by James Brooks
There I was having a good moan about not doing any cycle touring this year, and what pops up on Facebook but a local cycle-campaigner describing a quick two-day tour he did around the Morecambe Bay Cycleway followed by a ride back to his home in Prestwich. It sounded relatively easy, which was good as I am not exactly super-fit at the moment, and with enough interesting sights along the way.
I decided to copy the idea. I took Thursday and Friday off work and booked a ticket for the first train from Manchester Piccadilly to Barrow-in-Furness. It meant an early start, on the road at 6.20am giving plenty of time at Piccadilly to get a snack and a coffee and deal with any Covid-19 restrictions (there weren’t any of any significance, just a requirement to wear a face-covering) before the 7.43am train.
I booked onto a Northern Trains service, knowing that their bike carriage policy is pretty much if you can cram your bike onto the train then all is well. There was a group of riders on the platform who were travelling to Lancaster to ride the Way of The Roses – a version of the Coast to Coast – over three days. That’s another ride to add to my wishlist.
The train journey was excellent; on time, quiet and smooth, with very few other passengers. I enjoy combining train and bike travel and it felt good to be back doing this after a long gap.
At Barrow-in-Furness I turned out of the station towards Walney Island to mark the start of the cycle route. Barrow was desolate, a former shipbuilding town that is now run down and clearly struggling. The beach at Walney was bleak too, particularly in the cloudy weather.
There wasn’t much to hang around for at Walney or Barrow so I turned the bike around and got going on Route 700, the Morecambe Bay Cycleway. Once out of Barrow the landscape was flat and empty with big skies and long views over the marshy bay.
I stopped for a snack and a coffee at a roadside shack at Bardsea, and soon afterwards came across this Buddhist Meditation Centre, converted from Conishead Priory.
An amazing and unexpected sight. The route didn’t stay close to the coast for too long, turning inland and getting quite hilly. On and on I rode, up away from the coast and swooping back down from time to time. After Greenodd came an absolute monster of a hill through Bigland Woods. I thought the hills around here were all short and sharp but this one went on and on, and all at a very steep gradient. Fortunately it wasn’t far from here to Grange-over-Sands with its choice of cafes, but not before another ridiculous hill at Allithwaite, Jack Hill.
I was told by the waitress at the cafe that the route was much easier from this point, which came as a relief as the first half had been brutal at times, testing my fitness to ride a loaded bike up the steepest of hills. She was right, it certainly was easier, with just a few small tests. It was all quite slow-going with a mixture of roads, paths, canal towpath, muddy tracks.
I was surprised how little of the time I was riding with the sea in sight as the route snaked around the flatlands. A particularly beautiful spot was the Arnside and Silverdale Area Of Natural Beauty, where RSPB Leighton Moss reserve is, often used for filming Springwatch and Autumnwatch.
Morecambe eventually hove into view, as it just started to rain lightly. I had been very lucky to get dry weather and light winds. I began to feel hungry as I rode down the seafront past the wafting smells of pizza, garlic bread and fish and chip shops. I also felt pretty weary as I rolled up to the Travelodge and checked in. The receptionist was very happy for me to take my bike to my room in the usual Travelodge way which was excellent as it gave me peace of mind that I would still have a bike by the morning.
After showering and changing into clean clothes I hit the town in the increasing rain. The Eric Morecambe statue was a highlight. There were many other statues around the seafront, all of seagulls or cormorants. To be honest Morecambe was a little bleak.
As there was no good breakfast offer at the Travelodge I decided to go to Morrisons and pick up some food to have in the morning in my room. While I was wandering about I was struck by the lack of restaurants. The tempting smells I experienced on the way into Morecambe had all come from kebab takeaways. I really felt like a pizza and a cold beer but I was not keen to get a takeaway pizza in a box. Instead I found a Chinese takeaway, the well-named Tasty House, and ordered Singapore-style rice and a fork, and went across the road to buy a cold can of beer from an off-licence. Back to my Travelodge room, I rather enjoyed my meal!
Next day started wet, and the forecast was dire, with prolonged heavy showers predicted until late afternoon.
After my filling breakfast I set out into the rain along the promenade, before turning inland towards Lancaster on an excellent dedicated cycle route, direct, wide and well-surfaced.
Morecambe Bay Cycleway only briefly touches Lancaster which is a shame as I think this town has plenty to offer. Another day… Out of Lancaster towards Glasson on more dedicated cycle paths the weather had taken its toll on one section.
After photographing this I was just about to ride into it gingerly when voices back up the path were shouting for me to take a footpath to the side of the cyclepath. Grateful for their advice I did not have to sink up to my axles this time.
Glasson marks the end of the cycle route. From there a short stretch of very muddy and slippery canal towpath led to the road eventually leading to the A6 at Garstang, a direct route home. I stuck with the A6 although it was very busy, apart from one section through Cuerden Valley Park which was a relief from the relentless traffic.
Once I got to Chorley I was back on familiar roads and a relatively easy route through Horwich and Bolton and back home with a bike in need of a clean.