With a favourable weather forecast an autumnal bicycle ride along memory lane could not have been more perfectly timed. And this adventure would follow the coast of north-west England from Merseyside into the Southern Lake District, visiting places that I remember either being told or read about and have never visited.
Day 1: Sunday September 6th:
Looking at one hundred naked men standing on a beach sounds like the shameful behaviour of a peeping Tom. Yet these are men of iron who were sculpted by a chap called Antony Gormley who is responsible for the ‘Angel of the North’ that I intend to visit next year.
Collectively known as ‘Another Place’ there is a deep artistic meaning to their creation. According to Gormley the sculptures harness the ebb and flow of the sea in a way that explores man’s relationship with nature…. ummmm.
For now this adventure leads from Crosby promenade along a 22 mile route that is virtually traffic free to reach Southport. It is known as the ‘Sefton Coastal Path’.
In places the path has been tarmaced for the sole use of walkers and cyclists. Other parts follow quiet residential streets.
Tonight was a lovely evening for cycling and thanks to an un-crowded easy, flat surface to travel along, I quickly arrived in Southport as the night sky delivered its beautiful sunset.
…………and then stayed overnight in an absolutely charming Airbnb house.
Day 2: Monday 7th September
Todays journey would have followed a short and simple 50 mile route to my next overnight stay in Morecambe. A navigational error extended the journey to 60 miles.
Safer cycling in Southport is helped by a designated space on the main A565 road out of town. 15miles later the A565 arrives at a junction with the A59 where the turning to Preston is taken. So why-oh-why did I go in the wrong direction? The error was realised on the brow of a hill 5 miles later where a road sign for Preston pointed back towards Southport – silly me. Pausing for a calming coffee from my Stanley thermos flask I turned back.
The A59 took me to the recently created ‘Preston Guild Wheel Cycle Path’. A neighbour told me about this and it was an absolute joy to cycle on. After travelling around the wheel in an anti clockwise direction National Cycle Route 6 (NCR 6) took me in the direction of Lancaster where NCR 69 provided a further traffic free route across the river Lume to my destination for the day at Morecambe.
This was the reason for my to visit Morecambe and I spent a good hour at the memorial that is set against the backdrop of Morecambe Bay and tomorrows destination, the Lake District.
The sculpture of his trade mark skip and dance pose was the way that Eric and Ernie turned their backs to the audience and then bound off stage at the end of every Morecambe and Wise television programme.
A large circular tribute has been laid in front of the statue:
- The outer ring lists the names of those who made a financial donation to this memorial.
- Written in the next ring are the names of guests who had appeared in their television shows. I made a note of the most memorable: Kenny Ball, Shirley Bassey, The Beatles, Cilla, David Frost, Glenda Jackson, Lulu and Angela Rippon. So many well known guests appeared on their show that the tribute has needed three rows to name them all.
- An inner ring has a reminder of his signature catchphrases, including my favourite:
Erics’ statue shows him with a pair of binoculars. He enjoyed bird watching and sculpted birds have been positioned in the flower beds and wrought iron railings that lead to and surround his memorial.
That evening I watched the North-West television news who ran an item to commemorate her Majesty the Queen becoming the longest serving monarch. This included her opening Erics memorial by unveiling this statue.
Day 3: Tuesday 8th September
This was my first visit to Morecambe and have been very impressed with its character. Today started with a visit to the tourist information (TI) office for guidance on the safest cycling route into the Southern Lake District. The TI office is located in the former ‘Morecambe Pavilion Railway Station’ that was initially built to receive holiday makers arriving to the area. Although the station has moved it seemed very apt for the tourist information office to be based in a building that was always intended to serve commuters and visitors.
The TI people were really helpful and suggested following the traffic free ‘Morecambe Bay Cycle Way’ and then cross the main road to cycle along the Lancaster canal towpath. They also suggested that I looked inside the Midland Hotel that is situated across the road from the TI building and gosh, it is impressive; Neptune and Triton have been painted on the lobby ceiling and the building has a distinctive art-deco style. I wished my overnight stay in Morecambe had been spent there.
The ‘Morecambe Bay Cycle Way’ starts next to the Midland Hotel and marked the beginning of a 60 mile ride to my next overnight stay in picturesque Ulverston.
Signage that marked the starting point of todays route coincides with the starting point of the ‘Way of the Roses’ cycle way which goes to Bridlington in Yorkshire. So that’s for another occasion and will include a luxurious overnight stay in the Midland Hotel.
I was so pleased that the Morecambe TI team suggested cycling alongside the Lancaster canal. What a stunning route. Every pedal stroke opened Pandora’s box for the finest views of canal side properties, decorative narrow boats, sea views to the left and countryside to the right.
From the canal I followed NCR 700 before taking the Arnside train across an estuary to Grange-over Sands. From here I followed NCR 70 uphill to cross the Ulverston Channel by Greenodd,descending towards Ulverston via the hamlets of Penny Bridge and Mansrigg.
When I arrived at Ulverston the first people I came across were leaning against a lamp post outside Coronation hall:
Ulverston is the place where Stan Laurel was born and the reason why I wanted to visit. After checking into my B&B, St Marys Mount in the Belmont area, I walked back into the town and spent the remainder of the afternoon in the Laurel and Hardy museum.
The museums Roxy cinema contains their memorabilia and my sides were aching from the laughter of watching their short slap-stick films. I hadn’t laughed so much for years.
The Hoad Monument on a hill at the back of my B&B aroused my curiosity so walked up to take a closer look.
Information boards at the base of the monument explained it was built to honour a man who was born in the town called John Barrow. He was awarded a knighthood for his public service in the admiralty – hence the reason for the monument being shaped in the likeness of a lighthouse.
The evening skies were clear and panoramic views from the monument made the visit to Ulverston even more worthwhile. Morecambe was a distant view that one day I will return to.
Day 4: Wednesday 9th September
A feature of todays ride were quiet B roads, short sharp hills, rolling countryside and ideal weather conditions for touring on a bicycle. It was cool and dry with no headwind.
Some years ago I read ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome – the ‘Swallow’ and ‘Amazon’ were names given to boats and Peel island was known in the book as Wild Cat Island, with its secret landing stage for those boats.
My reason for cycling alongside Coniston water was to capture this view of Peel Island. It was loftier than my minds eye had pictured and as this tree line is Amazonian I wondered whether this was why one of the boats had been given that name.
The other reason for wanting to visit Coniston was to see where Donald Campbell made his speed record attempt. So I made my way into Coniston itself and went to the Ruskin museum that houses some of his memorabilia.
After resting in Coniston and enjoying a coffee from my Stanley thermos flask a steep climb lay ahead. I am so pleased my Rohloff gearing has a mountain bike ratio – the hill, Hawkshead Hill, was a toughie. It had recently been coated with loose chippings that made traction challenging during the ascent. I visited nearby Hawkshead with its connections to William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter and brought a copy of ‘Treasured Tales’. Her stories and the illustrations are as wonderful and colourful as the names of her well known characters: Tabitha Twitchit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle & Squirrel Nutkin to name but a few.
From Hawkshead I thought it would be a good idea to take in a cruise on Lake Windermere. A tourist information leaflet explained that a ferry trip around Lake Windermere could be made from nearby Lakeside.
My arrival at the ferry coincided with the arrival of a steam train full of tourists. Within a few minutes the once empty ferry was filled with people that had got off the train leaving no room for me….such is life.
Day 5: Thursday 10th September
Following a memorable night at the Newby Bridge Hotel today followed the scenic east bank of Lake Windermere. On the outskirts of town my route headed inland to climb past Windermere golf club to travel along the even quieter B5284 all the way to Kendal.
A delight of riding a bicycle is that the absence of engine noise avoids disturbing nature. This morning it felt as though my bicycle ride had taken the form of a nature safari with a surprising, wonderful sighting of a red kite and separately a red squirrel.
Later today I would be leaving Kendal by train to travel home to Harlech. These past few days have visited talent: Gormleys’ standing men at Crosby, the tribute to Eric Morecambe, Stan Laurel and John Barrows home town of Ulverston , Coniston water- the source of inspiration for Arthur Ransome and place of Donald Campbells’ speed record, Beatrix Potter land and here in Kendal a signpost pointing to Mount Everest.
There is always a reason for everything and my reason for visiting Kendal was to buy and for the first time taste some Kendal Mint cake. The reverse of the wrapper states:
“Romneys Kendal Mint Cake was the first mint cake to be successfully carried to the top of Mount Everest on 29th May 1953, this being the first successful expedition to the summit”
This solved the riddle of the reason for a signpost from Kendal town centre to Mount Everest and also left me with a puzzle. Why was the mint cake carried to the summit and not eaten. Later that night I appreciated the reason why.
Having now arrived back home to Harlech my thoughts were that this mini break has shown me that it is not necessary to cycle across Europe to find great bicycle paths and discover interesting places to visit and meet great people. It also persuaded me that canal tow paths can be very attractive routes to follow and that next years main cycling holiday will bring me back to the Lake District.