Last year, Chris Hughes set out from his home near Southport to ride the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT), a route that links the North and Irish seas via the Pennines, along rivers and canals and through some of Northern England’s most historic towns and cities:
The Trans Pennine Trail starts (if you are travelling east) or ends (travelling west) on the new sea wall at Southport just three miles from my house. The first few miles of the Trail have been regular cycle rides for “Three Old Gits” cycle group for some time and slowly the idea that we could actually ride the full length of the Trail began to sneak into my mind. Steve was up for the challenge – probably while sitting comfortably in a pub with a refreshing pint and a plate of Lancashire hot-pot – and slowly the plans were laid.
After a couple of false starts and mix-ups we were at last ready to set off, the weather forecast kind and the wind at our backs. Accommodation was booked and the panniers packed. Adding to our own keenness to undertake the challenge of the ride was the motivation of a significant amount of sponsorship from our kind-hearted friends and relatives for The Pahar Trust Nepal, which would benefit from our completion of the Trail.
We were familiar with the first section, out across the moss of west Lancashire, around Liverpool on a disused railway track, through the industrial areas of Speke and Widnes and along the Sankey Canal bank into Warrington. For the first three nights we would be staying with friends and their hospitality was both warm and welcome. The second day took us along the Mersey valley, through Stockport and throughout this ride we were constantly surprised to discover parts of the countryside we thought we knew well that was both new to us and unexpectedly attractive.
Day three was always going to be the tough day as we climbed up and over the Pennines hills – probably the easiest ascent of the hills possible, a long section along an old railway track until ending at a disused tunnel. Unable to go through the hills like the trains once did, we rode, pushed and bumped across the rocky paths above on the hillside until finally reaching the high point of the Trail near the Woodhead Pass. There followed the longest – and fastest – free wheel I have ever experienced, and the hot smell from my brake blocks became rather alarming at one stage. We were pleased to complete the day along another level section to the town of Penistone.
The next sections took through the old coal mining areas of Yorkshire, cycling on old spoil heaps now graded and plated over, alongside the meres formed from mining collapses now re-invented as nature reserves for marshland plants and wading birds and finally out into the rich farmland or south Yorkshire where the bright red poppies shone among the ripening corn. Staying first just outside Doncaster with all its coal mining heritage and then at Selby with the beautiful Minster and the (very early) market.
The final section saw us arrive alongside the River Humber and under the huge bridge spanning the river. Another urban section took us through the outskirts of Hull and onto the Hornsey Rail Trail, a straightforward and fast final run to the beach and the North Sea, only slowed down by the one and only puncture suffered by my trusty old bike just one mile from the end of the 215 miles of the Trans Pennine Trail.
So we completed the challenge of 6 days of cycling,215 miles, putting up with each other and seeing some really great parts of the country – a few less beautiful too – an enjoyable slowing down of the normal speed of travel. We were very grateful to all the friends who made us welcome and to those who sponsored us very generously so that we were able to donate £1200 to the Pahar Trust Nepal.
The bikes have been pretty well unused for the winter months and the cycling muscles have faded away, but now the spring is here and the sun is shining a little more so the questions are once more being asked – what shall we do next?
Words & Pictures: Chris Hughes