|Date||Wednesday 20th August 2008|
|Weather||Overcast at first, brighter later; windy|
I got back to Carnforth quite early in the morning, having had a train journey via a Manchester platform at 1.30am, empty but for me and a large Indian family, and a Holiday Inn in Preston where I arrived at 2.15am and had left again by 7.30. So I wasn’t really on top form, though I of course have less cause to complain than the 198 Tour de France cyclists who do 200km every day and then get on their bikes the next day and do the same thing.
But the tiredness did seem to dent my decision-making. It was magical to be back again at the cusp of the Lake District and, I thought with the enthusiasm I always have at the start of these journeys, why don’t I ride a little bit more off-road? So, once through Silverdale, I turn off the quiet country road onto what looked on the map as an off-road cycle path. Only it wasn’t. Before I’d gone 300 metres, it had turned into a track, then a grassy overgrown path through wetlands, and I needed to carry the bike through streams and over boulders. I wasn’t making much headway, but it was great fun. There was not a soul around; just a tranquil waterland estuary with the softest of natural surfaces: water, sand, moss, pebbles.
At Arnside, you’ll see a bridge over the River Grange. If you could cross it, it will save you an 18-mile round trip to Grange-over-Sands on the other side. But you can’t. It’s a railway train viaduct that’s impassable to cyclists. I did see whether I could get the bike onto the tracks and hope that the west-coast mainline wouldn’t hurtle by. But I thought better of it, and rode up to Levens the 9 miles upstream along flat, empty, quiet roads beside the river, with the wind at my back.
Try to avoid the A590 if you can. A-roads in the countryside tend to be single lane and busy with lorries and cars with caravans. So on a bike you’ll get sucked into slipstreams and have to ride on top of road markings and drains; or you ride away from the side and suffer the road rage of drivers in a half-mile tailback. I opted out by detouring to the north of the A590 past Mill Side and Witherslake where I could to avoid the joylessness of the busy road.
There is something so impressive about the immensity of Morecombe Bay – the sand seems to go out forever and, to the Chinese cockle-pickers who died there when the tide came in, it must have seemed desperately endless too. As I rode through the elegant Grange, the tide was out, the light blue sky was dotted with clouds and three hawks circling noisily, while the undulating wooded hills all around framed the bucolic scene with a soft green.
The trouble with this description of rural bliss, Gary, is that it ends in the wasteland that is Barrow-in-Furness. You first see the gas refinery, then the pot-holed car park by an abandoned red brick factory, its windows broken. Then you’ll go under a railway bridge, through a housing estate with its drab, depressing, uncared-for houses, its rubbish and its cheap shops. Finally, you’ll get to the docks themselves where at least the roughness of the surroundings reflects its industrial reality, their cranes and box-like modern warehouses commanding the view. I stopped at pretty much the first hotel I found, the Hotel Majestic, standing proudly by the busy roundabout, was being refurbished. So there was no working lift and scaffolding in and out. But, Gary, as you know at the end of a long day, there are times when you don’t care where you stay as long as it’s warm and you have access to hot water and cold beer. This place had everything I needed and I was grateful. I even began to warm to Barrow.