For me the ride started at 5:15 am on Friday as I loaded up my bike with food, water, tools and anything else I might need and cycled the 7 miles to Leeds Train Station.
The 6:05 train took me and 3 other cyclists to Liverpool and after a 10 minute ride across the city centre we met up with our last rider and our support team at the start of the 127¼ miles of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
The riders comprised of myself, Noel and Gavin who I met whilst working for a zombie chase game, Janneke who is a parent of one of the children that Little Hiccups support, and Anne who works at Ison Harrison, the corporate sponsors of the event.
We departed Liverpool at 8:30 and headed for our first rest stop just 13 miles away near Magull.
After a brief stop to top up water and have snacks, courtesy of our support team, AKA Anne’s husband and kids, we set off again for another 11 miles to Bursoch Bridge, joined this time by Anne’s son, James.
From here the terrain got very bumpy and my bike became the first casualty of the ride as the lowest screw on my pannier rack came loose and was lost to the towpath’s undergrowth.
After a very quick repair I caught up with the rest of the group to discover they’d all stopped for a coffee just a ½ mile ahead!
Once they were all sufficiently caffeinated, we set off again and arrived at our next stop about 20 mins later than planned. At this point I ate all my pre-prepared lunch, we all got any top ups we needed from our support team and set off again, with Wigan as our next designated stop and our also our official lunch break the whole team were in good spirits.
Unfortunately our next incident happened in this stretch, Janneke had to stop quite suddenly and Gavin was a little too close to stop in time and ended up going for a little flight over his handle bars with a very hard landing on Janneke’s front wheel causing it to become a little less circular!
Our pace slowed a little for the next few miles, but Janneke’s buckled front wheel didn’t stop her racing ahead of us all and ascending the 21 locks that make up the two mile stretch of Wigan Flight, and our reward for reaching the top of Wigan Flight, was a well-deserved rest stop.
This was where we learned the importance of a great support team, on our arrival in Wigan, Anne’s husband Sean had already found a local bike shop to fix the buckled wheel, and while we all headed to the nearest pub, he headed off to ‘Gearing Up’ in Wigan who straightened the wheel in a few minutes and did it for free too.
Meanwhile back at the pub we’d polished off plates of chips and hamburgers and other unhealthy options taking full advantage of the extended rest stop I’d allowed on the teams carefully planned schedule.
With the team fed and watered, and our bikes back at 100% we set off on what would be the hardest section of the entire weekend, 25 miles of non-stop canal towards Accrington, which holds a place in the hearts of a certain generation of milk drinkers, but it’s also near where the halfway point of the canal is located.
This section started off well, and we made great pace for the first 10 miles, and then we suddenly came face to face with the end of the canal! Only it wasn’t the end, despite all my planning and pre-warning, every single one of the team missed a turning and had ridden down the quarter mile length of the Walton Summit branch. Gavin was leading at the time,so he obviously got the blame, and we turned around, found the right path and continued on our adventure… for about 5 minutes.
This was where we got our one and only puncture of the entire trip, unfortunately for Janneke it was her bike that was having to suffer again, but it did give the whole team a chance to re-hydrate, have some snacks and a brief respite before attempting the rest of the section.
The next hour was hard work, with the terrain changing from gravel to mud to grass and back again, this was a very energy sapping and incredibly bumpy ride. Seeing our support team waving from a bridge as we approached the halfway point gave us all a much needed boost and despite the team hating me for putting them through a 25 mile long section, they were soon celebrating the accomplishment of reaching the halfway point.
Knowing we were past the halfway point seemed to invigorate the team and the last 10 miles to Burnley didn’t seem to take that long. We had a brief stop at Gannow Tunnel as we planned the overland route to get to the other side of the M65, and then, knowing we were so close to the end, my fellow cyclists turned into a group of children constantly asking, “are we there yet?” at every… single… junction… we passed, but despite overshooting the turning for the hotel (it was hidden behind some trees) we made it in good spirits to our rest stop just after 7:30 pm, for much needed hot showers, food, Guinness and comfy beds.
DAY ONE Summary
- 74 miles covered
- Approximately 8.5 hours cycling
- 1 wrong turn
- 2 bike repairs
- 1 puncture
Waking up refreshed, we headed down to breakfast and took full advantage of the ‘all you can eat’ buffet and fuelled up for the day ahead.
With only 53 miles to go, and only the first 9 having uphill locks we all had good reason to look forward to what should be an easier day’s ride ahead of us.
Leaving Burnley we made short work of the last seven uphill locks at Barrowford and managed the road diversion around Foulridge tunnel with ease, (something that I had personally worried would be one of the more arduous parts of day two.) Meeting up with our support team after less than an hour’s travelling, a few cyclists decided it was already time for a hit of caffeine and a banana.
As we started the second leg the terrain went from bad to worse, if we were lucky, we were treated to bumpy compacted mud, and if not it was energy sapping grass with the occasional track cut through. This continued for about 8 miles, broken only occasionally around the odd lock and marina, and then we arrived at Bank Newton… here we were treated to SIX downhill locks in quick succession, our speed went from around 5mph to 25mph and the whole team really needed this.
With whoops of joy as each of us sped down the deserted path, and reports of “catching some air!” from Noel, there were 6 very happy cyclists at the bottom with big grins on their faces and I think we all agreed this was a great reward for putting up with the last 8 miles of bone-shaking torture.
Just 10 minutes later we arrived at Lock 33 just outside Gargrave and our first unplanned diversion due to works on the towpath.
I had heard that there would be potential works in Gargrave, but little did we know that this would be one of three closed sections that we’d have to circumnavigate during the next half hour.
A 5 minute jaunt along the A65 got the team past the first closure, and back onto the towpath, only to be blocked again at the next bridge. With no safe way around it was back down to the A65 for another 5 minutes to re-join at Holme bridge. Happy that we’d not lost much time, we settled back onto the usual towpath terrain and started to make good pace again. And then 10 minutes later, we came across another closed section!
This one was different though, the nearest exit was a swing bridge that a lovely lady was in the middle of opening to let their barge through, or we’d have to cycle back almost 2 miles to Holme Bridge, either way we would have added at least 30 minutes to our ride, So… after careful consideration and reliable intel from the boaters that the closed section of towpath was deserted, we lifted the bikes over a sneaky wall and continued our journey to Silsden albeit during a very unwelcome rain shower.
As we arrived in a slightly damp Silsden we were greeted by our usual support team who had now been joined by Gavin’s family, and best of all they had brought our cyclists a well-earned picnic. Ham & cheese sandwiches and sausage rolls have never tasted so good! Thank you, Christine.
After 30 minutes the rain had stopped, the sun had come out and we set off again, feeling rejuvenated, joined by Gavin’s son Max, and ready for the last 22 miles or our trip.
We only had a brief stop at Bingley 5 Rise planned and then we’d be heading all the way into Leeds for the big finish.
“Bingley is only 15 minutes away” these were the words that someone on our team reassured us as we departed Silsden… 38 minutes later we arrived in Bingley.
Arriving in Bingley was great news for the whole team, for a start we’re more familiar with this part of the route, we also knew that the towpath was good all the way into Leeds, and we also knew we were less than 2 hours from home.
There was just time for a quick selfie with Noel at the bottom of the 5 rise locks and we set off in pursuit of the rest of our team who’d left us behind in a rush to get home.
We caught up with some of the team in Saltaire and the rest a couple of miles later. Unable to resist a coffee shop, we stopped at Toby’s Tea Room for one last espresso and made a plan, we’d stop just outside Leeds Centre and make sure the whole team was with us before cycling the final mile together The plan worked perfectly and just after 4 pm on Saturday 31st August, seven very weary cyclists were greeted by friends and family at ‘Office Lock’ marking the completion of 127¼ miles of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. A welcome sight indeed as we arrived in Leeds City Centre.
DAY TWO Summary
- 53¼ miles covered.
- Approximately 5 hours cycling
- 0 wrong turn
- 0 bike repairs
- 0 punctures
Blog written by Richard Haslett for Little Hiccups