Sunday 26 September 2010

Transpennine Trial

Whilst out biking the Saturday before last - 11/09/2010 - one of the other running club cyclists mentioned he'd done the Transpennine Trail...... I didn't know it yet but this was the genesis of the idea. Later that Saturday I had a few drinks and te dexcision was made, my virtual entry form for this personal challenge posted. By Sunday whilst out for a leisurely bike a friend I put the idea out there. By doing this I'd effectively guarenteed I was going to do it. As I had a few days off next week, why not then?

I was quite excited about this, it would give me a chance to challenge myself, see the country and burn some adrenaline that I hadn't been able to of late due ton the leg problem. My original plan was to set off on my first day off, Thursday, from where the trail passes my door on the banks of the humber in Hessle - stay overnight at about halfway - then push on to Liverpool the next day and get the train back to Hull.

I know 'officially' the whole trail is Southport to Hornsea, about 35-40 miles further. But on this occasion I thought 215 miles may be a bit too far in two days, I only wanted to fork out for one overnight stay. Also, the trains from Liverpool to Hull are more regular than from Southport I'd guess. Lastly I suspected the Hornsea to Hull and through stretch may be too familiar to be interesting and as always I wanted to minimise travelling through built-up areas, associated traffic and pot-holed roads.

I guess that sounds like a lot of excuses but isn't 175 miles in two days enough? Most I'd done recently was two relatively easy cycles over the previous Saturday and Sunday adding up to under 50 miles. I also settled on Friday and Saturday as my challenge days as Thursdays weather forecast looked pretty windy and abysmal for a late summer day. I did have an added challenge over many attempting this sort of thing though. As Coast 2 Coasters and Transpenniner's will know, most people head West to East for assistance from the prevailing winds for these challenges. I was also doing this on my own and with unaided barring the overnight B&B rest stop.

It was great to have a challenge to sink my teeth into planning again. I booked my overnight accomodation in the Longdendale Valley are of the Peak District. I also booked a train back to Hull at 15:22 on Saturday - this turned out to have been ambitious. I even got a new front light for the bike - hoping not to need it - and a spare innertube - which I learned afterwards I couldn't have used! A learning process, but I did do plenty of things right.

The majestic Humber Bridge

After porridge and toast I dragged myself out of the house at about 9:30 on Friday. With just my 10L OMM Last Drop backpack, a small bumbag and two bottles of liquid, I was travelling pretty light, but hoped still to have adequate weather protection and food to last me. Anything more substantial I  hoped I could buy on-route. The first bit was a familiar 3m along the River Humber trail to the next village. Despite this familiarity its still a scenery highlight to me. Here I headed slightly inland before finding the deserted b-roads roads alongside the Humber before Howden. A good surface to ride on, but todays nemesis a constant wind from the north-west meant it was a moderate effort for a modest pace.

The end of the Ouse and start of the Humber from Blacktoft

Beyond Howden I started heading along further, quiet roads and just the odd, bobbly, trail to Selby. I'm not sure why the trail goes all the way north-west to Selby to then head south down to Doncaster. Maybe its the first suitable crossing of the Ouse, but this seems unlikely. Its not exactly a route highlight, but much worse was to come and some of the quiet villages proceeding gave me a cheery feeling as I passed though.

Heading southwards there were initially few settlements, but some great quiet roads which were fast now that the winds effect had been limited somewhat by my direction change. The highlights here were probably the bit which skirted the access road of a disused airfield and then a long straight section of fast trail alongside the New Junction canal where I overtook several narrow boats ;¬)

I started to suffer a bit along this section. Well over 60 miles in and I hadn't drunk an awful lot or ate more than modest snacks during brief stops. I needed to stop to buy some energy drink and get some food. I even made a small and rather stupid nav error which worried me. Passing through Bentley - another low-light - I had to make do with a lukewarm can of coke from an off-license. I pushed on, rueing not stopping at a small cafe about 10 miles earlier.

Viaduct over the River Don near Conisborough

I'd slowed down a bit and did further as I turned West along the river Don. I was greeted by the marvellous viaduct. I'd been considering stopping for food in Sprotborough but soon realised the route bypassed the town in the scenic Don valley on trails. The rest of the day turned out to be mostly trails - true to the name of this route. This had the upside of some great river valley and woodland views, but the downside of rough uphill trails as the gradual climb to the pennines began. Beyond 80m and I finally hit my first village for awhile, Harlington, and a shop. I feasted on a dry pasty washed down with a water bottle and filled my empty drinks bottle with cola (closest thing to an ebergy drink available - barring that Relentless muck).

I felt reinvigorated, just in time too as the landscape got more difficult through the Dearne Valley and then the Dove valley Trail - one of many old railway routes. I could get a good pace on some of the trails for awhile, but then would hit a momentum sapping rutted section. Also the constant 'bike gates' stopping me dead got pretty annoying for this tired cyclist.

About this time I was briefly panicked when I heard the noise of wind escaping and felt somthing spray my leg. My first thought was puncture... but I was still moving. My next though was that there was some hydraulic problem with disc brakes which caused air to escape. I don't even know if this can happen, but my brakes were still working so I discounted this. I quickly discovered the culprit, the water bottle nozzle had been blasted open by pressure created by the agitation of the fizzy drink within. This happened several times until I emptied the bottle a bit.

I then met my first character of the day as I closed on a runner making good pace on this gradually climbing section. As I closed on him at a bike gate I had to stop to get through. This guy in his combats and green t-shirt simply vaulted the low railing action-man style. It took me another minute or two to catch him again. I'd been in my windproof jacket all day due to the cold winds, but after this wooded and hard work section at the next road crossing I had to dismount and remove it and get some fluid down. I also phoned ahead to the B&B to say I was still on my way. Apparently a lot of people on their first day from Southport don't make it the 110 miles so this seemed polite.

At this point 'Barnsley Action-man' caught up with me. We had a quick chat, including a bit about him doing the Wainwright C2C with his brother when he was 60 (which I guess made this guy of simlar age though I wouldn't have guessed it). He was more a tough, lean broad chested, farm worker than skinny runner-type. He was off again up the next bit of hill trail before I had my jacket packed away. I passed him several miles later at the hilltop near Oxspring as I stopped at a junction to check my directions he waved to me from the pub, settled with pint in hand!

Winscar Reservoir from the Woodhead Pass

A big drop and 'bottom-cog' climb to Penistone on roads followed before rejoining the increasingly stoney and/or muddy trail path on the old railway route. At Dunford Bridge I was right up on the pennines and tackled a steep road uphill towards the height of this route near Woodhead pass at nearly 1500'. Considering the first 70 or so miles of the day were well below 100ft only gaining height on bridges or isolated undulations the last few miles has packed some punch - for a cycle trail at least.

The sun had now set and after some navigational uncertainty before the Woodhead Reservoir I finally found the correct path and faced the potentially tricky task of finding my B&B in the dark. I had lights, but had hoped not to use them. When I put the lights on I was glad I didn't have far to go as they were useless in lighting up the road ahead. I stopped at one remote house thinking that might be it, but after disturbing half-a-dozen or so large-sounding dogs I figured this wasn't it. The next remote house I came upon thankfully was my overnight stop. Greetings from the friendlier dogs here alerted the proprieter of The Old House - who was quickly out to help me get my bike put away and show me to my room, and shared kitchen and bathroom facilities.

After a shower and cup-o-tea I was raiding the kitchen cupboards for something to eat. Apparently lots of visitors shed weight here by dumping various packeted foods. Good for me, I'd anticipated being here a lot earlier and finding a pub near end of route. The male owner offered to bring me some food in from Tesco's - seems modern convenience was still just short drive away even here - but I said I was ok as didn't want to impose. A cup-o-soup, tin of beans and pack of crisps did for me, just enough to fuel a restful nights sleep.

So... day one.... My house, Hessle to Longdendale near the Rhodeswood Reservoir - 108 miles.

The great view from the B&B over Longdendale

Day two started with achey legs but a fantastic full english breakfast, good ingeadients well cooked. I also got to appreciate the views over the valley I hadn't seen the night before (pictured). I was off at about 9:10, painfully aware that unless I made good progress I'd miss my train.

Yesterday had proved the route was more difficult than I anticipated. This was due to the navigation element I'm not used to on bike - despite mostly excellent signage - and also how slow I'd been on the uphill trails beyond about 70 miles. Afterall this was a big step up in distance for me. A month ago a hard 40m cycle had given me an annoyingly achey back and I'd really destested the outing compared to trail running. Talk at the breakfast with other guests and owners had not been reassuring. mention of vandalised and re-pointed sites around Manchester and Liverpool and previous guests bad experiances of punctures on route from Southport due to broken glass and such. I'm sure had I been going the other way and been from that side I woulde have heard the same things about Hull ;¬)

I left the tranquility of Longdendale and my emotions rollercoastered early on. Much like the trail route, dropping pleasingly downhill only to then require a slow, low-gear climb nearly as far back up again. I felt the gods were against me at some points around here as the steepest downhills were invariably on very twisting turning, stoney or rutted trails where I couldn't let go. My sports hybrid is sturdier than most road bikes, but is no tourer or mountain bike. On the other hand there was some great scenery and super-smooth trail bits too. One highlight of this section was emerging from a twisty but immaculate trail path at the bottom of a green gorge before a tough climb into Broadbottom. Another was a huge path with a few miles of solid trail at Haughton Dale.

I stopped at another pleasent park, Reddish Vale, in the shadow of another impressive viaduct and decided it was time to ring up and change my reservation. I would know way make the 15:20 train. The cheapskate part of me going for cheap afternoon tickets had come back to bite me as I had to pay double for the 17:20 train and only got £7.50 of original ticket price back. It took some time, getting number from enquiries, got my new train ticket, typed res number into phone as it was read out (I had no pen with me), got a new res number for bike reservation typed into phone and finally took a picture or two. I figure I'd still probably get to my destination with nearly an hour to spare. But the next section was to effect this likelihood.

More gratuitous viaduct photography at Reddish Vale

Heading through the park I almost immeadiately had to dismount to go up some steps. There were a few miles of quiet trail, but then I hit town, a traversal of Salford, which all and sundry who have done this trail or know about have mentioned as the worst bit. Lots of stopping and starting for lights, dismounting at bike gates, to cross road, micro navigation to follow the signs amongst a sensory assault of town centre street furtniture and traffic. I was so glad to get onto trail again along a riverbank.

Following a trail along old railway there was a diversion onto roads through East Didsbury. But trail service was resumed again on and off over the next few miles. Along the Mersey for bits, crossing under the M60 and passing several water parks, recrossing the M60 at Stretford as I headed out of town.

It was more like East and South Yorkshires riding yesterday now. Trail sections before quiet road sections and back on the flat. Then there was a long section of eastward trail along a very straight path, seemingly another of many ex-railways lines which were quite prevelent in Lancashire. I did struggle a bit on this section as my left achilles suddenly gave me several stabs of sharp pain. It had felt sore earlier, but this was a very big sign something wasn't right. I eventually passified it by adjusting my foot position on the pedal, slowing a bit and pushing on. This reduced the pain to the occasional stab, but the damage was already done and I just hoped I could still get to Liverpool in time after thisn further setback.

The long straight path extended westward for several miles through Heatley and Lymm, only intruupted by bike gates at road crossings. Eventually I was ejected out onto roads at Thelwall for a few miles of the Manchester Ship Canal and then back onto trails along the broadening Mersey and several wet and cold miles of rain along the quite bleak St Helens Canal path, much of it with Fiddler's Ferry power station blighting my horizon. Still it was reasonably fast, west-bound track which is what I needed in my sluggish state and with time ticking on.

Then followed a not unplesent spell along the River Mersey side path around Spike Island. A well maintained bit of trail before heading back inland and through Hale. During this time I did have one mishap on a dismounted section down a switchback staircase to lower down and cross a brook. I got too close to the metal fence and my bike handlebars wedged into it. In trying to unjam it the front fell off my new front light and disappeared following a several foot drop into undergrowth. The death knell of the only once used, but quite useless £16 LED light.

Through Hale and the rain of the last few hours was permeating my windproof top along the cold wind though to wet skin. I stopped and sheltered under a bus stop for a cereal bar to ready myself for one final push, through Liverpool. Then it was back on the bike, next stop was Speke, the edge of Liverpool proper by my estimation. My first taste of glass covered paths came on the grim underpass of the A561. The next few minutes cycling alongside this trunk road was grimmer still, wind in my face, getting sprayed by cars. I was glad to get away from this road, even if it was just for industrial estate paths between metal fences.

So getting onto the Liverpool Loop path was something of a joy. Liverpool should know it is lucky with these miles of tree-shrowded trails cutting though the outskirts looping a large part of the city, raised up above the city streets. Alas I was soon to leave this path and National route 62 - my host for most of the last few days - for good. My route now took me in to the city following National route 56 to within a short distance of Liverpool Lime Street. I just hoped the signs were of the frequency and standard of route 62 /TPT signs as I only had about an hour left. getting lost was not much of an option.

A bloody big hill was not a good start, I'd forgot how hilly Liverpool was, presuming it would be a flat port city like Hull. In a very low gear and with the occasional aggitation of a complaining right knee and left achilles as I stood up on my pedals I got up and followed 56 well as it wound through city streets. I passed along Penny lane without even realising. I guess I was expecting crowds of tourists, but actually got a quiet, leafy and well-to-do suburb.

Into Sefton park and i think my concentration lapsed as I took in my green surroundings. I made a left turn along the obvious wide path and pushed on through until I hit a road junction, but had no signs. Frustratingly I doubled back, time ticking, I couldn't afford to get lost much more and needed to get back on route quickly. I found a park map with "you are here" marking. I oriented my map to it and see that I should have pushed straight on through the park earier. Luckily i could push westward along a wide track here and hit the 56 again.... I hoped.

Luckily my nav skills hadn't let me down and I had the familiar, reasuring blue signs with red-boxed 56 on them, on leaving the park. I pushed through the next attractive park and along a quiet road cutting through the city. I contemplated stopping to take a picture of the marvellous Cathedral, but it was 16:55 and I needed to keep going, worrying I may get lost again. After som reckless driving along busy streets I arrived at the station without further navigational mishap at about 17:05.

The next 17 minutes were not without further challenge. After a tour of the station I located the unobvious prep-paid ticket machines and got my tickets without having to mess inputting the code I'd been given (which is nice). I know had time to grab some food quickly. Dilemna, huge queue at Burger King and I didn't have the time to lock up my bike and go into a shop. Then I noticed a little pasty stand with no queue - jackpot! I ordered a pasty and coffee before realising I didn't have enough cash left to pay for it. There followed a hundred yard, semi dash, weaving through crowds to the cashpoint and semi dash to the train (thankfully I'd made a not of platform number and location). One kind soul even assisted this muddy biker with pasty and hot drink in one hand, mud-strewn steel horse in other, to get his bike on the train.

It was a relief to be on, and even more relief to find a spot to store my bike. Even if I couldn't utilise my seat reservation. I had some banter with some Northern Irish football fans travelling to Manchester for a night out and stay before the United vs Liverpool match the next day. A forty minute wait for my connecting train at Manchester Picadilly also allowed me to get out of damp and muddy clothes which had been supplemented with a coffee stain on the previous train journey. I boarded the Hull train, found a seat near the bike rack and was thus afforded some relaxation and my first rest of the day being entertained by some girls on the way to a night out in Leeds.

I was back in the pub well before last orders, often struggling to keep awake despite a loud party going on. I slept well the next few nights with some great memories of this interesting introduction to long distance road and trail cycling. Final stats being 178m over nearly 18hours. That sounds very steady, but in reality it would have been more relaxing over another 2 or more hours and maybe a third day..... Oh and maybe with more training!


  1. top adventure de..and like the new pictures too ;-)
    nice to be entertained like that on the way home..suspect they said the same about you!

  2. Great adventure! Hats off to you danny. Hope the injury isn't too bad and recovers with time.

  3. I absolutely love the Trans Pennine Trail, its such an interesting cross section of all that the North has to offer. The only thing missing is some information about the history and culture of the places one passes through which is what I decided to research and write about. You might be interested to have a look -

    PS glad you were as impressed with the viaducts as me.