Thursday, August 15, 2013

Into The Crowded North: Northwich to Lancaster

Thursday 14 and Friday 15 June, 2013.
A tortuous route – Pumping to keep afloat – A very long lunch-time - Bolton business – Leaving Bolton – By-passing Blackpool – One night in Lancaster

A tortuous route

For several reasons, I was a little uneasy about today's route:
  1. The forecast was poor – rain and......more rain
  2. I had mended a puncture in the back tyre when we got to the hotel. Would it stay solid for the ride?
  3. I thought – WOW! when I looked at the route map for tomorrow which involved weaving a careful path through the web of roads round Greater Manchester. The map honestly looked like the diagram of a dissected toad. Red veins everywhere.
  4. I should not have had that second pint of cider before trying to work out the route in detail.
  5. We planned to deviate from the Lonely Planet route and would spent the night in Bolton to visit two of David's nieces (Rachel and Kate) and their families, instead of going via Wigan. I would not have Lonely Planet's helpful maps to guide me.

    The crowded north of England, Bolton to north west of Manchester
     on the right, Preston at top, Liverpool on the left.

    The further I'd ridden on this trip, the more it had become imprinted on my slow-response brain that a major difference between England and New Zealand was that one was crowded with people and the other was.....relatively uninhabitated. Even if you avoided the cities in England, you would pass through a village every few miles. There were roads and towns, villages, cities everywhere. I looked up some figures.
New Zealand has a population of 4,460,000 spread over a total land area of 268,700 sq kms, that's 16.5 people every one sq km. England, population 56,100,000 over an area of 130,393 sq kms, has 430 people every one sq km. It's a stunning difference! No wonder custard doughnuts are cheaper over here – it's all about mass production!.

Yet, the area we were heading for, the county of Greater Manchester, is only the third most populated county, with London number one, and the East Midlands, including Birmingham the second.

I sat doggedly and wrote a list of the roads, the towns I would pass through and the distances between turn-offs.

Pumping to keep afloat.

We drove back to Northwich and, checking that the tyre was still solidly inflated, set out on level country lanes, light rain dripping, towards Bolton.

In Broomedge, I felt an ominous bump as the rim of my back tyre hit the tarmac. I bounced up and down to check and again felt the rim clunk. The tyre was deflating. But how could this be? I had put in a new tube and had very carefully checked the inside of the tyre for bits of glass, nails, stuck in the tyre.

I lay on the ground to get better leverage as I pumped .

“ Excuse me,  dear, are you ok?” asked a kindly lady who, seeing me recumbent, thought I had fallen off my bike.

Through Warburton, Culceth, and I'm sorry but I can only say that they were easy to forget, and into Leigh which looked a little drab and even drabber when the rain became a torrent and I had to shelter in a bus stop.

Riding into Leigh I had already noticed many “House for Sale” and “To Let' signs, not usually the indication that the economy is blossoming. Actually, the economy was wilting in Leigh, a fact  confirmed as soon as I got talking to the young woman and the older couple waiting for a bus. They talked about how tough it was for young people today in a place like Leigh where years ago, the textile industry and coal mining had provided a ready supply of jobs. Now youth unemployment, especially, is high and rising, the young woman said with some bitterness.

Leigh used to be one of the biggest employers in the cotton spinning industry (6,500 textile workers in 1913 in this modest sized town), and built many huge mills up till the early 1900s to cater for the demand. This was the peak of the cotton wealth. Over the next century, the US, then India and China surpassed the North England towns as textile kings. Mills were closed, workers dismissed.
Butts Mill, Leigh, six stories tall and built in 1905 to be
doubled in size. It never happened.
The rain paused. No bus came. I offered them a ride on the bar of the bike, price half the bus fare. No takers.

A very long lunch-time

I had arranged with David to be collected in Bolton so that we could drive to Kate and James' place where we had been invited to stay the night. I texted him: “ I'm in Marlborough Street and will wait.”

I waited. An hour. A police car drove slowly past. I pumped up the tyre. The owner of the small convenience store I was waiting outside came out and stared at me. Old ladies muttered as they walked past.

Two hours and he drove up. “Sorry, I thought you were still in Leigh. Probably why the GPS couldn't find this street.” I didn't really mind. I had finished a cake of chocolate, eaten two mince and cheese pies and read the “Guardian” while waiting to be arrested for loitering.

Bolton business

I left the bike for the afternoon with Motor World and can recommend them for the job they did on tuning the gears, replacing the brake pads, the tyre and tube and installing an electric motor for the hills of Scotland. OK, that last bit's not true but the excellent mechanic did sharpen the performance of the bike in all ways.

Staying in a private house as part of a real family that night was a delight; we read to the children, watched 'Horrible Histories", did our washing, used a computer with a keyboard, caught up on news and enjoyed a home cooked dinner. Their hospitality was ten star.

Enjoying a taste of family life in Bolton with two of David's nieces, Kate,
 at back with husband James, and daughter Eleanor on Rachel's knee.

Damp but with a tail wind over level ground, the biking was easy.

Distance today Average speed Maximum Speed Riding Time Trip Odometer
35.1 17.7 40.6 1h 55m 706.8

Friday the 14 June

Leaving Bolton

I was sorry, very sorry to be leaving this delightful family so soon.
And Bolton? I knew it had a quality football team, Bolton Wanderers (amazing what sticks in the brain from those English Football broadcasts of my youth), that it was once wealthy from cotton mills, that it, like other cities in the north was struggling to find another path to prosperity. The air was cold in the few hours of my stay and the long rows of terrace houses seemed to be hunched, bunker- like, defensive. And I still did not understand why rows of shops were without verandahs or porches which, of course, provide shelter , but which can also add style to a facade.

Terrace housing in Abbey Village on the edge of Bolton.

I don't want to glibly generalise about the state of the north of England, but it is safe to say that the north is suffering more than the south of England at the moment. In terms of life expectancy ( down in the north), economic trends ( greater wealth in the south), political inclinations ( Labour in the north, Conservative in the south), health (spending greater in the north, health generally worse), government spending ( less in the south) there seems to be an increasing divide in England these days.

Soon after 8, David took me to the start of the A 675, the road I was to follow over the West Pennine Moors to Preston.

Looking back to the suburbs of Bolton from the climb up to the West Pennine Moors on the way to Preston,
a 90 minute ride away over windy, barren slopes with great views. Very worthwhile!

Lonely Planet might consider this as an alternative route to Lancaster. Despite the hills, I loved the wildness of the country, the little lakes, the views over Preston and Blackburn and Leyland and Chorley. I found, a real surprise, a canal, the Leeds – Liverpool, high up in the hills, and a marina with many canal boats and chatty locals. Alan owns a 55' narrow boat, “Docrera” and educated me about this way of life.

“I had the boat built 8 years ago after time-sharing a boat for 4 before that. With my wife I live aboard between June – September, covering 500 miles and passing through about 500 locks during the season. You can't be impatient , you might have to wait hours to get through the locks. I absolutely love the slow and social way of life, with the chance to meet other canal enthusiasts. On the rivers the speed limit is 6mph, on canals 4mph and it's hard to get stressed at this pace!”

Alan on his immaculate narrow boat. I love the name
of the background boat -" Far From the Madding Crowd".

By-passing Blackpool

I freewheeled from the moors into Preston, onto the A roads through the city, the cycle lanes making the ride faster and stress-less.

I was taking the direct route to Lancaster, 16 miles due north but I was thinking of Blackpool, on the coast to my left. I am determined to go there sometime because I want to visit the place in which more fish and chips are eaten each year than anywhere else in the world., a place which consumes 40 acres of potatoes a day over summer, a place which has often been described as tacky, dirty, ugly but which attracted over 7 million visitors in 2012. Next time!

I wandered, deliberately, off-route to the Glasson Canal, then to the Glasson Docks where the canal ends in a basin in which the level of water is maintained through a huge lock gate. Boats can only come and go when the sea/tide level outside is the same as inside the lock. I didn't linger in the spitting rain and within half an hour I was in Lancaster, scooting smugly past long lines of traffic stopped at road-works, asking at the Tourist Centre for the address of our home for the night, the Kings Arms Hotel, once grand, now faded and offering cheap B and B accommodation.

The Glasson Canal, view from under a stone bridge over the A 588 into Lancaster.

A night in Lancaster

Guess what? I very soon came to love Lancaster located on hills beside the Lune River, near the sea, lively and genial. Here's how we spent the evening
  1. I wheeled my bike into the hotel board-room for the night.
  2. After settling in, showering, we walked the town, first having a coffee on the edge of the canal which runs through the town centre. It's a university town so many young people.
  3. We dined on Lancashire hot-pot, paying 6 pounds for two.
  4. We walked along the cycle path on the Millenium Bridge over the River Lune, then walked past the castle.
  5. Opposite the hotel, had a whisky as practice for being in Scotland and listened to a  pianist play Gershwin in response to David's request.

Weather – often wet, but the wind was brisk and in the best direction and that's a very good thing.

Distance Today AverageSpeed Max Speed Riding Time Trip Odometer
70.1 18.1 51.2 3h 48m 776
Our home for the night in Lancaster,Kings Arrms, a once grand and no-doubt expensive hotel.
It cost us 58 pounds for two, including a generous breakfast.

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