This wasn’t meant to be a test of British cycling facilities, I recently joined Audax UK and had planned my first ride. Starting and finishing in Birkenhead, the plan was to ride down to Beeston Castle and back up the west side of the Wirral, it was to be about 135km, I was taking my new bike, loaded with everything I will be taking on holiday to put myself and the gear through our paces and get some miles in the legs. I planned the route using the OpenCycleMap layer on BikeRouteToaster.
So I set off in good spirits, I grew up on the Wirral and like to think I know my way around but within minutes I was already in pretty little spots, not five miles from my childhood home, which I never knew existed, it was looking very promising.
Things started looking even better when I stumbled across a very handsome cycle path, red, off road, obvious to pedestrians, how wonderful I thought, only one question came to mind, “Why here?”
You see the place where this cycle lane is, is in effect the middle of nowhere, I can’t imagine more than a handful of cyclists use it each day, a broad open space of an industrial park. I actually started to feel a little offended, because I realised what this cycle path was telling me was ‘you can have nice cycle facilities provided they don’t inconvenience motor traffic.
On closer inspection it wasn’t even that great. The surface treatment was a sort of red sandpaper effect put on top of the tarmac in 3m x 0.5m oblongs. It was like cycling over a rough washboard.
Made more offensive still by the smooth as glass pedestrian tarmac right next to it that is probably used less than the cyclepath.
The disappointment didn’t end there though. Where side roads crossed the path the traffic was given priority, this despite the fact that it would have been perfectly easy to give priority to the cycle lane. If the Give Way line in this photo were moved behind the cycle lane, traffic coming from the left could stop there and still have a 180 degree view of the road they would pull out on to. Oh well.
I carried on and soon forgot about it, down through pretty little Eastham. At Hooton I met a diversion, it turned out that they only provided diversion signs for where they expected motor traffic wanted to go, a kilometer later and heading in the wrong direction, I started ignoring the diversion signs and found my own way back to where I needed to be.
Down at Moston I joined the Shropshire Union Canal which I was to follow to and through Chester. I love canal towpaths, along with railway lines I think they have great potential to form a backbone of intercity cycling; both are scenic and flat, towpaths a bit more scenic but not as direct. The towpath could best be described as semi-metalled, it was probably last tarmacced 40 years ago and was rough enough to shake loose a couple of non-essential bolts.
What’s particularly nice about canals and railways is that you can be almost in the heart of a city and hardly even know it.
This is a busy and ugly bypass around Chester
But up on top of that bridge is a different world that nobody in a car even knows exists
Cycling through Chester itself was charming, lots of people out enjoying the end of summer sun, sitting at canalside pubs or strolling along the towpath. More pretty scenes awaited on the other side of the city…
Another few miles on the canal and then some lanes and I arrived at Beeston Castle, no time to stop though I carried on and stopped in the beautiful little village of Tattenhall to buy a drink. Back up to Chester, this time by road and another stop, by the River in the heart of the city. I continued up the river to Shotwick.
Here things began to get a bit worse, OpenCycleMap plotted this part of the route as a pathway but it was effectively a public right of way which meant crossing ploughed fields and down massively overgrown lanes, my leg was still tingling from the nettle stings this morning, the 10km from Shotwick to Parkgate took over an hour to complete what with stiles, gates and footbridges. Not without its charms however…
England in late summer a classic scene…
The last part of the journey was meant to be simple, the Wirral Way and the north shore, mostly it was fine except for one inconvenience at Hoylake, the Ladies British Open is on at the golf club, for some reason this meant that the cycle lane had to be closed, and not just a bit closed, but an enormous unpassable plywood wall built right across it. As with the Olympics, the little people really get put in their place when a government official wants to puff out his chest and prove how important he is by holding a sporting event.
In the end, 89miles in 7hrs 11mins and an elapsed time of 9hrs exactly. All in all I think the state of provision for cyclists in Britain cost me the best part of two hours and made me late for dinner!
PS top tip, leftover pizza makes a very convenient snack when cycling, easily transportable, easily edible on the move and full of calories.