Saturday, March 05, 2011

Canal Cycle: Liverpool to Wigan Pier, 34.5 miles

March is my month of rebooting my New Year resolutions and doing lots of things that may not be enjoyable but are good for me. As part of my Big Plan to sort myself out I decided to start biking again. I haven't been out properly for ages. What better way to kick start the cycling habit than a 34.5 mile ride from Liverpool to Wigan? A statement of intent. 

The Start of the Canal in Liverpool

I woke up nice and early and got my bike ready, packed my lunch, stuck a waterproof in as a last minute addition. The streets were quiet and I got to Eldonian Village and the current terminus of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal about 9am ish.  There weren't many people about, a couple of drunks by the locks on the Stanley Dock Branch and a couple of dog walkers. The towpath is great at the Liverpool end, nice new tarmac so I was zooming along. Zooming for me is about 14/15 mph. Not so fast really but fast enough for me. I made good progress and it was only at bridge 7D that I had to stop and dismount to get through a anti-vehicle gate. The ones in the preceding 7 miles had been either open or just wide enough to cycle through. This one was an old one and had to be negotiated on foot.  
On the way I noticed a couple of mileposts I didn't think I had seen before, the 7.25mile quarter post and the 8.5mile half mile post. It didn't seem to take too long to get past Aintree Racecourse and up to Melling, leaving Liverpool behind. As far as The New Running Horses in Maghull the towpath is fine and I could make good time. After a quick stop to check my phone messages I was off again. From Maghull onwards the towpath is not so great. It is either grass or grass with a narrow rut in the middle. I dont know which I hate more. The grass is hard going, it makes my knees ache. The rut allows you to go faster but if you dont pay attention you can come out of the rut and start to wobble, which if you are a foot away from the canal is at times a bit of a wake up. Some bits of the rut were deep enough that my peddles caught on the grass either side. Pretty much from Maghull to Burscough the towpath is grass or grass and mud; about 10 miles. I was only managing 7 mph on the grass, even less on the really manky bits.  
I stopped at Halsall Cutting, 18 miles along the canal for a break, and inadvertently ate half my lunch. It was 11am though so we can call that elevenses .  It had drizzled a bit but by Halsall it cleared up, the wind was cold though and if I stopped too long anywhere I cooled down and my hands got cold. After what seemed like forever I got to Burscough. There was a shameful mile that I got off and walked, lycra clad races sped past casually on the road. If I did this again I would ditch the towpath and take to the roads between Scarisbrick and Burscough. Not with the full on lycra Tour De France get up though. 
Scarisbrick Marina
In Burscough I caught a passing glimpse of the new development in the canal depot. There was some upset at the depot buildings being demolished, but it looked very nice as I passed. There is a bar there too.
There was a fishing competition on, so every five fisherman had to shift his long pole off the towpath to let me past. Luckily they didnt go beyond the railway bridge by Ainscoughs Mill. 
The Rufford Branch
At the Rufford Branch junction I decided to have a proper break and eat the remains of my lunch. I should have rested more but got cold so pressed on. Noticed another new milepost, 25.25miles. After seeing number 27 though I gave up looking for them. My head had, as football commentators say, dropped. I was spending more time looking at the mud than the surrounding scenery. I thought about giving up and getting the train. But I knew the towpath improved towards Wigan so thought I would carry on as far as Parbold and see how I felt there. At Parbold I decided it was less than 10 miles so I may as well carry on. But I did stop for a quick breather at every (full) mile post I saw. The towpath improved again towards Wigan until it finally turned into a proper cycle path again. My speed increased again back up to 12mph. I am never going to break any speed records, but towpaths aren't about that anyway. Thats what I keep telling myself. 
Wigan Pier

I havent been to Wigan for ages but have heard about the redevelopment of the Wigan Pier area. As far as I could see nothing much has changed. The warehouses look a bit tattier and there is an air of abandonment. One new addition is sculpture. On Wigan Pier was what from a distance looked like a hoodie leaning against the wall. But the board next to it explained she was one of the women who sorted coal. There were four statues originally, but 2 were stolen in 2009. They have no scrap value so either the thieves were stupid or they love this sort of art. They didn't do much for me. The Orwell pub has re-opened, so that can go on the pub guide again. 
I left the canal and went to the station and got the train back to Liverpool. I got off at Edge Hill rather than Lime Street so I could free wheel downhill home rather than struggle up it. 
The ride was hard work for me. I really hate riding on grass. It was interesting to see how things change along the canal. There was a change from the hungover individuals in Liverpool to the happy families in Appley Bridge. The accents changed from Scouse Liverpool to old Lancashire. One fisherman informed me that "Gates th'open". It is good that such accents remain. 

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