|Date||Thursday 21st August 2008|
Just south-west of Barrow, like a slipper under a sore foot, is Walney Island. I thought Walney would be nicer than Barrow, on the grounds that it was an island, it had a golf course instead of shipyards and it couldn’t really be much worse (especially considering the horrible beans and sausages I’d had for breakfast). It wasn’t really, but you’ll have to give it a little tour, including the very narrow beach path on the north of the island that runs right by the water with the lapping water just a metre or two away. But it was nice to be able to leave Barrow’s uninspiring industrial down-at-healdom on the main road towards Askam.
Gary – I have to confess at this point that I chose not to follow the coast road. I was at Duddon Bridge, past Broughton, and had a choice: either I took the flat route south by the Duddon Channel to Millom; or I climbed up north over Corney Fell. I choose the hill, figuring that the Cumbria coastline is pretty flat and that I couldn’t be at the edge of the Lake District without taking in a climb. So I turned right and cycled up a beautifully densely wooded road beside the fast-flowing River Duddon. I climbed to 200 metres. It doesn’t sound a lot, does it, but it had taken it out of me. And I wasn’t even half way up. I stopped for water and a rest every 100 metres or so after that. There was a false summit about 350 metres up which was massively dispiriting as I thought I’d made it and, without the protection of the hill, the wind was gusting strongly against me. I spun down to my lowest gear and just kept my head down.
But the thing about hills, Gary, is that as soon as you’re at the top, you completely forget about the hard slog in getting there. The view was magnificent – the land fell away to the sea on one side and rose on the other towards Corney Fell and Black Combe. A privilege, and so empty (except for the flies). And, of course, having spent 75 minutes to climb the hill, you spend 7.5 minutes flying down, with the wind streaming tears from your eyes and a shout of joy from your lungs (if you don’t mind the risk of swallowing insects as you whoop).
The rest of the day was quite flat – thank God as I’d exhausted myself on that one mountain. So much so that I embarrassed myself as I rode by the nuclear power station at Seascale. It was the end of a shift; scores of men on bikes were pouring out of the imposing, high-security facility on their rode bikes and taking the busy road to Beckermet with me. Each one of them left me behind. I felt old and slow, though I was probably younger than most of them.
And, having started in a tatty hotel on a dirty roundabout, I finished the day in a charming Georgian guesthouse in a side street of Whitehaven. It’s a pretty town, Gary. And did you know that the Americans invaded the town in 1778 during their War of Independence? And that the local churchyard is the final resting place of George Washington’s grannie? The people of Whitehaven are proud of their heritage. And they should be proud that Whitehaven is also the start of Sustrans’ C2C (sea-to-sea for oldies like me) cycle route across to Northumberland, with all the welcome accompanying infrastructure, including a great bike shop where I got my gears fixed. And there’s a place in town that does a magnificent steak and chips in the evening too. And, finally, don’t miss the sunsets – the reds and oranges light the sea behind the marina, with the distant mountains of Scotland always present. A great end to the day.