan during the trip. The evening in York proved most enjoyable despite desperation creeping in when all restaurants appeared to be full. Pierre Victoire came to the rescue and a good time was had by all (except Martin who had gone home!).
Day four was different, our star navigator was missing and Alan had taken over on the basis that he was the only one with a map holder. However we were now deep in Stallard country and Ian knew many of the roads from his dark and murky past. The route from York to Hornsea is not part of the Trans Pennine Trail but as York Hospital was kind enough to provide accommodation, it had been decided to take this route. Martin had previously mapped out a suggested route and we were not a bit suspicious that he was not able to be with us on this last day. Our exit was again recorded by Pauline but fortunately did not show that we had to stop just round the corner for running repairs.
Once out of York, we were on very quiet country roads, many of them very straight and it was not long before the 200 mile mark was reached and the obligatory photographs taken. If Peter’s timing was accurate, the photograph may also include a passing pony and trap. If Steve’s camera’s self-timer was accurate at the second attempt, he may even be in his own photograph. The villages in the area were impressive with colourful flowers, manicured lawns and all the buildings in attractive York stone. Unfortunately this came to an abrupt end at a T junction with the A1079, a busy main road. Although we only rode along this for about 3 miles the contrast made it feel much more and we were all pleased to leave it.
Through Market Weighton we eventually found our way on to the Hudson Way cyclepath which Martin had indicated on the map as the recommended route. We were all looking forward to a bit of off-roading again, but little did we know what was in store for us later on!……………………
In the early stages, the track was very pleasant, winding through and between fields and dropping down to cross tiny country roads. We were surprised by a dulcet Yorkshire voice calling out to us across a hedgerow and turned to see the railway gate-keeper we had met the previous day. He seems a bit more cheery as he picked his elderflowers, but who was minding the rail crossing? The path became very scenic as an elevated section looked out over a field of bright red poppies just begging to be photographed. This lulled in to a false sense of serenity as things underwheel soon deteriorated alarmingly
The narrowing path started having the odd puddle here and there, and then here, here and here, and eventually here and there and everywhere. Not only was there an abundance of wetness, but also over generous portions of slimy mud that we slithered and slid through. We reached the lovely little market town of Beverley in a very mud splattered state with anonymous brown bikes and coasted into the main street to meet up with Ann and Pauline, camcorder and lunch. By this time the sun was shining and the good folk of Beverley were promenading in their Sunday best trying not to mingle to closely with the likes of us. Only Ian felt at home, because he was.
Sitting on the bench next to us was an old timer who had struck up a conversation with Ann and was now chatting to Ian. It turned out that they had many mutual acquaintances and the old chap even remembered Ian’s dad from over 30 years ago. It’s a small world when you’ve got a bike !
Lunch over, the group set off again on the last leg of the journey but on leaving the town hit an extremely busy main road which had to be followed for 4 miles before heading off into the country again. The tiny roads once again provided a stark contrast and our hearts rose as the water tower just outside Hornsea was spotted on the horizon. The turn-off on to the Hornsea Rail Trail was missed in all the excitement but at this stage nobody cared.
We eventually dropped down on to this cycle track but only for the last mile. The salty sea air made our nostrils twitch with anticipation and we were drawn, like lemmings, towards the sea. It was bloody cold when we got there, although I understand that "bracing" is the word used locally. We dipped our wheels, and feet in some cases, in the choppy North Sea having cycled a distance of 232 miles. We posed and let a local take the finishing line photo and then set off to meet up with the Support Team at Hornsea Mere. Ann and Pauline with camcorder, and Martin were there to greet us along with Les, our driver for the homeward trip.
There was much merriment as Peter handed out our certificates and cracked open a celebratory bottle of the finest champagne straight out the icebox. In normal circumstances that would have been it and we would have loaded the vehicles for our return to Southport but those of you who have followed the plot carefully will realise that Martin had not ridden the section from York. Martin does not like to be short-changed and had cunningly left his vehicle at York earlier in the day so that he could do this last leg in reverse (not literally).
Malcolm did not trust Martin on his own and had volunteered to accompany him, thereby completing around 100 miles in the one day. The tablets are working well! The rest of the group waved them off and set off homeward. Contact was maintained via mobile phone and the pair of them did remarkably well to make it back to York just as dusk fell. The adventure was over and it was back to work as usual for most of the group.
It is difficult to recount every incident and occurrence from such a trip and even those that live on in the memory are not necessarily in the right sequence. It would also be unfair and indelicate to draw attention to some aspects, such as Malcolm’s continual need to empty his bladder, Steve’s bright red face, Alan’s stupid red bandanna, Peter’s equally silly cap and his addiction to Snickers, Ian’s increasing slippage into an unintelligible Yorkshire dialect the further into the County we went. These will not be mentioned, nor will Malcolm’s long slinky black evening gloves (and tights) and Martin’s consequent excitement, Peter’s brilliant strategic change of tyres, which lasted for all of 5 minutes, and Malcolm’s insistence that every pigeon he saw was a rare bird. Not a bad word can be said about the ladies. They were brilliant and despite never quite being sure of their own location, they always managed to be at the rendevous at the appointed time. The only very, very slight complaint, having since seen the video, would be about that bloody Pauline woman and her camcorder. We all certainly look much better in real life than in some of those shots.
Cast ( in order of tyre pressure )
Ian Stallard Exiled Yorkshireman ,local guide and Snickers carrier
Malcolm Heathcote King of the Mountains, pace-setter, lovely dresser
Martin Kiernan Route planner, navigator, leader-on-the-level
Steve Taylor Logistics Director, assistant pace-setter
Peter Gawthorne Strategist ? Man with a vision
Alan Sides Stunt co-ordinator, assistant navigator
Ann Edmundson Rallye driver, vocalist, caterer, pub locator
Pauline Rimmer On-board navigator, caterer, camera-person
Thanks also to many others in the Trust who assisted, including Lynne Shaw and Dyan Clegg for sorting out the accommodation and the Team tee shirts, Stan Tanner for the transport back and Les who drove us back home. Thanks also to the many staff, friends and complete strangers who kindly donated towards the fund for equipment for the Ronald Mcdonald House.
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